Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Take on Church and State

Nicholas Cafardi has written a really nice summary of the problems that accompany the increasingly partisan, one-issue stand by many Roman Catholic bishops with respect to the American political scene. Since I have seen written and heard said the same sort of nonsense from Lutherans as I have seen and heard from RC bishops, I think this analysis is worth reading.

So I commend it to you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Holiday "Gifting"

As "the holidays" (defined in cultural/secular terms) approach, our thoughts naturally turn to gift-giving. It's a respectable turn, even if we tend thereby to get sucked into the vortex of consumerism and excess. Giving is at the heart of the Christian life, and if it takes secular seasons to bring that to mind, well -- it's too bad, but "what is not against me is for me," I guess.

This year, consumer purchases will likely be down (except perhaps in my extended family), and I fear that donations to charitably organizations will be, too. So I urge you to resist Satan's temptation to be "mean" (as the older English would put it). And to that end I draw your attention to a few of my favorite opportunities to give which can result in the multiplying of your generosity.

First: At secular Thanksgiving, it is our congregation's practice to collect canned goods (and other non-perishables) for food shelves. A better idea is to give money to the food shelves. They are being tapped as never before, and many of them have remarkably (and troubling) bare shelves. Giving them food to stock is one idea, and I don't oppose it especially. But the food shelf managers can take a $20 contribution and (because they can buy wholesale, I suppose) turn it into about a $100 worth of food, I am told. Consider a sizable contribution of money to food shelves.

Second: It is possible to give in ways that don't cost money. One discipline I am developing is to go to the Hunger-Site related websites and clicking so that organizations give food to food shelves, mammograms to poor women, food to pet shelters, books to poor kids, and space for tree growth. Simply go here, and you'll be able to click to give a donation (it's free to you: sponsors pay "per hit") for mammograms. Then hit each of the tabs toward the top of the page and give to the other causes. It takes a minute and it really does accomplish some good.

Third: Give to the social-service agencies of your church (Lutheran World Relief, for example). They accomplish a lot of good with a minimum of overhead expense.

Fourth: Give to the United Nations directly. Go here for instructions on how you can donate directly to the Emergency Relief Fund. We have all seen news and heard stories of the extent to which the UN is strapped for cash to ameliorate the ills of humanitarian and natural disasters. Lamentably, nations (including our own) do not fulfill the promise and charter of their membership in the UN.

Finally: We have taken to giving contributions in the names of our friends in lieu of giving "stuff" to people who already have everything they need. Our favorite means to do so is the Heifer Project. Talk about gifts that keep on giving.

Of course, you may have your own pet projects (Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center -- you get a very nice card from Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter every year if you do, your own congregation's efforts for helping others). The point is to recognize that difficult economic times (and usually even robust economic times) are one way Satan has of turning us from our duty and privilege to live lives of self-giving on the model of our Lord.

Thanksgiving may be a civic holiday and Christmas may have been hijacked by the Grinch of Consumerism, but we Christians can reclaim eucharist (= thanksgiving in Greek) and the mystery of the Incarnation by celebrating in proper ways. Spend time in Church and spend money on gifts of assistance to those who share with us the imago dei.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Glimmer of an Idea

My reading over a long time, recent conversations (and contests) over theological issues, some critical reflection on the liturgical practices of my own tradition in comparison to those of other traditions, and my general misfitedness have led me to this question (with overtones of schism, which I don't intend):

Might there be reason in a Lutheran-rite Orthodoxy? I'm not quite sure what that means: I think that the Lutherans (until the recent ELW) showed the most sense in structuring liturgy in a way that properly allowed for the inbreaking of the majesty of God (and, hence, set the proper tone of reverence and awe) while doing so in the mind- and culture-set of the West, which I find such problems in leaving behind. (Yes, I know that that means that I'm setting myself in the center and not being properly eccentric. But at least I'm honest about it.)

I think my chief complaint with my current status is that most of Lutheranism is so stuck in controversy and then without an awareness that polemic is not a good basis for systematic theological reflection that some of us Lutherans feel a need for something more stable. (That's a pretty ironic statement given the vast, sollid, and almost impenetrable Systematic Theologies that have issued from Lutheran theologians.) I am frankly more taken with the Eastern Orthodox orientation in theology than I am with the West's. But I experience such a culture shock when I worship with the Orthodox and I feel so out of place, that I realize that any crossing over would be extremely difficult. (And that doesn't even deal with cost of losing communion with my family and closest friends: Yes, Cha, I have put that too globally; there are various levels of communion, and oneness in Christ is possible even in the unacceptable experience of divisions in the Body of Christ.)

The Finnish Lutheran scholars have brought me to this point, I think. I don't want to swim -- the Tiber, the Bosporus, the Thames (and certainly not Lake Geneva!). But the discontent I feel might best be expressed by the phrase I have (I think) invented.

So like the kid who experiments with different nicknames, haircuts, and attitudes, I'm trying on the new moniker -- Lutheran-rite Orthodox. Nothing earth-shaking will happen, but perhaps I can feel more comfortable in the nest into which I was born and re-born if I change the nomenclature.

You Saw It First Here!

OK, so maybe you've seen or heard the Official Announcement of the next conference sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology -- but I bet you won't get as enthusiastic a recommendation as you get here!

Reserve June 8 through June 10, 2009, for Vatican II: Its continuing Challenge to All Churches. This is a conference -- commemorating the 50th anniversary of the summoning of the Council by Pope John XXIII (may his memory be eternal) -- sponsored by CCET in cooperation with the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and it will be held at the Center, close to Catholic University in Washington, DC.

Among the speakers with be keynoter George Lindbeck, who was an official observer for the Lutheran World Federation for all four sessions of the Vatican Council. (He tells of how remarkable it was -- and impossible now under today's academic rules -- that he was given a continuing leave of absence from his duties at Yale to allow him to participate for the duration of the Council. I can't say with any authority, but I'd bet that he put in more time at the Council than many of the Bishops!) Dr. Lindbeck has remarkable insight into the importance and meaning of the Council, and it will be great to hear him. (One of the most valuable experiences of serving on the CCET Board, and there have been many, has been the frequent opportunity to dine with Dr. Lindbeck alone and with company. The man is a giant -- and he may know everything! In fact, several of the other presenters, I think, did their PhDs under him, too.) For research: I'm not sure how many participants in that Council are still alive! This is a precious opportunity.

About the rest of the conference: Speakers will discuss the continuing significance of the Council for such issues in Church life as ethics, worship, ecclesiology (I can't wait!), ecumenism, and others. Presenters include Amy Laura Hall from Duke, Paul Gavrilyuk from St. Thomas (in St. Paul), Nicholas Healy from the New York St. John's, Matthew Levering from Ave Maria, Karen Tucker from Boston U, and the Center's own Michael Root from Southern Seminary.

The information will soon be available on the CCET website ( But trust me: You'll want to be at this. You can stay on the CU campus, get an early-registration discount (or a student or retired-clergy discount), a lovely banquest "experience," and a chance to rub shoulders with fantastic people. We always get the most interesting folks -- and I think, given the subject, the era, and the location, that we're going to have a good-sized crowd. Who knows, you may lunch with a bishop or cardinal (no promises, of course -- though our conference at St. Thomas welcomed Cardinal Cassidy from the Vatican and the one at Duke featured Cardinal-Archbishop George from Chicago) or the theologian you've been dying to read or a student from Norway who happens to be in the area and is interested in the topic. And, no, I am not holding out the chance that His Holiness will attend -- though wouldn't that be a hoot? Maybe we could ask him to deliver the banquet speech? It's not as though he doesn't have feelings about the Council and its aftermath!

If you come, we should arrange a luncheon for a face-to-face. You can always find me: I'm usually given bookselling duties for the Center, so check out the displays. (And that's another nice thing: In the past, Brazos has offered a really sweet discount on all their publications for conference attendees!)

I sincerely urge you to reserve the dates now and to watch the CCET website for registration opportunities.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ecumenical Movement ...

apparently has a long way to go.

Check this out here.

This isn't anything exactly new, but it's lamentable nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Y-E-S: President Barak Obama.