Monday, February 28, 2005

Quiz Just Because

You are 'programming in QBASIC'. This programming
language (of which the acronym stands for
'Quick Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic
Instruction Code'), which is so primitive that
it cannot easily be used for any purpose
involving the Internet nor even sound, was
current more than a decade ago.

You are independent, in a good way. When something
which you need cannot be found, you make it
yourself. In writing and in talking with
people, you value clarity and precision; your
friends may not realize how important that is.
When necessary, you are prepared to be a
mediator in conflicts between your friends.
You are very rational, and you think of things
in terms of logic and common sense.
Unfortunately, your emotionally unstable
friends may be put off by your devotion to
logic; they may even accuse you of pedantry and
insensitivity. Your problem is that
programming in QBASIC has been obsolete for a
long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite

Ever wonder what pastors talk about when they IM? Well, here's one example. If you haven't seen the movie, do. But watch it twice. It keeps getting funnier.


Pastor Napoleon: so, we're like best friends and stuff by now, huh?

Pastor Pedro: what?

Pastor Napoleon: from the movie!

Pastor Napoleon: it's a line from Napoleon Dynamite

Pastor Pedro: YES

Pastor Pedro: sorry I didn't know I was talking to a youth ;0

Pastor Napoleon: sweet!

Pastor Napoleon: my brother and I have extended conversations where all we do is quote that movie

Pastor Pedro: did you know that movie conforms to all of the strictures of the mormon church?

Pastor Napoleon: no, but I did notice it was a very moral movie

Pastor Pedro: it's a mormon movie

Pastor Napoleon: wow

Pastor Pedro: no drinking

Pastor Pedro: no swearing

Pastor Napoleon: and Cousin Vinnie spits his meat out

Pastor Pedro: no drugs

Pastor Pedro: go figure

Pastor Napoleon: Napoleon's dance is the best metaphor for grace that I've seen in a long, long time

Pastor Pedro: haha

Pastor Pedro: nice

Pastor Napoleon: i'm serious

Pastor Pedro: reminds me of some of the liturgical stuff we saw at sem

Pastor Napoleon: completely mediocre kid who rehearses dance moves from a junky video he bought at Goodwill

Pastor Napoleon: and then performs an act of pure selflessness and beauty

Pastor Pedro: how far can you push that?

Pastor Napoleon: why would you want to push it?

Pastor Pedro: well what's the equivalent of practicing to a bad videotape?

Pastor Napoleon: communion wafers

Pastor Pedro: !

Pastor Pedro: nice

Pastor Pedro: you did it

Pastor Pedro: ;-)

Pastor Napoleon: the video was a mundane means of grace

Pastor Napoleon: Aquinas says that one of the states of being in heaven is agility

Pastor Napoleon:

Pastor Pedro: lol

Pastor Napoleon: how am I doing now?

Pastor Napoleon: I've done a Thomistic reading of Napoleon Dynamite, plus sacramentology!

Pastor Pedro: you're keeping nimble out there at sashgong; you've got sweet skills!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ratzinger and the Augsburg Confession

That's what I'm saying! When a google search for the above terms comes up with my blog as the number 2 and number 3 hits, we're on the way to something.

What that something is, I haven't the foggiest.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello

I had already read a couple of the chapters of Elizabeth Costello about two years ago in a slim volume, the Lives of Animals. Most of the chapters in this book are re-printed from a variety of other sources, including literary journals and conference publications.

It was interesting re-reading these disconcerting lectures on vegetarianism. What are you supposed to think at the end of these things, anyway? That's what I think after every chapter in Coetzee's book.

I was especially pleased to see that Coetzee develops this narrative thread further with his chapter, The Problem of Evil. Costello compares the slaughter of animals to the Holocaust, and is called an anti-Semite by some. She is then later invited to give a lecture on the problem of evil at a conference in the Netherlands. One puzzling lecture thus begets another one.

Better still, that chapter stands, like Job, as an example of what it means to talk about evil and try and do theodicy. Hairy business, that, even for a philosopher, more so for a Christian, well nigh impossible for a novelist. What am I saying?

The chapter on the pearly gates, I'm not sure that's Coetzee at his best, but it is certainly one way to talk about purgatory.

And what is up with the last postscript/epistle? Anyone else read this book and understand what it is doing there?

Also, the chapter on Elizabeth visiting her sister the nun in Africa and the two arguing over Christianity/Hellenism is worth the price of the book, and should be discussed by faculties of Christian colleges the world over.

Jayber Crow

Jayber is the kind of person you'd like to spend time with. Berry's narrators are often of that type. When I finished reading the novel, I wanted to get in my car and drive to wherever Jayber still cuts hair, and get mine cut.

The mystery is, if I got my hair cut there, we probably wouldn't have a profound conversation about the environment, or sustainable agriculture, or anything of the sort. Jayber is so embedded in his place (though always a bit of a stranger) that you'd just get a small piece of his life, which would then be like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, only whole if fitted within the total picture.

Jayber begins life wandering, but has the good sense to settle in some place. His wandering through flood and storm to a final good place to live and work and be is one thing. His long-lived but unfulfilled (?) love is another. There is a sense of completeness in the midst of the incomplete.

Jayber Crow narrates what we've lost in the modern world better than any other novel I know. Without romanticizing the past. Quite a feat.

The other reason Jayber Crow is a good entry into Wendell Berry's fiction is that it makes you want to get to know the history of Port Williams. Which is why you go read That Distant Land, and then, in an evening, Hannah Coulter. I know of no other writers who's fiction and non-fiction are so of a piece, and breathe the same life.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter

I'm always hoping people will read Wendell Berry at my recommendation. I contend he is one of the greatest writers of prose we have. I first read his non-fiction, the most recent of which was Citizenship Papers , which I gave away in mass quantities over the Christmas holiday. My favorite novel of his was Jayber Crow , and I also have recently cherished the short stories in That Distant Land . But now his newest novel has captured my love, at least in part because the prose and voice of the narrator is so much like another novel I have read recently, Marylinne Robinson's Gilead . Here's an excerpt from HC:

"I began to know my story then. Like everybody’s, it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead. What is the thread that holds it all together? Grief, I thought for a while. And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through. From the time I was a girl I have never been far from it. But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lenten readings

As promised, here are the readings for Vespers reflecting on the first article of the Apostles' Creed:

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #1

Say: I’m going to be reading a portion of Martin Luther’s Large Catechism. Many of you probably memorized portions of Luther’s Small Catechism when you were in confirmation. In addition to the Small Catechism, which was intended for memorization, Luther wrote a larger catechism to help pastors and parents teach the faith to their parishioners and children.

Luther writes: This is the shortest possible way of describing and illustrating the nature, will, acts, and work of God the Father. Because the Ten Commandments have explained that we are to have no more than one God, so it may now be asked: “What kind of person is God? What does he do? How can we praise or portray or describe him in such a way so we may know him?” This is taught here in what I now say. The creed is nothing else than a response and confession of Christians based on the First Commandment. If you were to ask a young child, “My dear, what kind of God do you have? What do you know about him?” he or she could say: “First, my God is the Father, who made heaven and earth. Aside from this one alone I regard nothing as God, for there is no one else who could create heaven and earth.

What is meant by these words or what do you mean when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator,” etc.? Answer: I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that he has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding, and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants, house and farm, etc. Besides, he makes all creation help provide the benefits and necessities of life- sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; day and night; air, fire, water, the earth and all that it yields and brings forth; birds, fish, animals, grain, and all sorts of produce. Moreover, he gives all physical and temporal blessings- good government, peace, security. Thus we learn from this article that none of us has life- or anything else that has been mentioned here or can be mentioned- from ourselves, nor can we by ourselves preserve any of them, however small and unimportant. All this is comprehended in the word “Creator.”

Here much could be said if we were to describe how few people believe this article. We all pass over it; we hear it and recite it, but we neither see nor think about what the words command us to do. For if we believe it with our whole heart, we would also act accordingly, and not swagger about and boast and brag as if we had life, riches, power, honor, and such things of ourselves, as if we ourselves were to be feared and served… therefore, if we believe it, this article should humble and terrify all of us. For we sin daily with eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and property, and with all that we have. For this reason we ought daily to practice this article, impress it upon our minds, and remember it in everything we see and in every blessing that comes our way. Thus our hearts will be warmed and kindled with gratitude to God and a desire to use all these blessings to his glory and praise.

page 432-433, Wengert translation

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #2

Say: The following is from an interview between Peter Seewald and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Peter Seewald is a German journalist who has conducted extensive interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger. This interview took place over three full days spent at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino in a setting of silence, prayer, and hospitality of monks. Peter, who had fallen away from the faith but eventually returned to the church, asks many interesting questions. Cardinal Ratzinger gives even more interesting answers to these questions. He is the “Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, which is a fancy way of saying that Cardinal Ratzinger is the premiere teacher of church doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church.

Peter asks: Let us stay with God, with the question of where and how we can find him. There’s a little story about this: Once, a mother brought her son to the rabbi. Then the rabbi asked the boy something: “I will give you a quarter if you can tell me where God lives.” The boy didn’t need to think about it very long; he answered: “And I will give you two quarters if you can tell me where he doesn’t live.” In the book of Wisdom, it says that God “lets himself be found by those who do not tempt him and shows himself to those who do not mistrust him”. But where exactly is God?

Let us start with the Book of Wisdom. There we find a saying that seems to me to speak to us today: God does not let himself be found by those who put him to the test”, that is to say, he does not allow himself to be found by those who wish to conduct experiments on him. This truth was already known in the ancient world, and it hits its mark right up to today. If we want to, so to speak, test God- are you there or not?- and undertake certain things to which we think he must either react or not react, if we make him the object, so to speak, of our experiment, then we have set off in a direction that will not lead us to find him. God is not prepared to submit to experiments. He is not a thing we can hold in our hand.

But just where is God exactly?

God is not in any particular place. To put it more positively: There is nowhere where God is not, because God is in everything. Or to put it another way: God is never where sin is. God is present, then, wherever faith and hope and love are. God is present in a quite specific sense in every place where something good is happening.

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #3

Say: This third reading is by another contemporary writer and theologian, Robert W. Jenson. He is considered by many to be the greatest Lutheran theologian teaching and writing in the United States. He has a unique and somewhat poetic way of expressing things.

Jenson writes: God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt. Asked who God is, Israel’s answer is, “Whoever rescued us from Egypt. Asked about her access to this God, Israel’s answer is, “We are permitted to call on him by name.” God even said, “I am JHWH your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.”

To the question, “Who is God?” the New Testament has one new descriptively identifying answer: “Whoever raised Jesus from the dead.” A name we use today for God, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is a very compressed telling of the total narrative by which Scripture identifies God and a personal name for the God so specified… The church is the community and a Christian is someone who, when the identity of God is important, names him “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Those who do not or will not belong to some other community.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Out of the Ruins- R. R. Reno Converts

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll already know that I'm a Lutheran theologian with considerable sympathy for the horizon shared between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Over the years, this has meant different things. Mostly it means I'm consistently more evangelical catholic than Protestant.

There's a number of folks like that out there, maybe a growing number. But recently, a lot of those with evangelical catholic sensibilities have been converting. Reinhard Hütter, for one, Ola Tjørhom for another, and now, one of the most prominent defenders of "staying" within one's own tradition rather than converting, R.R. Reno.

Each time I hear of one of these conversions, I think/feel a couple of things. First, I'm sympathetic. I think I "get" at least in part what drives these theologians. They can no longer justify their presence in their current denomination on any other grounds than stubbornness.

But they also make the move, I think, because they are unusually free to do so. Either they have just retired, or are on the verge of doing so, so a conversion makes no claims on their professional status. Or, if I'm correct re: Reno, his conversion does not impact his current work because his academic setting does not expect a specific confession out of him.

I'm a married Lutheran pastor. Such conversions could not be undergone so easily and freely.

Which is not to say, once again, that I am not sympathetic. Especially Reno, who staked some of his academic and theological credibility on an argument for remaining, does take certain risks. It is a difficult decision for anyone, and I want to honor that.

That said, I find these conversions suspicious, annoying, and even angering. Every once in a while I find myself sympathetic to, and simultaneously frustrated with, such actions. This is one. Maybe it's the kind of feeling you have for those who are close kin. Love and detestation run close together.

So, to Reno's argument for converting. First of all, I find it somewhat specious. He makes much of having decided to stay because of a "theory":

Modern Christianity is modern precisely in its great desire to compensate for what it imagines to be the superannuation, impotence, and failure of apostolic Christianity with a new and improved idea, theory, or theology. The disaster is not the improving impulse. I certainly wish that all Christians would expect more from their teachers and leaders. The problem is the source of the desired improvement. For Newman, "theory" is a swear word because it connotes the ephemera of mental life, ephemera easily manipulated according to fantasy and convenience. Yet in my increasing disgruntlement [with the Episcopal Church], there I was, more loyal to my theory of staying put than to the actual place that demanded my loyalty. It was an artifact of my mind that compelled me to stay put. Unable to love the ruins of the Episcopal Church, I was forced to love my idea of loving the ruins. With this idea I tried to improve myself, after the fashion of a modern theologian.

As much as Reno would like to convince himself that he was loving an ideal rather than a reality, I believe his move to Rome is also the love of an idea rather than a reality. He has a theory about what Rome is (mother church, an ocean, etc.), but this idea is not the reality we all know the Roman church to be. The Roman church is, like all other church's, a church "in the ruins", because it is divided from other communions, first from the east, and second, from all the denominations that spring from the Reformation. Rome is no more the "one church" than any other church, and any claims to this status fail to acknowledge reality. They are theories and ideas of oneness.

Reno proves this to be the case in his response to a friend who was present for his acceptance into Rome. Asked about what it was like to be received into the Roman Catholic communion, he responded, "it felt like being submerged into the ocean." I'm sorry, but what a silly thing to say. The Roman Catholic Church is not the ground of all being, the unmoved mover, or the water that covers the depths of the ocean. It is a church, part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church that is grounded in Christ through the waters of baptism. To confuse the church with anything more primary is to wander into idolatry of a ponderous sort. It also takes very little account of the history that has brought our current world of denominations about. Why is a theologian as gifted as Reno willing to be so naive on these points?

Reno digs himself an even deeper hole. For Reno says that "mater ecclesia", or the "ocean,

needs no justification. It needs no theory to support the movement of its tides. In the end, as an Episcopalian I needed a theory to stay put, and I came to realize that a theory is a thin thread easily broken. The Catholic Church needs no theories. She is the mother of theologies; she does not need to be propped up by theologies. As Newman put it in one of his Anglican essays, "the Church of Rome preoccupies the ground." She is a given, a primary substance within the economy of denominationalism. One could rightly say that I became Catholic by default. . . . Mater ecclesia, she needed neither reasons, nor theories, nor ideas from me.

I'm sorry, but this just doesn't cut it. for one, mater ecclesia is obviously and substantially much broader than the Roman Catholic communion. If mater ecclesia needs no reasons nor theories, then certainly entrance into a variety of denominations (not to mention eastern orthodoxy) is reasonable and secure, because it is Christ who is the one foundation of the Church (1 Cor 3:1-23). Reno and I could certainly agree that there are many troubling things within our respective denominations. And there are times and places where it would be necessary to be "in a state of confession", and as a consequence, leave. But to say that all denominations other than the Roman Catholic denomination are in need of theories in order to stay put, while the Roman Catholic denomination "needs no theory", is to engage in romanticism of the worst sort.

I think I am tired of what I can only term Newman redivivus . And I am tired of it for the same reason Reno is- modernity. Personal conversions to a new communion are ever and always acts of the individual conscience. I was born into the LCA and became a member of the ELCA by merger. I have entered into full communion with other denominations by way of full communion agreements between churches. At each point along the way, my being in communion with such and such body has been the result of actions of the church, not my own individual conscience and action. Not to stretch the point too thin, but Luther and other early reformers were excommunicated by the church. They did not individually leave.

Frank Senn, who has also thought about schism and the evangelical catholic option in some detail, says, "So the first answer to the question of 'why stay?' is that we have nowhere better to go, especially not if is to a church of our own devising. We were brought into a particular church by baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ. While we await our resurrection, we bear the cross of Christ by living in his divided body" (Reasons to Avoid Schism, 2003;

I would find Reno's conversion honorable and compelling if he had entered into communion with Rome together with his Anglican brothers and sisters. As it stands, I see his conversion as the result of modernist theory and romantic idolatry. Thanks for sharing, Dr. Reno, but the ruins are still there whether you bury your head in the ocean or not...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Mid-Week Lenten Worship

This will be the second year East Koshkonong is using Holden Evening Prayer as the liturgy for mid-week Lenten worship. This is a solid choice. Lent is as good a time as any to (re-)introduce Vespers and the daily prayer offices. Part of my commitment as a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity is to provide opportunities within my congregation for praying of the hours, including Vespers, Matins, Compline, mid-day prayer, etc. I confess this is something I know more as an ideal than a reality. I am new to my parish and am a young pastor. Introducing such lost liturgies is no small task in any context.

It is hard to know exactly how to introduce such opportunities for prayer. Compline can be done to conclude an evening where people have already come into church for a meeting, etc., and Vespers can be prayed prior to such meetings, but otherwise, I don't know how many people have an interest in making a special trip into the church for such prayers. Matins could be offered prior to Sunday morning Mass, I imagine, or other mornings prior to the beginning of the work day. Mid-day suffrages are probably the easiest to accomplish. I have seen these offered quite often in urban congregations in Europe, but seldom here in the U.S. People are able to come for their lunch hour to pray.

For our Lenten "message", I am selecting readings from the "Great Tradition" that correspond to the three articles of the creed. So, five Wednesdays, five sets of readings, the first set on the first article, including quotes from Peter Seewald interviewing Cardinal Ratzinger, Luther's Large Catechism, Robert Jenson, and Mary LaCugna. Other weeks will include at least one reading from the confessions, one from a patristic source, and one contemporary source. Brief reading recommendations are welcome. Two weeks on the second article, and two weeks on the third article. I'll post the actual quotes the weeks that we use them.