Sunday, January 25, 2015

But it is just man made. . .

It happened again.  A complainer insisted that the liturgy is only man-made and therefore what was the big deal with using the liturgy when it is ever so much satisfying to worship in Evangelical churches.  In fact, the person did not say "Evangelical churches" but did mention a couple of local examples as well as a couple of TV choices.  Anyway the whole point of my anger and frustration is the issue of a "man-made" liturgy.

Okay, yeah.  The liturgy did not just drop out of heaven in exactly the form and words we have in our hymnal.  I will grant you that.  But it is not exactly man-made either.  It is largely Scripture, direct quotations and paraphrases.  And the pattern or order was not put together by an individual or even by a committee but over time from the earliest of Christian history.  The liturgy is not a creature of a particular language or culture (except the culture of Scripture itself).  The liturgy was not invented but drew from the worship life of God's people from Temple to synagogue to Upper Room.  It is the greatest of all fallacies to claim we have a German liturgy.  Sixty percent of the population of America can claim German ancestry but the liturgy is not one of them.  It is Latin and Greek and Hebrew.  But... I digress.

What my point is, slow and labored though it is in making, is that EVERY LITURGY or worship pattern or form can rightfully be smeared with the same terrible judgment -- it is just man-made.  Now comes the crux of it all.  MOST Evangelical and Protestant liturgy (what passes for an order of worship) is man-made on the spot or a week or two ahead by the worship ministry, the minister of worship arts, the music director, the preacher, the pastor. .. you name the person.  In fact it is often as old as a moment and as deep as the moment.  So what would rather use?  A worship form rooted in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the earliest of Christian history OR one that came out of the top of the head of the one or the committee responsible for worship in the moment?

In a recent discussion with someone involved with worship in an Evangelical congregation, I found out that there is a worship app which this person and the rest of the staff has on their smartphones and this is the "liturgy" used on Sunday morning.  Now this person is a sincere and pious believer and a hard worker.  It is not my point to demean this person.  My point is that this IS liturgy and it is man-made, so recent you can point to the people who made it up!  We can argue all day long about what is man-made and what is not but the issue ought to be from what source has it come and what is its pedigree?

Todd Wilken summed it up pretty well.  He wondered why David's momentary over exuberance with a naked dance has become normative for worship while centuries of liturgical tradition shaped by the worship of the Temple and the synagogue are forgotten or dismissed as "man-made".  Go figure. . . 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Liturgy of the Catechumens and Liturgy of the Faithful. . .

Over at the New Liturgical Movement Peter Kwasniewski has penned a thoughtful piece on the reasons why the older terminology (Liturgy of the Catecheumens and Liturgy of the Faithful) is better than the terminology employed post-Vatican II (Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist).  I find myself agreeing with his conclusion but for vastly different reasons.  One of the bigger issues, however, is his estimation of why it is inadequate to call it the Liturgy of the Word.

The problem, then, with the phrase “Liturgy of the Word” is that the Word, as such, is fully and really present only in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the Word Himself is personally present in His divinity and glorified humanity. The sign of the difference is that, while we offer incense to the Gospel in honor of Him whose Gospel it is, it would be sinful for someone to bow down and adore the lectionary, placing his faith and trust in it, and loving it above all things, whereas it is precisely this adoration or latreia that must be given to most holy Eucharist; indeed, as Saint Augustine says (and Benedict XVI often quotes him to this effect), we would be guilty of sinning were we not to adore It.

A Protestant confusion is thus introduced and subtly fostered. According to the Catholic faith, “God’s Word” is chiefly and primarily in the Holy Eucharist because it is Jesus Christ, and only secondarily in the Sacred Scriptures that contain His teaching and bear witness to Him. Like all mere signs, Scripture will pass away in heaven, as the Book of Revelation teaches: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:22-23). Like all mere signs, it is only for the wayfarer. In Protestant churches, one often sees the Bible sitting up on the main altar, where the tabernacle ought to be, as though at the center of Christianity were a book, something written in lifeless letters on lifeless paper; such an architectural arrangement expresses the very essence of the Protestant heresy, where words replace the Word in His living and life-giving flesh and blood.
I guess  the point is I am in shock at how little the written Word means to him, if not to Roman Catholics in general, if he is representative.  As a Lutheran, we do not devalue the Word of God as the living voice of God speaking through the Scriptures in comparison to the Word who comes to us in bread and wine, His flesh and His blood.  Yes, it is true that some Lutherans devalue the Sacrament over the Word but this is a flawed and mistaken understanding both of Luther and the Confessions.  There is no legitimacy for such an erroneous reading of Lutheranism, no matter how popular or deeply held its viewpoint is.  At the same point in time, however, when Lutherans read "My Word shall not pass away though heaven and earth do..." we do not read Word as Christ distinguished from His Word in written form.  It is shocking to me to read the author say that the Eucharist is Jesus but the Scriptures only contain His teaching and bear witness to Him.  If this is, indeed, faithful Roman Catholic teaching, then the words I have read are freighted with a meaning different from the literal sense of the text.  In most cases, I read Roman Catholic liturgical theologians to have nothing but the highest regard for the Word of God that is the Scriptures.

In fact, I would boldly contradict the author who characterizes this as a Protestant viewpoint.  Most Protestants would heartily agree with him -- the Scriptures are not the Word of God but contain His Word, His teaching, and bear witness to Him.  In that regard we Lutherans stand outside Protestantism to say that the Word of God (Scripture) is not merely a witness but the living voice of God speaking to His people in the same way the voice of Christ once spoke to His disciples.  Scripture is God breathed, it is a performative Word, and, as Isaiah reminds us, accomplishes God's purpose without fail -- just as in creation the Word spoke and all things came into being (Francis acceptance of evolution aside).

For us as Lutherans, Christ is incarnate in His Word as in His meal -- here we have access to the grace in which we stand.  His Word with water is baptism and His Word with bread and wine is the Eucharist.  We Lutherans have endowed no priestly superpower to individuals but consistently place the power with Christ and within His Word.  Our working definition of sacrament is the earthly element married to Christ's Word as Christ Himself instituted, commanded, and promised, and through which He delivers what He promises, namely, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Yet, though I thoroughly disagree with the author's characterization of the Word as mere witness to Christ, I do agree that the older terms are better for the designation of that portion of the liturgy which surrounds the Word and that portion which surrounds the Meal.  I do think, though I doubt it will ever become normative, that the terms Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful are more accurate descriptors of the natural division inherent within the Western liturgy and liturgical pattern which Lutherans share with Roman Catholics.

So, yes, it would be good to rename them. . . but not for the all the reasons offered in this article....  So now I suppose I have thoroughly confused you.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pain and suffering award. . . .

From a December 29, blog post. . .

. . . , a federal jury awarded a former teacher in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend almost $2 million for what she claims was sex discrimination, the bulk of which was not for medical bills or lost wages, but for $1.75 million in “emotional and physical damages” she allegedly suffered.  And while the case looks narrow—was this female teacher fired when immoral male teachers were allowed to retain their jobs?—it involves a much bigger question: when can federal courts scrutinize the religious decisions of churches?

In 2008, Emily Herx, a junior high school language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, began IVF treatment. She notified her school principal about additional IVF treatment in 2010, and in April 2011 the church pastor met with Herx to inform her that IVF was morally wrong.

Because of her IVF treatment, Herx’s contract as a teacher was not renewed, and she sued the Diocese citing alleged violation of various federal laws. Some of her claims were dismissed by the court, but her sex discrimination claim went to a jury, which rendered a verdict last Friday finding the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend liable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Herx had argued that, although she was terminated for undergoing IVF treatments, the Diocese allegedly continues to employ male teachers who had received vasectomies and other treatments that interfere with natural reproduction.

Read more here. . .

On the surface, at least, the decision seems to reject the leadership of the Supreme Court in the Hosanna-Tabor case but this is not exactly the same.  In any case, this will certainly test the waters again and undoubtedly end up in the same place.  What is interesting here is that all the damages were for emotional pain and suffering.  This is also a warning shot across the bows of churches and church agencies and organizations.  Men and women must be dealt with the same way when it comes to the violation of such things as moral clauses.  The churches cannot afford to pick and choose what to enforce and what to overlook when things violate church teaching.  Failure to do this will certainly render the churches liable for their inequality and for their complacency with respect to following their own rules.  Ultimately, the only real interest the courts have shown in religious cases is whether or not the churches followed their own rules and did they do so scrupulously.  We should not have to be reminded of this. . . but we have, whether we like it or not, and our future may depend upon our consistency.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Remembering a man and a conundrum. . .

Mario Cuomo was so familiar to me I would recognize his voice anywhere, anytime.  He was Governor of New York for most of the years I lived there (he served from 1983-1995 to be precise).  His voice was the perfect foil to his ability to turn a phrase.  He was an orator.  I loved listening to him speak -- I just hated to hear most of what he had to say.

He was an old fashioned liberal.  He was a Roman Catholic, albeit one who refused to listen to the conscience of his faith especially with respect to abortion.  He was a big government guy, a New Deal Democrat at a time when Blue Dog Democrats were in ascending in his party (think Clinton).  I am sure he had a soft spot for President Obama and his policies of governmental expansion.  Cuomo believed in a big safety net to cover all the possible needs of people and he engineered one of the highest tax systems to pay for it all.  Nothing new here, New York has been home to many big spenders from both parties.

I heard the clips from his speeches run on TV when his death was announced.  He was a master at the bully pulpit (unless you really listened to all he had to say).  Therein lies what I remember most about him -- the conundrum of a man who claimed to be pious and faithful to his church and yet find it impossible to listen to the voice of his faith when it came to governing (except, of course, when he could use faith to bolster his vision of big government and a big net to cushion the fall of those in need.

We moved to Long Island in 1978 and upstate (halfway between Westchester and Albany) in 1980.  We moved to Tennessee at the very end of 1992.  So for most of the time I lived there, Cuomo was in the news or made the news.  Yet he will always be remembered as perhaps not the first but arguably the most visible among the early Roman Catholics who refused to abide by the conscience of faith when it came to abortion.  He did not stand alone; many who followed his lead, including Nancy Pelosi, and they did not have to be Roman Catholic to ignore their church's teachings on abortion.  And that is how I will always remember him.  His forceful arguments that it is not feasible to be faithful -- at least not in politics and governing.

I wish that I could say that his thesis has been proven false but it hasn't.  Every Republican and Democratic candidate for local, state, or national office is being counseled to overlook their faith (if they have one) and adopt as their own platform a generic regret that abortion is necessary while insisting they will protect the right to kill infants in the womb.  In other words, if you are running for office, you are being told by nearly everyone that this is one battle you do not want to fight.  Yet this is exactly the battle that must be fought.

This issue has divided America like few others since 1973.  The national debate was cut short by a Supreme Court that used creative law to say what it wanted to say.  What was once simply about a surgical procedure has expanded into the use of drugs that act as abortifacients -- chemically aborting after conception.  What was once about a somewhat rare procedure has become a commonplace idea that there is no life worth acknowledging until birth and even then maybe not depending upon the child and the woman and her wishes.   What was once about a woman and her reproductive rights has become about the value of life and what lives are not worth living, worth keeping, and merit ending for the sake of the burden they cause to their families and to society in general.

Mario Cuomo was a powerful speaker but I only wish his voice had echoed the conscience of faith and spoken for the life of the unborn, the disabled, the elderly, and everyone else whom our society is not so sure has a life worth protecting.  He was passionate about civil rights but failed to see that the protection of the unborn is the most basic civil right of all -- especially for those whose journey from slavery to freedom has been so rocky and taken so long.  If more people had awakened to the genie that legalized abortion let out of the bottle, things might have been different.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lutherans in Congress. . .

I have long lamented how few Lutherans there are among the elected representatives to our national assemblies.  This year there are a few more.  New Senators include Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado).  Among the others elected and re-elected, there are three other representatives who fail to give a more specific association other than Lutheran (Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), and Glenn Brothman (R-Wisconsin).  The totals increase the number of Lutherans in the halls of Congress from 23 to 27.

While it would be foolish and downright wrong to identify to identify the Republican Party as the one that best expresses Lutheran confessional identity, I am somewhat surprised that a few of the folks from the ELCA who campaigned on conservative credentials will go to Washington, DC, disagreeing with the public positions taken by the leadership of their church body on a number of different and significant issues.  Oh, well, what do I know...