Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Barth, Bultmann and Tillich in a boat

> Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich are taking a break
> together, fishing on Lake Geneva. They are having a lovely time,
> smoking their pipes, chatting idly.
> It's hot and they are getting thirsty. So Karl Barth gets up, steps
> out of the boat, and walks across the water to the shore, gets some
> beers and returns.
> It's quite hot so the beer doesn't last long. Barth tells Tillich:
> "your turn, Paul". Tillich gets up, steps outside the boat, walks
> across the water, and fetches some beer.
> It is getting really hot now, and the beer is finished once again.
> Bultmann is beginning to sweat particularly profusely... and
> finally Barth asks him too: "Come on, Rudolf, your turn now." With
> a slight tremor in his knees, Bultmann gets up, steps out of the
> boat, and sinks like a stone. Fortunately he is a good swimmer; he
> drags himself back into the boat and sulks at the far end.
> Tillich turns to Barth and says: "Do you think we should have told
> him where the stepping stones are?"
> Barth looks at him in astonishment and replies: "What stones?"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Make Your Pledge Now for the 3rd Annual LIRS Fund-raising Run

Yes, that's right, this will be the third year in a row I'm running the 20-mile Syttende Mai Run (from the capitol building in Madison to downtown Stoughton) as a fund-raiser for LIRS. All proceeds go to support the ministry of LIRS through its local affiliate, Lutheran Social Service of Wisconsin.

This year, there are two interesting twists. The first, all money contributed will help establish a rolling security deposit account for newly arriving refugee families in the Milwaukee area. This is an important account to establish, because it will make it much easier for LSS to regularly and easily secure housing for new refugee families.

The second twist is more, well, coordinated. I promise to joggle one mile of the 20 mile run for each $500 contributed by friends, family, and congregation members. So, the more you contribute, the more miles I'll need to joggle.

Joggling is a combination of juggling and jogging. If you're interested in contributing, check out the East Koshkonong web site for information on where to send a check.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rickie Lee Jones The Sermon on Exposition Blvd.

Rickie Lee Jones recently released The Sermon on Exposition Blvd. We're spending some time listening to this evening, but I'm already blown away by the concept, the sound, and the background of the album. Read the link to see what I mean.

The album is based on a book that is available on-line titled The Words by Lee Cantelon.

In the 1990's, Lee Cantelon organized the words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, into a concise book, with the intention to make available the message of Christ to non-religious readers, persons curious about the meaning and depth of Christ's words, who found themselves alienated from organized church and religion. The result has generated a great deal of interest outside the Christian tradition, and exposed the words of Jesus to many non-traditional readers. During the process, he partnered with many Bible translators and commentary writers, from a very wide range of scholarship that reached from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to Fuller Seminary, in Pasadena, California (with many links in between). The final product, The Words, offers the message of Christ in expressive language that is easy to understand. Improbably, the finished manuscript, following review by Vatican theologians, was granted the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, the official authorization of a theological text by the Catholic Church.

Sunday Morning at Home (with Snow)

Although most churches in our area were cancelled Sunday morning, we did have a copy of the New York Times on our doorstep at 5:15 a.m. this morning.

So, we spent the first hour of the morning eating breakfast and shoveling. We sang a couple of hymns together out of the new ELW, prayed a prayer from it, and then during mid-morning snack, listened to Jonathan Rundman's Protestant Blog Ethic, especially the Heartland Liturgy, which we all love.

It was quite nice to spend a Sunday morning as a family worshipping together and taking on the tasks of a snowy morning. Unfortunately, the snow did prevent me from traveling to Austin this afternoon for the Pastor-Theologian gathering.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Cancelling" Church

Today we had to make a somewhat momentous decision- made some phone calls amongst the church council and decided to "cancel" worship services tomorrow morning. Now, late in the day, as I review listings of cancellations on the news channels, I see that hundreds of churches, including many large city churches in Madison, small town churches, and rural churches, have done the same, but at the time, it felt a little funny making such a decision.

On the practical level, we had to figure out how to communicate the decision around. Wisconsin folk often use good common sense in the winter, but nevertheless, we wanted to let everyone know not to drive out to church for worship Sunday morning.

But on the theological level, it did make me wonder- what does it mean to "cancel" services or worship. In a sense, we don't and can't do that. The church, as the body of Christ, may based on weather decide not to drive out to a church building and gather together on a particular Sunday. But the church "in diaspora" in each home or locale can still worship on their own. It may not have the liturgical flavor of a Sunday gathering, but it can still be church.

We will lift each other up in prayer.

Some of us will sing songs and psalms to God.

We might offer words of comfort and consolation.

Some of us might give attention to the reading of Scripture, especially the gospel lesson for the day.

Maybe we will rest and be calm in the presence of the Lord, in this way taking Sabbath from Sabbath.

And some of us, possibly in spite of denominational injunctions to the contrary, will break bread together in the name of and memory of our Lord.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Open Communion

Thomas over at Without Authority provides an interesting discussion of open communion and church discipline. You can read my comments on his post at his site.

Jonathan Rundman's new best of...

Rundman has now issued a "best of" album that includes lots of tracks from his early albums. If you're into his music, it's definitely something to order. The mini-essay Daniel Levitim (author of Your Brain on Music) helped me, a audio-neophyte, to understand a bit better what is going on with some of the unusual recording styles I've heard Jonathan use over the years.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


You never can tell what you might discover reading The Christian Century on the evening of Shrove Tuesday after a congregational visioning meeting and chili supper. psalters apparently. Somehow profoundly appropriate as the band to discover on the eve of Ash Wednesday.

Monday, February 19, 2007

30 Minutes of E-mail Per Day

My "Lenten discipline advisor" has now, through laborious spiritual discernment, assigned me my Lenten discipline. I'm only allowed to do 30 minutes of e-mail correspondence per day, preferably in one block of time in the morning.

I confess- I became addicted to e-mail WAY back in the day, when a computer science student and friend from Iowa State and I figured out how to get e-mails back and forth to each other over a modem dial-up connection in our dorm rooms (this was in 1991!). At that time, you had to know the e-mail address as well as router information to get e-mails through various domains and servers. It was painful. Nevertheless, I was addicted. I admit to checking e-mail many times a day.

So, this discipline will be, hopefully, and by the grace of God, what true Christian disciplines actually are- exercises in freedom.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lucinda Williams and David Byrne

Luncinda's new album "West" is haunting and beautiful, and I commend it to all. Also, for those who are Talking Heads fans, I just learned that David Byrne has a great solo career. The "father" of Indie rock, or something, so says NY Times. I've been getting as many of his albums from the library as I can find, and listening to them quite a lot (the cool thing about older albums is there aren't usually many holds on them at the library, so you can get them immediately, and renew. These are the kinds of things you learn when your spouse is a public librarian).

Re-read the paragraph above. Blogging and grammar, at least on Lutheran Confessions, don't always go together.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I was on the phone today with a member of our church, and we started talking about the next Harry Potter. This led immediately into a discussion of whether Dumbledore would come back from death, whether Snape was actually a turncoat, or whether the whole thing was a profound ruse, and whether Ron and Hermione will survive.

We're both grown men with day jobs. I paused and said, "Listen to us..." Some imagined worlds are so imagined they are invitational and the most comfortable and homey way.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Truth and the Flag

In a book dealing with the power of the American flag to motivate people to sacrifice themselves in war, the observation is made:

"In the religiously plural society of the United States, sectarian faith is optional for citizens, as everyone knows.  Americans have rarely bled, sacrificed, or died for Christianity or any other sectarian faith.  Americans have often bled, sacrificed and died for their country.  This fact is an important clue to [the flag's] religious power.  Though denominations are permitted to exist in the United States, they are not permitted to kill, for their beliefs are not officially true.  What is really true in any society is what is worth killing for, and what citizens may be compelled to sacrifice their lives for."  (Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle, Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag)

Excerpted in Stanley Hauerwas's new commentary on Matthew in the Brazos Theological Commentary series, page 110. 

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Logic of Love

"For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves" (Galatians)

From Martin Luther's lectures on Galatians:

We are all equal, and we are all nothing. Why, then, does one man puff himself up against another, and why do we not help one another? Furthermore, if there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself. Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and is the debt I owe them... Thus my wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed. Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to the sinners. For these are the forms of God of which we must empty ourselves in order that the forms of a servant may be in us.

This is a worthy meditation in preparation for preaching on Luke 6 this coming Sunday. It synthesizes the Beatitudes, Galatians, and the Christ hymn in exemplary fashion. It is a wonder.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Deathly Hallows

I might also title this "Resurrection Hallows":

The new Harry Potter title, 7th in the series, has now been announced, and for those of us who still pray "hallowed be thy name" in the Lord's Prayer, it seems to forebode a resurrecting of the term. Here's a quick definition from Wikipedia:

Hallow is a word usually used as a verb, meaning "to make holy or sacred, to sanctify or consecrate, to venerate". [5] However, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the word hallows appears as a noun. In modern English, the word is used as a noun in "All Hallows' Day" or "All Saints' Day," which is the day after Hallowe'en or "All Hallows' Eve". Hallows can refer to saints, the relics of saints, or the relics of gods.[6] One story where hallows play a crucial role is in the grail legend. In the Grail legend, the Fisher King is the guardian of the four hallows, which include the Grail itself, the serving dish/or stone, the sword/or dagger, and the spear. [7] Many scholars have since identified the connection of these four hallows with four treasures of the Tuatha de Danaan, which include a chalice (Grail), a baton or wand (spear), a pentacle (serving dish), and a sword.

There has been much speculation from many Harry Potter fans about whether the grail legend might play a part in the final Harry Potter book. Many Harry Potter fans have seen a connection between the four founders of Hogwarts, their relics, and the four hallows in the grail legend.[8] It is known from the books that Godric Gryffindor's relic is a sword, Helga Hufflepuff's relic is a cup (chalice), and Salazar Slytherin's relic is a locket (pentacle), presumably leaving Rowena Ravenclaw's relic as a spear or wand. In addition, many scholars have argued that the four hallows in the Grail legend symbolize the four natural elements (earth, fire, water, and air).[9] J. K. Rowling has explicitly stated that the four Hogwarts founders represent the four natural elements, solidifying the connection between the four founders and the four hallows in the Grail legend.[10] It is also known that Harry Potter must find four horcruxes, and that Voldemort wanted a hallow, or relic, from each of the four founders.

So, apparently one can exegete Harry Potter.

Eyewitness Testimony vs. Historicity

"It is in the Jesus of testimony that theology and history meet." (Bauckham, p. 508) I'm afraid I can't agree with the idea that Bauckham is using a similar method to the historical critical school, even if he does inhabit some of their schools of thought. Although he makes use of historical research, he is working with a deeply theological category--testimony, martyria--and seeking to revive it in regard to our reading of the gospels. This is not a focus on historicity per se, but rather a recognition that testimony (the proclamation of the gospel in faith) is what it is, the passing on of the faith from one witness to the next.

The final chapter making use of Paul Ricouer is especially valuable, as his reflection on the literary genres that indicate the eyewitness character of the gospel narratives.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Since I'm not a New Testament scholar, it is probably presumptuous of me to say that Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is an "important" contribution to the field, but I'll go ahead and say it, it is important.

How so? Well, it presents in convincing detail why the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. That sentence alone should send you to the book itself. Read it. It is important.

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That's the opening line of Michael Pollan's essay in the New York Times magazine, and it is worth its weight in gold. Reminiscent of Gary Snyder's final stanza of "For the Children": "Stay together/learn the flowers/go light." The whole poem reads:


For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light