Thursday, September 25, 2014

Open Wide ... (Part 1)

" #!%@$ ...  Is THAT all, Spock?  I thought Bones was dragging me off to the chaplain's regularly scheduled private confession! "

At another site, Fr. Mark Surburg compares the illogical reluctance to undergo a critical diagnostic testing ... illogical, because the procedure just might detect a serious disease, which could kill if left untreated ... with the self's natural reticence at being "fingered" as a sinner.   Fr. Surburg maintains that "the account of Matthew’s call confronts us with the necessity of confessing our own spiritual sickness," a conclusion with which this writer heartily concurs.
Certainly, St. Matthew's following of Christ, and his banqueting with the Lord, was tied to his Spirit-driven recognition of a desperate need for healing.  The chosen ex-revenuer fully accepted Christ's insight as to his calamitous state of health, and has not flinched from proclaiming the diagnosis peculiar to him, and its Cure, for millennia now. 

For the self to acknowledge ownership and give name to a specific sin, to another human being, is never an easy task.  It requires qualities of complete self-acceptance, true honesty, and courage; for we are all inbred narcissists at heart, seeking always to be (or at the least, to be seen as) gods.

But Christ has chosen to metaphorically portray our dire situation as one requiring the attention of a doctor.  And generally, the art and science of "medical physik" addresses the problems of but one suffering patient at a time, even when a whole gaggle of doc-lings is squawking on morning rounds.  Simultaneous mass healings and excisions are not the surgeon's forte, after all, because the sawbones is invariably equipped with only two hands. 

General confession has its place, of course; and it is expedient and well for Lutherans, in the preparatory portion of our communion with God, to emphasize to the eavesdropping Old Adam our fallen nature, and to sorrow about it, before we approach the ineffable holiness of God.  Luther Reed noted that among the Ordos of the Church universal, this ceremony is unique in its place and indeed, in its very existence.  It is highly appropriate ceremony for the Christians, who rightly assert that Emmanu-El deigns to bless them with His true Presence in the Divine Service setting.  The General Confession is solid testimony to a Gospel truth.

The ceremony's inherent diffusiveness, however, inevitably spreads the guilt and defangs the ugliness of personal sin.   It is probably one reason why Andreas Osiander, a fierce Gnesio-Lutheran, desired general confession to be abolished (he saw it as a deterrent to private confession, which he viewed as unquestionably Sacramental; cf. R.K. Rittger, "Private Confession in the German Reformation,"  In: Repentance in Christian Theology, p. 201, Liturgical Press, 2006).

I'd like to suggest that for the sensitive mind, especially, it leaves an unavoidable conflict between one's self-awareness and our social sense.  We trumpet our holiness through the act of a voluntary confessing of our sins to our neighbors, but at the same time we prefer not to name our sins' ugliness because of a blistering shame (or maybe it's just the practical time-restraints presented by a Lutheran worship service, setting/version/alternative whatever.  Right.  I treasure this clever rationalization, don't you?  So see ya in front of the 52 in. flat-screen for the NFL follies, promptly at kick-off.).   This situation constitutes a temptational set-up for psychological, if not spiritual, hypocrisy. The nakedness of the darkened human mind is sheltered, within the soft, covering bushes of Eden's pews.  But the inner shame of the unspeakable still remains, and that can fester in the depths of the unconscious and soul. How much better it is to find a fellow member of the human race, one who demonstrates an empathic and fully engaged ear to our woes and our failings;  who knows our temptations and who knows the worst, now, and yet cherishes us as redeemed and loved children of God? Who but the man, who stands by and in the stead of the God-man?  By this intimate sharing of the worst, with the representative Member of the human race, our conflicted self and our social status become miraculously restored.  What a relief this is and can be!

Blessed Martin Luther (from a sermon, 1522): "I will allow no one to take private confession from me and would not give it in exchange for all the wealth of the world. For I know what consolation and strength it has given me. No one can know what it can give,  unless he has struggled much and frequently with the devil.  I would have been strangled by the devil long ago if confession had not sustained me."

I am no Luther, and am at base a coward so often.  But I am like him in one respect:  the devil aggressively tries to strangle me and drag me off to a hell far worse than any colonoscopy.  And Dr. Luther has an antidote for this affliction.

Whether I choose to fill the prescription or not, is up to me.   But God help me to be brave, because I am so utterly spineless.

Next:  what a famous Lutheran clinical psychologist (and developer of the MMPI) once said about the necessity of a restored churchly private confession

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Matthew's Memories, on the Couch

Were that all my patients, as I wrap up my career,  like unto St. Matthew.

Firstly, the blessed Evangelist had a remarkably strong interest in revealing the content of dreams (Mt 1:20; 2:12; 2:13; 2:19; 27:19).  Dreams ... the royal road to the unconscious, Dr. Freud claimed.   My patients could have saved me a lot of metaphorical dead-ends and ditches, in theory, if they had only been as lucid in their sleep as the precocious Joseph, son of Jacob.

Secondly, Matthew also offers no stubborn ego-resistance to uncovering his sordidly mischievous past and failings, but states things quite openly for all to gasp at (to wit, he's a tax collector ... i.e., a disloyal cheat and an extortioner, most likely ... and a sinner).  A genuine repentant, he does cling to Christ's rejoinder to those eager to sneer at both states:  "Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means:  'I want mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners."

The other synoptic accounts have the doc-talk down, but decide to omit the Son's recitative reminder of  the Father's will, from of old.

Thirdly, Matthew obviously appreciates the utility of story-telling, a supreme art of the Great Physician.  The evidence:  there are no less than seven "Kingdom parables" in Mt 13 alone; all revealing to those with ears to hear, as to the mysteries of Christ and His Church, at work.

[Parenthetically, there have been a few good story-tellers among secular psychiatrists.  Leston Havens ("A Safe Place") and Adam Phillips ("On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored") immediately come to mind, for instance.  I remember years ago hearing Dr. Havens voice the fervent hope that the functional MRI would become the paradigm-shattering stethoscope for the shrinkdom; but to approximate Dr. Freud, another good story-teller: sometimes an fMRI is only an fMRI -- for the present, anyway.  My patients' have appreciated this lame physician's attempts at story-telling, now and then, but these were mostly the insomniacs who discovered something ("Eurekazzzzzz...") more effective than Ambien.]

It is St. Matthew, alone, who provides some essential details on the demise of  a very troubled Judas Iscariot.  St. Peter to be sure, in Acts 1:18, graphically recalls that Judas fell "headfirst ... and burst in the middle, and all his intestines poured out."  But the circumstance which prompted that grisly tumble is left unsaid.  It is divinely assigned to the former tax-collector, to somberly disclose what is missing:

Once Judas had perceived the death-sentence of the Man who had hours before called him 'Friend,' "[Judas] felt sorry and brought the 30 pieces of silver back to the high priests and elders.  He said, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood' (Mt 27:3,4a). "

The experts of the Law responded coldly and curtly to the betrayer's remorse:  "What do we care?  That's your problem (v.4b; emphasis, mine)."

Matthew tersely shares that in his dark despair and ridden with guilt, Judas threw the money into the Temple, "and went away (v. 5)" ... away,  so far away from Golgotha where the Rabbi was hanging and demonstrably willing to forgive even the worst of reprobates.  And there, far away and cast adrift, "[Judas] hanged himself (v.5),"  hoisted on his very own cursed tree and a twisted "it is finished" wish.

The ecclesial experts could have done something for Judas, one presumes ... and they in fact did.  Concerned that it was "not right to put [the coinage] into the Temple treasury" ... because it was "blood-money" ... they decided to sacrifice the booty to the purchase of a potter's field, to bury the body of a "stranger." 

It's all there, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

And this makes sense.  Only a man who had personally heard what the Father's will was towards the estranged sinner, and was impacted by such in a dramatic confrontation between God and the self-righteous, at his banquet, would fully appreciate the irony of the clerical experts' scandalous behavior.

The high priests and the elders, you see, couldn't scrape up a scrap of mercy, when the time came; but they could easily come up with a sacrifice, in order to obey an invented scruple.

For they hadn't gone and learned, from Judas' Rabbi.

Neither, tragically enough, had Judas.

But thank God, for those desperately in need of news about Mercy personified, a once-upon-a-time tax collector did.

Nota bene:  All textual quotations from "God's Word to the Nations," Biblion Press (Cleveland OH), 1988   

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Evangelizing (the) Tridentines. Here, Right Now.

Let's be courageously upfront about it, shall we?   The Church of Augustana is composed of Evangelical Catholics.  It always has been, long before 1530, or even before 1517.  The Lutheran Symbols say as much:

"And they (i.e., the folks those cleverly inventive Jesuits labeled as "Lutherans") teach that one holy Church is to continue forever.  The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." (Augsburg Confession Art VII.1, "De Ecclesia;"  Concordia Triglotta, p.47, Concordia Publishing House, 1921 ... italicized emphasis in the quotation, CPH's).

Dr. Hahn's new book may sound appealing at first glance, but I don't see the "purgatory" of his upstart Tridentine Church as particularly "good news" for the Christian-to-be, or even approaching, anything that is full of grace.  See, I take the concept at its word.  The torments which are described as existing there are terrifying.  And unnecessary.  And by "unnecessary," I'm not talking about private Masses recited for the dead, or even "indulgences," as antidotes.   "Indulgences" do sound like a pretty cool way to limit the flames, but I don't know how to stroke the papal ego via Twitter.  Or how often I'd have to punch the "send" key to drop the temperature a degree or two, if I did.

Don't get me wrong.  I admire the missionary fervor of the Jesuits in the 16th and 17th centuries.  While the Church of Augustana was fighting for its life against Leipzig Interims, imperial armies and crypto-Calvinists, individuals like Xavier were indeed avidly and forthrightly evangelizing heathen Asia and the Americas.   But I think their unswerving initial focus as they addressed the pagans was on the Scripturally crucified Jesus and His sacramental graces, and not some extra-Scriptural "purgatory" or an extra-Scriptural "assumption" of our Lord's Mother ... who indeed is Ever-Virginal and is an icon of my mother, the Church who followed Christ's orders to give me life, through His Baptism.  "Whatever He says, do it."   Very Marian.  Very Church.  And very, very Lutheran indeed, by God's grace and love.

Putting the catechismally endorsed "best construction" on things, I am convinced that  St. Francis Xavier's focus was soon directed to the thief on the cross, an individual who avoided the mythical kingdom of "purgatory" through means of a stout defense of our battered and scourged Lord; by humbly admitting his sins to both peer's and redeeming God's earshot (which sins were significant, but no worse than mine); and finally, by asking his dying King simply to remember him, when Christ came into His Kingdom.

The thief, of course, received more than a cursory and momentary royal meme.

So taking on my duty as an Evangelizing Catholic, I will evangelize Dr. Hahn's evangelizing Tridentines with some extraordinarily good news:  If the merciful Christ can accept a  nefarious thief into His kingdom, on those terms, then I, a wretched miserable sinner, need have no fear of your foofram purgatory, even if it were real.  The merciful Christ finished the obligation of the Law which would condemn us to a very real hell, as He proclaimed on the cross; both for a dying repentant thief, and for a dying repentant rascal like me.   He won't and can't treat me any differently.   His promises stand firm.  And that's Gospel gold.

Oh, I know.  Maccabeus offered sacrifices for the sins of the dead ( 2 Mac 12:43-46).  Right.  And Jephthah vowed to God that if he were provided a victory over the Ammonites, the first thing coming through his door would be offered "up as a burnt offering."  ( Jdg 11:31).

Jephthah was a mighty warrior like Maccabeus and family.  And Jephthah won a battle.  The first thing coming through his door, presumably to celebrate daddy's triumph, was family.

In this case, a daughter.   Crumbs.

Like Maccabeus, like Jephthah, like the Tridentines and indeed like the Lutherans, all too often with their protestant worship forms which largely ignore repentance, the Church Triumphant and the Presence  ... well, every man [does] that which was right in his own eyes (Jdg 21:25).  There may be descriptions of silliness, in God's canon and Apocrypha; but there's no Scriptural indication that the Holy Ghost is admiring our wandering eyes, as we engage in the silliness.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Prayer of the Morbidly Afflicted on Psych Ward 243b , Addressed to Her Suffering Servant

So I pled through my anguish and my tears,
"For Your Name's sake,  O LORD, preserve my life!
In Your Righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble!
And in Your steadfast Love,  You will cut off my enemies.
And  You will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant."  (Ps 143:11, 12)
... And the LORD visited me past the locked door,
and bidst me again to come and receive;
And in so doing, He smiled and said to me:
"My dear child, I have ... as I promised, times ago;
'It is finished,' once and for all,
for lo, I AM your servant."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Would Jesus Do? Seriously.

The out-of-fashion (thank God!) question arising from the gray matter of gimmick-driven protestants does not pertain to daily life, so much.  It appears that the Lord Jesus would pay His taxes; but whether He would cheer for the Tigers over the Royals is not so evident.  He might lend support to St. Louis over Milwaukee in matters of Confessional interpretation, but ... sticking to baseball, for the moment ... this presumption is complicated by His predilections for the productions of brewers over those of cardinals.   He was perceived as an imbiber, and was more into towel-wrapped servanthood than displays of pomp, although even on earth He accepted prostrations and genuflection without protest.  Riding a colt, the foal of an ass, was more His thing than a chariot or a Lear jet.  I can easily picture Him taking the subway in NYC, rather than a bullet-proof stretch limo, if God's time had not been destined to be fulfilled when Caesar Augustus was boss of a Sea and parts North.   But His ways are not our ways, which would certainly have made for a jaw-dropper or two, had our own age been chosen to first host the Incarnation event.

The question above is, however, applicable to the current worship wars of the Lutherans, because here we have a definitive answer from Scripture. 

What Jesus did, in engaging the groundlings made of ground, was to heartily insist that "The time is fulfilled.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent ye and believe the Gospel (Mk 1:15; AV)."

What should Lutheran worship resound with?  With this:  The time is fulfilled.  Lord Jesus has risen and has ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, which is not a limited locale, for He fills heaven and earth and indeed, holds the cosmos together.  He is no longer in a state of humiliation.   But He has also promised to be with us, verily present where "two or three are gathered in [His] Name (i.e., the Invocation is more than a cheery greeting from the minister of the day!) .  He has promised to be with us in His flesh and blood, for the forgiveness of sins.  The Lord is the Kingdom of God.   He is truly and miraculously at hand.   He dwells inside us, in an astoundingly intimate communion, by and the through the means of the blessed Eucharist.  Our eyes are opened to this in an Emmaus way, in the "breaking of the bread,"  which is first-century doctor-speak for the Holy Supper.   And like our brethren of the early Church, we should "break the bread" at least weekly.

Because true Lutherans believe and confess that God is our graceful King (we belong to a Kingdom, right?) and is indeed present, the Lutherans give God the due respect, awe and glory which comes with His being a King.  The form of Gottesdienst adoration and thanks is to be done "acceptably" (Heb 12:28; AV), which God tells us is a worship performed "with reverence and godly fear."  Why? Because "our God is a consuming fire" i.e., a God of decency and of order, and not a god of the Dionysiac belly, from whence comes those unruly and naughty emotions (as Dr. Beaumont showed, years ago ... using that unfortunate Michilimackinac fur-trapper and stomach-holed Alexis St. Martin, as human guinea pig).

So save those unrestrained loin-cloth dances for outside the house of God, as St. David had the heart to do.

But in His holy Presence, inside His house (all of it, now, an unshaded Holy of Holies), it is far more natural, seemly and confessional to bend the knee towards what St. Paul describes as the mystery of God (Col. 2:2) ...  of the fullness of God found crucified, in the flesh; of the fullness of God found in a manger, in the flesh; and the fullness of God, found in the Holy Supper, in the flesh.  Yes, we should worship differently from the protestants, because we confess and believe differently. The Lutherans indeed have a different Spirit ... as blessed Dr. Luther stubbornly insisted upon, and which Karlstadt dismissed. 

Finally,  a confessing Lutheran worship should resound mightily.  Not with a projection screen and praise-band trappings hiding the Altar, as I witnessed in Bloomington MN some years ago.  But rather, with a hearty "Repent ye" ... which call drove the Church to come to its senses and to reform itself, in 1517 ... and a  hearty "believe the Gospel," which comes to us both in the preaching and hearing of God's Word (which IS Christ), and the Sacrament (which IS His flesh and blood).

No need for speculation or for question marks!  It's obvious.  True Lutherans do, what Jesus did.  They do, what the Word Himself preached and endorsed through example, to be precise.

Many "Lutherans" have of course decided "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?"   And so, beset with fears and concerns about the numbers in the pews, they depart from Wisdom and  go their own way (cf. Jn 6:60,66) to be "spoiled" by the glitzy "rudiments of the world ... not in accordance with Christ" (Col 2:8; AV).

Lord Jesus, convert and restrain these poor souls.   But do come quickly again, Lord, to rescue us; even as You do with every Gottesdienst.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

...The Continuation of the Folly According to Franklin

There are many contenders for the title of the most outrageous example of Presidential confusion of Scriptural Higher Things, with mundane nationalistic aims.

Once could cite  as the classic example,  Mr. Lincoln's  devout resolution that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Now I don't think Honest Abe was necessarily referring to the supremacy of the Lutheran Voters' Assembly; although the Saxons had already landed in a Border State, two or so decades before that November1863 sermon-on-an-envelope was delivered.  However, the Railsplitter's desire certainly does seem diametrically opposed to the consequences of the Second Coming, with this event's preferred worship of a slain Lamb rather than the management skills of a John Doe.

Not to mention all that strange talk found in Revelation, about a new heaven and earth.  

Mr. Reagan, of more recent memory, once loftily spoke of a "city set on a hill" (cf. Mt 5:14); but the Great Communicator exegeted the community's skyline to be more along the lines of Uncle Sam's star-spangled top-hat, than a blood splattered cross of Christ and His Church.

I know, I know, Mr. President:   "Now, there you go again."


Just so the Democrats don't get too fat and comfortable with the examples fingered and busted so far, I wish to suggest that the worst instance of Executive Branch Excess is FDR's solemn assurance that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  It's a warm bromide fashioned to make us take heart and to feel better about our shovel-ready competencies, much like the pablum of contemporary worship; but the mandate squarely and foolishly contradicts our Master's own urgings to "Fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28).

Lacking a fear of the Christ-Who-IS-Present is not a good thing given this reality of omnipotence, which is precisely why Fr. Luther lovingly intones ... again and again ... that "we should fear and love God" in his catechism.  The order of words is not happen-stance or a monkish neurosis.  Lacking fear towards God will inevitably lead to one's destruction (which is one reason why "open-communion"  is a horrendous behavior to encourage, however "loving" it is touted to be by the blinded synapses of man), and eventually guide the emboldened to open-blasphemy and the abomination of desolations. 

So did Mr. Representative-man Adam fear God, immediately after the fall?  The act of diving into the bushes at God's call might suggest so, at first blush; but this stunt is also a favored combat tactic by those hostile folks desiring to ambush, overwhelm and crush a target.  Did you notice?  Adam never admits to revering and being afraid of God, in Genesis 3, with his lips anyway.  Rather, he screeches that he hid, even while his loving Creator imploringly sought him out,  because of his nakedeness (v. 10).  In other words, Adam had come to recognize, in a delirious and head-spinning rush, some marked physical dependencies now, sure, but also a ruined and shattered image once grounded firmly in God.  Then there was that embarrassingly multitudinous (and deadly) assortment of imperfections of soul and spirit.   Poor boy!  These facts gave him discomfort.  He took a huge narcissistic hit.  Now it was obvious.  He could not stand up to God as an equal, much less His superior ... no matter how much he and the wife had lusted for such status.   Now he knew evil, all right, and indeed was bound to wallow and sport in such morass like the foulest Gadarene pig, the bedraggled slave of Devil and Death.  He was condemned to the worship of his flimsy ego, and indulge his hedonic emotions with such ferocity, in fact, that Adam could fearlessly sass back at God, and blame and hate Him as the ultimate cause for the disaster and his pain.   Adam was convinced he knew better than God, mere seconds after the fall, you see.  He much preferred to trust and adore his pathetic self, his ease, his precious moments and his lattes;  rather than to fear and love God.
You look at fallen Adam's behavior and his snappy retort aimed at God, and you finally understand that the naked-he-man was simply unable to apprehend "the grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear (Heb 12:28)."

But what's our excuse?

The baptized and regenerated Lutheran, according to the Confessions which we claim to espouse now and then, has the graced choice and ability to serve God through means which the writer to the Hebrews says is acceptable.  This acceptability is couched in a worship which displays reverence and fear of God ... and not the steamy perspiration of the radical children of the Reformation, given and shed to lull us into the Xanadu of good feelings which prop up the Self through soothing eye-and-ear candy and "purpose-driven" meanderings.

Ironically, the resort to such gray-matter concoctions by Lutherans is almost certainly driven by fear. The fear might be one of a coming reduced distinction in the world's eyes, if not eventual extinction; of declining numbers and flesh locally, or of thread-bare synodical coffers, more generally.  These concerns are strongly similar to the fear of a penurious revenue flow and curtailed national plenitude, a fear which once inspired an eloquent  President's fire-side heresy.

To counter this heresy, one could do worse than to echo the thief dying at the crucified Christ's right hand.  You know what his response would be, to the casually pop-and-blended heretics of today.  Of course you do.  To recap: the righteous thief rebuked the reviler-on-the-left's brainy scheme for the thieves' salvation (along the likes of, "Mr. Christ, take down that cross ... or at least, remove such offense from the church's roof!")  in this arrestingly blunt manner:  "Does not thou fear God (Lk 23:40; AV)? "