Friday, September 29, 2006

The Church of Christ in every age...

The Church of Christ bears witness to the end of all things. It lives from the end, it thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end. "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing" (Isa. 43.18-19). The new is the real end of the old; Christ is the new. Christ is the end of the old. He is not a continuation of the old; he is not its aiming point, nor is he a consummation upon the line of the old; he is the end and therefore the new.
Within the old world the Church speaks of the new world. And because the Church is more certain of the new world than of anything else it recognizes the old world only in the light of the new. The old world cannot take pleasure in the Church because the Church speaks of its end as though it had already happened--as though the world had already been judged. The old world does not like being regarded as dead. The Church has never been surprised by this, nor is it surprised by the fact that again and again men come to it who think the thoughts of the old world--and who is there entirely free from them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
from the Introduction to Creation and Fall

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vincent de Paul -- friend of the poor

Today is Vincent de Paul's feast day. James Kiefer's Hagiography page has a wonderful explanation of his life. I was struck by the following.
In 1625 he established the Congregation of the Mission (now known as the Vincentians, or the Lazarists), a community of priests who undertook to renounce all ecclesiastical advancement and devote themselves to work in the small towns and villages of France. In an age not noted for "interdenominational courtesy," he instructed his missioners that Protestants were to be treated as brothers, with respect and love, without patronage or condescension or contentiousness. Wealthy men and women came to him, expressing a wish to amend their lives, and he organized them into a Confraternity of Charity, and set them to work caring for the poor and sick in hospitals and in home visits. In 1633 the Archbishop or Paris gave him the Priory of St Lazare as a headquarters. There he offered retreats six times a year for those who were preparing for the ministry. These lasted two weeks each, and each involved about eighty students. He then began to offer similar retreats for laypersons of all classes and widely varying backgrounds.
Perhaps he should be remembered as ecumenist as well?

Kiefer notes that his sermons drew penitents both rich and poor, who sought amendment of life. Such is the power of the Word spoken faithfully. If we exchange the gospel for something other than it, we preachers steal human beings of their dignity, leaving them instead to die in the rot of sin. The mistake, I think, is that we too often want people to live better lives. For better lives, all that is needed is maybe a different perpsective, or a little more effort, or just a warm feeling generated by some therapeutic message ("God's good life... NOW!" or whatever other dreck is being pushed).

Christ seeks to give us a new life -- see that... NEW. As Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." A new life is the perogative of God. Only God can give that to us. And we are called to that new life, in the waters of baptism of course, but also in the daily dying and rising to sin. Christ calls us to repentance, and with repentance comes amendment of life. But why should we bother with that... when preachers give us the gruel, thin and tasteless, rather than the staff of life, the gospel. In the Gospel, Christ slays the sinful heart that the righteous heart might come forth, the heart upon which the Commandments are written.

As in every day and age, we need the Gospel preached that the Word of Life might awaken us. As Vincent awakened the penitents heart through the preaching of the Word, may we all be awakened.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Catholic... and a catholic understanding of how grace saves...

Over at Evangelical Catholicism, Michael posted a very nice piece "A Catholic Understanding of How Grace Saves." I commented that Lutherans have been there all along.

I think it is perhaps true however that we have lost the notion that there is need for perseverance. But we persevere in our faith as we engage in the practices of the Christian life.

Michael writes,
The Christian is not saved by faith alone (Jas 2:14-26), but by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9) through a faith that is not mere belief, but through a faith that is completed by obedience (Rom 1:5, 16:26) and love (Gal 5:6), that is, by keeping the commandments of the Lord (Jn 15:6-10; Gal 5:17-21) and working out salvation in acts of charity and goodwill (Mt 25:31-46; Phil 2:12-13). Indeed, faith is never without works.
I am reminded of Bonhoeffer who wrote, "To believe is to obey, and to obey is to believe."

Read his article. It is quite good.


Saturday, September 23, 2006


Too many preachers continue to believe that something called "human nature" forms the hermeneutical bridge between the many generations seperating the biblical world and our own. But is it really true that no matter how distant we are from our ancestors, we all share in an ideal essence of humanity unconditioned by history or changing worldviews? Is that what really makes us brothers and sisters to David, Ruth, Peter, Paul, and the Corinthians? It should be that easy! We have enough difficulty recognizing the humanity of our contemporaries of other races, sexual orientations, and nationalities to warn us away from placing our confidence in a trans-generational bond of human nature.

The common denominator between Christians is not human nature but the church, which, as always, can be found gathered around lectern and pulpit, where it listens attentively for a word from the Lord, and scattered throughout the world, where it attempts to perform the word with integrity.
Richard Lischer, The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence

Friday, September 22, 2006

warfare in the office...

Ok... so I came across THESE while doing a completely different search on google, and I see that they were posted back in December of 2005, but I am disconcerted. Now there is a part of me that finds these amusing in an impish sort of way, but given the war-mania that exists, I cringe at the thought of waging war in the office... and after all, offices can be brutal war zones without these.

I wonder what this says about us as a people that our "toys" are modeled after weapons. Notice that the description on the website is "air darts" but they are really missiles. What we do is who we become. At its heart, that is the basis of the Christian life, a life full of habits and practices that school us in the virtues of primarily, faith, hope and charity. The modern world has eroded our sense of what is central to life with distractions like these darts that keep us from becoming the people God intends for us.

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye virtue.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

A proper media read of the Pope...

The column by Kathleen Parker that appeared in my paper today, "Translating the Pope" was really right on, even if Parker's beginning was really meant to provoke. I found that she was right on in her assessment. Once you get past the provoking, she gets reasonable. She writes:

The single line extracted from the pope's lecture to inflame the highly flammable is an excerpt from a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and ``an educated Persian'' about Christianity and Islam. Said the emperor:

``Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.''

This one-sentence quotation was part of a wide-ranging discussion about the intersection of faith and reason, as well as the contradictory nature of religion and violence. Pope Benedict's key point was that faith through violence is unreasonable and, therefore, incompatible with the nature of God.

``The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature,'' he said.

Think fast: Who wants to spread faith with violence? Not missionary nuns in Somalia. Who wants to slit the throats of infidels? Not the Southern Baptist Convention.

Contrary to what fanatics have insisted, the pope was as critical of the West as of Islam, if not more so. While Islam suffers faith without reason, he said that Western culture suffers from reason without faith.

His point was that the two cultures cannot enter into a productive dialogue unless they both recognize that faith and reason are inextricably bound. Islam has to drop its sword and the West has to make room for the divine.

Pope Benedict's view is that by ignoring faith, the West -- but especially Europe -- is ill-equipped to engage a culture that is so firmly entrenched in faith.

``A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures,'' he said. Likewise, a faith-based culture that abhors reason cannot engage in civilized discourse or advance the goal of harmony.

In a nutshell, those are the central points of the pope's lecture. How interesting that the emperor and the Persian could debate these issues several centuries ago, but 21st-century man is driven mad by ideas that challenge him.

In the West, we have so blindly driven away faith from our life, that we are incomprehensible to those who make faith a matter of life and death. We may pay lip service to faith, but only as far as it is therapeutic and non-binding. While I whole-heartedly will condemn violence in the name of religion, what else is worth dying for? Those of us who follow Jesus should know the answer... absolutely nothing. Christianity is about bearing the cross and learning to die rightly.

The blind acceptance of reason's primacy over faith says something different. "Don't die! Be happy and contented with what you have and seek more." The Cross is foolishness to the wise, but to we who are perishing it is the wisdom of God.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Pope and Muslims...

Given the recent arguing over Pope Benedict's comments regarding religion and violence, Islam, and the place of reason within religions, I went to the Vatican library and read through the declaration from Vatican II, THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS (Nostra Aetate).

Regarding Muslims the declaration says:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Forgetting the past doesn't seem to be the best strategy, since even though I believe Benedict, his "forgetting" meant including remarks from a Byzantine who had some issues with Muslims.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sin boldly! -- in context...

I came across this quote that is often quoted out of context. Many people will be familiar with this quote of Luther's... or at least part of it. "Sin boldly!" And then people rationalize it to mean they can do whatever they want. But Luther writes this quote at the end of a letter to Phillip Melanchthon. Here is the last paragraph.
If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.
Luther, M. 1999, c1963. Luther's works, vol. 48 : Letters I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Vol. 48 (Vol. 48, Page 281-282). Fortress Press: Philadelphia
This text is not really about getting to do whatever we want to do... But it does I think speak to our knowledge of who we are. Don't think we have to be perfect for God to save us. God saves us true sinners. And we will continue in our sin because we are not yet fully and completely righteous. But read in the light of other writings of Luther, and especially in the light of Scripture, we do not just continue in our sin as if nothing has changed.

Christ lays our life bare. We die to the old rationalizations that we have built up around us. We know that we are sinners. We have fallen short of what God desires, but we should rejoice, because if we are "mighty sinners," then we are exactly the type of person that God is out to save... and transform. Do not fret if we continue to sin. Return to God and believe and rejoice in Christ even more.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Book meme - Passed on from Catholic Anarchy

1. One book that changed your life: After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: The Desire of the Nations by Oliver O’Donovan; The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien; Dune by Frank Herbert

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Theology and Social Theory by John Milbank… I might actually be able to read it then, and in the same vein: Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth (can I have all the volumes?) or the Summa (all parts)… that way even if I don’t read them, I have ample paper for starting fires or the latrine…

4. One book that made you laugh: Hmmm… all that comes to mind is from 10th grade Cheaper By The Dozen… I know I have read books that made me laugh since then… really I know I have.

5. One book that made you cry: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (absolutely awesome read… I cried when the main character actually verbalizes what happened to him).

6. One book that you wish had been written: The Handwriting Is On the Wall: Hearing God’s Voice Loud and Clear by???

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Most of the Star Trek: TNG novels… they just aren’t that good most of them… I don’t see this topic really impinging on any issues of expression, just wasting time reading bad stories.

8. One book you’re currently reading: Eldest by Christopher Paolini, The End of Words by Richard Lischer, Chi Running by Danny Dreyer

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken, The Nature of Doctrine by George Lindbeck, Doxology by Geoffrey Wainwright

I am tagging my friend Travis at his blog Fidelity to post the next book meme.