Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Man in Black...

From a friend in a yahoo group of mine... he gives the lyrics of one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Every time I am called a "black shirt" by one of my pastoral colleagues, who is aiming to shame me into getting me out of my clerical collar, I am reminded of this song.

Johnny Cash: Man In Black

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Triune God of Christian Faith

The God from whose womb of love each of us has been born is a tri-personal God in whom there is no relationship of domination or manipulation. Our faith in this triune God requires us to live out the implications of our trinitarian origin and goal in the mutuality of our respect, love and service to one another. Our trinitarian faith calls us to allow the triune God of interpersonal love to become increasingly transparent in us, in the way we relate to one another and especially to the most vulnerable and wounded among us and throughout the world. Then will our faith in the triune God become the mystery of love in which we more and more consciously “live and move and have our being.” The Trinity will be the living presence in and among us of the God whose love heals and transforms not only us, but also through us, the entire world.

Mary Ann Fatula

The Triune God of

Christian Faith

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Primary Theological Questions

I sent out an email to friends asking for primary theological questions that seekers might be wrestling with as they try to find meaning in life. A good friend, whose own email declares that she is a theology geek, replied quoting the Vatican II document, Nostra aetate. Her reply below is dead on.
Vatican II, Nostra aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,
Paragraph 1
"Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behavior, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What is judgment? What reward follows death? And finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?"
Paragraph 2
"Yet she [the Roman Catholic Church] proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fulness of their religious life."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Theological pet peeve of the day -- babies and sin

Trying to remain positive can be difficult. I don't want to be one who rants and raves about others, harshly critiquing, causing dissension and usually on this blog I think I maintain a positive stance. But for some reason, I run into bad theology surrounding certain topics from time to time, and now I have to expound on it or else I think I will lose my mind. So today's theological pet peeve is the reckoning of sin to babies on the ground of their "self-centeredness."

This idea today comes from a pastor friend of mine, for whom I have a great amount of respect, who usually thinks things through, but on this topic, I believe is completely and utterly wrong. And maybe I am so vexed by this problem, because I feel he ought to know better. And the reality is, he might, but being a new father himself, he is so wrapped up in the presence of a new child and the chaos that ensues in life, that going from experience is the best he can do right now.

So to the point at hand... I have heard this point made many times, usually by some lay person who heard a pastor teach this is a class, or proclaim it in a sermon. Usually the idea comes about because some parishioner has asked, "Pastor, why do we baptize babies? They are so innocent. What could that possibly have done that they would need to be forgiven?" It is at this point that the pastor falls to bad theology. Rather than challenge the view of sin of said parishioner (which is where the conversation needs to begin), they jump straight to the notion of innocence, and thus claim that babies are self-centered because they do not respect the needs of the mother or father, waking them at all odd hours of the night, crying, and generally driving them crazy among other things. At first hearing it might sound like a good explanation, and being the parent of two young children myself, I am tempted to grasp ahold of this and cling.

But it is pure and utter nonsense. Here is why we do not ground the basis of our theology on our experience. Experience allows us to ask "What's going on here?" but then we must proceed with Scripture and tradition.

Nowhere am I led to believe that infants are innocent. I believe that they are sinful creatures as the rest of us, but I will also hold that it is not their selfishness that is the proof. They are simply human, therefore sinful. The notion that they could not have done anything to merit this declaration is a reduction of the notion of sin to that of transgression. We transgress, break God's commandments, commit sins, of course; however those sins are a sign of our sinfulness. Those sins manifest the mark of Sin, the power at work in the world that has ruptured our fundamental relationships between God, between creation, between other humans, and even within ourselves. Sin is the brokeness that humans unleashed upon the world when we chose less than what God desired. The second article of the Augsburg Confession declares that all human beings who are born in the natural course of human life are sinful. Humans are "unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God." Humans from conception and birth have in essence a God-shaped hole in their selves that makes them less than what God wants them to be. Sin causes us to lack something essential in us that ruptures our relationships.

And by continuing to point to an infant's self-centeredness as a sign of sin, I believe we perpetuate the continued rupturing of relationship between us and this infant. This infant is utterly dependent upon the caregiver. Would a child be so demanding if the caregiver were to respect the utter dependence upon which this life hangs? By naming this child's dependence as self-centeredness, we are complicit in the power of sin because in the extreme, we might feel like we can ignore the pleads of the infant since after all it is just being sinful.

In fact, I might be tempted to argue that this infant's dependence on parents and other caregivers is precisely a model for us to ponder our total dependence upon God. We are to call upon God in every need, which is why God's name is such a precious gift. Of course in our sinfulness we don't often call out rightly, but when hungry, we can call upon God. When distressed, we can call upon God. When frightened and alone, we can call upon God. This infant is a model of godliness, and we call that sinful. But the power of sin can do that.


Friday, March 09, 2007


Living in a university town, our church building gets a number of requests for weddings. Not wanting to turn into a glorified wedding chapel, we have a clear policy. Weddings may be held only for congregational members OR members of other Lutheran congregations. After all, we recognize that we are connected to other Lutheran congregations through shared mission and polity. This week, I had a dilemma. A young couple, one of whom was Lutheran, needed a place to hold their wedding. I asked about the date. It ends up that their date is the day before another couple's wedding. That scheduled wedding also involves visiting Lutherans. The date is coming soon, so I needed to make a decision, host the second requested wedding, even if that meant only a slight overlap in the wedding of the one couple and the rehearsal of the second. If it were only so easy. The couple that already had the place scheduled is upset because now their decoration time is curtailed. They had assumed that they could decorate throughout the day. The experience that I have had was that decorating happened the morning of the wedding. Not so in this case. So now I am juggling several families... thankfully, the earlier wedding's couple is being very flexible.

Why are weddings such a thorn in the church's side? Why do so many pastors wail and moan the lost place of honor that marriages used to hold in societies? I think for one important reason. We have fallen into thinking that the proper way to honor marriage is to center our attention on the two being married. I cannot tell you how many people I hear use the phrase, "Well, it's their day." Presumably they could do anything they want if that is the case. I say, we fall into idolatry if leave our center of Christ.

Wait, you may say, lots of people are married who aren't Christian. Yes, but in the Church, we take on an additional and richer layer of meaning and responsibility. Our marriages (and presumably our wedding ceremony) are to be places where we live out our faith. We are in essence still bearing the cross, following Jesus, and as such we can never claim that it is our day. The only thing that we may say about any day is that it belongs to the Lord, and as such we are to live out our witness in thanksgiving and praise, and in discipleship.

In this belief, I may be another one who appears to be jousting at windmills. Our society is so good at diverting our attention toward ourselves, that it actually makes sense that we can talk about a wedding day belonging to the couple. In so doing, we open ourselves to idolatry. And we will pay that price.