Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Imprecise Tackiness

This week's message on the lighted ELCA church sign:


And here I thought that was a trick of the light!

I know I shouldn't bother, but I keep trying to parse this logically. Is worry a source of light? If not, how can it give things a shadow? Might not shadows contribute to worry rather than vice versa?

I give up. I don't have time to puzzle this out, especially since I'm still stuck on Level 15 of Weffriddles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Revenge of the Bachelor Gourmet

Today I finally weakened.

I had been holding out on using that last packet of unflavored, instant oatmeal at work, for the obvious reason that it was unflavored. Without anything to cover up its native flavor, plain oatmeal is about the taste equivalent of licking a yak. But somehow, no source of flavoring materialized. No maple syrup. No fresh raspberries. No honey. No raisins. No apples and brown sugar.

All I had left was three little tear-open packets of Heinz Catsup, saved from a McDonald's carry-out sack. They had been sitting atop the microwave for several weeks, daring me to mix them with oatmeal.

Today was the day. It's not that I was out of other stuff to eat. But I had decided if I had one more lunch of ramen noodles, I was going to lose it. Lunch, mind, whatever. So I zapped the oatmeal in the microwave, added three squeezable packets of catsup, and...

Well, I was able to keep it down. In fact, it wasn't as awful as you might think. But please, bear in mind that I tell this story to entertain - not to recommend.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Sigh. How I cherish the memory, a mere ten years ago, of filling my car's fuel tank for just $.90 per gallon ($.899, to be exact). I never thought I would actually feel nostalgic for $2.00 per gallon. Things have reached the point where even $3.00 per gallon would be a pleasant relief. My glorified roller skate, which not too long ago shocked me by drinking $20.00 worth of fuel in one gulp, now regularly requires over $30.00 worth just to keep it going for a couple of days.

I don't have anyone to carpool with. Where I work, public transportation is no help. I simply must drive my car, and there's nothing to say about it. And this is my punishment. I have to fill the car up every 2.5 to 3 business days, mostly because of my daily commute, though some driving around town (to church, to symphony chorus practice, shopping, etc.) also takes its toll. I reckon I need to set aside $75.00 for fuel each week.

Lately this has proved challenging. This isn't altogether a bad thing. I think I may have lost some weight by eating out less. But what hasn't been fun is watching the needle on my bank account swing toward "empty" before the end of a pay period. So when the needle on my fuel gauge does likewise, I have to try new things. Such as selling every book I can bear to part with to Dunaway Books. Typically a box of books (the limit that I care to schlep from the nearest parking place a block or so away) accounts for about a tank of gas.

And today, for the first time since I started doing my own laundry, I actually performed "laundry triage." I sorted my laundry, not according to color or fabric, but according to whether or not I could live without it until the next laundry day. I got through the laundromat this afternoon on $5.00 flat.

My parents used to define a car as "a bottomless pit you throw money into." Perhaps the word "black hole" would be more apt.

I haven't been treating myself so much. At least, not in the lavish way I had been doing. By not eating nearly so much restaurant food, I have probably done tons for my physical health. And, to be quite frank, I am developing more of a taste for the simple fare I prepare at home. My last grocery run was another first for me: I bought two whole gallons of milk, knowing that I had a whole pay period to drink through them, as well as some frozen concentrate (which I haven't bothered to make in years). I bought extra loaves of bread and popped them in the freezer. I even picked up two (2) jars of sauerkraut, which is a major part of my nutritional program, along with Limeade (from concentrate), tuna, and extra-sharp cheddar cheese. (I don't typically eat them all at the same time, however.) I checked dates on everything to make sure it would be good for at least two weeks, and I looked for "2-fer" deals. Next thing you know, I'll be clipping coupons!

I haven't been attending the symphony (except when my symphony chorus privileges include a free ticket). When I have gone, I haven't parked in the pay lot, even though it means parallel-parking in a bad neighborhood and walking a couple of blocks in tux shoes. I haven't been seeing my usual "movie of the week," either. Last weekend, when I had sold a box of books for a whopping $70.00, I did spoil myself a bit and took in Ben Stein's Expelled movie, which makes a very entertaining case against the evolutionist agenda in the U.S. (and is also very interesting to look at).

Then I spoiled myself a little more and tried a steak-and-fried-plantain-on-ciabatta sandwich at TGI Friday's, a recipe I had seen on TV the last time I vegged out with my parents. The sandwich's flavor was excellent, but its architecture was a disaster. As soon as I picked it up, the steak rolled out one side and the plantains rolled out the other, and I was left holding a pile of lettuce, tomato, and southwestern-style mayo on ciabatta bread. Which, to be sure, was very tasty. I used my fork and knife to eat the meat & plantains, and I do think they make a good combination. But the Earl of Sandwich would not have approved. If you can't eat it without touching anything but bread, it's not a sandwich!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Election Year Poetry

On a Vulgar Error
by C. S. Lewis

No. It's an impudent falsehood. Men did not
Invariably think the newer way
Prosaic, mad, inelegant, or what not.

Was the first pointed arch esteemed a blot
Upon the church? Did anybody say
How modern and how ugly? They did not.

Plate-armour, or windows glazed, or verse fire-hot
With rhymes from France, or spices from Cathay,
Were these at first a horror? They were not.

If, then, our present arts, laws, houses, food
All set us hankering after yesterday,
Need this be only an archaising mood?

Why, any man whose purse has been let blood
By sharpers, when he finds all drained away
Must compare how he stands with how he stood.

If a quack doctor's breezy ineptitude
Has cost me a leg, must I forget straightway
All that I can't do now, all that I could?

So, when our guides unanimously decry
The backward glance, I think we can guess why.

Spelling Edicts

Having seized despotic power over the English-speaking world, or at least a major portion thereof, we are immediately forced to consider how to slow the rampant inflation that threatens the survival of our society. In view of the high price of fuel and our nation’s diminishing natural resources (such as trees), we are convinced that conservation is of the greatest importance. And hardly any segment of the economy is more profligate in wasting these resources than the publishing industry, including the production of paper. Therefore it pleases us to enact the laws hereinafter promulgated, which shall be obeyed from this moment onward on pains of death, to wit: the Linespacing Laws, the Margin Reduction Act, the Onionskin Paper Decree, the Font Size Canons, the Concision Doctrine, the Prolixity Taboo, the Publish and Perish Articles, the Punctuation Precepts, and lastly, our new Spelling Edicts . . . [93 pages later]

Spelling Edict 1.
Efective imediately, the length of al words speled with double consonants (defined as a consonant directly folowed by itself) wil be reduced by deleting one of the double leters.

Speling Edict 2.
The speling of words containing a silent leter, such as a silent E, wil likwis be reducd by deleting the silent leter.

Speling Edict 3.
Sylabls in which a nasl consonant (such as L, M, N, or R) or a siblnt (such as S, Sh, Z, or Zh) is pronouncd as a sylabl unto itself, or in a manr consistnt with a vowl, wil heraftr be speld without a vowl.

Speling Edict 4.
Al vaul saunds wil bi speld acording tu thə Itaeliən hiusəg, with thə cherəctr “ə” signifaihing ə dstinct shhua saund (or aeni lo ənraundəd vaul); thə letrs “ae” signifaihing thə vaul saund in thə wrd formrli speld “cat”; thə letrs “hi” signifaihing the consənənt formrli speld “y”; thə letrs “hu” signifaihing the consənənt formrli speld “w”; aend thə sailnt “h” in genrl srving aes thə exceptiən tu Speling Idict 2. Diphthongs wil bi speld with thə vauls əf which the ar cəmposd.

Speling Idict 5.
Letrs reprisenting ə combineshən əf consənənt saunds, səch aes “ks” (formrli speld “x”) and “ts” (səmtaims speld “c”) shael hentsforth bi əbolishd, thi ekspreshən therəf riplecd huith a phonetic speling əf sed saunds.

Speling Idict 6.
Letrz reprizenting saundz tipikli speld bai əthr letrz shael bi riplest huith thə letr most komnli əsocietəd huith sed saundz. For egzaempl, most wrdz in hhuich “c” wəz formrli hiuzd huil nau bi speld huith aithr “s” or “k” insted. Wrds formrli rikhuairing thə letr “q” huil nau əvel themselvz əv “k,” etc. [Not: ekspreshnz səch aez “etc.,” not bihing in Inglish, shael not bi altrd.]

Speling Idikt 7.
In kipq huith thə hiusədj əv əthr leqghuədjz, sətw aez Rəwn, thə saund formrli speld “sh” huil nau bi speld “w,” on thə raewənael thaet (1) thə letr “w” haez ben rilivd əv its əthr hiusz, aend (2) the saund formrli speld “sh” iz reprizentəd in Rəwn bai ə siqgl letr simlr tu aur ərsthuail “w.” Bai ekstenwən, thə saund formrli speld “ch” huil bi fonetikli rispeld “tw.” Similrli, thə saund səmtaimz givn aez “zh” huil be speld “j,” huail the saund priviəsli reprizentəd bai thaet letr huil bi fonetikli rispeld “dj.” Ənəthr konsəkhuents əv this iz thaet thə letr “g” huud alhuez bi prənauntst aez ə hard “g,” eksept in thə saund hirtufor speld “ng.” Thə laetr huil therfor bi riplest bai thə spelq “q,” hhuitw iz no loqgr hiuzd in its formr kapasiti; ə “g” huil bi aedəd onli hhuer ə hard “g” saund foloz thə nezl saund. Where thə “q” saund srvz aez ə parwl vaul (i.e., in the kəpaesiti əv ən entair silabl), it nid not bi prisidəd bai ə vaul. In this hue, hui huil muv Iqgliw spelq thuərd gretr kənsistntsi aend pridiktəbiliti, aur gol biq tu hav itw letr reprizent onli huən saund.

Spelq Idikt 8.
In ordr tu klerifai thə hiusədj əv thə letr “h” aez ə sailnt signifair əv sətw saundz aez “hi” (formrli speld “y”) and “hu” (formrli speld “w”), al aespiretəd konsənənts əv thə taip privihiəsli speld “h” huil nau bi speld “x,” aez pr thə hiusədj əv thə letr “x” in maeni əthr leqghuədjəz. Thəs, maeni wrdz formrli biginq huith “wh” huil nau bigin huith “xhu,” aez in thi intərogətiv pronaunz “xhuat, xhuen, xhuer, xhuai,” aend thə relətiv pronaun “xhuitw.”

Spelq Idikt 9.
Fryr tu Spelq Idikt 8, yə tu saundz formrli speld “th” huil hentsforc bi riplest bai ə siqgl letr itw, hiuzq “c” for yi ənvoist saund, aend “y” for yə voist saund; yiz letrs haevq alredi ben veketəd bai privihiəs Idikts. Yis, hui ciqk, wud bi səfiwənt tu put Iqgliw spelq on ən ordrli futq, eliminetq huestfl striqz əv sailənt letrz aend kənfhiuzq verihiənts on xau tu spel ə givn wrd.

Egzaempl əv xau yiz Idikts me bi əplaid:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
For skor aend sevn hiirz əgo aur fayrz brot forc on yis kontinənt, a nu newən, konsivd in Librti, aend dediketəd tu yə propəziwən yaet al men ar krietəd ikhul. Nau hui ar engedjd in ə gret sivl huər, testq xhueyer yaet newən, or aeni newən so kənsivd aend so dediketəd, kaen loq endhiur. Hui ar met on ə gret baetl-fild əv yaet huər. Hui haev kəm tu dediket ə porwn əv yaet fild, aez ə fainl restq ples for yoz xu xir gev yer laivz yaet yaet newən mait liv. It iz altugeyr fitq aend propr yaet hui wud du yis. Bət, in ə lardjr sens, hui kaen not dediket—hui kan not konsəkret—hui kaen not haelo—yis graund. Yə brev men, livq aend ded, xu strəgld hir, haev konsəkretəd it, far əbəv aur pur paur tu aed or ditraekt. Yə huərld huil litl not, nor loq rimembr xhuət hui se xir, bət it kan nevr forget xhuət ye did xir. It iz for əs yə livq, raeyr, tu bi dediketd xir tu yi ənfiniwt hurk xhuitw ye xu fot xir xav yəs far so nobli aedvaentst. It iz raeyr for əs tu bi xir dediketd tu yə gret taesk rimenq bifor əs—yaet frəm yiz anrd ded hui tek inkrist divown tu yaet koz for xhuitw ye gev yə laest fəl mejr əv divown—yaet hui xir xaili rizolv yaet yiz ded wael not haev daid in ven—yaet yis newən, əndr God, wael xav ə nu brc əv fridm—aend yaet gəvrnmnt əv yə pipl, bai yə pipl, for yə pipl, wal not periw from yi rth.
Yə frst vrjn kntenz 1,189 kerəktrz, not iqkludq spesz. Yə seknd vrjn haez 1,047 kerəktrz, dito. Yis iz ə sevqz əv 142 kerəktrz in onli 271 wrdz, aen almost 12% impruvmnt. Tekn tugeyr huic yi əyr konsrvewn laz rlir proklemd, yiz Spelq Idikts kud rizəlt in signifiknt straidz thuərd pepr aend enrdji konsrvewn. Hui xav spokn; xir aend obe!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reading Mozart's 25th

W. A. Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G minor, written around 1773, is among the more significant of his early symphonies. It shares its tonic key with the 40th Symphony (1788), besides which Mozart wrote no other minor-key symphonies; so the 25th is sometimes nicknamed the "Little G minor Symphony." While the 40th breathes the sophisticated air of mature classicism, the 25th is a bracing example of the earlier Sturm und Drang movement. This artistic school aimed to create a heightened sense of drama - if not real, emotional agitation. This meant, in musical terms: sudden pauses; changes of speed, loudness, and register; spiky tunes; tortured harmonies; unusual tone colors; and various rhythmic "special effects." Most of this music was in minor keys, and often sounded brusque or even threatening.

"Threatening" certainly applies to the opening of Mozart's 25th. Perhaps this is due to the way this first movement has been remixed by heavy metal bands and coopted by flamboyantly tragic films. Wiki goes into all that. But it's hard not to be intimidated by the opening unison with its harsh intervals and unsettling syncopation. As the theme goes into a repeat, however, Mozart opens up its more lyrical (though perhaps tragic) side. The high drama returns for a bridge to the second theme, a transitional passage that borrows the syncopations from the opening bars and adds a lot of gruff grace-notes and hornblowing. In contrast, the second theme all but skips with good cheer, leading to a bright codetta in E-flat major.

After a repeat of this expo, the development begins with brusque arpeggios, then returns to the lyrical version of the first theme. Within a few bars the recap takes up the argument from the beginning, only now the transition is even darker, being in G minor this time, as is the no-longer sunny second theme. As often happened in early classicism, the whole second part of the movement is then repeated, from the beginning of the development to the end of the recap, where Mozart then adds a coda based on the opening unison passage. The effect of this conclusion is one of unremitting tragedy, with all hope squashed out of the second theme and kept out to the end, while the only thing that remains unchanged is the histrionic horror of the beginning.

Movement II is a not-very-slow movement (Andante), opening with a theme in which the strings and bassoons seem to dialogue together in short, breathless gasps. With its texture so thin, its voice so subdued, and its lines so frequently broken, this music seems to live under some kind of restraint. It never says anything particularly unpleasant; but what makes your heart go out to it is the stammering hesitancy with which it expresses itself, and only occasionally opens up in a brief moment of carefree unself-consciousness.

Movement III is a Minuet from hell, to which one can only imagine dancing under some kind of compulsion, perhaps a demonic one. It opens with another severe unison (again providing a challenge to the horns); the rest of the main minuet does all that it can to increase the tension. The central Trio, however, is a thankful moment of relaxation in which the horns and woodwinds hold the floor - until the grim Minuet returns with its strings, its unisons, and its ascending level of tension.

Movement IV (Allegro) begins, again, in unison, albeit softly. Though it has a lively rhythm, it is a deadly serious theme, and is even repeated with a syncopated accompaniment reminiscent of Movement I. A transitional passage soon brings a lighter mood, crowned by a skipping second theme and, in the codetta, even a major-key version of the first theme. In sonata fashion, this expo section is repeated. Then a brief development spotlights the low strings in a playful, showy mood. The expo's transitional passage is transformed so as to keep the whole recap in the G-minor tonic; and, again, the development/recap portion of the movement is repeated as a counterweight to the repeated exposition, now (as in Movement I) in tints of unrelieved tragedy. Were it not for the relative starkness of the texture, this music would be too murky to "hear through." In his brief coda, Mozart brings back a hint of the first movement's opening theme before lowering the curtain on this, his grimmest symphony.

It isn't Mozart at his cultured best, but the 25th shows a side of his creative character rarely heard in his symphonies - a side that appeals to hammed-up accounts of his supposedly tragic life (see the opening scene of Amadeus, where this music is heard).

IMAGES: Two pictures of Mozart, and one of actor Tom Hulce playing ditto in the above-mentioned movie. It's too bad about Hulce's film career. He is really good, but he keeps getting upstaged by his co-stars or, worse, replaced by a bigger-name actor when his stage roles are adapted for the screen. (Case in point, he created the role Tom Cruise stole in A Few Good Men.)

EDIT: In the video below, Karl Bohm conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the first movement of this symphony.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Untwisting Scripture

In digging among my old church newsletters, I came across a polemical trifle I wrote back in 2002. I reprint it here (with a few small amplifications) in the hope that it will alert others to the sophisticated (ruthless) way some supposedly "Bible-believing" Protestants deal with Scripture, and how faith in our Lord's simple teachings can respond. Commence quote:

An attentive reader in Ozark country sent me a copy of a column called "Questions and Bible Answers" printed in a small-town newspaper. The column ends with these words: "Have a Bible Question? Please write to: Versailles Church of Christ..." And it gives the address of the church whose answers, when printed in the newspaper, can be read by people of all denominational persuasions and none at all. I suppose this means the Versailles Church of Christ exercises a certain influence over how people in that community interpret the Bible.

The column I received confronts the question: Does the Bible teach infant Baptism? But of course it touches on much more than that. It touches on what faith is, what faith is directed at, and whether or not man is born a sinner. And by answering all of these questions wrongly, the column risks tearing the Gospel down to its foundations. Erring on these points can destroy the salvation of sinners, can spoil a troubled person's chances of finding confidence in Christ.

This is an occasion when we need to respond in the confession of the truth. It is also an example of how using Scripture like a depository of isolated statements can lead to mischief and misbelief. You can prove anything you want if you twist a few Bible verses out of context. This is exactly what the Bible Answer Man (or woman) at the Versailles Church of Christ does. The columnist says:
I have read my Bible carefully, and still do not find any case where babies were ever baptized. It does not contain one command to any preacher to baptize infants. Are we to base our faith (and practice) on what the Bible does NOT say, or what it says? I read that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17).
Part of our answer to this point is given by the columnist himself. The fact that God did not make a specific point of commanding infants to be baptized is not a reason not to baptize them. It is an arrogant, if not malicious, attitude toward Scripture that says God must address every one of our questions in detail, on our terms, and in the precise form of our choosing.

When Jesus says, "Baptize all nations," it is not unreasonable to assume that command embraces people of all ages - even infants. There is certainly no Scripture saying infants are not to be baptized. Jesus also says, "Cause the little children to be brought to me"; Peter declares, "This promise is for you and your children" (right after telling the Pentecost crowd to repent and be baptized in order to be saved); and when the book of Acts reports whole households being baptized, we can safely assume that included infants.

Sure, this is an argument from silence (as the columnist rightly points out, "Are we to base our faith (and practice) on what the Bible does NOT say...?") But what the Bible does say seems, so far, to lean more in favor of infant baptism than against it. And here is an equally valid question: lacking any solid biblical proof, which way - for or against baptizing babies - is the way of belief, and which of unbelief? It takes faith to trust that, though we cannot understand how, God can save even little babies through the mystery of Baptism. To say that infants need not, or should not, be baptized, is not a teaching but a denial, based not on faith but on doubt.

If we must err, on which side is it safer to err? If you have doubts whether baptizing an infant does any good, or whether failing to baptize an infant does harm, wouldn't you rather err on the side of good than of harm? Wouldn't it be safer to do what may or may not be good, rather than what may or may not do harm? If in doubt, isn't it safer to be baptized than not?

The columnist continues:
Jesus made a promise in Mark 16:16, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." In Acts 8:37, when a man asked, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" he was told, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Faith must precede baptism! One must believe before he is ready to be baptized.
This, along with the previous quote from Romans 10, is a classic example of twisting Scripture out of context.

"Faith cometh by hearing...the word of God." This is quite true, and every bit God's Word. But since Jesus commanded the church to baptize in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, then the statement "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" is God's Word - and faith cometh thereby. The person baptized into these words hears and believes. Not just by hearing the words, but by the washing combined with the word, that person is reborn and renewed in the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).

What does our catechism say about the power of baptism to create faith and give forgiveness of sins? "It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts such word of God in the water." Assuming that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), there can be no contradiction between "Faith cometh by hearing" (Romans 10:17) and "Baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is one way the faith-giving Word of God is delivered.

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16) is a classic statement of the importance of being baptized. It is atrocious to use this verse to prove faith must precede baptism. The fact that "believeth" comes before "baptized" does not mean faith must precede baptism. Jesus is simply saying faith and baptism together result in salvation. Besides, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands us to "baptize and teach all nations," in that order. Does this mean in every case baptism must precede religious instruction? No! Yet Mark 16 no more implies a temporal sequence than Matthew 28 does.

Philip told the Ethiopian eunuch that nothing hindered him being baptized if he believed with all his heart. Does this imply that, without fail, you must believe with all your heart before being baptized? If so, very few people would ever be baptized. This has, in fact, been the result when people felt a need to be sure they had enough faith before risking baptism. Bizarrely, this view changes Baptism from a coveted gift into a terrible danger, to be avoided until the last possible moment. If Baptism is so important for salvation, and all nations are to be baptized, why hestitate? Shouldn't we rather read Acts 8:37 as if the eunuch asked, "Why shouldn't I be baptized right now?" and Philip replied, "Since you're already a believer, go for it!"

The columnist goes on:
One must believe before he is ready to be baptized, but infants are incapable of believing and trusting Christ. Infants are incapable of repenting (Acts 2:38). Repentance must precede baptism! Infants are incapable of confessing Christ (Rom 10:10; Acts 8:37). Confessing faith must precede baptism! Infants cannot confess Christ.
Who says? Who says infants cannot believe, repent, or confess their faith? What appears to be sound reasoning, seasoned with Bible references, is actually another argument from silence. None of the cited passages asserts anything about what infants can or cannot do. None of them addresses infant abilities at all. That whole side of the columnist's argument is based on the prior assumption that infants do not enjoy a spiritual life. Scripture says nothing to support that assumption, and rather a few things against it. For example:
  • "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5).
  • "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).
  • "But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, 'Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all'" (Mark 10:14-15).
  • "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy" (Luke 1:44).
  • "From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). [The word here translated "childhood" means "an unborn or newborn infant."]
The fact is, we cannot see into anyone's heart, whether they have repentant faith in Christ. And in the case of infants, we cannot question them or expect them to articulate a clear confession. But the very smallest child can demonstrate a profound trust and love of Jesus. Who are we to say when that can begin? Perhaps the Holy Spirit knows more about this than we. Perhaps God can plant faith in the simplest heart. In fact, as Jesus says in Mark 10:14 f., a child's heart is the choicest soil for the seed of God's Word, the pattern of faith to which we must all conform. Would that we all received Christ as babes do!

Besides, this business of what is required of us in baptism has it all turned around. For one thing, baptism is a gracious act of God, a gift steeped in the Spirit and wrapped in promise. To make faith, repentance, and confession conditions that we must meet before we are eligible for baptism is to confuse Law and Gospel, and to twist Scripture into the bargain. The Gospel does not work that way.

Faith is required if baptism is to bear fruit to our blessing. But Baptism also gives birth to faith. This is a mystery beyond our ken. Repentance and confession are not additional things required of us above and beyond faith; they are, rather, different sides of faith, different facets of the same jewel. And most seriously, to say infants shouldn't be baptized because they cannot show evidence of conversion is to suggest that adults can come to faith by their own powers. This is one reason Jesus says what he does in Mark 10. If God accepts even the littlest child, we should face the truth that He finds us the same way: unable to help ourselves, depending wholly on Him.

By nature we are no more spiritually competent than infants. We are as unable to convert ourselves from unbelief to faith as the dead are unable to raise themselves to life again. Just as Jesus' command ("Lazarus, come forth") went into the tomb and woke his friend's dead and decaying body, so God's Word in baptism calls us from spiritual oblivion, darkness, and helplessness to life, light, and health. If the Versailles columnist means that infants cannot be baptized because they cannot effect their own conversion, he needs to check himself; for the same must be said of all ages. It is the Holy Spirit who converts us, the Spirit given through Baptism; He can do this wonderful work on anyone of any age.

The columnist further asserts:
The purity of little children is revealed in Matthew 18:3. And again, Jesus said, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein" (Luke 18:15-17)."
These two passages repeat, between them, what Jesus says in Mark 10:14-15. Here is where this public teaching becomes truly horrendous. The columnist has just finished tearing apart the spiritual competence of infants (as if any unconverted person is "spiritually competent"). Now he turns to the very passages that speak in favor of infant baptism, and twists them to prove that infants are pure and innocent, not sinners from birth, and therefore do not need baptism. This use of Scripture is nothing if not perverse!

These statements of Jesus have to do with faith, pure trusting dependence on God, like the way a newborn child trusts its mother and depends completely on her for its very life. This childlike faith makes no claims of its own, contributes nothing, simply wallows in need and finds that need fulfilled in Christ. Nothing could be farther from the meaning of these texts than the idea that children are perfect or sinless or unquestionably saved, in and of themselves. This idea runs smack into Psalm 51:5, enough said.

The columnist goes on:
Infants do not inherit the sins of Adam or their parents (Ezek 18:20); they have no knowledge of good and evil (Deut 1:39). Through growth children learn to choose between good and evil (Is 7:15-18).
First, none of these passages say anything remotely like what the columnist claims. Ezekiel 18:20 says the soul who sins will die, and the son will not be punished for his father's sin - nor will the father be punished for his son's sin! Ezekiel explains this himself: both the wicked and the righteous bear responsibility for their own wickedness or righteousness, and no one else's. What does this say about whether a child inherits sin or guilt? Nothing, unless you take the part about the son not being punished for his father's sin ridiculously out of context.

The teaching of inherited sin is biblical, and it isn't about being punished for someone else's sins. It is about the human nature being so polluted with sin that it is passed, like a congenital virus, from one generation to another. You are responsible for your own inherited (or "original") sin even before you do any "actual" sins - not as if you're to be punished for your father's sin (see Ezekiel 18:20 again). Rather, this sin is in you, and it is your own. Romans 5:12-21 clinches the matter. If the Versailles columnist had indeed "read his Bible carefully," he would know this!

Deuteronomy 1:39 refers to little ones, who have no knowledge of good and evil, entering the promised land. But the context is about the older generation of Israel who had escaped from Egypt on foot, contrasted with their children who were born in the wilderness. The people who saw everything first-hand, the original leaders, even Moses himself would be buried in the desert. The younger generation, who were thought of as a prey to their foes, even ignorant youths who didn't know anything, would go into Canaan and possess it in their stead.

What does this say about your little angel being spiritually neutral? Nothing! What does this say about them being sinless or going to heaven? Nothing! Anyone who has experienced parenthood knows better than to take this verse to mean children aren't sinful. It only means that, because of God's judgment on faithless Israel, the sadly uninstructed youth would reach the promised land, but their elders (who should have instructed them) would die in the wilderness.

As for the passage in Isaiah 7, that is a Messianic prophecy. It's talking about one unique person: God incarnate, Jesus Christ. In all three of these passages, a brief glance at the context is enough to throw the columnist's evidence out of court. These are not about children not having knowledge of good and evil, or inherited sin, or an age of accountability. God's Word never teaches any of these things. Rather, as we have seen, it teaches quite the opposite. To use these passages in this way is nothing less than a rape of Scripture.

The columnist presses on to this conclusion:
I want to say God gives us our spirits (Eccl 12:7). God would not bring forth an unclean soul (Mt 7:18a; Ezk 28:15). The wicked go astray (Is 53:6). Solomon said, "Behold this only I found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccl 7:29). God gives the spirit, God made man upright, so he goes astray. These passages show that man is born innocent, becomes depraved, and goes astray. He is simply not born a sinner!
We have already seen where Scripture teaches the exact opposite. This paragraph is a masterpiece of bad interpretation, reasoning on false premises. The argument seems carefully worked out, but it collapses under the weight of false evidence and gaps in logic.

The "I want to say" should be our first clue that the writer is venturing onto thin ice. Ecclesiastes 12:7 describes death as when "the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it." But the conclusion that God would not bring forth an unclean soul ignores the fact that man's sin has soiled what God created clean (Mark 7:18-23).

The columnist references the first half of Matthew 7:18: "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit." The context is so unimportant to this Bible expert that the rest of the verse ("a bad tree cannot produce good fruit") doesn't serve his purpose. Read the context around that verse. It is not an isolated sentence floating in a vacuum. Jesus is talking about false prophets (e.g. our columnist from Versailles). Jesus' point: if you persist in listening to false teachers, no good will come of it. Even what seems good and wholesome in their ministry is leavened (not to say poisoned) by their falsehood.

Ezekiel 28:15 is an interesting verse: "You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you." But again, we must look at the context. This is a lamentation against the king of Tyre. It uses imagery from the garden of Eden, before man fell into sin. The whole speech can be summarized: "Pride goeth before a fall." The memory of Tyre's former goodness will be forgotten, so great will its ruin be on account of its vanity. This isn't about the sinless condition of human beings at birth. At most, it indicates that man was created sinless, but (in Adam) fell into sin. But in its historical context, it is a lament over Tyre's terrible fall from grace.

The quote from Ecclesiastes 7:29 is likewise about the depravity of mankind since Adam's fall. God created a perfect world, a sinless human race. Then the serpent tempted Eve with forbidden fruit, and Adam bit. Solomon's statement from the same chapter (7:20) applies to all ages: "Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins."

When the Bible columnnist says his passages "show that man is born innocent, becomes depraved, and goes astray," he is flat-out lying. Not only don't these passages say that, but the Bible teaches the very opposite. And his triumphant conclusion - "He is simply not born a sinner!" - is not just a clash of opinion with our point of view, but a deadly deception that can, and does, seduce people into relying on their own works.

Sin is universal. So is our need for total salvation by God's grace. If you undermine the Law (by saying that soul-destroying, damning sin does not infect every one of us), you also undermine the Gospel. For then you don't need God to go all the way to save you; you won't rely entirely on Christ crucified to give you peace with God.

We are not born spiritually neutral. We do not start out blank slates. We do not have a choice which way to swing, toward or away from Jesus. We are conceived and born in spiritual slavery, slaves to sin. The result is bodily death and eternal damnation. Our hope is in Christ, who atoned for our sins on the cross and redeemed us to be, not slaves of sin, but children and heirs of God our Father.

For proof, I need not put together a chain of doubtful verses taken out of context. Read Paul's letters to the Christians in Rome, Galatia, Colossae. Read the chains he puts together by inspiration of the Holy Ghost (e.g. Romans 3:9 ff.). And with respect to the clear teachings and firm promises of Christ, "be not unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Perfect Concrete

I treated myself to a Ted Drewes frozen-custard "concrete" today on my way to a Symphony Chorus practice at, of all places, Opera Theatre of St. Louis. It happened to be on my way. While I was scanning the list of flavors, my eye fell on one I had never noticed before: Frisco. I asked the kid at the window what it was, and she said it was some kind of fruit cocktail. I decided to give it a shot.

SHAZAM! That was a great flavor! I think I have a new favorite, the "Cardinal Sin" notwithstanding. I don't even know what all was in it, but I spotted cherries, chunks of apricot, the flavor of banana, and maybe mango. Wow! What an unsung masterpiece! Ambrosia must taste like turnip greens next to this stuff!

Jesus kōans

"I pity the fool who does not recognize a joke when he hears it." --Rev. Dr. David Scaer, circa 1996.
Wikipedia defines a kōan as "a story, dialogue, question, or statement in the history and lore of Chán (Zen) Buddhism, generally containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition. A famous kōan is: 'Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?'"

Kōans - serious and facetious - make interesting reading. But perhaps there should be a wider definition of the kōan, one that opens the field to non-Buddhist teachers. For example (here I go, inviting heresy charges): Jesus.

Jesus was, apart from everything else (God incarnate, Savior of the world, miracle worker, resurrection pioneer, etc.), a literary genius. I have already remarked that his parables are a tour de force of theological profundity distilled into tightly worded, crystal-clear analogy. But even some of his literal statements are mind-blowing. With biting irony, breathtaking paradox, intricate logic, and at times unsettling directness, Jesus pronounced teachings that anyone, to this day, can marvel at, consider endlessly, accept on faith, and even sort-of understand on an intuitive level -- but never fully and rationally comprehend. In brief, Jesus was the Master of the pre-Buddhist kōan. Here are some examples.

John 9:39-41
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind."

Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?"

Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains."

Mark 9:33-35
And they came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all."

John 15:7-11
"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."

Matthew 21:23-27
And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?"

And Jesus answered and said to them, "I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?"

And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet." And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know."

He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Luke 18:18-19
And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone."

John 3:6-8
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Matthew 11:11-12
"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force."

Matthew 22:41-46
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?" They said to Him, "The son of David."

He said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'The Lord said to my LORD, "Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet"'? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cat Update

Tyrone and Sinead are adjusting well to the new apartment. I'm not sure I am, though. The old apartment was in a heated building; I had gotten used to keeping the windows cracked open to let in some cooler air. The new apartment has its own thermostat, and I've never felt so cold in my own home. It takes about 20 times as long to get hot water in the bathtub as in the old place, and the building is haunted by a sound similar to a young human male vocalizing in the far reaches of the basement. I have tried to investigate the source of this noise, but without success.

Sinead has turned out to be a grand-prize cuddler. She likes to snuggle, nuzzle, purr, and rub against one; she makes beckoning gestures with a forepaw; she even kisses a little more than I strictly care for. This hasn't deterred Tyrone from continuing to warm up. In fact, one sunny afternoon a couple weeks ago as I lay on the couch reading, both cats climbed aboard my considerable torso and cuddled together in a manner that, from an objective, scientific point of view, was frankly adorable. It was the kind of moment that usually lasts 1.5 minutes before my bladder alerts me to an upcoming gusher. But amazingly, we managed to stay in that peaceful pile for a good quarter of an hour. That's ages in cat time.

I am relaxing the door-shut-at-night rule. The trade-off simply wasn't worth it. I would rather have Sinead play the poke-Daddy-through-the-bedclothes game once a night than miss the full-hearted feeling of waking up in the wee hours with at least one cat curled up beside me. Sleep is more effective as a group activity.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reading Mozart's 38th

W. A. Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 38 in D major in Vienna in 1786, where it was first performed in December of that year. But its second performance, early the following year in Prague, was more successful. Thus it has come to be called the "Prague Symphony." The Czechs were loyally warm toward Mozart, though his popularity rose and fell more dramatically elsewhere. Mozart held a similar affection for the Czech public. It was also for Prague that Mozart wrote his opera Don Giovanni (Don Juan).

This is an unusual symphony in several ways. To start with, it wasn't really Mozart's 38th symphony, since Mozart's 37th was actually Michael Haydn's 25th. If you take away at least two other numbered symphonies that don't belong to Mozart, this one would be more like his 35th symphony - but it's too late to change the numbering now, so never mind.

Another oddity is that Mozart left clarinets out of the work, though they were among his favorite instruments. The symphony's slow introduction is also a bit unusual, since Mozart only pulled that trick two other times. But the most eyebrow-raising feature of the Prague Symphony is its three-movement structure, omitting the Minuet that had been customary for some time.

In an earlier period, when three-movement symphonies were the norm (before Haydn innovated the inclusion of a Minuet and Trio), symphonies were light, frivolous little things - basically, overtures in search of an opera. But this three-movement symphony is certainly not a throwback to that era; it is a prime fruit of the form and of the composer when both were in their full maturity. Nor is this symphony weighed down by seriousness - all business, no play - as one might expect from the above combination of oddities. We will never know exactly what Mozart was getting at when he wrote this decidedly unique symphony; but it remains one of his most highly valued works.

Movement I begins, as I have said, with a slow intro. The first thing you hear is a dramatic unison passage, which reminds me of what it's like to pull-start a lawn mower. A sensitive theme unfolds, followed by a passage of Mozartean "vamping" (thinly decorated chord progressions, concluding with an all-but-endlessly extended cadence). The Allegro begins softly, but soon bursts out in an exuberant wealth of tunes. The wealth of harmonic and instrumental colors is such that, frankly, you won't miss the clarinets! My favorite riff is when the bassoons come in on the second theme. The development section is brief but densely contrapuntal. The concluding recap of the exposition section adds a few striking touches of its own.

Movement II is "Andante" - i.e., not particularly slow. It presents a succession of thoughtful and attractive themes in contrasting moods, beginning with a deeply affecting, chromatic melody in G major. Some of the chord progressions and key changes are most striking, and in the development section (for yes, this is another sonata) the music explores darker, minor-key tonal areas that have been barely hinted at until now. It is only as the movement wraps up that you realize how disturbingly unsettled the tonality is, particularly in the bass line just before the codetta, which (together with a brief, charming coda) only just puts the lid back on the suppressed neurosis that lies deep within this movement.

Movement III is "Presto" - i.e. "lickety-split," with a touch of syncopation in the opening theme. Very little of the expo section (yes, this is the third sonata in a row) is based on anything but this opening theme, though there is indeed a second theme. If you miss it the first time, listen for it on the repeat: two jaunty little string-dominated phrases, each balanced by a flute-bassoon phrase that reminds me, somehow, of a wooden cuckoo popping out of the front of a clock. Everything else seems to be pulled out of the first theme. A little hair-raising drama gets stirred into the development, which is mostly in a minor mode. Mozart starts the recap with the second theme, possibly to save time for a few extra bars of finishing-up music.

The overall effect, in the end, is a great deal of fun, combined with enough seriousness to give it depth and realism, and a sense of having heard a non-stop series of perfect themes treated with the utmost sophistication.

IMAGES: The Estates Theatre in Prague, site of the premiere of Don Giovanni, inside and out; and, duh, a cuckoo clock. EDIT: And here is Karl Bohm conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the second movement of this symphony:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quake No. 2

Just now, at 10:15 a.m. by my clock, St. Louis experienced another earthquake. It hit while I was sitting at my computer desk, and it was about the same strength as what I felt earlier this morning. I felt and heard the building shaking around me, like the angles of floor to walls were shifting. Again, I heard rattling closet doors and vibrating clock chimes; the vertical blinds clattered; and the ductwork, if not other structural elements of the building itself, shook audibly.

I witnessed most of this from the heavily-built doorway between living room and hallway. One of my cats, meanwhile, hopped on the front windowsill and watched what was going on outside. With the blinds closed, I envied his view.

Power was not interrupted. Again, I am not aware of any local damage taking place. I'm starting to wonder, though, whether I shouldn't turn off the gas. I suppose I'll just keep an ear out for what the public is being advised to do, and leave the rest in God's hands. If these disturbances continue and, God forbid, intensify, any or all of my utilities could become a problem, and not just the gas. So for now, I'm going to enjoy the privilege of cooking with gas and the excitement of finding out what happens as it happens.

Quake This Morning

So there was an earthquake this morning. Wow. In the Midwest. Double wow.

It awakened me at 4:38 a.m., according to the clock on my dresser. I believe I could feel the bed shaking. I immediately got out of bed (conscious of the four large bookcases in tipping-range of it) and stood in the doorway, listening to the closet doors rattle and the chimes in the grandfather clock play by themselves. The shaking lasted for a couple minutes, fluctuating in intensity (the clock chimes rang only at the "peaks" of the wave).

It didn't feel particularly severe. Nothing broke, nothing fell over. The water, power, and gas were still on when it was over. I'm not sure I could even feel anything from my perch in the bedroom doorway. But it was hard to get back to sleep afterward.

I didn't keep myself awake by thinking about the fact that a major fault runs under Missouri, and experts have been predicting a severe quake for some time. I didn't particularly worry that my cats were at large in the apartment and I couldn't do anything about it. I only briefly considered the likelihood of additional quakes following the first one, etc. Most of all, I avoided thoughts of how I would get out of the apartment if it ever came to standing in the doorway or death. So instead, I kept myself awake with the thought that I'd better improve my vault-out-of-bed time if I want to avoid waking up in A Mangle Made of Books.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hoefer Sells the Farm

Hey Lutherans, get a load of this paper, which Concordia-Portland prof Herb Hoefer presented at the "Friendship of Jesus and Muslims" conference in Detroit earlier this month. Evidently this is the theory of outreach to Muslims that the LCMS Board for Missions wants to promote. [UPDATE: The text of Hoefer's paper was removed from the page the first link above originally led to. I have redirected the link to another page containing the same paper.]

It starts with the unqualified and unchallenged assumption that "we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our Christian worship services" - at least in Muslim countries or cultural contexts. This is essentially a twist on the "seeker-sensitive worship" model of evangelism. By the end of the paper, Hoefer inadvertently exposes the spiritual bankruptcy that inevitably flows out of that model.

In brief, here are a few of Hoefer's points, WITH MY REMARKS EMBEDDED IN CAPS:

1. Worshiping Jesus: Muslims are offended by the perception that Christians worship a human being. Therefore we shouldn't worship "Jesus," but only "the Lord." YES, CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT CHRIST COULD BE ACCEPTABLE TO MUSLIMS! Hoefer cites a Christian church service where Muslim visitors remarked "they could have worshipped with the same words that they heard, for it so happened that the songs they heard only referred to God and not to Jesus." THIS IS A GOOD THING? Finally, Hoefer questions whether it is proper to "worship" Jesus as such. NEED I SAY I HAVE DOUBTS ABOUT HIS QUALIFICATIONS TO GIVE ADVICE TO CHRISTIANS? Hoefer questions whether it is "still Jesus now Who is on the right hand of the Father." THIS MEANS AFTER EASTER, THE "SECOND PERSON" ABSORBED JESUS' HUMAN NATURE. IS HOEFER ASKING, OR IS HE ESPOUSING AN INCARNATION-DESTROYING HERESY? AND IF MUSLIMS HAVE TROUBLE WITH "JESUS," WHAT WILL THEY SAY ABOUT THE TERM "SECOND PERSON"? Without troubling himself to explore the question deeply, Hoefer concludes that it is not "justifiable" to offer prayer and worship in the name of Jesus, at least in a Muslim context. IF IT ISN'T JUSTIFIABLE THERE, WHERE IS IT JUSTIFIED?

2. Affirming God's Oneness: Muslims are offended by the perception that Christians are polytheists. Therefore we should reconsider the way the "classical Creeds" are phrased. SHALL WE MOVE ON TO THE ROMANTIC CREEDS, THEN? First, Hoefer argues that a minor change in the way the creeds are printed would set off the "oneness of God" from particulars about the Father, Jesus, etc. HOWEVER, THE NICENE CREED USES THE WORD "ONE" IN ALL 3 ARTICLES. SO IT IS NOT MERELY PUTTING THE FATHER, SON, AND SPIRIT UNDER THE GENERAL TOPIC OF "ONE GOD," BUT IT IS FIRMLY ASSERTING THAT THERE IS "ONE" FATHER, "ONE" LORD JESUS CHRIST, "ONE" CHURCH, AND "ONE" BAPTISM, AS OPPOSED TO THREE FATHERS, OR TWO SONS, ETC. THE CHANGES HOEFER SUGGESTS ARE NOT MERELY A MATTER OF ENGLISH TRANSLATION; THEY GO ALL THE WAY TO THE ORIGINAL LATIN AND GREEK TEXTS OF THE CREEDS. SHALL WE ROLL BACK 1,600 YEARS OF CHURCH HISTORY TO ACCOMMODATE A 1,200-YEAR-OLD RELIGION?

3. Revising the Creeds: Hoefer has still more to say on this subject: "The ancient Creeds were written to address the heresies of their day. Might we revise the Creeds in Muslim contexts to address their misconceptions?" IT'S INTERESTING HOW "ADDRESS" MEANS "POLEMICALLY ATTACK" IN THE FIRST INSTANCE AND "ACCOMMODATE" IN THE SECOND. Hoefer suggests adding phrases to the Creed that would appeal to Muslims, e.g.: "I believe in one God, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-saving..." WHO NEEDS "ECUMENICAL" CREEDS, ANYWAY? He also suggests taking the word "Christian" out of the Creed. NO BIG SURPRISE, SINCE "CHRIST" HAS ALREADY CHECKED OUT. Here are his suggested alternate wordings: "The holy, universal fellowship of believers...(Apostles' Creed); And I believe in one holy, universal fellowship and apostolic witness (Nicene Creed)." IN CASE YOU MISS THE SUGGESTION THAT MUSLIM VISITORS CAN CONSIDER THEMSELVES PART OF THAT FELLOWSHIP, HERE IS HOW HOEFER CONCLUDES THIS SECTION: "Such a clear affirmation would relate meaningfully to the Muslim concept of 'umma.' It would testify clearly that Christians also have an 'umma,' a trans-national fellowship of faith and support."

4. Using Epistle Readings: Muslims think Jesus was OK, but his teachings were later perverted by the apostles. They ridicule Christianity as "Paulianity." Reading from Paul's epistles during worship only invites more of the same. JUST TRY CENSORING PAUL OUT OF THE LITURGY, AND SEE WHETHER YOUR DOCTRINE REMAINS THE SAME! Hoefer says we affirm the inspiration of Paul's writings, but then (loath to go two whole paragraphs without tasting his toes) adds that "even St. Paul would understand his writings only to be a witness to Jesus Christ," as opposed to "our authority." EVEN IF PAUL DID NOT UNDERSTAND HIS WRITINGS AS SCRIPTURE (AND I DO NOT CONSIDER HOEFER A COMPELLING AUTHORITY ON THIS), PETER DID (2 PETER 3:16).

5. Using "Son of God": I heard your groan just now. You obviously know what comes next: By calling Jesus the "Son of God," we provoke ridicule (because of the thought of God having a carnal relationship with Mary) and give offense (because Muhammad denies that God has a son). Hoefer interprets "Son of God" as a metaphor that also applies to Israel and other individuals. NO, "SON OF GOD" IS NOT A METAPHOR, BUT A TITLE JESUS APPLIES UNIQUELY TO HIMSELF. Jesus "participates in the same nature as the Father, just as a son does." THIS IS A HORRID ANALOGY. BUT SINCE WE'VE ELIMINATED CHRIST, WHY NOT THE TRINITY TOO? Hoefer concludes this section: "We need to make that explanation, but public worship typically is not the proper venue for that discussion. It would be best simply to avoid the term in our preaching and guide our people also to avoid it in their witnessing." SO WHEN DO THE FAITHFUL GET TO HEAR ABOUT THIS? IF THE TIME EVER COMES WHEN WE CAN SPEAK OPENLY OF "JESUS" AND "THE SON OF GOD," WILL WE STILL BELIEVE IN HIM? WHO IS WINNING WHOM?

6. Using Wine, Images, Music: Though some "liturgical denominations" insist on using wine in the Lord's Supper, we shouldn't be hung up about this. It would be prudent to use grape juice, so as not to upset Muslims who forbid wine. WE'RE ONLY TALKING ABOUT THE INSTITUTION OF CHRIST'S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT. NO BIG DEAL. Further, we should forgo crucifixes, statues, images, and stained glass windows depicting human figures. Muslims visitors will interpret them as idols. ONCE YOU EVICT GOD FROM HIS HOUSE, THE FURNITURE IS THE NEXT THING TO GO. Hoefer finally, astoundingly, stretches the "seeker-service worship" principle so far that it bites itself on the behind: Muslims, who practice very "solemn, reserved, and dignified" worship, are disgusted with our chaotic, enthusiastic, non-liturgical worship. So, "if we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our worship contexts" (THERE'S THAT BIG ASSUMPTION AGAIN), we should consider not having any music at all! THAT'S GOING A BIT FAR, IF YOU ASK ME. BUT IT IS NICE TO SEE THE "YOU GOTTA GO HAPPY-CLAPPY IF YOU WANT TO WIN SOULS" DOCTRINE IMPALED ON ITS OWN SWORD.

The text of the paper linked above is actually dated September 12, 2007. The version Hoefer delivered at Detroit a couple weeks ago added a few minor pieces of advice, which actually weren't so bad. For example, being sensitive to Muslim culture, Christians might want to forgo embracing, or even shaking hands - especially between sexes. Hoefer even proposes segregating the sexes on opposite sides of the church, similar to what they do in mosques. He also suggests that Christians show more outward respect toward the Bible, in order to impress Muslims, who revere their own holy book as a manifestation of God.

But at the end of the day, Hoefer undermines his own position, chiefly in three ways. FIRST, he is so ready to accommodate Islam that it is hard to take him seriously as a believer. If the entire Christian church were as accommodating as Hoefer suggests, most Christians would probably become Muslims within one generation. Have the Muslims ever given an inch? I don't think so. SECOND, the assumption that "we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our worship contexts" needs to be examined. By completely ignoring any alternate scenario, Hoefer leaves a gaping hole in his argument. For example, suppose some Christians in a "Muslim context" would feel particularly uncomfortable having Muslims observe their services? Is that remotely possible? Suppose, hypothetically speaking (though it's so unlikely that I'm embarrassed to suggest it), there were a "Muslim context" where the Christians were viciously persecuted for their faith? In such a "context," should we advise them to be more considerate of Muslim sensibilities?

THIRD, take the experience of the early Christians under Imperial Roman persecution. Did they hold "seeker-sensitive" services? No. They worshiped behind locked doors. They witnessed outside of church. When an outsider received their witness and asked to hear more, they catechized him. Only then - AFTER explaining the very things "seeker services" leave us no time to explain - only then did the faithful allow them to witness Christian worship. Here is an evangelism model that could possibly work in a "Muslim context," as an alternative to "seeker-sensitive worship." In essence, the Divine Service is for the faithful only. Inquirers are directed to a doctrine class, after which - if they want to join the church - they are allowed to witness that which has already been explained to them. And as for the faithful, they continue to confess the same creed, sing the same songs, address the same Jesus in worship and prayer, and receive the same Sacrament that He instituted. They get to listen to Paul's God-breathed doctrine; they get to look at crucifixes and altar paintings; and they can sit anywhere they jolly please - because they don't have to worry about who is going to see them at it!

Will this cost them? Some, perhaps. But at least they won't be selling the whole farm. Every service will be rich in reminders of why they are Christians and not Muslims. Every service will be a time to worship the Son of God, rather than some real or hypothetical Muslim seeker. All this instead of making a nervous wreck of themselves (or any other kind of wreck for that matter), trying to curry favor with visitors who may, just possibly, be looking for a blasphemer to stone to death. Wow! That sounds like such a good deal, I wonder if one could apply it beyond the Muslim context!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Parable of the Landlord

To what shall I compare this generation?

It is like a rich man whose land was divided into many farms, each managed by a tenant farmer. The tenants lived on the land, ploughed it, planted it, harvested it, and sold the produce. They shared the income with the landowner.

After many years of doing business this way, the rich man died and his property passed to his son. The new owner despised old-fashioned farm work. So he fired all the tenant farmers, kicked them off his land, and let the crops grow wild.

Instead of planting and harvesting, the new owner invested in advertising. Glossy pictures of corn and wheat appeared in magazines. Investors were encouraged to mention grain products in casual conversation. A website was set up to track mentions of cereal, with a counter to show progress. The owner applied for a grant to study the effectiveness of word-of-mouth advertising. He campaigned to raise money for advertising. He pressured other landowners to follow his example.

But what became of the tenant farmers? The crops? The land? What became of the people who ate the produce of those farms? Let him hear who has ears.

Parable of the Pink Slip

To what shall I compare this generation?

It is like a company whose executives held an emergency meeting to address their business' financial losses. They never, for a moment, considered reducing their own large salaries, or reducing the number of executive positions. Instead, they searched through the payroll to find the five highest-paid employees, and fired them forthwith.

Of course, those five employees also happened to be the five top salesmen. The reason for their large paychecks was the commission on the sales they closed, which together brought in 50% of the company's income.

What will be the result of the executives' decision? Will not the company's investors treat those executives as they deserve? Let him hear who has ears.