Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Sweet It Is to Be Mocked by You

Pat Robertson is right.

My fingers still hurt from typing that, but it's true.  At least in this very specific instance.

Last weekend, Saturday Night Live aired a sketch where Jesus comes to visit Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, the highlights of which were Jesus asking the Broncos QB to tone down his public displays of faith a notch and telling the rest of the Broncos that, if he's going to keep helping them win, they need to stop playing terrible football for the first three quarters of the game. 

So the sketch was pretty sacrilegious concerning Christ and pretty rough on His sheep Tim Tebow.  And that made televangelist (and cuckoo-bananas false prophet)  Pat Robertson mad.  While discussing this sketch on whatever "Christian" channel he's on, Robertson had this to say:

If this had been a Muslim country and they had done that, and had Muhammad doing that stuff, you would have found bombs being thrown off!

Now, aside from "bombs being thrown off" not making any prepositional sense, Pat Robertson is right.  Islam does not take kindly to mockery, especially concerning its chief prophet Mohammed.  And had SNL done a skit mocking the Koran, the prophet and/or Muslims the way they mocked Christianity, I'm sure that somewhere in the world, you would have found some bombs being thrown off in some form or another.  So it's not as though SNL's lack of Islam-mocking sketches is born from a genuine appreciation of the religion.  I sincerely doubt that the head writers at 30 Rock haven't asked Jason Sudeikis to dress up as Allah's prophet because they genuinely respect the beliefs of 1.6 billion Muslims throughout the world.  Rather, any respect they give to Islam is born out of fear of violent retaliation, the same fear that caused Comedy Central to wimp out of showing a depiction of Mohammed in a South Park episode a number of years ago.

And while respect born from fear may be an acceptable thing if you're Tiberius Caesar, it's not worth squat if you're a pope or a prophet or a Presbyterian.  So, as Christians, the fact that we're not given the same respect as Muslims shouldn't make us angry.  Instead, that should make us happy, very happy.  Because that means that people view the Church precisely the way Christ said they'd view her-as something lowly and meek, something that can be mocked with impunity. It means that people expect us to do exactly what Jesus told us to do when they strike us-to turn the other cheek.  

And as someone who very frequently fails to act in a Christ-like manner, it's pretty comforting to see that, somehow, the world still expects me to be exactly who Christ says I am.   It's a great reminder that neither my sins nor SNL sketches can stop Jesus from being Lord of His Church.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Zach Wahls is messed up. Here's how.

I've seen this video floating around facebook quite a bit the past day or so.  If you haven't seen the video, watch it.  If you already have, just to refresh your memory, the YouTube video summary says exactly this: Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student spoke about the strength of his family during a public forum on House Joint Resolution 6 in the Iowa House of Representatives. Wahls has two mothers, and came to oppose House Joint Resolution 6 which would end civil unions in Iowa.

In many of the facebook threads I've seen linking this video, those sympathetic to his cause have asked the same question. How can you possibly disagree with him?  People want to know.  After watching this, how can you possibly believe that being raised by a gay couple is harmful to children?

Easy.  By hearing what Mr. Wahls says.  By merely listening to the words that come out of his lips.  Because when I do that, it's quite clear that being raised by two women has, for lack of a better phrase, really messed him up.  Here's how:

30 seconds into his speech, Mr. Wahls informs us that he and his younger sister are full blooded siblings because his biological mother was artificially inseminated twice with sperm from the same anonymous donor.  And how does he feel about that?  That's something which is really cool for me, he states.

So, to dial things back a bit, Mr. Wahls' biological mother wanted to be fruitful and multiply and raise her children with another woman.  This, however, was problematic for her because, per the natural laws of the God who made the heavens and the earth, it takes man parts and lady parts in order to make a baby, and neither she nor her lesbian partner had such man parts.

So to remedy that problem, what did Mr. Wahls' biological mother do?  She went to a sperm bank.  And by doing so, however indirectly it may have been, she encouraged a man to take the precious gift of life that God put into his loins and spill it into a cup.  She took the gift of fatherhood, the sacred title that our Father in Heaven blesses men to share with Him, and she mocked it.  She looked at the titles husband and father, and said,  I don't want your love.  I don't want your sacrifice.  I don't want your guidance or your courage or your care or your forgiveness, and I don't want to cherish you as one flesh with me.  All I want is something very specific from your sexual organs.  And I'll give you money for it, if you'll agree to just go away once we're done.

That's what Mr. Wahls' biological mother did.  She paid money to sexually humiliate another human being.  She paid a man made in God's image to give her what God Himself had told her she could not have as long as she lived contrary to His law.  Though she never saw this man's face, and though he may have left his "donation" willingly, she treated the father of her children like a prostitute.  

And what does her son, Zach Wahls, think about all that?

That's something which is really cool for me.

The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character, Mr. Wahls says later in his speech.  And I have no doubt that he wants that to be true.  But it's not true.  Because, in service of their sexual orientation, the two women who raised Mr. Wahls told him that men are entirely disposable once they've been harvested of their seed.  They spent 19 years proclaiming to their son that a man's faithfulness to his offspring can be purchased for nothing more than fifty bucks and a pornographic magazine.  In every day of his life, Mr. Wahls two "mommies" taught him that women have every right to humiliate men, to pimp them out, to demean and shame them if it suits their purposes.

And in the end, he believed them.

So, while Mr. Wahls may be very polite and articulate, while he may be intelligent and dignified and a million other things that nobody has ever said that children of gay couples can't be, he doesn't respect men.  He doesn't value fatherhood.  And he doesn't understand the horrors of glorifying yourself by shaming your neighbor.  And he doesn't do those things precisely because he was raised by two women.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Defense of Shyamalan Preaching

Back in 2004, M. Night Shyamalan released his movie The Village.  And I went to see it because, like most of the nation at that time, I had not yet fully realized that Mr. Shyamalan was a one-trick-pony who was going to make increasingly horrible movies financed with the credit that is our increasingly begrudging continued respect for The Sixth Sense.

This one-trick that Mr. Shyamalan rode to fame was the plot twist, especially towards the end of the movie.  So, in The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis was really dead the whole time.  In Unbreakable, Bruce Willis was really a superhero the whole time.  And in Signs, Mel Gibson was really Bruce Willis the whole time.  I think.  I never actually saw Signs.

So by the time The Village came out, we all knew how this guy's movies worked.  Something was not going to be as it seemed.  Crazy twisty twists were going to happen and we would have to reevaluate everything we'd seen in the movie thus far.  And, like most people in the theater that day, because I knew that a twist was coming, I immediately went into The Village trying to figure out what it would be.

And figure it out I did in the first five minutes.  You see, the setup of The Village is that a bunch of old timey people are living in an old timey town and are all afraid of a bunch of monsters living in the woods.  And so, before the inciting incident, I thought to myself, "oh, the twist is obviously that they're only pretending to live in old timey times and the monsters are just made up to scare the kids away from the modern world."  

And once I figured that out, watching the remaining 103 minutes of The Village became a virtually unbearable experience.  It was like having to sit on your couch for an hour and a half while all of your friends and family gathered in your room, turned off the lights, then turned them back on and shouted "happy birthday" to commence the surprise party you knew they were throwing for you the whole time.

So the moral of the story is that if your audience knows you're going to pull the rug out from underneath them, you'd better make sure that they don't know precisely how you're going to do it.  At least, that's the moral of the story when it comes to three or five act story structure.  And that's why, in great part, M. Night Shyamalan is a really terrible filmmaker.

But when it comes to two part sermon structure, when it comes to Law and Gospel preaching, I don't think this rule applies so much.  In fact, I think there's great value in being a Shyamalan preacher.  Because unlike the job of a thriller filmmaker, the job of a pastor isn't to take you someplace that you never imagined you'd go.  His job is to take you exactly where he takes you each week: to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Look at it this way:

A pastor is preaching on the Parable of the Tenants.  And the setup, he tells us, is that we are all tenants of God's vineyard who have sinned against the ones God has sent to collect His fruit.  God sent us pastors to harvest from our hearts repentance and faith by preaching the Word to us.  But we abused them by refusing to turn from our sins and treating our pastors cruelly.  And in doing all of this, we, as tenants of that vineyard, are guilty of having killed the Master's Son.

So that's the scenario that the pastor presents.  That's the setup.  But because the pastor preaching this is a good pastor who won't walk out of the pulpit until he preaches the forgiveness of sins, the twist comes in.  And yet, the pastor tells us, through this very same death, the Son forgives those who put Him to death.  Through the blood that those wicked tenants force out of His veins, the Son erases their wickedness, undoes their despising of the preached Word and the preaching office, and gives them the right to join Him in His everlasting vineyard.

So who saw that coming?  Who expected that twist in the story?  Well, pretty much everyone who's heard this guy preach before.  They know that his story isn't going to end with sin ruling the day.  They know that his movie isn't going to conclude until Christ has drowned the sinner's sin in His blood.  They know that the sermon won't end until the twist occurs where the sins condemned become the sins forgiven.  And they know all that because that's what the pastor does every week.  Just like M. Night Shyamalan in The Village, his writing is really predictable and anyone who's paying attention already knows where he's going long before he gets there.

And that's exactly how it should be.  Because the Gospel is always different forms of the same story with the same twist and the same ending.  It shouldn't have come as a surprise to the Jews when John identified Christ as the Lamb whose blood would cause the wrath of His Father to pass over the sins of His people because that's the plot twist they'd heard every single time they celebrated the Passover.  It shouldn't have come as a shock when Caiaphas prophesied that Christ's death would forgive the sins of the world since that was the big reveal that had already been revealed a bagillion times throughout the Old Testament.  Nicodemus shouldn't have been caught off guard at the twist that God would save people through faith in the Son of God lifted up and made into sin for them because that's exactly the same twist God used when He had Moses lift up the Bronze Serpent in the wilderness.  So, to put it quite simply, if God's preaching is this predictable, ours should be too.

Granted, the same thing that happened to me when I went to see The Village is bound to happen when pastors preach in such a predictable manner.  People will get bored, roll their eyes, and mentally check out because they already know where their pastor is going.  But that's not a preaching problem.  It's a listening problem.  We only do that because our sinful nature will take any chance it gets to close our ears and ignore the Word of God.  Boredom is perhaps the most frequently used name on Unbelief's fake ID.  

But if ever a pastor encounters this reaction to the predictability of his preaching, he ought to consider it a blessing, a wonderful cross to carry, because it means that he's preached the Gospel so much that people just assume he's going to do it again.  If our world is facing a dearth of good filmmaking, M. Night Shyamalan is certainly not the answer.  But if our world is facing a dearth of good preaching, and it certainly is, a few more Shyamalan preachers would go pretty far in turning that around.

Peace out, cub scouts.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Save ULC! Director's Commentary

I don't have anything terribly insightful to say about this video.  I suppose the best I could do is link back to this post I wrote when this issue was first rearing its ugly head in the internet world.  But aside from that, please continue to keep all those involved in your prayers.  Pray that the Minnesota South District's Board of Director's may repent of breaking the ninth commandment.  Pray that Christ may continue to feed His sheep through the Word and Sacrament ministry of University Lutheran Chapel.  And pray that Pastor David Kind and his flock may rejoice to know that they have been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ.

Also, my flock and I are making pancakes for ULC this Sunday at 8:00 am.  Anybody in the neighborhood is free to join us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For Max

Yesterday my cousin died in a car accident.  It's utterly heartbreaking for a multitude of reasons.  Nonetheless, this is a sonnet I wrote for him, clinging as tightly as I can to the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13.


Today the wicked one approached my eyes
To steal, with news of violent death, my tears
His serpent stomach hungered for the prize
Of tasting on his tongue my liquid fears

And so he tossed at me this horrid word
Of final breaths from you, my kin and friend
And with that word, despair in me was stirred
And sorrow started flooding without end

But right before the foe could fill his cup
Your Savior claimed the tears upon my face
He seized them as His own, then filled them up
With promises of bloody hope and grace

Yes, still my stream of tears for you is long
But now I cry with Easter in my song

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Overdue Director's Commentaries

Frequently, my wife tells me that I need to write on my blog more often. When she does, I tell her that I write a commentary on all of my videos, so I am usually posting at least once a week.  She then says that doesn't count.  I say yes it does, even though I know she's right.  And because she has gradually succeeded in convincing me that writing director's commentaries on the Lutheran Satire videos isn't real writing, I've gotten behind in doing it.  So if you've been upset by that, don't blame me.  Blame Katie.

I love you, honey.

Anyway, I'm a few videos behind.  So here's some lickedy split catching up:

1. Things Your Lutheran Pastor Totally Loves: The Feast of the 156th Fruits (Ep. 9)

So, if your congregation needs things, and you want to give your congregation those things, make sure you give nice things and not semi-toxic garbage.  Otherwise you end up treating the church like a ratty hand-me-down wearing, nose picking, red-headed step brother.  And that's not a good thing.

Also, on a side note, the final joke in this video is probably my favorite Lutheran Satire joke of all time.

2. ...and you lost me.

If you're a politically conservative fellow like me, and if you've ever watched those presidential debates between all those fringe third party candidates, you've probably experienced having the Constitution party pull the rug out from underneath you.  So the Constitution candidate will be talking about limited government that respects the free market and you'll think, "yeah, that's right."  And then he'll display a firm grasp of economic principles that is entirely lost on most Democrats and Republicans and you'll think, "man, this guy is awesome."  And then he'll give an impassioned speech about the need to defend the rights of the unborn, and you think, "dude, I'm totally becoming a member of the Constitution Party."  And then he'll say, "and that's why we need to force public school teachers to lead prayers for Israel every day after the Pledge of Allegiance," and you think, "yeah!  That exactly...wait, what?"  This is pretty much what happens to me every time I'm ready to sign up for the High Church Guy Club that many of my dearly beloved Lutheran pastor buddies belong to.

3. The "How To" Show: How to Start a Cult (Ep. 6)

This is pretty much how the Mormons, the JW's, the Branch Davidians, etc... rolled into existence.  And if you want to roll as they rolled, this is how to do it.  But please don't roll as such.  Because if you do, you'll probably get killed by an Illinois Militia or the United States government.  Oh, and you'll also go to hell.

4. The "How To" Show: How to Have an Official Position (Ep. 7)

Lightly inspired by the cremation debate, the point of this video is that the only way to truly solve issues of controversy is:

1. To learn what God's Word says about an issue.
2. To say what God's Word says.
3. To encourage those who have adopted practices in violation of that Word to repent and receive absolution.

But when your goal is to say something that sounds sort of God-ish without offending anybody and then pretend like you've genuinely addressed the issue, you just end up with really stupid theology.

Also, for the record, I believe that spinning cats around by the tail is cruel.  If you find an unwanted cat in your presence, either call your local humane society or shoot it in the face.

5. The "How To" Show: How To Be a Biblical Scholar (Ep. 8)

A few years ago, some "Biblical Scholars" got the tinglies in their tummies when this story came out, attempting a "scientific" explanation behind the miraculous story of Jesus walking on the water.  "You see," these scholars said, "research shows that, occasionally, it can get cold enough for the Sea of Galilee to freeze.  So what might have happened is that some water froze, and Jesus was walking on a flow of ice, and the disciples saw it and they were all like:

And so the idea got around that Jesus had miraculously walked on water because people who lived a long time ago were superstitious idiots and not smart, rational people like me.  So, uh, yeah."  Granted, it takes way more blind faith to believe that Jesus just happened to be around during one of the four times that it got cold enough for the Sea of Galilee to freeze, and that he somehow walked out on an ice flow without getting hypothermia or slipping and falling into the water and dying, and that his disciples were so dumb that they couldn't figure out that he was standing on that frozen water stuff.  But, of course, the job of a Biblical Scholar is not to say reasonable things that are backed up with actual evidence.  The job of a Biblical Scholar is to reject the Word in favor of anything else, no matter how stupid anything else may be.

And yeah, I spelled "alma mater" wrong.  I tried to fix it and repost the video, but I have a stupid PC and I can't get the battery to charge anymore, so my video editing computer is dead and if it bothers you that much, send me some money to buy a Mac.

Ok.  I'm caught up now.  Bye.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Gnostic Sea

If you want to know why people have themselves cremated after they die, it's because of Gnosticism.
If you want to know why people fry their brains on mind altering drugs, it's because of Gnosticism.

If you want to know why kids in middle school become sexually active, why the push for gay marriage keeps getting stronger and why a woman who legally changed her name to Chaz Bono is being called a man on Dancing With the Stars, it's because of Gnosticism.

If you're not familiar with the term, Gnosticism is a philosophy/theology that can be easily summarized in four words: flesh bad; spirit good.  All things that are material, in the eyes of the Gnostic, are bad.  They are broken, fallen.  And all things having to do with the spirit are good, as God is, according to the Gnostic, only spirit.  Therefore, anything with physical dimensions, especially our flesh, clouds us from accessing the pure spirit-thing that is God.  And so, if one desires to attain communion with this transcendent being, one must first liberate his pure soul from the prison that is his fallen body.  Flesh bad; spirit good.

Of course, Gnosticism is  not a new problem.  Five seconds after the Apostles first began taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Gnostics began trying to overtake the Christian faith by denying that God would ever lower himself to take on human flesh and by rejecting the teaching that the physical blood of a man could somehow bring mankind into communion with God.  The influence of the Gnostics was already wide-spread enough at the time that John wrote his Gospel for him to address their teachings rather directly.  The Apostle's words "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," aren't simply meant to be pretty poetry describing the Incarnation.  Those words are an aggressive assault against those who deny that a man is fully God and that God is fully man in Jesus Christ.  They are meant to shove Divine Flesh in the Gnostic's face and force him to smell the armpits of God.  John is sort of awesome that way.

But despite the Scripture's clear condemnation of Gnosticism, like Sugar Ray being played on pop radio stations, it just won't go away.  Although, unlike Sugar Ray being played on pop radio stations, there's a rather good reason for it.

You see, when Gnosticism tells you that flesh is bad and spirit is good, it therefore tells you that your body doesn't matter and that you can do whatever you want with it without harming your soul, just as you can throw away a Ding Dong wrapper without harming the essence of that which is Ding Dong.  As long as your spirit is pure, as long as your heart is golden, that's all that matters.

So, when it comes to burial, Christianity says that your flesh is a gift from God, a wonderful part of His creation that was made in perfection, that was redeemed through the blood of His Son, and that will be lifted up out of the grave in glory by the power of the Holy Spirit on the Last Day, therefore you should treat your body with care and reverence.  Gnosticism says that your flesh is a piece of trash that has no part in your eternal communion with God, so go ahead and burn it.  So when people have grown up in Christian churches, when they've been surrounded by the Incarnate Word that knits their bodies and souls into one redeemed and restored package, and when they nonetheless decide to have their bodies burned into a pile of rubble after they die, to whom are they listening?  To Christ or to the Gnostic?

Likewise, when it comes the truth of God, Christianity says that God's Word is a tangible, touchable thing found in physical letters and earthly words.  It says that God can be known and accessed through the writings of men.  Gnosticism says that God can only be found outside the confines of our fleshly limitations.  So when people have seen God revealed to them in the words of the Bible, and yet they fill their brains with all sort of drugs and chemicals in the hope of releasing themselves from this fleshly prison and discovering the hidden knowledge of the Divine, to whom are they listening?  To Christ or to the Gnostic?

And once again, when it comes to sexuality and the body, Christianity says that God made male and female, that He made woman for man, and that He made sex for the purpose of procreation and for loving the one whom He has given to be your one flesh and that sex is only blessed in His eyes when it remains within the realm that He made for it.  Gnosticism says that there is no such thing as male or female, that the only part of sex that really matters is the spiritual connection between two (or more) people and that a person's purity of soul cannot be challenged by what he or she does with her or her genitals.

So, when 14 year old kids who aren't married to each other and don't want babies engage in the act that God made in order for married people to make babies, and when they say that this is fine because they share a common love of each other and Glee, to whom are they listening?

When two men say that their sexual union, which creates not life, but death through the spread of disease, is identical to the union between a man and a woman, to whom are they listening?

And when a lady says she is really a man because that's how she feels in her spirit, despite her flesh sporting two ovaries, some more lady parts and a pair of X chromosomes, is she listening to Christ or is she listening to the Gnostic?

Gnosticism is an overwhelming, pervasive thing.  It's everywhere, affecting people of every age, class, race, education level, you name it.  Gnosticism is seeping into the funeral plans of old Christian women, spreading into the laws of our nation, and boiling over in the line-ups of our reality TV programs.  It's everywhere, both a flesh-eating virus and a flesh-denying cancer that shows no sign of slowing down, no trace of remorse.

And yet, just as Gnosticism thrives in every generation, so the words of St. John kill it in every generation.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus is God in a human body.  And when that human body was broken for us, the God/Man forgave our sins and gave us the right to enjoy full and eternal communion with His Father.

So to my fellow Christians who are as prone to despair as I am, don't lose hope.  Don't lose faith.  Keep going back to those words of St. John.  Keep shoving that Divine Flesh in the face of the Gnostics.  Keep making them smell the armpits of God.  And as a parting gift for today's post, here's a poem I wrote on this subject:

The Gnostic Sea
By Hans W. Fiene

I woke this morning early.
The sound of splashing foam,
Had crashed into my head and led
Me from my resting home.

I rose in weary wonder
To see what this might be.
And from my stage, I saw the raging
Of the Gnostic Sea.

The Gnostic spanned horizons
From north to south, it stormed
And gnashed its jaw, and yet I saw
The Gnostic had no form

The Gnostic had no water.
The Gnostic had no blue.
That shapeless host was like a ghost.
It had no mass to strew

The Gnostic had no currents.
The Gnostic had no waves.
But from my shore, I saw its floor
Was tiled with countless graves.

It wore those tombs like trophies
Like busts upon a wall.
And from the deep, it vowed no sleep
Until it claimed us all.

Claimed all the sons of Water,
Of Water and the Word,
By hooking snares that pull us where
No Savior’s voice is heard.

And so the winds that weren’t
Began to howl sweet
To lure in with sav’ry sin
The ones with restless feet.

"Come here," the Gnostic beckoned.
"Come wade within my sea.
And in a flash, my formless splash
Will make you just like me.

"Dive in," it chanted sweetly.
"Dive deep, I'll make you fresh.
I'll fill your cup by splitting up
Your spirit and your flesh.

"I'll grab that sarkos carcass
And cleave it from your soul
So that no sin can enter in
when passion starts to roll.

"I'll keep you safe from conscience
When wrong sweats out your pores.
I'll call it love, your lust that just
gives birth to open sores.

"And if the Prophets shout out
The Word, don't fear its gist.
'Cause damning law can't get a claw
In loins that don't exist.

"So come and soothe your spirit
Come sanctify your fun
Come slice apart your fleshly heart
And burn it when you're done."

So this the Gnostic promised
And many wand'ring sheep,
They traded blood for formless flood
And leapt into the deep.

And peering in that chasm,
I looked at those below
And feared this Gnostic name would claim
Me in its undertow.

And so I fell down, weeping
Convinced I could not stand,
Until I felt the grain that dwelt
Beneath me wasn't sand.

This coarse and gritty substance
That kept me from the sea
Was specks and flecks of Flesh Divine
Was God's anatomy.

And as the Gnostic threatened
To drown me in the deep
The Flesh of God, that Holy Sod,
He swallowed me, His sheep,

Encased me in His Castle
Comprised of Holy Skin
and vowed my foe to overthrow.
He swore my war to win.

And so He rose a Fortress
Congealed from Righteous Blood.
And though the Gnostic stormed and swarmed
His walls it could not flood.

The Gnostic crashed with fury.
The Gnostic screamed and screeched.
But through the hours, the Godly Tow'rs
of Flesh could not be breached.

The Gnostic slapped with vapor.
The Savior struck with fists.
Its phantom pokes were met by chokes
from Hands with bloody wrists.

And when the Gnostic, gurgling,
spat out a mocking sound
to say the Heel, it wasn't real,
that crushed it on the ground

I heard the Fleshy Logos
Condemn the Gnostic Sea.
Then with His hand, He grabbed it and
Impaled it on a tree.

He trapped it in His fingers
And nailed it to the wood.
Then, with my eye, I saw it die
Right where the Savior stood.

He killed it with His body.
He slew it with His breath.
This thing that cursed His final thirst,
He dragged it into death.

Then as the Gnostic's raging
expired with my sin,
My heart rejoiced to hear the voice
of God call to my kin.

To those within the chasm,
To those within the graves,
To those who tasted death in wasted
life as Gnostic slaves.

"Come up," the Savior beckoned.
"Come up and touch my side.
And see that He who made your souls
Is wearing human hide.

"Come gaze on God your Brother
Who, from a virgin's womb,
was called to rid your skin of sin,
And break apart your tomb.

"So with those tombs in tatters,
Come live within the Flesh
Where those released can dwell in peace,
their souls and bodies mesh

"As one within my mercy,
As one within my grace,
Both purified and sanctified
By God's own bloody face.

"So leave that Gnostic sewer.
Depart its formless flood.
Come join my feast, come eat your Priest
And drink His Holy Blood."

And so that Fleshy Fortress
In which I safely dwelt,
His halls and walls began to quake,
to quiver and to melt.

Then Saints from every nation
Began to enter in
The space of God’s incarnate grace
The home of God in skin.

And when my final brother
Within that Castle stood,
That Godly Hide repetrified
And sealed us in for good.

So when the Gnostic grumbled
And growled from its grave,
We laughed within our Savior’s Skin,
Preserved inside His Nave.

And so amidst the chorus,
Above our loud “rejoice,”
I heard the Word made Flesh cry out
I heard my Savior’s voice:

"The day of war is over
The day of rest is here
So let me dry your eye, and cry
No more the tears of fear

“Your weary head come lay on
My Tabernacle Bed.
The formless one has been undone.
The Gnostic Sea is dead.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who Taught Whom?

Once upon a time, in between finishing college and starting seminary, I worked as a substitute teacher.  Out of all the temporary jobs I've ever had, I probably loved substiteaching the most.

There was, however, one day when I did not enjoy substiteaching.  That day took place when I filled in for a neophyte first grade teacher who had never had a sub before.  Due to her inexperience, this otherwise great teacher made the critical error of assuming that I knew the jargon of a first grade classroom.  (I, of course, didn't.)  And the result of combining her assumption with my ignorance was that I had a list of things that I was supposed to teach the kids, but I didn't actually know what any of those things were.

At 8:30, we do Calendar.  At 9:15, it's Happy Friend Time with Mr. Letters Hour.  At 11:37, it's Super Storybook Explosion.

That's pretty much all I had in my teacher-prepared notes.

Of course, I tried my best to prevent those kids from knowing that I had no idea what I was doing.  Ok, I'd saccharinely say, who wants to tell me about Calendar time?  But after doing this a couple of times, the students had figured out what was really going on, that I was just trying to get them to teach me what I was supposed to teach them.  And once they realized that, they saw that the tables had turned.  The teacher was now the one learning.  And the learners were now those attempting to teach.

I bring this up because, when it comes to church music and hymondy, something very similar happens whenever we Lutherans start eating up non-Lutheran stuff.  Just like that day in Ms. What's Her Name's first grade classroom, the one who is supposed to be imparting knowledge ends up having to take knowledge in.  Likewise, the one who is supposed to be absorbing it is having to dish it out.  And whenever that happens, whenever the teacher-student relationship is reversed, the quality of instruction is never very good.

It happens like this:

So one day, a non-Lutheran says to himself, hey, I'm going to write a hymn.  And because he recognizes that Colossians 3:16 states that hymns exist to teach people stuff, he then thinks in his brain, since I'm a Non-Lutheran, I'm going to teach all kinds of Non-Lutheran stuff in this hymn.  So, if he's a Methodist, he teaches people that Jesus becomes their savior when they welcome him into their hearts.  If he's a Calvinist, he teaches people that they should think God is super awesome because Jesus didn't die for everyone.  If he's a Pietist, he teaches people that the love of God can be found in swooning over our own faith.

Then a bunch of Methodists and Baptists and Pietists start singing these hymns because they affirm their theology and because they have pretty melodies and are easy to remember.

Then your Grandmother Ethel hears the choir sing one of these hymns on S. Parkes Cadman's radio program.  Or your Uncle Herb hears Andy Williams' recording of it on his latest Christmas album.  Or your daughter Stayceee hears Switchfoot play it at the concert she went to with her Non-Denominational friends last week.

Then Grandma Ethel or Uncle Herb or Little Stayceee asks his or her pastor if he or she can sing those songs during the Sunday morning service.  And, either because he doesn't want to upset someone or because he's a theological sack of mashed potatoes, Pastor says yes and his congregation falls in love with this new piece of music.

But then, when someone objects to this inclusion of non-Lutheran music in a Lutheran service, the congregation singing such a hymn becomes somewhat defensive.  Yeah, it had some bad theology in it, she says.  But don't worry.  We Lutheranized it.

Now, by Lutheranized, this congregation does not mean that she tracked down the author of the hymn, properly catechized him, then convinced said freshly-orthodox pastor to freeze all licensing of his composition, recall all copies and rewrite every word of his poetry with the faith of the Augsburg Confession dripping out of his pen.  No, by Lutheranized, this congregation means that she changed maybe three or four words so that the hymn was no longer teaching blatant false doctrine.  It used to say of the Sacrament of the Altar, too soon we rise; the symbols disappear.  Now it says, the vessels disappear.  It used to say, once for favored sinners slain.  Now it says, once for every sinner slain.  It used to say, I feel a rumbly in my tumbly, now I know that I am saved.  Now it says, I feel a rumbly in my tumbly, which is a perfectly natural emotional response to hearing the external Word, which, as we all know, is the sole Power at work in conversion.

Granted, if a Lutheran congregation is going to insist on using non-Lutheran hymns, it's better that she play the heresy-white-out game instead of leaving hell enough alone.  But in the end, she's still turned the tables and gotten things all backwards.  Because instead of the hymns she sings telling her what to confess about the Gospel, she's the one telling those hymns what they ought to confess.  Instead of listening as a theologically brilliant poet deftly executes the immeasurably difficult task of beautifully and clearly proclaiming the pure Gospel in meter and rhyme, she has to shout over a theologically inept poet in an attempt to cover up his mangling of Law and Gospel.  

Or, to put it in simpler terms, instead of those hymns teaching that congregation, that congregation is the one teaching those hymns.  And just as those first grade students came to discover the day I subbed for Ms. What's Her Name, when you're the one instructing the person who is supposed to be educating you, you're really not learning much at all.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  And my wife had been nagging me to write something other than a Lutheran Satire commentary for a while.