Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A better example

Here is "Sestina d'Inverno" by Anthony Hecht, a better example of a poetic form that properly has nothing to do with philosophy and everything to do with obsession:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for "snow,"
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn't mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven's making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.

All things in perspective

Here is my one complete attempt at the poetic form called a "sestina." Note that the last words of each line are repeated, in varying order, in each stanza, and then two of each of these "leitmotif" words appear in each line of the short stanza at the end. I have seen some much better examples of a sestina, but this was the best I could do. I enjoyed the opportunity to make plays on words and to use the organ as a running metaphor.

How dim our light, our speed how great,
And in this headlong hour, how hard
To clear a head sore wont to swell
Or to be turned by gleaming dust.
O whither does our fell course wind?
What shall withstand the thunder’s stroke?

Old men in distant lofts may stroke
The smooth resisting keys with great
Affect and skill; but youth’s long wind
Must tread the bellows long and hard,
Or never shall a mote of dust
Blast out the pipes, nor one note swell

The portent of the room. Though Swell
Be opened wide, the firmest finger-stroke
Will speak but as the fall of dust.
E’en so, the famous and the great
Depend on ciphers, marching hard
Before and aft; the choosy wind

Of fortune lifts most flags to wind
Tight round their staves, and few to swell.
Wise men may say (though it is hard)
This signifies more than fate’s stroke;
Whether Rückpositiv or Great,
Each note stabs through the cosmic dust

And shakes the spheres for aye. To dust
Come all: weak, strong, those full of wind,
And those who suck from such. What great
In men’s eyes seems, in time’s long swell
Is but a pebble-plop—one stroke
On an impassive sea. Though hard

Water makes stone soft, youth stamps hard
On bellows, churning till the dust-
Motes slacken into dreams. We stroke
The truth to lie on this hour’s wind,
Damn the next hour. For what is “swell”
We breathe and die, but what is great

We pass, unseen. Great things are hard
To hold. They swell, peak, turn to dust;
Wind flings the totems that we stroke.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why am I always reading two books?

You may have noticed that the "What I'm Reading Now" list, over to the right, always seems to have two books on it and one of them stays the same a lot longer than the other.

The reason for this is that, well, I generally have at least two books started at any given time. Even if I finish one of them right at bedtime, I'll stay up late to get started on another one. I have to be in the middle of a book for some reason. Maybe it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning.

I have to be in the middle of two books, rather. And one gets read much more slowly, because instead of keeping it in my house where I can read it whenever I feel like it, I stash the second book in my car. That way I have something to do while waiting for my carpool partner to show up, or while riding home from work, or during a musical rehearsal when my part doesn't have anything to do, or while watching my clothes wash and dry at the laundromat. I always cram several books into my overnight bag when I travel, so if I have some alone time I can entertain myself.

There isn't going to be a "What I'm Watching on TV" list on my blog. My TV only gets turned on when I want to watch a video. I don't have cable and I don't have an antenna either, and I'm not asking for a handout. I've had these things in the past, and even enjoyed them, but I never felt I was using my time wisely - especially during commercial breaks! It got so that a commercial would come on and I would start playing the piano, or reading a book, and forget to go back to the TV when the break was over. I don't object to watching TV on moral grounds, or even for health reasons; I just find books a much more rewarding way to veg out. Sometimes, even when I'm visiting my folks and they have the TV on, I will still hole up in a quiet room and read by myself.

Which all goes to show why I live in "a fort made of books"...

Epic Church

All of a sudden there's this big controversy about the LCMS mission congregation called "Epic Church" in, I believe, the Detroit area. They're one of those contemporary-worship people-traps, meeting in a school cafeteria and now achieving synod-wide notoriety for their Lenten series on sex.

Here are the sermon titles in this series, titled Pure Sex and currently promoted by the church's slick website:

February 25: The Greatest Sex You'll Ever Have
March 4 : The Bedroom: Battleground or Playground
March 11: Real Desperate Housewives
March 18: Porn: What's the Big Deal?
March 25: Sex Ed: Teaching Children about Sex
April 1: Affair Proofing Your Marriage

I'm torn whether to provide a link - torn between "must be seen to be believed" and "for pity's sake don't encourage them" - so I'll let you do the hard work of typing www dot epicwired dot com into your browser, if you really have to see this.

Today's Detroit News carries an article about this, in which the following statements are made in support of this Pure Sex nonsense.

"We live in a sex-saturated society, and everyone else is talking about it, and God is the one who created it," said [Pastor Tim] Kade, 40, of Rochester Hills. "We're just trying to provide a safe environment where people can find the hope, the health and the healing that they need in this area of their life," he said...

Founded just 18 months ago, Epic Church doesn't shy away from today's media -- including music, performances, internet and video -- to draw worshippers who have previously turned away from church. Sunday morning service is held in Hart Middle School's cafeteria, and draws up to 200 worshippers, most in their 20s to 30s.

The Web site and sermon titles were designed to get people's attention, Kade said. And they did...

"He's trying to do an important thing," said [English District
President David] Stechholz. "He wants to bring about a thorough discussion on sexual intimacy from God's point of view."

Kade assured area leaders that God's word -- specifically condoning sex only within the bonds of marriage -- would be central to his message. But condemnation would be left out, he added.

"Churches, all they want to do is condemn people," said Kade. "Oftentimes, people realize they're just not making the best choices in their life."

The objections to the Pure Sex program, or at least those noted by the press, include this statement ingeniously crafted to trigger an "Oh, you silly fuddy-duddy" response:

"Instead of using scripture, he's using fads," said Gene Koessel, 70, a
retired Lutheran pastor from Roseville, about Kade. "What's next?"

Other concerns included "the Web site images and the sexual permissiveness they arguably convey" (Stechholz admits that Epic Church might have put a toe over the good-taste line) and "the propriety of sermons on sex during Lent, the season of penitence and self-denial for Christians" (which is guaranteed to sound lame and lore-bound beside Epic Church's apparently successful bid to reach people through innovative means).

Kade and Stechholz had an answer to every one of these objections, answers superbly crafted to make sure that even most conscientious Lutheran Christians will keep their mouth shut and their minds open.

Has everyone lost their marbles? Am I the only person who sees the real problem here? The real problem with this "Pure Sex" rubbish isn't what the fuddy-duddy retired pastor complained about, or what all those irate callers phoned the District Office to complain about. The real problem is evident from the very answers that Stechholz and especially Kade give.

There is a crucial ingredient missing from Kade's theology, and the theology underlying the message of "Pure Sex." And that crucial ingredient is the concept of SIN. What makes the series' timing particularly hideous is not that this salacious indulgence is taking place during a traditional season of penitence and self-denial, but that the message lacks any language for calling sinners to repentance. And if Sin is missing from the message, then surely forgiveness is missing also. And that means there's no Gospel.

There isn't anything Christian about this. I don't know what Kade, Stechholz, and the English District think they're doing, but they are not proclaiming the Christian faith. This is not a mission; this is not a church; this is not evangelism; this is not ministry. "God's Word" is "central" but "condemnation" is "left out." In other words, they know how to quote Bible verses, but they are not teaching God's message. The devil did somethng rather like this in Matthew 4:6.

How they can claim to be discussing this subject "from God's point of view," when they are not calling sinners to repentance and forgiveness, is above my pay grade. They can quote Bible verses all day long, but their message is not in harmony with the total message of God's Word - sins condemned and sinners forgiven on account of Jesus' death and resurrection. They are not speaking from God's point of view; rather they are breathing the fumes of hell out upon Christians and unchurched people alike.

Listen people, if we're going to get upset about this, let's do it for the right reasons. This is not just bad taste or bad timing. It is not just an offense against the aesthetics of liturgical, church-year-oriented worship. Even the fact that this church is pandering in the cheapest way to the lowest-common-denominator isn't the real issue. The real issue is that English District mission dollars are supporting a "ministry," even now applying for voting membership in the LCMS, which knows nothing of repentance, forgiveness, or Christ. And the most damnable aspect of it is that Epic Church will be held up as a model for other Lutheran churches to imitate.

Get behind us, Satan!

I'd Rather Dream I Was Flying

After a long dry spell in Dreamland - having no dreams, good or bad, that I could remember when I awoke - my subconscious life has bloomed within the last few months. I dreamed at least once that I was Capt. Jack Aubrey, in command of the H. M. S. Surprise - or, at least, a really wacked-out, surrealist version thereof. And twice within only the last month or so, I have had these horrid dreams...about airports.

Generally, and perhaps logically, I tend to have these airport dreams within a few days of picking someone up or dropping them off at the airport. I haven't flown, myself, since last April and I don't recall having any dreams about flying then. Not that flying, as such, had anything to do with these nasty recent dreams.

In the first of two airport nightmares, I was apparently on some kind of international trip, and I must have been a VIP because I had a personal assistant, or guide, or chief of staff, or whatever, guiding me through an interminable series of interviews with customs, airport security, immigration, and various other government officials. When it was all supposedly over and my henchman had deserted me, I realized that I was missing a piece of luggage and I had to go to the lost-luggage office to get it. The lost-luggage office turned out to be like something out of a painting by William Blake, with a door that opened and slammed shut rhythmically so that you had to jump through it with perfect timing, leading to a confined area where a waiting queue got longer and longer until it was difficult to move or breathe. Then I was pulled aside and assured that someone would be with me in a moment, after which everyone else in the queue had their concern dealt with in record time; and as each customer left, so did one of the employees behind the desk...until I was the only person left in the room. I woke up in a cold sweat.

The second airport dream is a little fuzzier in my mind, but equally unpleasant. I was either picking up my boss or dropping him off. The fact that I couldn't be sure which it was, should have been a big clue that I was just dreaming. If he wasn't in the car when I drove there, I must be picking him up, right? But in REM, reason goes out the window. I was confused about what I was doing at the airport, but it had something to do with work and I was sure that I was botching it terribly, and that my boss would be ever so ticked at me. I couldn't get the simplest things done and I couldn't find anything I was looking for.

This must be where all those "look down in fourth period and realize that you're only wearing your Froot-of-the-Looms" nightmares go when you grow up.

Coming to a Dream Near You

I wasn't sure until a few months ago whether I dreamed in color or in black & white. I could tell you that my dreams had a musical soundtrack, and it has always sounded like the music of certain composers I have only gravitated toward in recent years. In fact, quite often the last thing I remembered before falling asleep was the opening flourish of a musical theme, and upon waking up I sometimes caught snatches of the dying music.

But color or b&w? I didn't really know until sometime last fall, when I dozed off in the passenger seat while carpooling to work. I was suddenly jerked to wakefulness by a brief dream in which a light blue, 1970s-model Datsun stopped dead in front of us. After getting over the minor heart attack this dream caused, I appreciated what it had taught me: I dream in color. Plus, I was wide awake and alert when I arrived at work!

Last night, I dreamed in opera.

When my alarm went off, a coloratura soprano was warming up to a touching climax in an aria about how heartbroken she has been since she discovered that her fiancee paid for their engagement ring by selling national secrets to the enemy. She really sounded good, and I felt sad for her. I would pay to hear music like that. It's too bad I had to leave (wake up) during one of the good parts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My Bad No. 5

Books can get you in trouble. Just ask Luther, Hus, Galileo...

OK, I haven't been arrested yet. But just wait till my godparents get hold of me.

You see, I have this godsister. Yes, you read that right. Her parents are my godparents; my parents are her godparents. So, we are godsiblings. Right? Only, we didn't get to play with each other very much when we were growing up, because of a tiny age difference of 23 years.

Nevertheless, I sensed a kindred spirit when I met my godsister during my vacation last summer. I was revisiting all my old stomping grounds, and mostly thinking that if I had stomped harder they might have stayed put. Godsis was at the age where kids get into the kind of books I'm reading these days (visit the Book Trolley for some examples). So I asked her and her mom, my godmom, whether stories with witches and wizards were OK. They said no. I don't happen to agree, but I sincerely meant to respect their wishes.

So at Christmas time, when I looked for a book to send to my godsister as a gift, I decided to go with one that I had read so I could be sure it was free of witchcraft and witches. Sure, it had a few trolls in it, but it was mostly about Vikings, and a poor innocent boy taken by force from his home, and adventures in the frosty north. I had read and reviewed such a book only a couple months previously, so I felt safe in buying it for her. I browsed the bookstore until I found a book that matched the description that I recalled from my own review; I bought, and sent to my godsister, The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

Problem: Later on, when I was reorganizing my bookshelf, I ran across the book I had read and reviewed. It turned out to be Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish. Whoops.

Comparing the covers, titles, and dustcover abstracts of both books, it is easy to see how I got them confused. Both have trolls, Vikings, boys removed from their homes by nasty grown-ups, and scenes that take place in the harsh winter landscape of Scandinavia. But one of them also has witches and wizards in it, and all kinds of pagan religious ideas mixed up with medieval Christianity. Namely, the one that I sent to my sweet, innocent godsis.

I did buy my own copy of The Sea of Trolls and have now read it. I enjoyed it, personally, but I would have liked it better without some of the panreligious syncretism. But maybe I gave that aspect more weight than usual because, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking: I am so in the doghouse with my godparents!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cat Dancer

Product plugging time! If you have cats and time to play with them, go to Petsmart and pick up the "Cat Dancer." It's pretty cheap, but it's also the best cat toy ever. A lady whose homebound mother I used to visit gave one to me as a gift, and I've gone through two more since then. All it is, is a piece of wire with a kink at one end (for you to hang on to) and several twists of catnip-scented paper at the other. Very low-tech stuff.

Hang on tight to your end, and wave the other end around, and pretty soon your cats will be chasing it, swatting at it, maybe getting up on their hind legs to dance with it, jumping for it, or even (some users claim) doing flips for it. My cats have done it all, short of the flips.

Cat Dancer brought to my attention one of the personality differences between my two cats. Tyrone knows this is a game, and he has fun playing it as long as Lionel lets him. He doesn't seriously try to "catch" the toy; for him, it's all about the chase. Lionel, however, attacks the toy tooth-and-nail. He's not happy until he has it at his mercy, and then he sets about destroying it. This not only accelerates the wear and tear on the toy, but it also spoils Tyrone's fun.

From this anecdote you might conclude that Lionel is the dominant cat and Tyrone the submissive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Lionel is the one who won't approach me for a cuddle if Tyrone is in sight; he bashfully stands out of reach when I try to hand-feed Pounce to them, while Tyrone is constantly in-my-face (and in Lionel's too, when I'm trying to offer the latter a treat). Lionel looks on mournfully while Tyrone drinks all the tuna water when I set it down for them, unless I pull Tyrone away and restrain him in another room while Lionel gets his share. Generally speaking, Tyrone is cocky and vocal and approachable, while Lionel tends to be more insecure and defensive. They're not even persons, but boy! do they have personality!

CGM=Church Growth Methodolgy

For your further enjoyment, here are a baker's dozen of theses I sketched out about CHURCH GROWTH METHODOLOGY (CGM).

1. CGM makes outreach and church planting so expensive and complex that many Christians and congregations have no chance to succeed. The Gospel, on the other hand, requires only voices to speak and feet to carry it where it is needed. God's Word does it all.

2. CGM makes a false distinction between "nurture" and "outreach" ministries. It does not recognize that all preaching of Christ must be a preaching of repentance. Christians are always sinner-saints, and must always be “evangelized” with Law-Gospel ministry, because of the sinful Adam in each of us. Much CG ministry does not focus on repentance but reduces evangelism to “sharing good news” and nurture to “celebration services.” This "Gospel Reductionism" does not make disciples.

3. CGM selectively targets the ministry to types of people who are statistically "more receptive" to its message. This procedure, pioneered by cults, disobeys Christ's command to teach all nations and to scatter the seed on all types of soil. We cannot foretell or determine where God's Word will bear fruit.

4. CGM is enthused about “human care ministries” and schools, because they can be used to attract (maybe even buy) a listening ear—not as an act of disinterested Christian love, or an opportunity to teach. This creates a credibility gap. The result is “bread Christians” or “tuition-break Christians” who will fall away the moment the ministry has served out its usefulness to them. Meanwhile, how are you using your opportunity to "witness" to them? Are you still waiting to break the full truth of God's Word to them? Some "ministry"!

5. CGM proposes to “make Christians first and worry about Lutherans later,” or to hold back on “Lutheran distinctives” for a while. When does “later” come? How will our Christians feel when we finally reveal what we’re really about? Since when does Lutheranism teach anything but the pure Word of God? If it does, how better to make Christians than to teach Lutheranism? If it doesn't, then why are we here?

6. CGM canvasses the community for their interests and desires, then tries to serve up what the community wants. Where is discipleship? Where is the call for repentance? Where is the transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light? When we’ve done such a good job reflecting the people, where does God come in?

7. CGM contradicts its own statistics, which show that Church Growth happens when members invite friends and neighbors to their church where sound doctrine is preached well. The classic CG methods aren’t a factor in real Church Growth!

8. CGM disregards the church’s history, theology, and traditions; but since no church can exist without them, it starts from scratch with brand-new traditions, teachings, and historical perspectives that will not stand the test of time...still less the other kinds of tests that are sure to come.

9. CGM disregards the pastoral ministry as if it is only one possible model among many, and not the one instituted by God. Without a distinct sense of a shepherd tending a flock, the church collapses into a network of therapy/support groups whose competing agendas and constituencies will consume and divide the church.

10. CGM disregards the means of grace and distrusts the Holy Spirit, relying on man instead and cutting the Church off from her real source of power. It is a Reformed discipline that will make mainstream Protestant churches of everybody, differing only in “signature ministries.”

11. CGM declares that “style doesn’t matter” in regard to worship, but at the same time insists that the style you must adopt to make CG happen is “contemporary.” However, this reduces the message to cheap cliches and demotes worship to music theatre, lacking the integrity and reverence that mean “church” to most people.

12. CGM begins its theology at Matthew 28:18 rather than, say, John 3:16. This turns the Gospel into Law and has all kinds of other as-yet-unexamined effects on theology. By making CG the end-all it creates ministries exclusively devoted to making “new Christians” but without any established membership to assimilate them, mentor them, or retain them. They recognize this but as yet do not view it as a major weakness.

13. CGM declares that if we are on fire with passion to save the lost, we must craft a church environment where unbelievers will fit right in - a "nonthreatening" place that will not offend or alienate them. This can only be done if the church becomes unbelieving as well. And when CG methodologists declare (as one pastor did in my hearing) that they would sooner offend 100 churchgoers than 1 unchurched person, they are signaling that their church is no place for a Christian to be.

Question Time - Part 2

Once again, consider that LCMS pastor who stated he would sooner offend 100 churchgoers than 1 unchurched person. I suppose he really means that his heart burns with an admirable passion for reaching the lost. But what he said is, basically, "We do church for unbelievers. We don't care about believers. If it was like church in any way that most Christians would recognize, the people we are trying to reach wouldn't come. So we're bending over backwards not to be a Christian Church, in order to get them in the door."

That's just too bad for six (6) significant types of people who are hungry for God's Word. You might say they are "Left Behind" by the Church Growth movement. Here are some of the questions the proponents of "megachurch" evangelism may have to answer some day...

1. What became of the person you had no chance of making a member of your church (for example, the one-time visitor who's just passing through town)? Did you preach him into heaven? In your one chance to reach him, did you give him all that he needed?

2. What became of the person who was leaving Methobapticostalism, searching for the Lutheran alternative to where she came from and for the precious, unique, free forgiveness she had heard about? Did she walk out of your service feeling let down?

3. What became of the foreign Lutheran congregation that was struggling against unimaginable pressures to build, or maintain, or restore faithful Lutheranism, and that was hoping that you would help them by example and encouragement, if not by sending resources and aid? Were they let down as well?

4. What about faithful old Mrs. Schmidt, who never expected her church to become something that she couldn't belong to any more? Why did you give her a choice between changing her religion or losing it altogether?

5. What became of the younger generation? Did you bring them up to know & appreciate Lutheranism, or did your Sunday School and Youth programs teach them to expect their church to be Methobapticostal in form and substance? Did they end up changing churches later on? Or did some of them, perhaps, grow up to change your church in ways even you didn't foresee?

6. And what ever became of that “unchurched person” you didn't dare offend or challenge or confront in any way? It was lovely of you to give them hospitality and refreshment on the road to hell. But how many of them continued on it? Did you waste your one brief opportunity to reach them with the saving Word, the teachings of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins? Or did you despise them so much that you didn't expect them to be able to handle the truth?

If we do not take the chance of offending anyone, we will never make disciples for Jesus. His Gospel is offensive, but it is life. Either men will hear His Word and believe it, or they will be offended because they reject His Word.

WORSHIP: It’s not about pleasing you—it’s about honoring Christ & receiving His gifts. It’s not about what’s fun, pretty, upbeat, or happening-right-now—it’s about what Christ did once and is doing, about nailing our sins to His cross, crucifying the world & the flesh, and living by faith in God's forgiveness.

EVANGELISM: It’s not about getting more people into our church—it’s about getting more souls into heaven! It’s not about getting them to come & save our church—it’s about getting the teachings of Jesus to them & saving them! Most importantly, it's not the opposite pole from teaching; it is teaching, teaching all things wherein Christ has instructed us.

STEWARDSHIP: It’s not about investing what belongs to us in keeping our church solvent; it’s about recognizing that God loans us what we need, and it all belongs to him. Why shouldn’t we give back what we can to help move His work forward?

MISSION: It’s not about teaching ESL, handing out vaccines, and translating the Bible. It’s about proclaiming the message of Christ crucified, sins forgiven, and sinners freed from the mastery of the devil. It’s not about making an LCMS outpost in the bush; it’s about encouraging the church of each nation & people to proclaim the same message!

Question Time - Part 1

An LCMS parishioner once observed that everyone just wanted the congregation to become healthy and to grow. This may or may not be a godly desire. Church-Growth-oriented people, these days, have progressed to terminology like, “finding lost sheep,” “winning souls for Christ,” and “healing the hurting with good news.” These goals are admirable and godly, and no Christian can say a word against them. However, there is room to criticize the means they use to achieve their goals, and also whether or not the measurable result they aim for (chiefly, numerical growth) is necessarily the same thing as their godly, spiritual, stated goals. Perhaps one may even question whether these stated goals are really what they are after.

In essence, the question a mission-minded church needs to ask itself is: IS OUR MISSION FOCUS OF THE FLESH OR OF THE SPIRIT?

I wrote the following questions as a way a congregation can test its own motives as to whether they are of God or of the flesh. Originally these were written for the consideration of a congregation that was torn apart by internal conflict, but they are just as applicable to our Synod as a whole.

1. Do we seek a heavenly tabernacle, or an earthly corporation?

2. Do we seek heavenly treasures or earthly Mammon?

3. Do we want to share our treasures with others, or get others to join and share their treasures with us?

4. Do we want our neighbors to grow spiritually as the Word has caused us to grow, or do we want them to join us so we can grow numerically and financially?

5. Do we want to save them, or do we want them to save us?

6. Do we really want new faces, even if it means breaking up the old crowd and diluting our power?

7. Will we share with our friends and neighbors and lead them to Christ’s preaching and liturgy, or is it the Pastor’s job to pound pavement and sell the Gospel to random strangers?

8. Do we love God's gifts of Word and Sacrament, or would we give them up for something fun?

9. Is obedience too costly?

10. Is departing from the distinctions that mark us as Lutherans an acceptible sacrifice, if it will help us pack the pews?

11. Is the growth and unity of the church more important than the Word of God?

12. Is the growth and unity of the church possible without the Word of God?

13. Does the church’s future depend on staying true to its history, or on getting rid of its history?

14. Would we sooner allow the church to shed its history, or even die, than commit the personal effort and risk of inviting our neighbors to hear the teaching of God's Word?

15. Which is a better risk: a social event guaranteed to bring in money and that may get someone interested in our Church, or one that costs money and effort but is specifically aimed at reaching the lost?

16. Could I afford to spend more time in God’s Word, especially with my brothers and sisters in Christ?

17. Could I benefit from learning anything that my Pastor has to teach?

18. Could I afford to spend more money (personally) on supporting missions and seminaries?

19. If not, could I give up some fleshly pleasure in order to do so?

20. Is “having things my way” more important than giving the most faithful possible witness to the truth?

21. Is it better to draw people into a Protestant Minimum church, than to declare to them the whole counsel of God?

22. If so, will there ever come a time when we are ready to spring the whole truth on them? And when that time comes, what will they think of us?

23. Do the Christian obligations to forgive and be reconciled to brother or sister, and to "put the best construction on everything," end at the point where church practices are concerned? (e.g. issues of closed communion, chanting, officers in the congregation, etc.)

24. Do you stop coming to church when you feel angry at someone in it?

25. Is it right to be angry at your church or pastor when their faithfulness to God's Word puts you or your loved ones at an inconvenience? (e.g. issues of closed communion, marrying couples who are cohabiting out of wedlock, etc.)

26. Do you think the witness you give by complaining about your church, or absenting yourself from it, will help it grow? How much will you grow in the meantime?

27. Would you rather be a servant/disciple or a Lord?

28. Do you have a right to be pleased with the church's policies, if you don't participate constructively in the decision-making?

29. Is your being pleased with church policies more important than having God’s Word in your life?

30. Is it your hope that, if the congregation should close, you could claim a share in its equity?

31. Which should the church give up sooner: its property or its ministry?

32. Do we have responsibility to the larger church, or do they exist to serve us?

So, which was it? Flesh, or Spirit?

Flight from Lutheranism

EDIT: All right. I'm reposting it. But only because I miss the pictures! Also, my Dad's blog has been getting some cool responses to this. If these next 3-4 posts don't appeal to you, fear not. Variety is my middle name!

With all my heart, I hate taking a negative tone or a negative outlook. However, any honest observer of the Lutheran scene must be concerned. My observations, and my concerns, naturally focus on the Missouri Synod, because that is the church where I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained. But let me state up front, for the benefit of anyone reading this and also as a reminder to myself, that I trust the Holy Spirit to work through God's Word. The only answer to the challenges before the LCMS is teaching. We must trust the message and the power of God.

Attempts to resolve the church's problems through synodical structure and rules, political maneuvers, business models, polls and publicity campaigns, force of personality, or even truckloads of money, will all fail. Forces from the right and left that rely on them have equally been snookered by a lie from the depths of hell.

The same is true at the level of each local congregation. I have personally known pastors who have shoved sweeping changes down the throats of unwilling congregations, all the while whining to their colleagues as if they were martyrs to the great cause (and you've never heard abuse until you've heard pastors getting together to dish on their parishioners). I have heard trained and ordained "stewards of the mysteries" spend days on end talking about nothing but fundraising techniques, administrative models, ecclesiastical real estate speculation, and the awe-filled conviction that God is at work (as evidenced by a huge, gorgeous church built on spec by LCEF). If only they realized that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light and, as Luther pointed out, that "the devil can so clothe and adorn himself with Christ’s name and works, and can pose and act in such a way, that one could swear a thousand oaths that it is truly Christ Himself, although in reality it is the archenemy and the true Archantichrist" (LW vol. 24 p. 16).

On the laymen's side, however, I have also heard church elders and council members questioning whether we should be "out in the open" about doctrines, like the Real Presence or regenerative Baptism, that set us apart from garden-variety Christians. Should we not be more open and accepting? Should we not emphasize what we have in common, and perhaps reconsider the Lutheran "distinctives" that are not shared by all Christians everywhere? The answer to them is: we're talking about the teachings of our Lord.

And let's be honest (though not proud): it is not a "difference in interpretation" or a "difference in emphasis" that leads our fellow Christians to deny the clear teachings of God's Word. Whatever allegiance to the Bible they may claim to have, they show how little they believe it by the confession that they hold. And we show how seriously we take God's Word by continuing to teach, confess, and practice what it teaches. Consider whether we should do otherwise when the main currents of Protestantism flow toward acceptance of homosexuality, female pastors, the teaching of evolution, unmarried cohabitation, etc.? When the day comes when we stick-in-the-mud Lutherans are outnumbered by the main body of Protestantism on these issues, will we throw up our hands and say, "Can't beat'em - join'em"?

Change agents are at work in the Lutheran Church. They started with the damnable lie that Lutheranism has a theology but no methodology. Then they brainstormed up a methodology that owes more to the business models of 10 years ago and to the teachings of Methobapticostals than to Scripture or the Lutheran Symbols. And then they brainstormed up a new theology in which to clothe this abomination so that it would slide the more easily down the gullet of our pastors and laypeople.

When at the parish, district, or synod level these change agents want to get their foot in the door, they talk about "Christian freedom" and the "advisory" nature of synod. When they are firmly entrenched in power at each level, the same change agents declare that anyone who opposes them does not love Christ or burn with passion to find lost souls, and so they set about systematically silencing all dissent. They use "freedom of the Gospel" talk to fool the faithful, then they use the hammer of the Law to crush them into submission.

And the sad fact is that these "change agents" cannot be stopped by structural or political means. Why? Because they know the synodical bylaws book-chapter-and-verse, probably better than we know the Bible or the Catechism. And in their fanatical conviction that the mission of Christ's church depends on the new teaching they just dreamt up last week, they will take measures to ensure their success, measures from which any truly Godfearing Christian would stop short. Bottom line, if we fight this war at the Synod Convention, we will lose.

In the next three posts, I want to ask some dangerously tough questions that I hope will stimulate you, if you are a Lutheran and especially a Missouri Synod Lutheran, to think in a new way about the direction our church is headed. And I want to close by repeating that the only way to change the synod's course is to teach, teach, teach the living, active, and powerful Word of God.

Thank God for Reuter

It is my great, and I feel undeserved, privilege every Sunday to play a beautiful, 1972 Reuter organ in a beautiful, 1948 nave-style church. I only started the job last fall, taking over from a very gifted, sweet man who was the congregation's organist for 60 years. If I live long enough, a 60-year stint at this organ would be a tremendous blessing.

I can't sing the praises of this instrument enough. When I auditioned for the position, I was captivated by the economy and simplicity of this organ, which at the same time made everything I played sound exactly the way I had imagined it.

Every pipe organ is as unique as a human fingerprint. Such organs are designed, first of all, to fit the size, shape, and building materials of the space they live in, not to mention the purchasing-power of the congregation. But there are also several different schools, or styles, of organ design, and which style or combination of styles is used will depend in part on the desires of the musician(s) overseeing the installation. And of course each builder also leaves his particular mark. The passage of time, wear and tear, revisions and repairs will also effect the distinctive sound of each organ. So each organ will have its own number and types of pipes, organized and voiced in its own way, and its voice will resonate in a unique way in the unique space it inhabits.

I love the pipe organ. A small organ with only a handful of ranks of pipes can be an exciting challenge to an organists' creativity. A big organ with "everything but the bathroom sink" can be an opportunity to run wild with an endless variety of sonorities and styles. But with this 1972 Reuter at my church, I feel that I have come across the first "just right" organ in my musical career. It isn't extravagantly huge; in fact, it only has two manuals, each with a modestly generous but well-balanced selection of stops.

Unlike the "big organ" I mentioned earlier (including some that I have played while wondering, "Do I really need all this?") it doesn't have every stop I could dream of using; like the "small organ" I mentioned earlier, it still challenges me to be creative in my stop selection. Yet I can be creative on a big, medium, or small scale; I can create as many varieties of color-combinations as I want; and as long as I remember to renew the tuner's contract, it just sounds awesome.

Here is the organ's registration, for you pipe lovers out there. Forgive me for not being more specific about "flutes" and "principals," but in my thoughts (and marginal notes) I have generally tended to think in terms of flute vs. principal, and it's convenient enough though it belies the variety of flute sounds, etc. Also note that the swell is divided into 2 boxes, each of which is controlled by its own pedal. With a clever use of swell presets, the organist can create the illusion of 3 pipe divisions with only 2 keyboards.

Pedal: 16' Violone; 16' Bourdon; 16' Rohrfl.; 8' Octave; 8' Bourdon; 8' Flute; 4' Choralbass; 4' Bourdon; 16' Posaune; 8' Trompette; 8' and 4' couplers to each manual. My memory betrays me; there may also be a 4' Pedal-to-Pedal coupler. The Violone is quite strong. The reed stops are a bit slow to speak on some notes, so I am very sparing in their use.

Swell: 8', 4', and 2' Flute; 4' Spitz-Principal; 8' Viola; 8' Viol Celeste; 2-2/3' and 1-3/5' stops; 8' Trumpet; 16' and 4' Swell-to-Swell; Tremolo. Having the trumpet in the Swell flies in the face of a lot of composers' written-out registration, but it really stands to reason in terms of balancing the loud trumpet against the heavier-sounding ranks in the Great.

Great: 8', 4', and 2' Principals; 8' and 4' Flutes; III Mixture; 8' Krumhorn; 8' and 4' Swell-to-Great and 4' Great-to-Great. There also used to be a chime stop, but I'm told that the mechanism rusted so it was disconnected.

Each keyboard has 4 available presets, and there are 4 general presets available. There is also a crescendo pedal and a full-organ button, neither of which I ever use. Sorry, I'm just not wired that way. I've never liked crescendo pedals, and my nerves can't take "full organ." I mostly use the swell pedals, and manually adding or removing stops, for expression.

My philosophy of organ presets is pretty modest, compared (I have found) to that of other organists. One Sunday, after having a week off while some big-shot guest organist came in for a special service, I tried out the presets the other guy had set up and was actually terrified by the noise that came out. If I ever play that loudly, which I doubt, it is after building up to it one or two stops at a time. I have a hard time understanding why someone would put so much on a preset.

Some of my discomfiture may have been that when I came in to practice, the air conditioning was off (weekdays during the summer, you know) so things were way out of tune that would have sounded nice on an air-cooled Sunday morning (particularly the reeds); some of it, I suspect, was that I have different ideas about acoustics and musical leadership, and in my opinion the "pull out all the stops" approach results in a thick, heavy, indistinct gloop of sound.

In my practice, General Preset 1 is for introducing hymns and accompanying low-key parts of the liturgy, such as the responses at the beginning of the service & the Kyrie. Preset 2 is for the first stanza of a hymn and most of the liturgy, Preset 3 is for a really climactic hymn stanza or parts of the liturgy (such as the Sanctus and the Te Deum), and Preset 4 is for the Postlude (I change this one every week). The swell & great presets come in handy for preludes and the voluntary, so I don't have to spend time switching stops while people are waiting. Therefore I also change them on a weekly basis. But Gen. 1-3 stay the same, and I either add to them or take away as needed. For example, in the Gloria at "That takest away the sin of the world" I take the 2' Principal off in the Great, and add it back in at "For Thou only art holy." I do something similar in the Sanctus at "Blessed is He" and in the Te Deum at "When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man."

And as hymn stanza builds upon hymn stanza, I often increase the registration by adding, for example, the cornet stops on the Swell (stanza 2), or maybe just the 4' and 2-2/3' stops at first and the 2' and 1-3/5' later; the 4' couplers to the Great one at a time, and the III Mixture, in varying order but most often starting with the 4' Swell-to-Great; other principal and flute stops not already added; and finally, just maybe, some reeds. On my lightest Preset (1) I sometimes chuck in the strings, for a really dense but shimmery sound. Gen. 2 is the only general preset on which I occasionally play on the upper manual (mainly, to give the pastor his note for a chant, or to repeat part of the closing hymn to accompany the "silent prayer"). I also have one preset (3) in which the 8' Swell to Great is not automatically selected, so in a pinch I can play a Trumpet solo without having to clear the coupler. My presets are very light and simple, so that I can quickly build a distinctive sequence of sound combinations on each one.

I'm not a perfect organist. Not nearly! Some days I'm not as accurate in my pedal playing as I would like; other days, perhaps, I find myself regretting registration choices I made ahead of time; and though I think I have grown a lot musically, and continue to grow, there is always room for me to learn my music more precisely and to play it more musically. However, having such a beautifully designed instrument to play, with which some musical instinct in me instantly connected, is tremendously exciting. At almost every service, I all but lose myself in the joy of playing it, and I often feel that I have journeyed to a musical place where I have never gone before. This isn't, in every instance, the most helpful thing for the folks in the pews who are trying to sing the hymns and concentrate on their silent prayers. So I do get mixed feedback from them. But I am nearly always delighted with the response this organ gives me, and I hope and believe that I am also responding to it, by growing as a musician each time I play it.

Surviving Spicy Food

A Mexican-American co-worker, during my 2.5-year exile on the outskirts of hell (a.ka. Yuma, AZ), gave me one of the most valuable tips I have ever taken. What do you do when your Mexican salsa is too hot? This also applies to when you accidentally eat one of those little red peppers with which Chinese restaurants lace their Kung Pao, or when the cumulative effect of a dozen Buffalo wings leaves you pouring sweat, or when an overdose of wasabi mustard sets your sinuses on fire...or, as happened to me today, when a delicious "medium hot" Thai curry receives a standing ovation from all the nerve endings in your mouth, nose, and throat. What if you can't afford to bolt down 3 tall glasses of beer in a row? What if the waiter doesn't refill your water glass fast enough? What if - as experience has proved possible if not probable - what if no amount of beverage-swilling puts the fire out?

The trick, courtesy of Angie Garcia (who no longer lives in Yuma either, so don't look her up): eat something starchy. See that covered dish of tortillas (or naan, or roti, etc.)? Grab a hunk and suck on it, chew it up slowly, let it suck the sting out of the yum. See that side of white rice (or pilaf, or fried rice, or Spanish rice, etc.)? Eat it straight. Just a bite or two, when your mouth gets too hot; then go back to the main dish again. For once, you won't mind the bland flavor of the rice. For heaven's sake, don't mix it up with the curry, or Kung Pao, or enchilada sauce, or what have you. The survival of your taste buds (and sweat glands) may depend on that blob of sticky white blandness! In a pinch, even chips or French fries will do!

So there's your general dining tip of the day. Now comes a couple of specific ones. Yesterday, I treated myself to another meal at Lily's, the homestyle Mexican place on South Kingshighway. It was packed with people, including a large group having a party. It's nice to see quality mixed with success. I had special #4, which is a chile relleno, a tamal, and an enchilada, accompanied by more beans and rice than I could finish and, of course, the always-complimentary chips & salsa. Every bite of it was absolutely perfect. (Newcomers to tamales, take note: you're not supposed to eat the corn husk it comes wrapped in.) I also recommend their burritos, rolled tacos, the horchata ("rice water," served only on weekends)--basically, everything I've tried there. They do it all just right!

And today, after church, I lunched at The King and I, an attractive and popular Thai restaurant on Grand Blvd., a couple blocks south of Arsenal. It was only my second visit there, though I have been fascinated by the taste-world of Thai food for many years. I think "fascinating" is the best word to describe the flavor of a good curry. Even when it is spicy to the point of pain (and at "medium" spiciness, my sweat glands go into overdrive) the distinctive, always interesting flavor of curry is in the foreground, inviting you to try more of it, and condemning you to long for it when you haven't had any for a while. There are infinite varieties of curry, a complex blend of spices mixed in varying ratios, applied in varying forms to varying mixtures of meat, vegetables, and even fruit. Yet mysteriously, curry can never be mistaken for anything else. I think Thai chefs have a special knack for inventing interesting and absolutely convincing variants, often mixed with coconut milk, loads of hot pepper, and exotic, colorful things like basil leaves, lemon grass, bamboo shoots, and straw mushrooms.

Another thing Thai and Vietnamese restaurants have going for them is the fresh spring roll, consisting of greens, vermicelli, and shrimp wrapped in clear rice paper. Sometimes meat, herbs, and other things are added; and you can count on the dipping sauce to be sweet and tangy. These are basically a kind of salad you can pick up in your fingers, a good starter. For finishers, you might try a pudding of fruit in coconut milk. (At one Vietnamese restaurant, I even tried a pudding consisting of mung beans suspended in a clear gelatin with coconut milk poured over the top). And for a beverage, you must try Thai (or Vietnamese) coffee, a strong dark brew mixed with sweetened, condensed milk and poured, if you like, over ice.

I had a delicious "Panang Curry" of chicken, red and green bell peppers, and coconut milk with red curry and, of course, a mound of white rice. I had 2 spring rolls and the iced coffee. Everything was spectacularly good. My waiter didn't look or sound Thai; I asked him, and he told me he's French. So I had a French waiter at a Thai restaurant. Isn't that something? The whole shmeer cost $15, including a generous tip to the French guy. Why isn't this place packed?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Political Disillusionment

I won't have much to say about national politics in my blog. There have been times in my life when I took a great interest in political news and opinions, but no longer. I am quite disillusioned now. Regardless of who is in power, I have seen exactly the same types of sloganeering on the part of both his/their supporters and the opposition, one administration after another. Looking back into history, you see the same thing. For every presidential administration, every congress, etc., there are those on one side who will say or write only fawning praise, and those on the other (e.g. Michael Moore, in the present instance) who will not shrink from leveling any accusation. It happens to leaders from both parties. One thus begins to suspect that it's equally bull-hockey in either case.

I have known, and cared about, people who seriously believe the Michael Moore type of propaganda against whoever is in power; at least, when that person belongs to the "other party." I worked closely with a "moonbat" who wouldn't doubt any evil report about George W. Bush. I have near and dear family members who wouldn't doubt any evil report about Bill Clinton. And I laugh a mirthless laugh of despair, wondering how no one else notices that each man's opponents accuse both men of the same things, and that the difference between them is slight.

Maybe all the accusations are true - the stories that call into question the character and loyalties of Bush, Clinton, and other American leaders, and their methods of taking and holding power. If so, then every one of our leaders in living memory has been monstrously corrupt, and that should alarm all of us. Or maybe it isn't true. The documentation of these men's supposed misdeeds is thick with dropped names of people and organizations, and anecdotal details; but somehow, in spite of all these specifics, the accusations have a certain vagueness and at times preposterousness, giving them the distinct ring of a paranoid raving.

One such raving that I recently read was a magazine article that argued that Wendell Willkie's nomination as the 1940 Republican Presidential candidate was the work of a treasonously corrupt cabal who wanted FDR to win election to a third term. Sure, it's an intriguing thesis, and if there's any truth in it one would justly be outraged about it. However, with stories like this you recognize that it probably isn't entirely true, though it probably isn't entirely untrue. Exactly where it stands on the continuum between "true" and "untrue" can never be established, but the "paranoid raving" aspect is front and center, so I'm not going to get too worked up about it. And that about summarizes my outlook on political polemics in general.

Posts Withdrawn - Not!

I originally posted the "Flight from Lutheranism" and "Question Time" posts the evening before this post, when I announced that I had decided to delete them. Then I waffled some more and let my Dad post them on his blog, and now I've done a complete 180 (if not a 360) and put them on the blog again. So never mind. Isn't this a cool picture, though?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cat Trick

My charcoal gray cat Tyrone has taught me that I mustn’t leave used up wads of kleenex lying around unattended. He did this by a fascinating process that can only happen with a cat’s brain as catalyst.

Step 1. Cat sees wad of kleenex and thinks, “Hmm. That looks like a toy.”

Step 2. Cat, who thinks he is David Beckham, swats the wad of kleenex around the floor, looking for an opening to make a shot on goal.

Step 3. Cat shoots; scores. Did I mention, the goal is the cat’s water dish?

Step 4. After letting the kleenex soak for a while, cat triumphantly removes it from the goal, carries it in procession to the bedroom, and presents it to his master—usually, by dropping it on the foot of the bed, right where the master is about to put his foot at 4:30 in the morning. What a way to wake up!

Step 5. Master shudders, throws away the wet gob of tissue, and is obligated to praise cat for his industry, cleverness, and athletic prowess.

Well, that’s an old story. A more recent twist began when I was taking the little plastic strip from around the lid of a brand new jar of Miracle Whip. It was the crackly kind of stiff cellophane that the cats like to play with, so I dropped it on the floor and let them get on with it. And boy, did they!

A couple nights later I heard a plasticky crackling sound as I got into bed and found the much-chewed remains of the cellophane strip in and amongst my bedclothes. So I reached over lazily and put it on my desk. The next night, while I was reading in bed, Tyrone hopped up on the bed and started sniffing around the edge of the desk for something to play with. In order to divert his attention from pieces of paper I would rather not find full of tooth-marks and soaked in water, I rewarded him with the piece of cellophane, and even played with him for a while. Then I threw it on the floor and he went after it.

Five minutes later he dropped it on my leg and it ricocheted onto the bed. In the process it splashed me with about a quart of water. It’s amazing how much water a small strip of cellophane, scrunched and perforated by cat’s teeth, can hold all the way from the water dish in the kitchen to my bed, while being carried in the jaws of a cat. It was very bracing.

And of course, I had to laugh and praise the cat for his cleverness, the little stinker. What can I do about it?

Chinese (?) Food

One of my life's great pleasures has also been one of my life's great frustrations. Once captivated by a memorable experience, I have been endlessly pursuing an amazingly elusive quality. Now and again I find it , in a different form, but the difference drives me onward through sloughs of ever deeper disappointment.

What did you think I was talking about? Pshaw! I'm only talking about Chinese food!

During my 2.5 year sojourn in Arizona, I experienced all three of the worst three Chinese restaurants I have ever visited. Possibly four. Maybe the amount of sunshine effects the recipes somehow. I really did despair of finding good Chinese cuisine.

Then I moved to St. Louis and immediately found good, then better, then even better...I don't dare say I've had the best. I'm still exulting in it and I haven't nearly reached the end. Plus, there are numerous Asian alternatives to spice up the experience - Vietnamese soups and soft spring rolls, Thai curries, Japanese sushi, that Indian place across the street from where I live, the Turkish cafe that actually has belly dancers two afternoons a week, and the Persian place I blogged about a while back, just for starters!

Dollar for drool, though, my favorite South St. Louis Chinese place is Old St. Louis Chop Suey on Chippewa, about a block east of Kingshighway. When I dine there I usually have something spicy, but tonight I decided to go in for a St. Louis cultural tradition: the St. Paul sandwich.

If you live in the United States, you probably eat something just about every day that owes its status as an American favorite to St. Louis. During the six-month 1904 World's Fair, an estimated 50% of the US population visited St. Louis and discovered, for the first time, things that, if they weren't exactly invented here, at least got their first nationwide notice here. New-fangled, weird things like Dr. Pepper, hot dogs, hamburgers, peanut butter, waffle ice cream cones, iced tea, cotton candy, and Aunt Jemima products. One could argue that all of these things are St. Louis's gift to the American pantry.

These days, however, St. Louis is known for about five culturally distinctive foods that are believed to have been invented here, and which are becoming more and more popular across the U.S. - but not sooner than St. Louis can stake a claim to them. For starters you can have toasted ravioli, once a coveted family recipe served in a handful of Italian restaurants on "the Hill," but now available off the appetizer menu at practically every restaurant in the St. Louis orbital system. This is basically a lightly battered, deep-fried ravioli, served with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. I suppose it must have been quite something when it was a family recipe, but now that anything goes, it tastes pretty much like any other tough, slightly cripsy hunk of pasta with a squirt of mystery meat in it.

For your main course there's "St. Louis style pizza," a crispy, thin-crust recipe with provel cheese on it, usually cut into squares. Where I came from this was called "toasted crackers and cheese," though if you've ever enjoyed the stretchy stringiness of mozzarella you may have trouble believing that this orange gook (a thin coat of red sauce combined with the melted provel) is really cheese.

For dessert there's either gooey butter cake, which is a really moist, high-fat sort of cross between a pound cake and a sour cream cruller; or a frozen custard "concrete," preferably purchased at Ted Drewes since the 1930's and still the most salivated-after St. Louis eating tradition. (They also sell the best Christmas trees in town.)

But if you don't care about quality at all, and you're just slavering for the tackiest, unhealthiest, weirdest comfort food in town, go to any Chinese restaurant and order a St. Paul Sandwich. Named after its inventor's native city (which tells you a bit about "how Chinese it is"), this guilty pleasure consists of a bun, or more likely two slices of soft white bread, smeared with mayonnaise, and stuffed with lettuce, pickle, and a crispy-fried egg foo young. I would say tasting is believing, but I've had two of them now and I'm still in disbelief. 20% of St. Louis' culinary fame rests on an egg sandwich with bean sprouts in it.

Oh, well. Our diet may be poor, but at least we have the World Series Champions.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Italian Food and a Disney Film

Dinner this evening (mind you, evening starts early for me) was a spinjuine pizza at Caito's Italian Restaurant in Chesterfield, MO. This spinjuine thing (pronounced like "spin-June") is an old family recipe, and a sensational new experience for me. Apparently it's been written up in the local moonbat culture-gossip rag, Riverfront Times.

And well it should be. It's nice to experience something really different (but also good) within the tolerances of a "comfort food" formula. Spinjuine is a pizza with your choice of crust (thick or thin), generously covered with a nicely seasoned sauce full of chunks of crumbled meat (like the meat mixture in lasagna), and finally topped with white cheese in such a way that the cheese forms white "spots" on the red "background." It looks odd but tastes marvy.

Then I went to see the new film based on the Newbery-Medal book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. The film comes out of Disney and Walden Media.

I recently read a speech by one of the Walden execs, who made the case (in which I heartly agree) that a childhood habit of "literary reading" - reading works of imagination for pleasure - is an important part of growing up to be thoughtful, responsible, good and even courageous people. Walden Media has been involved with movies based on several exceptional children's books, including Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Chronicles of Narnia series, and Charlotte's Web, as well as a film about British anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce titled Amazing Grace, and the upcoming film based on Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising.

Knowing all of these books and having seen most of these movies, I think I can generalize that Walden Media is committed to encouraging young people to use their imagination, and to imagine themselves as heroes - an important first step to becoming heroes. Each of these stories (discounting the Wilberforce biopic) contains the kind of innocent magic that exists in every child's world of make-believe. And so each of these films is a beautiful invitation to our world's growing number of couch potatoes to turn the TV off and, for a change, vegetate over a good book.

I know there are parents who object to this type of magic and react to it as satanic witchcraft; but these people are ignorant fools who will probably do more harm than good to their children's development by stifling their ability to imagine. I think magical stories are like dreams; in some mysterious way they are a necessary part of being human, and if we deprive ourselves of them we make ourselves sick.

These stories also feature prominent conflicts between good and evil, and/or young characters faced with agonizing problems in their lives. Again, some parents probably object to this because they want to protect their children from fear and pain. But this, too, is silly. If they can't face such things in the safe world of a book, how will they deal with them in real life?

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those books that has been challenged, and perhaps even banned, because reactionary idiots who haven't really read it think it contains witchcraft and/or material too scary or mature for children. The "magic" in this book is a world of make-believe created by two children whose friendship and courage are truly inspiring. The "tragic" in this book is certainly moving, but it is also uplifting. Both the book and the movie made me sob like a girl. I even broke down in tears while driving home from the cinema, when I thought about the scene in which the meanest teacher in the school sends the hero boy out into the hallway for a private telling-off...and then starts crying in front of him.

The two main characters include a farm boy named Jess with an eye for art, played by Josh Hutcherson of Little Manhattan, Zathura, RV, and the upcoming Firehouse Dog. AnnaSophia Robb, who played the lead in Because of Winn-Dixie and gum-chewing Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, stars as Jess's friend Leslie. Robert Patrick plays the pivotal part of Jess's father, and Zooey Deschanel plays an attractive, young school music teacher whose interest in a talented student leads, indirectly, to tragedy.

It isn't a cutesie, happily-ever-after Disney movie. This Disney movie showcases family hardship and conflict, schoolyard bullying, the perils and joys of nonconformity, a hint of child abuse, and a full dose of grief and loss, to say nothing of survivor's guilt. Occupational hazards of being a child, a sibling, a friend, a neighbor, a human being.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jesus stills the storm

There aren’t very many hymns about Jesus stilling the storm. Godfrey Thring wrote this one in 1861. The tune by John Bacchus Dykes (pictured, 1823-76) is called ST. ÆLRED.

Fierce raged the tempest o’er the deep,
Watch did Thine anxious servants keep,
But Thou wast wrapped in guileless sleep,
Calm and still.

“Save, Lord, we perish,” was their cry,
“O save us in our agony!”
Thy word above the storm rose high,
“Peace, be still.”

The wild winds hushed; the angry deep
Sank, like a little child, to sleep;
The sullen billows ceased to leap,
At Thy will.

So, when our life is clouded o’er,
And storm-winds drift us from the shore,
Say, lest we sink to rise no more,
“Peace, be still.”


Since Kaspar Füger (1521-92) wrote this hymn for Christmas, it has usually been sung to its own tune, WIR CHRISTENLEUT, on which ECCE AGNUS (The Lutheran Hymnal No. 165) is based. Here is Catherine Winkworth’s (pictured, 1827-78) translation:

We Christians may Rejoice today,
When Christ was born to comfort and to save us.
Who thus believes No longer grieves,
For none are lost who grasp the hope He gave us.

O wondrous joy That God on high
Should take our flesh and thus our race should honor!
A Virgin mild Hath born this Child;
Such grace and glory God hath put upon her.

Sin brought us grief, But Christ relief,
When down to earth He came for our salvation.
Since God with us Is dwelling thus,
Who dares to speak the Christian’s condemnation?

Then hither throng With happy song
To Him whose birth and death are our assurance;
Through whom are we At last set free
From sins and burdens that surpassed endurance.

Yea, let us praise Our God and raise
Loud alleluias to the skies above us.
The bliss bestowed Today by God
To ceaseless thankfulness and joy should move us.