Monday, November 29, 2004

Gilead -or- Books about Pastors

There are number of classics in the field. The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, for example, is one of those texts not necessarily assigned in the Luther Seminary curriculum, but certainly read at various times by groups of students and faculty. It tells the tale of three generation of Swedish pastors, their lives and their ministries. If I was the president of a seminary, I might allow for a close reading of the book in lieu of CPE. No, scratch that, CPE if done well has its own gifts and importance. But Giertz would be a close second.

Then there's "Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic" by Reinhold Niebuhr, which is not a novel exactly, but certainly one of the best descriptions of the ministry I've read, this one first-hand and non-fiction. Open Secrets by Lischer is a worthy read in this category.

But in the world of fiction, pastors and parsons tend to be comic figures, or problem people in some way. This is one of the things that makes Marilynne Robinson's new novel so extraordinary. It takes the ministry of one pastor very seriously, and in the great tradition of first-person narratives in novels, reveals a letter from dying father to young son.

Any novel that easily translates into a moral is not really worthy of the name novel. So it would be a disservice to say that Robinson's novel teaches a moral. And yet it is true to say that this novel is moral in the most profound and personal sense of that term.

It is also beautiful. Robinson was widely acclaimed for her first novel, Housekeeping, and folks have been waiting 20 years for this new breath of fiction. It was worth the wait. You could probably say the novel is a long riff on the Prodigal Son, but the story is as complex as that parable, and different in some ways.

It is not a defense of the faith, nor does it try to be a Christian novel in an insipid sense. Rather, it is very human. In fact, if I can say anything categorically about the theological character of her novel, is that it weds soteriology and anthropology in a profound and helpful way. A dying man's epistle to the young son he loves more than life, and a life he loves, a prairie life.

I cannot think of a better novel than this. It is now #1 on my list.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich (VMGCS)

Here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking that my blogs were always much better when I wrote either a) straight up theology, and/or b) good old fashioned journal entries and short essays. So, I believe I have found the perfect reference on which to end my habit of providing links to other sites on the web. Apparently you can Follow the Cheese, and in this way learn the ins and outs of the VMGCS's trip to Las Vegas. This is my last so-called interesting link, and appropriate as such. I'm also saying goodbye to partisan politics of any sort, although reflections on the relationship between theology and the polis are not out of the question.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Turkey, OCA, and Other Feasts

Every once in a while, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving, I wonder what other feasts are out there and celebrated on this day. The OCA web site is usually an excellent place to begin. I'd love to learn more of the significance of this feast and its place in the worship and theological life of the orthodox church. For now, I'll just remember the blessed Mary today in addition to the blessings of God's care for us. The Small Catechism is as good a place as any to be reminded what Christians give thanks for on this day:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true

Mary & Turkey

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Matthew: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28

For those of us preaching from the lectionary, I recommend this two volume commentary on Matthew. It provides more material for a preacher than the average commentary, and takes an important and valuable approach, gospel as catechesis.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

This is true

In Cornelius Plantinga's essay, Not The Way It's S'pposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, he says, "In short, for the Christian church (even in its recently popular seeker services) to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and, finally, uninteresting." This is, like much of what Plantinga says, well said and true. And it is well on the way towards speaking of how we need speak at the beginning of Advent. The Advent of our God looks like light shining in very dark places, places that are dark because they are so intimate and interesting.

Sacred Harp

This discovery proves there are some benefits to reading The New York Times. If you'd like to hear and download Sacred Harp music (of Cold Mountain fame), this is where to go. And Mac users please note, here's one person actually using their .Mac account!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

U2, BBC, and the Web

As if it weren't enough to discover that the BBC has a stellar collection of informational sites, streaming, and audio, including this stellar recording of the Duke's Asscension Sacred Concerts, and the Advent calendar I bloggere earlier, I've now discovered that all of U2's new album is available for streaming on-line. Yes, I'm one of those hipster dufuses who has every U2 album. But I doubt I'll ever preach from the U2 catalog like some ministers who are over-the-top U2 fans.

BBC Multisensory Advent Calendar

On the BBC - Religion & Ethics page, the BBC, is offering a unique and semi-interactive Advent calendar. Good stuff.

Monday, November 15, 2004

On George Marsden's Edwards

For those of you who read a textbook of early American literature while in high school, you might remember Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was probably presented as a typical if well-written example of Puritan hellfire and brimstone preaching. That is probably all you learned about Edwards. Certainly it was all I learned.

But then you get somebody like George Marsden who comes along and argues that Edwards is as influential as Benjamin Franklin as a seminal figure in American cultural and literary history, and writes a stellar biography of him and publishes it on the 300th anniversary of his birth. Buy it. Read it. You will not be disappointed. Skip reading a book on Washington, Adams, or Jefferson this year and read about Edwards instead.

Edwards has experienced an incredible resurgence in recent years. Yale has been steadily publishing volumes of Edwards works, a labor of love, beautiful books with lots of archival and historical as well as theological material. Yours truly is working on A History of the Work of Redemption. I'm trying to figure out how to talk about Edwards use of language and history as a means of thinking about his theology of preaching. What I'm really trying to do is get over the fact that I can't get over the fact that he preached thirty sermons that all tie together and outline the whole history of redemption, from the creation, through the narrative of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through the life of Israel, including briefly the intertestamental period, then writing extensively on the life of Jesus, is death and resurrection, then continuing on with Acts, the early church during the Roman empire, the church during the medieval and late medieval eras, the Reformation, and then right on up to the very revivals and sundries of Christian life in North America, then right on out to the history we don't know yet but see prophesied (according to Edwards) in the book of Revelation. 30 sermons, 500 pages, all based on one Bible passage (I'll provide that in another post if anyone requests it).

As a preacher, I want to know how this kind of preaching is connected to a revival. I want to understand how he could even conceive of these as a sermon. Because though I find the book fascinating and well worth reading, I think it would just be knock-down boring to listen to, nor is it what I would call proclamation.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


I'm off to Marathon, WI, for a few days to gather with other pastors for retreat, prayer, and those things they call plenaries. I wonder if anyone reads my blog anymore...

BBC NEWS | Europe | Luther's lavatory thrills experts

No, seriously. It really made the news at BBC. Read for yourself, ye that are earthy Lutherans.

If all goes well, this is our new home

If all goes well, this is our new home

Personal vs. Social "Moral Values"

Here at PBS you can see a discussion that is reflected in a lot of the conversation post-election on why it is that both sides of the divide can claim moral values as their highest priority but mean different things by it.

The Democrats Need a Spiritual Left

and this article explains what that might mean, from Rabbi Michael Lerner's perspective.

Friday, November 05, 2004

And the bishop says...

Statement of ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson on the U.S.
Presidential Election

Grassroots Progressivism

So, now that we've got four more years of the same and maybe even worse from the administration of the United States of America, a lot of the people I've heard from have been talking about trying to do grassroots organizing that will make sure the progressive agenda is forwarded as much as possible in spite of the fact that, as Garrison Keillor sings, "We're all Republicans now!" I'm trying to collect ideas from a variety of people, and am wondering if you'd be willing to reply.

Here's why: a) We can do something, and we're organized, we all voted, we have a "mandate". b) It's healthy for people to get together and plan and be citizens together. c) If we swallow our frustration, we'll probably all get ulcers, which isn't healthy. d) Four years is a long time.

Here's what (this is my working list of concerns, and I'll expand it to embrace any replies I get, and then summarize): a) Further economic policies that avoid exploiting the poor for the sake of the rich. b) No tax breaks for anybody, especially the rich, when people are going hungry and lack basic health care. c) George W. Bush says he is a good steward of the land. That's a bunch of crock, thank you very much. We can all be better stewards of the earth. So we start with ourselves and our own practices. If we use lots of gas to drive places, then we need the very oil we complain about that effects foreign policy. At the same time, we hold our government accountable for good stewardship policies. d) A transvaluation of values. On November 2nd I voted for based on moral values informed explicitly by the Christian tradition. Apparently many of my Christian brothers and sisters have a different take on what constitutes "moral values." We need to get better clarity on this, and talk together about it. e) No curtailing of civil liberties especially by those who are trying to forward self-righteous, moralistic causes. f) International relations. I want to be able to visit foreign countries without feeling ashamed of my country.

That's a big list, and I know we can probably add a lot more to it. But I also have a how: a) Talk together frequently to figure out what our top priorities are. b) Figure out how to address those priorities at the local level and in our personal lives first, and then c) advocate vociferously at the public and national level for the same concerns we are seeking to address in our personal lives.

That's my whole missive, at least for now.



Thursday, November 04, 2004

Diary of a Country Priest - Criterion Collection (1954)

As I continue to "consume" media during these days between calls, I just finished watching
Diary of a Country Priest
, which is based on an excellent piece of French literature by the same title, author Georges Bernanos, and is directed by one of the "great" French cinematographers, Robert Bresson. The last line is worth the whole time watching the movie, and a scene in the middle that is a cross between speaking the prophetic, counseling, and doing confession, is true in a way that a move in 2004 could never be.

Monday, November 01, 2004

While I'm on this brief respite between calls, and during all the hulabaloo that is the election process, I have found it necessary to escape into the world ofThursday Next. This is in no way relevant to Lutheranism, church, the election, anything, but I have been enjoying the read. I confess.