26 June 2009

A Teen Driven Culture

We live in a teen driven culture. You might add in college students and single folks up to age 25 or so, but the majority of our culture, in terms of entertainment, in terms of marketing, is focused on that 10-12 year span from 13-25. The marketing trends cycle to try to appeal to teens, and the focus is upon flash and upon what is new.

I am newly moved out of that demographic (relatively speaking), and so I see more and more how things are aimed at folks other than me. Marketing is what appeals to the teens of a given time - at my time it was grunge influenced, then later there was the "extreme". . . sorry, the "EXTREME!!!!!" phase. Whatever it is now just makes me feel old - it's all texty and i-phoney and such (gads, if this is what I sound like at 31. . .)

Here is the problem. We know that the Church is to shape the culture, but sadly, our culture is impacting the Church - not so much in the fact that we hit the latest fad - not that we've moved from the "EXTREME" to trying to affect technology - but rather that the folks who try to set the agendas for the Church have adopted the idea that we need to cater to the hot demographic in order to be relevant. That the Church must pander to consumers, all for the sake of Christ.

Which, when you think about it, is the true and universal "teen" culture. Think on the horrid awkwardness that was (or is) high school. You don't know what to do, you don't really know who you are, there is such pressure to fit in, to have people like you, to be seen as popular, the rejection of things associated with your parents to distinguish yourself as a new adult (and more of the time an unwise rejection). It's an utter mess - pray for your high schoolers!

But now consider how the religious growth gurus and leaders approach issues in the Church. It is reserved? Is is based upon serious and deft study of the Word? Or do the ideas flitter and change - just like a teen who doesn't know what to do? Are plans for change and improvement made - or are random plans just cast out with a "well, what do you guys think, will this work!" Do we remain who we are, or are we worried about how our church is different? Are we more worried about being faithful, or about being the growing, faithful church? Do we cherish the things that have made us to grow, or do we toss away what we have received as worthless - because we are a new thing, not our parents' (or grandfathers', if you prefer) church. We are being run by a much of middle aged suits who think like teens.

I think St. Paul would encourage us to give up our "teenish" ways.

22 June 2009

And Now for a Commercial Announcement

A couple familiar mugs from the Four and Twenty. Keep supporting Issues Etc.

11 June 2009

Regarding the Practice of Individual Confession and Holy Absolution

Reverend fathers and brothers in Christ, the Blackbirds have received another question to ponder and discuss, this time from one of our colleagues in the Office of the Holy Ministry, the Reverend Greg Truwe, Associate Pastor of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Pastor Truwe is interested in studying the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution, and to that end he has requested the input of those pastors who have been able to incorporate such a regular practice within their parishes. He has posed the following questions, which I encourage not only the Blackbirds but any of our brother pastors to answer in the comments here. Depending on how things develop, a follow-up post could be offered to move things forward. But to begin with, here are Pastor Truwe's initial questions:

For those of you who are currently offering (and encouraging) regular opportunities for private Confession/Absolution, I’m wondering if you might respond to the following questions:

1) If this was a practice that you initiated, how did you go about preparing the congregation to receive it well? Did you make use of adult Bible Class, pre-confirmation catechesis, newsletter articles, sermons, etc.?

2) How has the practice been received? Are many making use of C/A?

3) What does your current practice look like? In other words, how often do you offer it? Are people encouraged to make an appointment at their convenience, or is there a time (say, 2 hours on a Saturday) that is publicized during which you will be available for C/A? Do you prepare a printed order for the confessor? Do you hear the confession in you office, the sanctuary, or some other place? Are you vested? Etc.

4) What resources do you use to teach the people to prepare to make confession?

5) What resources did you use to prepare yourself to hear confession? What resources do you recommend?

10 June 2009

The End of Television

Some months ago I decided that we would no longer have television in our home. I cancelled the dish service and will not hunt down one of those big government coupons to get a box so that I can buy a TV antenna to hook up to a digital signal through the air.

I've told members of the congregation about this; not to encourage them to do the same, but because I normally tell them things about my life, mostly in Bible class - sickness, struggles, etc. The ladies Bible study members could probably tell you I'm on cholesterol medication if you asked them. Those I've told haven't given me too many looks like I'm all that weird, they know to expect strange things out of me already. I simply told them that I have had enough of seeing all the garbage coming into our house, particularly during commercial breaks. Before TV was shut down my oldest was allowed to watch only cooking shows on Food Network and sports, but watching a football game with her became an ordeal; covering her eyes from violence, sex and then some more violence and sex as Jack Bauer killed a couple guys during Fox promos followed by ad after ad for Viagra/Levitra/Cialis.

I've also told people that I certainly wouldn't invite some of these people to my home to tell me how to live my life or how to raise my children, but I have let them into my home willingly through the tube for too long.

People seem to get this. They know that for the most part what comes through the tube is trash. For every good thing we might see on TV there are thousands of vile things for our fleshly amusement. I said enough in our home. We can get movies for free from time to time from the public library, (I haven't put the thing on the curb) the computer is the way to get the news and there is that old wireless that still works.

We are more free to read, to talk, to play. Although I have buried two of the saints this week, I have read some of the Brothers Grimm (talk about violence and sex!) and acted some of them out - I've been Cinderella's step-sisters, so I've lost a toe and a heel trying to get the shoe on.

We are not a granola, crunchy conservative family. I don't grind my own flour (let the reader understand), or purchase only certified organic foods. I am attempting to be husband, father and teacher in the home. And I suppose an example to the faithful.

Too often the things we think are essential to 21st century life we can do without. I am learning this. I can read that the Wings won another cup (hopefully) rather than watching. I gain much by talking to my wife, reading to and playing with my kids. The end of TV seems to me to be a gain in our family life. I am willing to guess that it would be the same in a whole lot of other homes too.

But, O boy, will internet access be next to go? Tempting to be sure.

07 June 2009

Sunday Morning Matrimony

I officiated at my first ever Sunday morning wedding rite, and what a joy it was! The young couple getting married wanted to avoid all of the pomp and circumstance associated with the typical wedding service. They simply wanted to get married in a reverent and modest way. We simply embedded the Rite of Holy Matrimony in the Divine Service between the service of the Word and the service of the Sacrament. It went over very well with just about everyone! I told the groom afterward that I am hopeful that this may set a precedence to be followed by others.

So why did it work so well? The service, as all wedding services ought to be, was focused entirely on Christ and His Gospel. The main theme was not the couple's love for one another, or even marriage itself, but the mystery of the Holy Trinity and God's mysterious works among us through His incarnation, sacraments, and yes the gift of marriage. Propers and hymnody were used according to what was already in place for the Feast Day. No schmalz. No wierd, quasi-religious ceremonies, no attendants to deal with, no soloists, etc, etc. What a joy this was for a pastor! And what an opportunity for people to experience the Church's liturgy the right way and hear the Gospel preached!

I think this was also good for the congregation, to illustrate once again what marriage is really about, and how Christ must be in the forefront of every service the Church performs. I hope to have a chance to do a wedding like this again!

04 June 2009

Leading with followers?

In the seminary my class and I assume most of the men that attended the seminary were taught that in order to change practices with in the congregation, you teach and teach and teach, then try the change and teach some more. I think in theory, this is good idea! When I received the placement to this congregation I was asked, pastor could we do the whole liturgy. Music to my ears! Since then (almost 3 years) few changes have taken place. The struggle that is taking place here is when I do seek to change some of our practices, i.e. some of the music, use of the procession, every-Sunday communion, midweek bible studies, services outside of Sunday and midweek Lent and Advent services, I am met with the deer in the head light look from the people I ask about these topics. I tell people that I will not change anything until I teach and the people understand what and why we do what we do. Again in theory this is a good idea. Where does a Pastor teach people about things, new things, old things, past thing? I would think we could have a bible study over such topics. There in lies my problem; in comparison to the size of the congregation I have very few people show up for the Sunday morning bible study. A normal Sunday we have in attendances about 60+ people for the Divine Service, out of that 60+ people I get maybe 5 people to stay for bible class. When I approach people about topics, or reason why they do not stay I get the normal answers, we need to get home to prepare for this or that. I feel these answers are just blow off answers. I have asked if people are not interested in the topics chosen for the bible studies, to which I get “no the topics are fine”. I have asked if the style in which I teach is the problem and again I get no Pastor we learn when you teach.
If we are to teach and lead the people of the congregation but only have few people willing to learn, how are we to teach and enact change? I thought about having longer sermons so I would have the chance to teach of the practices, traditions of the church, but I feel this would force the text into places it may not fit and most likely lose the hearers in the process of trying teach what ever practice. I like to preach the text and let the text go where it needs to go and at times I have been able to preach on various things which I would love to see in the congregation I serve, i.e. private Holy Absolution, more services outside of Sunday, music, communion practices etc. Am I alone in this type of problem and need to take a real look at both the topics of the bible studies and the teaching style I use? What changes have you made and how did you enact them?

Should Pastors Withdraw From the State?

The latest legislative battle over so-called "gay marriage" included debate over exemptions based on religion.

In other words, the legislature of one of the fifty states actually had a debate over whether or not churches ought to be compelled to bless and recognize homosexual mimicry of marriage. And even though those who sought an exemption for churches won out (this time), the fact that it is a matter of deliberation is itself an ominous development. But it is hardly surprising.

We saw much of the same scenario played out in 20th century Sweden, where the secular state, by virtue of a church-state nexus, used anti-discrimination laws to force women's "ordination" upon the Church of Sweden over the initial objection of the bishops. This radicalized campaign by secularists and non-believers wishing to control and bully the Bride of Christ - to drive her away from Scripture and from the enfleshed Word of God - has been a rousing "success." In 1998, the Church of Sweden allowed our Lord Jesus and His apostles to be depicted in the form of homosexual pornography in the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Uppsala. In 2009, the bureaucrats of the Church of Sweden are now celebrating their first openly-lesbian "bishop."

The church-state nexus is an increasingly dangerous intersection for pastors and congregations to find themselves. In the United States, our society and government are moving beyond mere secularism to outright hostility to the Christian faith. Insofar as we stand in the middle of the road between church and state, we are going to see increasing pressure to place allegiance to the flag over the cross and to elevate tolerance over and above orthodoxy.

One obvious intersection between the Two Kingdoms where we find Lutheran pastors is the military chaplaincy. The uniformed chaplain is under two specific orders - to the military establishment and to the Kingdom of God. And as long as these two worlds do not collide, this is not a problem. But as the state slips into a paradigm of anti-Christianity, there will be increasing clashes - especially when the paradigmatic shift is gradual. Like the proverbial frog in the pan of water on the stove, our church body will some day suddenly find itself at the boiling point with no exit strategy.

We're already seeing problems with this dual allegiance in our system of military chaplaincy. Military chaplains were recently ordered to destroy Bibles and to refrain from evangelism. There are reports of military chaplains being pressured to avoid references to Jesus and the Trinity. Military chaplains are required to assist in providing spiritual guidance to to those of all religions (at very least by finding chaplains to accommodate all religious beliefs). There is a good bit of pressure to allow Pagan chaplains to serve in the chaplaincy corps (and why should an American soldier not be permitted access to the religious practice of his choice?). As society itself becomes more religiously diverse, an LCMS chaplain may find himself under the command of an Episcopalian priestess, a Unitarian pastorette, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam, or perhaps even in the near future, a Wiccan clergyperson or Satanic minister.

Perhaps a better way to provide military personnel with spiritual care while avoiding this increasingly problematic nexus might be to have civilian chaplains (as they do in the Wisconsin Synod). Civilian chaplains do not have to navigate dual loyalties in a divided organizational chart, are not under orders to those of other religious traditions, and are not beholden to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There is simply less pressure that can be exerted by the military upon a civilian chaplain to water down his religious confession. Of course, my critique of the military chaplaincy system is in no way a slight to our chaplain corps - pastors who risk life and limb to bring the Word of God and the holy sacraments to military personnel. Rather, I think the system we are placing them into is increasingly problematic. I think it would be foolhardy to conclude that the religious freedom of our chaplains will continue as our culture becomes increasingly intolerant of "intolerant" Christians making exclusive claims about Jesus.

But there is a more common intersection between church and state - one that every parish pastor experiences when he conducts the rite of holy matrimony.

In the United States, ordained ministers are also officers of the state. They have the legal authority to solemnize the marriage contract in the name of the state. And acting in that capacity, the state has some degree of control over the minister who performs state-recognized weddings. This is why the secular issue of the changing definition of marriage is now bleeding over into legislative debate regarding how this impacts churches.

This intersection is an increasingly dangerous place for the church to stand - and a place she doesn't need to be at all. In much of the world (ironically even in places with a strong tradition of blurred lines between church and state), it is common to have two separate wedding ceremonies - one to satisfy the state (which may be nothing more than signing papers), and another as a rite of the church. In this scenario, the church does not tell the state how to regulate the secular institution of marriage, but more importantly, the state has no finger in the church's pie when it comes to Holy Matrimony.

I believe we ought to consider removing ourselves from the state part of weddings. This would mean not filling out paperwork with the state in the course of our conduct of wedding ceremonies in our churches. This would mean that if husbands and wives who are married by a pastor in a church rite wish government recognition of their union (as they probably should), they need to seek that state recognition out apart from the church wedding (be it a ceremony before a judge or justice of the peace, or simply getting a marriage license and signing the paperwork at the courthouse).

This would break the church-state nexus - and would give the state no pretense for telling the church whom to marry any more than it would be in a position of dictating to the church whom to baptize, commune, or ordain. As long as we maintain this cozy church-state relationship, we run the risk of the state meddling in the affairs of the church. In the near future, we may find Christian Churches under pressure - perhaps by threatening to remove tax-exempt statuses, the use of civil litigation, or even the levying of criminal charges - to perform and recognize homosexual "marriages", (or with the ascendancy of Islam), polygamy, or any number of future expansions of the state's definition of marriage in any number of ways that we can't even imagine at this time.

Christian marriage is a solemn and holy rite that recognizes what God has joined together: one man and one woman. It is an estate established by God from the time of the Garden of Eden. Christian matrimony is none of the state's business. But so long as we pastors wish to be recognized as ministers of the state, we run the risk of exposing our churches to penalties when we do not comply.

I believe we need to break ties with the state while it is a simple matter of no longer being involved in state weddings. We need to make a move now, before the water is too hot for us to be able to easily jump out of the pan.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

02 June 2009

In the Case of Besetting Sins

Brothers, in providing pastoral care in cases of besetting sin, especially in dealing with those who struggle with chronic addictions (are there other kinds of besetting sins?), how may we discern between the recurring frailty and weakness of the flesh and persistent unrepentance?

Along the same lines, in such cases of besetting sin, can the pastoral care of souls be assisted and exercised by any sort of corporal discipline or by the assigning of penance? I am not asking whether a pastor should execute some kind of corporal punishment per se, but whether a pastor may request or require any particular bodily discipline or fruits of repentance.