Friday, March 27, 2015

The shibboleth of modernity. . .

From Breitbart:

Students at Kings College London (KCL) have successfully campaigned for the removal of a window featuring former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, an alumnus of the college, on the grounds that his stance on gay marriage makes him “homophobic”.  The move comes despite Carey’s reputation as a liberal while he was Archbishop, ushering in the ordination of women priests for the first time in the Church’s history.

He particularly attracted their ire during a debate on same sex marriage held at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in 2012. Lord Carey made a point about the new sanctity awarded to equality, saying: “It seems to me that so many of our current problems revolve around the all-too narrow attempt to make equality the controlling virtue. Acceptance of differences does not challenge equality. We are not the same.  Men and women are equal in the sight of the Lord but that is a statement about our legal status and not our identity. Same sex relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships and should not be put on the same level.”

It was the last sentence in particular that angered the campaigners, who branded Lord Carey a “homophobe” and a “hate figure”, and began to campaign for the window’s removal. 

Modernity shouts diversity and condemns suppression EXCEPT for that which disagrees with its sacred values.  In a very short period of time the modern shibboleth has become gay rights and gay marriage.  It will not be long before every other right must bow at this altar -- including freedom of religion.  When that day comes we will discover just how fragile freedom truly is and just how effective an enemy is the thought and speech police who get to define what a homophobe is and what will not be tolerated in public conversation.  Churches need to pay attention to this for it will not be long before tax status and legal rights are stripped from everyone who dares to speak against that which once dared not speak its name at all.  It is also, sadly, a tacit admission of the bankruptcy of British culture and values that this is happening more and more in jolly old England.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The first casualty is usually the truth. . .

Read The National Review for an article on the push back to the Archbishop's desire to have teachers in Roman Catholic schools actually teach in line with Roman Catholic teaching.  It is not that difficult and certainly no stretch of the imagination to believe that those who teach in Roman Catholic schools would actually teach in line with Roman Catholic teaching -- whether or not they personally believe such.  Yet it is clear that when it comes to the highly organized and well funded gay lobby, this is exactly the things being challenged.

First they will characterize the teaching as rigid.  It is a typical move to paint orthodoxy as rigid, unbending, heartless, and unfeeling.  Who would agree with orthodoxy if it meant surrendering your heart at the door.

Next they will characterize orthodoxy as out of step with the people in the church.  How many times have we not heard orthodoxy described as not the mainstream of people's thinking or a stretch for the average person in the pew?  Here the point will be made that because there are Roman Catholics who disagree with the church's position, the position must change to fit the people's viewpoint.

And then, of course, they will attempt to discredit the moral high ground of those who press for orthodoxy.  But this is and has never been about who is holier -- it is about the unchanging teachings of a church and the ordinary expectation that a school that wears the church's name should be expected to teach and practice in conformity with that teaching.

Lest we think this is a uniquely Roman Catholic issue, we Lutherans have seen the Lutheran-ness of our own church schools diluted and weakened to the point where it is hard to identify anything in the curriculum or policies of such a school in conformity with the confessional standards of the church.  A particular example might be the promotion of evolution (we all expect that evolution will be taught informationally but we have a right to expect that it will not be promoted at the expense of Scripture).  Another example would be the area of worship.  Sadly many students in a Lutheran school go to chapels that bear no distinctive marks of Lutheran faith or piety.

Lutheran schools are expensive.  The parents pay good money in tuition.  The parishes support the school, facilities, and mission of the school with good money given in food faith.  The minimal common expectation is that the faith and practice of such schools will conform to the doctrinal positions of the larger church.  Apart from this is the basic question of why such a school could or should be called Lutheran in the first place.  Funny, though, is the fact that most of our parents make the great sacrifice of tuition and offerings in support of Lutheran education because they believe that Lutheranism offers something good and positive toward education.  Why else would you spend so much money on your child's education?  No, the basic and most foundational expectation of people sending their children to a Lutheran school is that the school will impart a solidly Lutheran education for their children.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Annunciation Of Our Lord

A quiet day. . . following my father's funeral. . . remembering the Annunciation. . . rejoicing in the gift to us all God placed within Blessed Mary's womb. . . recalling her resolute trust in the wisdom of the Lord and her consent to His will. . . renewing our own faith with the prayer that we may manifest such trust in God's gracious will. . . and resting our wounded hearts in His promise. . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The need for gravity. . .

While hearing of the space walk at the International Space Station, I was reminded that weightlessness is not a blessing but a bane.  It is harder to work in an atmosphere without gravity than it is with the gravity pulls against our every movement trying to be free.  Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density.

We stand staring into the sky and wish we could fly -- floating weightless in the sky (or at least enough weightlessness to keep us above but not too far from the landscape of the earth.  We dream of reaching the stars though the practical effects of such long term travel without gravity remain a danger as much as they are a desire.

We should be thankful for gravity for without it we would suffer in more ways than we can count.  But instead we find gravity an enemy against a vision of freedom which begs to be let go.  Surely there is a sermon in this or at least a devotion.  Especially in Lent we come face to face with the sober and often disappointing truth that we also need gravity for the soul, the pull of the divine with its unpleasant truth or we suffer as victims of an illusion that can offer us nothing real.

Lent is that.  It is the season of gravity, acknowledging the pull of the divine that keeps us where we need to be -- even if that pull includes the guilt and shame of sin.  Too much of our lives are not real.  We work with our minds and not our backs and the consequence is that our backs ache for lack of labor while our minds are weary from too much information.  We are a sedentary people who spend too much time in a chair, in front of a screen.  Like right now.  There is nothing wrong with it, per se, but what is wrong is when we confuse the digital reality with the true reality of things like gravity and sin and death.

So in Lent we focus on gravity -- on the constraints that have bound us and the conscience that carries its burden.  Like the illusion of independence that lies like the wreckage of a once mighty ship upon the rocks of the shore, gravity calls us to what is most real, most true.  The Word of the Lord speaks not in rhymes or platitudes but the truth that lays bare our deepest vulnerability.  Though we long to be free, sin has held us captive and we remain in bondage unless and until Christ frees us.

After the illusions are stripped away by the Law and the despair has left us with nothing but the cross, we find that we were created by God for God and that this divine purpose and life are what were missing in our futile attempt at freedom and this purpose and life are the gifts that restore to us our dependence upon Him who made and redeemed us.  Far from finding this dependence a disappointment, it becomes the only real freedom.

Gravity is a good thing.  We were made for it.  The gravity that grounds our bodies and the gravity that grounds our lives.  Facing reality means facing up to and accepting limits and boundaries. Our world is filled with make-believe and the illusion of freedom that consumes.  Into this comes the gravity of our Lord and His call to deny ourselves, take up his cross, and follow Him.  Instead of destroying our lives as sin has taught us to fear, it has given us back our lost lives.

Many of us spend our lives failing to understand just how fragile our lives truly are and how close we are to nothingness.  Lent is the helpful gravity that forces us to see with eyes wide open.  You cannot put your trust in earthly rulers, earthly kingdoms, earthly things... Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.  He is the gravity that gives our lives identity, purpose, character, and hope.    

Monday, March 23, 2015

The loss of faith made music mute. . .

As a subscriber, I belong to the Nashville Symphony.  I love it.  It is like a mini vacation whenever one of our appointed concerts comes up on my calendar.  I know it is expensive but we do not go to the movies and we spend little money on entertainment other than the Symphony.

That said, it burns me up when I go to the Symphony and end up with half a program of atonal, modern music that seems to explore every aspect of music but melody.  The program notes are often replete with words describing what was in the author's mind in composing the piece and sometimes he is sitting in the audience with me.  The patrons are gracious and too many standing ovations are born of a deep desire to support classical music rather than exemplary composition.  The symphony players are wonderful and I am sure they playing the notes correctly -- but the notes sound more like an accident than a design.  That is not true of all modern music but it is true of too much of it.

In discussing this at home we have found ourselves longing to hear more old music than new because the atonality and melodic deprived nature of too much modern music leaves you with little but regret that you spend so much money to hear it.  I wonder how many of these pieces will be on programs in fifty or a hundred years but I have no doubt that Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Barber, and too many more will continue to be played.  Then I read a piece by Oliver Rudland in the March 2015 issue of Standpoint magazine (you can read it online here).

Rudland charts the eruption of music that accompanied the growth of the nation state but noted that a deeper set of convictions united the composers of this 19th century phenomenon -- the states and the music was predicated upon Christianity.  When in the 1960s the seismic shift of culture and authority raised its challenge to Christianity and gave birth to a sexual and moral revolution, music changed.  Popular music shifted the focus onto the feelings, the highs and lows of the casual relationship, and the unchained desire that had previously been merely hinted at in music.  Worse, it seems the classical music seems to have either died or entered a coma.  Rudland calls this a "God shaped hole."  Where classical music continued to live and breathe, it was fostered and sustained in the church.  Think of the exceptions -- Eric Whitacre, for example.  No, Rudland is absolutely correct.  Musical genius flourished under the inspiration of the faith and the tutelage of the Church.  Absent the belief and confidence in the value and virtue of our Christian identities, our music has gone mute -- except for that which glorifies and is preoccupied with sexual desire (too often under the guise of love).

Some will surely insist that I am wrong and Rudland mistaken but I think the erosion of the Christian foundations of culture and society have done far more damage than we care to admit.  They have left us without the song that inspires and ennobles us as people.  Instead we look down into the gutter to express when previous generations knew was better left hidden.  Either for lack of taste or ability or inspiration, modern music has failed to produce musical genius to compare with other points in history.  And that, my friends, is a sad state of affairs for us all -- even those who would never darken a symphony hall.