September 29, 2006
Why Calvin Gives Me Gallstones
One of a few exceptions is The Fire and the Staff by Klemet I. Preus, an LCMS pastor in Minnesota. Pastor Preus does an admirable job of elucidating my theology of the cross and drawing fine distinctions between truth and error—some so fine that even a seasoned Lutheran may be beguiled.
I was particularly taken with a section on Calvinism. Allow me to quote extensively from pages 103–104 of the paperback edition:
According to Calvin, the Word of God is powerful only if proclaimed to those who would be saved. When proclaimed to the reprobate, the Spirit is not working through the Word. But because the same Word was preached to both the saved and the reprobate, the people could not be assured, based on the Word alone, that they were saved. They had to find a "secret power" outside of the Word for certainty. ...This is Pietism. This is revivalism. This is the modern American Gospel of the Inner Light, of Subjective Experience. How ironic that Calvinism is, quite frankly, one of its forebears.
Among Calvinists, also called Reformed, the tendency to deny the objective qualities of the Gospel crept into their thinking. The Word was not objectively powerful. Baptism was not an objective washing. The body and blood of Jesus were not objectively present in the Supper. They were present only if you believed. ...
One of the basic tenets of Calvin's theology is the thought that the Spirit of God has a secret power that transcends the mere power of the Word and the Sacrament. The "secret power" comes to us immediately, that is, wiithout the Word and the Sacrament. Calvin says: "So long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and died for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. And, although it is true that we obtain faith, yet, as we see that all do not indiscrimately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and to inquire into the secret power of the Spirit, through which we enjoy Christ and all his blessings."
Notice that ... we are to seek something higher than the Word itself. We are to discover the secret power of God. ... [The Westminster Confession] teaches that the sinner is directed not simply to the Word of God and the Sacraments. He is directed instead to the inward witness of the Spirit along with the promises of God. ...
... In Calvin's thinking you cannot simply trust the promises of God. The Gospel and the Sacraments are not powerful in and of themselves. There is a secret power or an inward witness added to the Gospel. To Calvin you can actually have a Spiritless Word. You can have the word of comfort without the Comforter. The objective assurance of the Gospel is lost.
Preus also recounts the 11 tenets of Pietism as it relates to Absolution, including hatred of sin, intention of putting away all sin, resolve to carry out all the demands of the Christian life, and knowledge that it is the Holy Spirit who has led you to make these resolutions. Obviously, here the objectivity of the forgiveness of sins wrought by Christ on the Cross is lost.
Now consider the necessary conditions to merit a partial or plenary indulgence in the Church of Rome. (Yes, my Lutherans, this nonsense is not only still taught but encouraged—a fact I was reminded of when it was announced that the relics of St. John Vianney were to be displayed on Long Island. An indulgence is typically attached to veneration of saints' remains. In my case, veneration of my remains will result only in giggle fits and slight dyspepsia.)
The temptation to look within ourselves for our standing before God, our assurance, our confidence, our salvation, is a perennial one, and it comes in many forms and guises, including what is touted as "sola fida, sola gratia" theology but is just another variant of works-righteousness.
Never forget this, my Luthers: Our Lord keeps no secrets from us when it comes to our salvation. The God who allowed himself to be stripped naked and left hanging on a cross keeps no secrets from us.
And so, if you are tired of having to gin up some kind of emotional or psychological state to prove to yourself that you are, in fact, saved, accepted, loved by your Lord and Maker—come home to the original Reformation Church, come home to the Lutheran Church and leave your burdens at the foot of the Cross, where they belong.
September 28, 2006
Bob Newhart Is My Homeboy
With a new book out garnering some good reviews, the old Bob Newhart Show out on DVD, his classic stand-up routines available on CD, and even a website dedicated to his career, it is time to take stock of the comic genius that is Bob Newhart and honor him with a federal bank holiday of his own—and let us not wait until he's as dead as Jan Murray to do it.
Why Does No One Remind Me of These Things!
In order to compensate, I declare Thursday, September 28, "Talk Like Chester A. Arthur Day"!
Let me begin the festivities with a choice bon mot . . . ahem . . . "Who swiped my spats?"
I can do no more...
September 27, 2006
Wayback to the Future!
I am talking about Mr. Peabody and Sherman!
Yes, Dreamworks will be bringing the punning Peabster and his pet boy to a big screen near you in ... 2008.
Well, this is why patience is a virtue.
*This is exempting for the moment what we know to be the greatest comic strip of all time—also animated on several occasions—Peanuts, the brainchild of that great Lutheran artist Charles Schulz.
Bring Me My Fat!
I'm talking about something deeply, deeply immoral, something that confuses the three kingdoms: the civil realm, the spiritual realm, and the junk food realm.
New York City wants to ban trans fats from its restaurants!
Trans fat is that gelatinous goo that makes french fries, doughnuts, and pie crusts sinfully delicious. That it also clogs your arteries like the Lincoln Tunnel on the day before Thanksgiving is neither here nor there! We all must die of something! And some of us more than once!
What can we expect next from these food puritans! Pizzas made with tofu? Hot dogs made from celery stalks? Beer distilled from sunflowers and emoticons?
This is an outrage! I want my bad fat! The last thing we need in this world is some self-righteously "good" fat larding it over the rest of us!
I want my Lutherans to protest this violation of basic human rights by boycotting all green, leafy vegetables, all fruits, raw nuts and seeds, lean cuts of meat, and decaffeinated beverages! I want instead the steady consumption of pork products, processed deli meats, bread so white you will need tinted glasses just to see your sandwich, grande mocha-choca-latta-ya-yas with extra ya-yas, cheez puffs, Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, Yoo-Hoo, Yodels, Spam-flavored bacon fried in last week's leftover sausage grease, pizza with two layers of spumoni wrapped in a gelato-dipped burrito, and Fresca!
If that doesn't kill this initiative, at least there will be no one left to care!
September 26, 2006
Studio 60 on a Rapture Rip
So Rapture magazine has a plant among the press corps. Its readers—presumably fundamentalist Christians—whom this show (and most of the press) confuses with evangelicals generally—learn that the infamous "Crazy Christians" sketch will air on the premier episode. They hit the Web, the phones, and the affiliates and threaten boycotts and to bludgeon those in power at the NBS network.
These Christians are dismissed as nutjobs by the network president (Amanda Peet) but are feared by the CEO and his minions, who have to sell commercial air time. Ms. Peet will not be cowed by threats from fanatics in tiny markets—who probably don't watch the show anyway.
The doctrine of the rapture is explored briefly and also dismissed as silly superstition. But let us be frank, my Lutherans: Do we not share these opinions?
I am also talking to my Calvinist and Roman Catholic readers (I know you are out there!). Do we believe in this doctrine of "good" Christians whisked into the sky just before Antichrist has his way with earth? Do we not believe that this bad scriptural exegesis is the invention of a 19th-century British gnostic and promoted effectively by a Kansas City lawyer with no theological training whatsoever so that any demurrer is now considered heresy? (Talk about an infallible teaching authority!)
In short, haven't we said—or at least thought—the same things about these Left Behinders? And so should it come as any great surprise that non-Christians—especially non-Christians on the Left Coast—believe readers of this so-called Rapture are the last people in the world who should determine what constitutes acceptable entertainment, if for no other reason than their bags are packed and they are on their way to the ionosphere in any event?
Certainly the Bush-bashing among the show's twenty-something writers should come as no surprise. (I have heard worse from forty-something conservatives.) The only thing that did come as a surprise is the little prayer circle before the show went live.
You know, I may be crazy (I heard that!) but I can't help but believe that Mr. Sorkin has a begrudging affection for at least some Christians—at the very least, one Christian—as much as he despises the dumbing down of popular culture and debate he believes such Christians are responsible for.
I still am not convinced, as is Ms. Nicolosi, that the Harriet Hayes character is a mere "token" (it is at least intimated that the D.L. Hughley character is also a Christian, as are at least one or two others who join in their little prayer circle, presumably). I will continue to watch on Monday nights ... assuming I do not fall into my usual carbohydrate coma.
P.S. Five dollars says we see the "Crazy Christians" sketch on the last episode of the season.
September 25, 2006
Timothy Keller Preaches Dostoevsky
Here he speaks to the familes of victims of September 11. If you have not read or heard the sermon he gave shortly after the horrific event itself, I highly recommend it to you. It is available at the Redeemer Sermon Store. Samples are available here. I also recommend the series on the meaning of the city.
And now ... shepherd's pie and Oreos!
The Stars and Their Politics
Mel Gibson has also come out of the left-wing—or at least anti-Bush—closet, so to speak, equating the war in Iraq with the human sacrifice he depicts in his upcoming epic Apocalypto. He screened parts of the film in Oklahoma and Texas to seemingly positive reactions.
Perhaps this is one strategy devised by Gibson to find his way back into the good graces of Hollywoodland—the home of free thought, free expression, and diversity that will ruin you if you think differently from them. Which is not to say that Gibson wasn't against the war before his fall from grace (not to mention sanity). But to hammer home his metaphor before the film is even released is perhaps a sign of desperation. Again, all I can say is "perhaps."
"I don't wanna be a doomsayer," Gibson is reported to have said, "but the Mayan calendar ends in 2012."
Hmm ... That leaves me only six years to finish my own picture: Apocakaka: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.
Take it from someone who thought the sixteenth century was the last one: Get a grip.
Be that as it may, I know many of you have been rolling around on the floor in a fetal position torn to pieces over what to think and who to vote for come November. Now Gibson and Willis have given you direction, the very direction I know you were waiting for.
Now if only Lindsay Lohan would weigh in on the whole Iran-nuclear-capability quandary we could finally achieve psychic integration and sleep more soundly.
I have pains in my head. I must seek relief. Where are my Ho-Hos ... I must have Ho-Hos ...
September 23, 2006
The Science of Sleep
Director Michel Gondry, who brought us Eternal Sunshine (so to speak), now treats us to the bizarrerie of Stéphane (Gael García Bernal), a young French-Mexican graphic artist who puts on fake TV shows in his Paris apartment à la Rupert Pupkin, dreams up disastrology calendars that commemorate one historic catastrophe a month, and pines for his next-door neighbor Stéphanie, played by Charlotte “21 Grams” Gainsbourg, a thoroughly uninteresting character who sells art supplies and thinks Stéphane a curiosity and nothing more.
Stop-action photography (think Claymation), picture-book pop-ups, and Star Trek-level special effects provide a retro look to Stéphane’s dreams, fantasies, and nightmares in what is intended to be a hallucinogenic and humorous tale of unrequited love but is little more than a cacophony of absurd images in desperate need of a larger, coherent vision and that finally degenerates into mere infantility.
A shame, as García Bernal, at his best, puts one in mind of a giddier, more manic Jean-Pierre Léaud. This could have been an imaginative story of a dreamer whose grounded, psychic Other (Stéphane/Stéphanie) teaches him how to realize those dreams in the real world. But that would require a real storyteller.
Better to buy a Gumby, an Etch-a-Sketch, and some Colorforms and make your own movie.
I give this film 55 Theses.
September 22, 2006
But Hollywoodland—a name that hurls you back in time when the sign planted in the Hollywood Hills was longer, movies were better, and scandals were hushed up rather than turned into reality TV shows—posits a different theory: He was murdered.
By whom? Possibly Eddie Mannix, a real-life MGM bigwig whose wife Reeves was sleeping with in order to gain him access to film roles. Possibly Mrs. Mannix, whom Reeves stopped sleeping with because he had fallen in love with a younger woman and the film roles never really materialized. Possibly the younger woman, whom Reeves ultimately refused to marry.
Frankly, I was willing to throw my own name into the mix just to make it stop.
Once again, another Hollywood film fails because you simply don’t care whodunit or why. George Reeves was a mediocre talent whose one claim to fame was playing a comic book superhero he came to despise. He blamed this association on his failing to do better in pictures—and for being cut out of From Here to Eternity because a preview audience started to giggle when he appeared on screen.
And Ben Affleck, who won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival (are these Italians mad?), captures his mediocrity perfectly with a perfectly mediocre performance. That Reeves, a man who used women for his own personal and professional ends, should have come to a grisly end is of no great consequence. It doesn’t matter whether he was murdered, committed suicide, or choked on kryptonite breakfast cereal. The chickens came home to roost, no matter who let them out of their cages.
What makes Hollywoodland sad to behold is that there was potentially a good film here, and it revolves around the detective determined to solve this mystery. Adrien Brody gives a crisp and at times even poignant performance as Louis Simo, a working-class stiff of a husband whose marriage was destroyed due to his own infidelities and who, ironically, stakes out the meeting places of wayward wives’ assignations for $50 a day, plus expenses, paid in cash by angry husbands. Here was a story about what happens to a man whose vocation degenerates into a mere job—merely a way to make a buck. This is the rationale many of the lower-life characters here give for their professional corruption and personal disloyalty—“Just tryin’ to make a livin’.”
Curiously, despite the fact that Eddie Mannix, the aforementioned film-studio VP, played with inimitable grunt-and-snort bravado by Bob Hoskins, tries to buy Simo by offering him a cushy job, then to terrify him by via chain-wielding henchmen, Simo refuses to give up the quest for the truth in the case of Reeves' expiration. Why? Simo is all about the money—why should he care what finally happened to Reeves? Have his heart strings been tugged a little too fervently by Reeves’ seemingly sorrowful mother? Has he suddenly found something more important than money, even his life?
More likely, it is because this is his chance to ruin powerful men in Hollywood, the kind of men who reduced his studio security-guard father to a mass of quivering obsequience—to Simo’s perpetual disgust.
“Do your jobs,” Simo sneers to some reporters who have come to snap photos at Reeves’ funeral. Yes—but before one can do a job most effectively—above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak—it must never be just a job. Everyone here is just doing his job. And even though Simo now ostensibly has something greater to drive him than just a buck, it still is not a calling, a vocation, but merely a revenge fantasy. So ultimately, he fails. And we cannot bring ourselves to care very much.
Mention should be made of two more fine performances. First, Diane Lane, who plays Mannix's wife and Reeves' lover, who has year by year matured into an actress of considerable grace. She is not shy about showing her age in this picture, yet still manages an old-style Hollywood bewitchment.
Also to be mentioned is Jeffrey DeMunn, whose face you will no doubt recognize from many films and television appearances. His performance as Reeves’ agent demonstrates what someone who has honed his art over the years can do with actually very little in the way of material. His gestures, expressions, and intonations both elicit sympathy and disclose a quiet desperation.
The film ends without answering definitively the question of Reeves’ end. Could Mannix have killed Reeves—not for sleeping with his wife, but for breaking her heart? Again, it doesn’t matter. It probably was just a suicide. What does matter is how the idols people cling to in a desperate attempt to feel powerful, beautiful, and loved ultimately prove as fragile as their egos. This the film merely dances around but never confronts. There is no moment of grace, merely bad works and futile works.
I give this film 65 Theses.
Cough It Up, You Cheeseparing, Parsimonious Tightwads
Now is the time to begin thinking about those who are less fortunate and are in need of charitable aid. Normally, I do not promote or encourage the support of organizations of any kind, profit or nonprofit, for fear that they are front organizations for crime syndicates or worse, political parties.
But I am making an exception, my Lutherans, and asking you to reach deep, deep into your pockets and donate to Prison Fellowship and its associated program Angel Tree.
Prison Fellowship, as I assume some of you know, is the creation of Chuck Colson, who himself is intimately familiar with the inside of a prison. Be that as it may, this ministry has helped thousands of convicts come to faith in Our Lord, giving them hope and a second (in some cases a third or a fourth) chance in life.
Angel Tree attends to the needs of children whose parents (or parents) are serving time in prison.
Since we are enjoined by Holy Writ to, among many other services we owe our neighbor, visit those in prison, I encourage you to contribute time, money, and prayer to this fine organization.
I can just imagine the objections now:
“But Herr Doktor, I can barely make ends meet as it is! I live paycheck to paycheck! And I have my tithe to pay (which I intend to begin paying as soon as I begin making enough money so I won’t miss it!). Why should I cough up good money to these criminals! They’ve made their bed, let them lie in it. Better I should—”
Silence, imaginary interlocutor! You are a selfish, wicked, self-obsessed, willful degenerate! We can all make excuses to cling to every last penny that lands in our pockets! But who enabled you to earn that money? Who gave you those pockets?
Yes, we would all like to keep a little extra for ourselves! Who wouldn’t want another pair of Manolo Blahnik jeweled napa sandals with silver leather and ankle ties! Or perhaps a Gucci chronograph watch with sapphire crystal and white floral-pattern dial! Or yet again, one of those long-sleeve Gallardo Spyder jerseys with Automobili Lamborghini logo on the sleeve! And who wouldn’t kill for a pair of rhuthenium-frame Giorgio Armani brown-lens sunglasses with carefully coordinated calfskin wallet! Or, or, a 2007 CLK550 Cabriolet Mercedes-Benz convertible with 32-valve V-8 engine and 382 horsepower—
I WANT THAT CAR!
Eh…ahem…excuse me… I was briefly possessed by the Old Adam.
As I said: Dig deep, deep into your pockets. Dig so deep, my Lutherans, you start getting hate mail from the sewer workers' union. Dig so deep, your check is dripping with magma from the earth's core. Dig so deep, Prison Fellowship will have to cash the check in a Peking bank.
I can do no more...
September 21, 2006
The realization of Bergman's vision is inconceivable without Nykvist's eye. Here, truly, we have a collaboration that has left an indelible imprint on the imaginations of cinephiles for half a century.
Who can begin to take his place? Where can we find such black-and-white imagery today in which we are not treated to mere shades of gray and where contrast provides depth not only to the image but to the characters?
Ach, what a loss ...
Soren Kierkegaard: Chuckle Master
Of still lesser intellectual heft, but no less funny, are S.J. Perelman, Joseph Heller, Woody Allen, and Woodrow Wilson.
But when one contemplates the great comic geniuses of all time, Soren Kierkegaard rarely comes to mind. He has been accused of many things: fideism, promoting irrationality, giving hunchbacks a bad name. But being a cut-up has never been one of them.
Be that as it may, he clearly came to Thomas Oden's mind. Mr. Oden is a professor of theology at Drew University and has compiled a collection of Kierky's best gags in The Humor of Kierkegaard. Mr. Oden is an Arminian, which probably explains much of this.
Let me provide for you some choice gems from the Kierkster's treasury of LOL insights:
"If a bowlegged man wants to act as a dancing master but is unable to execute a single step, he is comical. So it is also with the religious."
"Having to exist with the help of the guidance of pure thinking is like having to travel in Denmark with a small map of Europe on which Denmark is no larger than a steel penpoint."
Please—shield all pregnant women! Exposure to such hilarity will cause their water to break!
"I swear: as soon as possible to realize a plan contemplated for thirty years to publish a logical System, as soon as possible to honor my vow taken ten years ago concerning an esthetic System; furthermore, I promise an ethical and dogmatic System and finally the System. As soon as this has been published, future generations will not even need to learn to write, for there will be nothing further to write, but only to read—the System."
Oh—Oh—no more! No more! My sides! I—I can't catch my breath!
To the charge that Lutherans are humorless, I present Exhibit A in the case for the prosecution.
"But Herr Doktor—you are taking these out of context! Surely they must be much more amusing when read in their entirety!"
No, they're not.
In any event, should you think I am too hard on the strange little Dane, by all means, purchase your copy of The Humor of Kierkegaard.
Better yet, start with Fear and Trembling. SK is much better at scaring people, trust me.
And for those who would quip that Kierkegaard intended merely to be ironic, I suggest they glean the irony from the following:
September 20, 2006
No More Doctor in This House
But does it come as a surprise that they killed the old Schwein in the end? After all, when Joel Grey’s character says, “I always wondered what was on the other side,” House responds with a matter-of-fact, “Nothing.” Of course, House "knows" this like he knows that a dose of morphine of a certain intensity will dispatch his patient back to the dust from whence he came. He “knows” this only because, like a crooked D.A., he has suppressed all evidence to the contrary.
Euthanasia was never really an ethical “issue” here: We are dealing with materialists and atheists, not only in the character of House but presumably among the writers and producers. Humans are lab rats in the great big bang of life: “Informed consent. Patients’ rights. It’s holding back research,” Grey says. After all, he irradiated babies, inducing cancers, in order to improve techniques for curing those “worthy” of curing. Why kill one group to cure another? Why is one group worthy of life while another is mere fodder for the scientific imagination? And why not simply continue to move from one generation of guinea pigs to the next in order to cure all diseases—assuming there is anyone left to cure in this Brave New World but an ever-shrinking elite?
There is no reason. Life unworthy of life is a judgment for professionals based on shifting criteria and relative “ethical” standards, usually dictated by personal predilections and obsessions (such as being overrun by other "races" in one era or fear of dependent parents in another) and what state law will permit.
The most sickening aspect of this episode is that we are asked to have some kind of sympathy for this baby killer, if not because of his water-suffused lungs then because he encourages Cameron to have the courage of her "convictions." You see—he's helping her evolve, he's taking her seriously! Isn't that what good mentors do?
Making Cameron pull the trigger, so to speak, was an act of cowardice on the writer's part; it provided a plot twist, yes, but it also served as a way to absolve House from yet one more murder and implicates one of the innocents among his staff, thereby spreading the guilt, which soon is no guilt at all but merely a progressive front. "I'm proud of you," House says to Cameron. Of course, he is—she is losing her soul, too. And if one is going to rule in hell, why not rule those you've grown comfortable with in life?
I am beginning to dislike this show. The arrogance of House is beginning to reflect the arrogance of the producers, and they are slowly polluting the airwaves with an “ethos” worthy of a Mengele or a Peter Singer.
Make no mistake about this, my Lutherans—the “right” to die is slowly becoming the obligation to die. After all, who wants to be perceived as a burden?
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, doctors took this oath:
I swear by Æsculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath.What has become of this oath? Nova online has this:
To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction.
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.
Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.
But I will preserve the purity of my life and my art.
I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.
In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.
All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.
According to a 1993 survey of 150 U.S. and Canadian medical schools, for example, only 14 percent of modern oaths prohibit euthanasia, 11 percent hold convenant with a deity, 8 percent foreswear abortion, and a mere 3 percent forbid sexual contact with patients—all maxims held sacred in the classical version. The original calls for free tuition for medical students and for doctors never to "use the knife" (that is, conduct surgical procedures)—both obviously out of step with modern-day practice. Perhaps most telling, while the classical oath calls for "the opposite" of pleasure and fame for those who transgress the oath, fewer than half of oaths taken today insist the taker be held accountable for keeping the pledge.The pagans of antiquity held to a higher standard of integrity and respect for human life than modern-day secularists, atheists, and materialists.
My Lutherans, start a trend: Ask your physician whether he or she has taken some form of the Hippocratic Oath. If the answer is yes, ask for a copy. Then decide whether to continue putting your health in this person’s care.
I think I will read a book on Tuesday from 8 to 9.
September 19, 2006
- American Iconoclast
- 7 24-Hour Days
- Renovate My Narthex
- America's Most Wholesome
- Skating with Liturgists
- Vanished (Left Behind XXXII)
- King of the Vatican Hill
- Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Fellowship
- So You Think You Can Speak in Tongues
- Prison Break (narrated by Chuck Colson)
- Arrested Development of Doctrine
- Married with Even More Children
- Celebrity Duets in Hell (a mockumentary starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Julius II and Harry Connick Jr. as Percy Faith)
- 'til Death and Then Some
Nevertheless, it can never hurt to know what filmgoers across the pond are thinking.
September 18, 2006
I Demand an Apology from the Pope!*
But what has not been reported by the mainstream media is that the pope has insulted all Reformation Christians by implying that we, too, play a decisive role in the promotion of irrationality by insisting on sola scriptura and denying the philosophical premises of scholasticism.
Reason is the devil's whore, as I said. The context, which few people supply, is my war with the philosophers. When the Aristotelians show us God, I declare we have here only an idol—a theology of glory, of created things. God can only be apprehended on the cross, forgiving our sins and reconciling us to himself. What is reasonable about this? How will finely crafted syllogisms get us to Calvary? We are not called "fools for Christ" for nothing, and I will bellow the words of Colossians 2:8 from now until Kingdom come.
In the natural realm, in the civil order, reason is a great gift and a necessary resource. It applies laws, builds bridges, designs churches, binds wounds, composes music, and writes books. But now reason me to God in bread and wine. Reason me to God in the preached Word. Reason me to the God who dies.
And so, because this pope has offended me, and all Reformation Christians, especially Lutherans, with this silly talk of reason, I am calling for a worldwide response the likes of which will make that of the Mohammadens look like Russell Crowe in a two-star hotel, phone in hand!
There is room in Christendom for only one German shepherd!
I want all Lutheran pastors to announce a plenary indulgence** for all Lutherans who faithfully carry out the following commands:
1. I order all Lutherans to burn or otherwise destroy their copies of Rock Me Amadeus. I am not entirely certain why, but I have been toying with this idea for several weeks, and now is as good a time as any.
2. Whenever the word Benedict is uttered, I want all Lutherans to pass a remark that communicates an indelible insouciance. For example, should you find yourself in a restaurant and a waitress says, "The Eggs Benedict are very good this morning," you are to reply, "Whatever." That will show the erstwhile inquisitor what we Lutherans are made of!
3. To show the pope and his sycophants that Lutherans prize reason as much as the next addlepated moron, I want all Lutherans everywhere to spend the next seven days thinking deep thoughts. Deep, deep thoughts. I want these thoughts to be so deep, you will have to dig to China to find your conclusions. I want these thoughts to be so deep, they will convince even the Grand Mufti that St. Januarius' blood liquefies due to a miracle of God. I want thoughts so deep, they will convince even Innocent III that spreading the faith through violence is incompatible with the nature of God.
4. I want all Lutherans everywhere to get out of their chairs and go to the window right now. And I want them to stick their heads out and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to buy spinach anymore!"
5. One week from today, to put the icing on our cake of outrage, I want all Lutherans to walk to the nearest Catholic Church, approach the nearest clergyman, extend the right hand of fellowship—and then pull it away quickly with a resonant "Snag!" They are then to rip open their shirt fronts and reveal a T-shirt with my picture and a caption that reads, "Martin Luther Sends Greetings from Asbury Park."
6. I want all Lutheran NASCAR drivers to make only right-hand turns for one year.
7. I want some kindly Lutheran to please explain the above joke to those who make inquiries.
I can do no more.
* Should I fail to receive a proper apology from Benedict XVI, I will accept one from Leo X. Should he prove equally intractable, then I will accept one from Rosie O'Donnell. Let it never be said that Luther is not capable of compromise.
** By which I mean, all Lutherans who demonstrate a marked penchant for refined carbohydrates are to be indulged at the 12:15 coffee hour, but only if they are in a state of serious glucose intolerance.
September 17, 2006
The Black Dahlia
Having read P.D. James' Children of Men, I have an entirely new interpretation of the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation: We are in for "humanistic" claptrap. James' story, about a time in the near future when all women worldwide become infertile and cultures are deteriorating rapidly, propped up only by dictators, has a definite Christian voice, if not theme. The preview of the Children of Men film, however, demonstrates that the filmmakers have changed the roles the various characters play in the book and introduced something called "The Human Project," an attempt to bring together the best and the brightest to create a new world. No such project exists in the book; in fact, anyone familiar with James' work would know she has too healthy a skepticism in regard to human nature to concoct such a plot point. I predict that Children of Men, whether well made or not, will be a perversion of the book and simply more materialistic propaganda. I hope I am wrong.
The Departed, Martin Scorsese's latest, looks quite entertaining. A remake of an Asian film entitled Infernal Affairs, it stars Jack Nicholson as a Boston Irish mob boss, and Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio as moles—one in the mob and one in the police force. The Departed is a tale of torn loyalties, ticking timebombs, and extraordinary sacrifices, and has all the makings of a compelling human drama that could break through the conventions of the typical gangster flick, a genre Mr. Scorsese obviously knows well (Goodfellas). We shall see. I can also see an analogy to the contemporary dilemma of uncovering terrorist "plants" among quotidian civilian society.
Now on to the show...
The Black Dahlia is based on the James Ellroy potboiler about the 1947 murder of a would-be star of the silver screen, Elizabeth Short—a crime that has never been solved. I am unfamiliar with the novel and so will deal only with the story as depicted in the film.
Directed by Brian "Mr. Subtle" DePalma (Carrie, Scarface, Mission Impossible), and set in 1940s Los Angeles, The Black Dahlia has the look of his Untouchables, but provides none of its entertainment value, no one you can root for, and a climactic set piece that pales in comparison to the great shoot-out in the train station (albeit cadged from Sergei Eisenstein) that marked The Untouchables as a gem.
We are introduced to the world of 1947 L.A. via two ex-prize-fighting cops (Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett) who agree to a rematch in order to bring publicity to a bond deal that will raise police pay 8 percent. The fight is fixed, the bond passes, and the two "heroes" are moved up the police ladder. While hunting down one particularly sick child-murderer, Eckhart and Hartnett stumble upon the murder scene of Elizabeth Short: severed in half, internal organs removed, face disfigured.
Eckhart quickly becomes obsessed with finding the demon responsible, even at the expense of forsaking the hunt for the child killer. Both his partner and Eckhart's live-in love, played with surprising dullness by Scarlett Johansson, become concerned with Eckhart's monomania and growing drug use. Johansson herself had been saved by Eckhart from the depredations of a small-time hood Eckhart put away ten years previously. Does Eckhart have a thing for coming to the rescue of abused young ladies? And what role does a real-estate mogul 's daughter (Hilary Swank), who may or may not have a lurid connection to Ms. Short, have in all this mess?
Well, it doesn't really matter. What could have been a fine meditation on how short we all fall from the glory of God, the need for forgiveness—even the forgiveness we extend to each other—and the opportunities for second chances and reborn lives, is nothing more than a convoluted melodrama rife with ludicrous plot twists, two-dimensional characters, a cynicism that renders notions of justice meaningless, and a leering, debased sensibility.
While not in the Bonfire of the Vanities category of bad, if for no other reason than Hilary Swank can't help but be fun to watch, it is bad enough to keep sensible moviegoing folks home, or at least in the cinema next door.
This is the second film of the year for Mssrs. Eckhart and Hartnett (Thank You for Smoking and Lucky Number Slevin, respectively) and at least the second for Johansson (Scoop). I suggest they either slow their careers down or be more judicious in their selections. Mr. Hartnett, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Charles Bronson, may very well have one very good, if not great, performance in him. A little maturity, a decent script, and a strong director will help. The Black Dahlia definitely did not.
I give this film 55 Theses.
A parting word from The Departed:
Nicholson: "How's your mother doing?"
Bar denizen: "She's on her way out."
Nicholson: "We all are. Act accordingly."
Yes, my Lutherans ... act accordingly.
September 16, 2006
Faith of Our Fathers
I see that a variety of vernacular translations are available, which is all to the good. But I would like to know why I can find the old Revised Standard Version only in a Romanist edition these days, and we of the evangelical faith must endure the New Revised Standard Version, which gives me severe cramps.
Not far from the Scriptures are commentaries. I fear I will not be able to endure the semi-pelagian tumidity I will encounter there, and so I steel myself for much flapdoodle with a quick bag of peanut M&Ms. My blood sugar stabilized, my eye catches something called Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. The volumes are formatted so that pertinent comments from various Church Fathers are brought to bear on the Scripture text under scrutiny.
I immediately turn to Matthew 16:16. What will the Fathers say about this most contentious verse? Both Theodore of Mopsuestia and Epiphanius are quoted here, and both deny that the rock spoken of by Our Lord is Peter himself; rather it is either Peter's confession of faith or the faith of the whole church.
And I thought the Protestant heretics were the first to invent such nonsense?
The Fathers can be read with much profit, so long as it is understood that they contradict each other and can in some cases be in error. The Romanist pick and choose which Fathers to cite, and when, in order to bolster their arguments, as do those of the evangelical faith. One quick example, Justin Martyr preached a literal thousand-year millennium on earth. Does Rome teach this? Neither do we Lutherans.
However, in the case at hand, here we believe that if most of the Church Fathers who left commentary on these verses in Matthew denied that Peter was himself the rock, it is undoubtedly because there was no apostolic tradition regarding a monarchical episcopate, never mind one that declared the bishop of Rome as its apex and final arbiter of doctrine. And so we can be confident that the papacy is a late invention to which we owe no allegiance.
I am quickly hustled out of the store by a nun in gray habit, for eating my candy, which is a violation of store rules.
Who is the Pillsbury Dough Boy? And why am I always mistaken for him in my white knit jumper?
September 15, 2006
Luther or Death!
If it is faith in Luther, then such a vow should never be taken in the first place. Do not put your faith in me, despite my supernatural insights, outstanding genius, and extraordinary grooming habits. If it is faith in the Book of Concord, then this is to put the cart before the horse.
But if it is your Christian faith—which compels complete and utter trust in the finished work of Christ, and Christ alone, which is the core of the Lutheran Christian faith—then yes, for to renounce Christ is to renounce his Cross, where death died. And so apostasy IS death.
As for whether you should face death rather than forsake membership in the LCMS ... maybe you should be willing to suffer two smacks, a nose pull, three crank phone calls, no cinema for a month, and a mildly profane epithet, but no more.
POST SCRIPTUM: Herr Veith is quite correct, that vows contrary to the Word of God are not vows but gaseous emissions, which are best expelled lest one's intestines—not to mention one's soul—perforate, soiling good gabardine.
September 14, 2006
I Am Outraged!
And then, the vapid, lifeless, simpleminded, addlepated arguments the author puts into my mouth! Do I speak this way, my Lutherans? Would I ever express the glorious truths of the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins with that witless laundry list that reads like the regurgitations of a hydrocephalic seminary student? I’ve read tracts on the subway that had more depth!
What a humorless spinner of shibboleths I am made out to be! Who would have listened to such a mealy-mouthed dunce! When Luther speaks, nations trembles, churches crackle, princes poop, and delicatessens empty!
And Aquinas! Granted, reading the Summa is like having your teeth drilled by a coal miner on crystal meth, but “Your Nominalism is the root of your ‘federal’ theory of justification”?! This isn’t an argument, this is a bowel movement! Oh, to have Herr Oberman—Heiko—here to make mincemeat out of this pudding head disguising himself as the Angelic Doctor. What cowbrain would still employ nominalism as the “explanation” for our evangelical faith, which overthrew the so-called treasury of merits and let loose, instead, the life-giving, unmerited Gospel!
This is from something called Ecumenical Jihad, the inspiration for which came to the author during an "out of body" experience on a trip to Hawaii. Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad "appeared" to the good professor and encouraged him in the belief that their teachings are all "inspired."
I have only one question: What do they put in that poi?! This sounds more like an "out of head" experience! Ach! Although I shouldn't be too harsh on Mr. Kreeft—I, too, often confuse Muhammad and Siddhartha Gautama. But then again, my excuse is that I am 523 years old.
In the ten years since the book's publication, I think it is fair to say that the good professor's "vision" of an interreligious "ecumenism" (an erroneous use of the term to begin with) was not so much from God as it was from his transverse colon!
And another thing, as a matter of principle, the very idea of appropriating the identity of someone of great historical significance in order to use him as a mouthpiece for your own vapid, fetid ideas is nothing short of devilish! To assume a great man’s identity in order to draw attention to yourself—what temerity, audacity, pomposity! To pose, posture, and peacock as if you yourself had earned the name of a such a heroic figure is to commit a crime the likes of which has not been seen since the foundation of the world was laid and Madonna could remember what her original hair color was!
If I were ever to encounter such a contemptible jackanapes, I would start beating him on a Tuesday and not stop until Friday afternoon, 3:30/3:45 the earliest!
I can’t take it anymore! The lies, the deceit, the chicanery—I—I—the room is spinning…my blood sugar is dropping…I need…I need…Yoo-Hoo…Fritos…toffee...I need toffee…
Oh look at all the pretty buttons…
September 13, 2006
Ethics in the House
- House suggests a “cure” for a man who has been wheel-chair bound, brain-damaged, and lifeless for eight years that has no basis in medical science but nevertheless works—the man awakens and walks! However, House is never told that his hunch was correct—in fact, Cuddy and Wilson lie to him, in order to humble him before he kills some innocent idiot out of sheer hubris.
- A child conceived via in vitro fertilization complains he has been abducted by aliens and that a chip has been implanted in the back of his neck. After an episode in which the aliens "return" and the boy is found unconscious and bleeding from the rectum (again, I ask, what is it with this show and rectal bleeding!), “alien” cells with a different DNA code are, in fact, found in the boy. The cells turn out to be a “twin” that never developed, a not-unheard-of problem with the in vitro process, called chimerism, in which two embryos bond. The cells from the twin embryo are lodged in the brain, causing the experience of alien "possession." The “twin,” i.e., the “foreign” cells, must be removed in order to spare the boy any more suffering.
- Were hospital staff right in trying to humble House for the sake of future patients on whom he might conceivably experiment? (Forget for the moment that the truth won out in the end.)
- Was the destruction of these “twin” cells comparable to the destruction of embryos in embryonic stem-cell research—i.e., was a human person destroyed? If so, was it moral, in that it was required to save the life—or, at the very least, the sanity—of the boy who did develop fully? (The Witherspoon Institute, call your office!)
- Has the Old Adam taken possession of me for rejoicing in the fact that House was back in unspeakable pain (whether more psychological than physical we shall soon see) and would soon return to his Vicodin-addicted, abominable self? (Let's face it—who wants a happy House skipping merrily through the hospital hallways? For that I'll watch the Hallmark Channel! Ach!)
Post Scriptum: Regarding my "Why Be Good?" post, and the reference to the likes of Peter Singer, here is an interview with his truly, and I would ask you how low our academic culture has descended into hell that such a one as he holds the position he has.
September 12, 2006
St. Augustine Rules the Schools
Soon your children, whom you raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord to the best of your ability, are fornicating, blaspheming, harassing, cursing, stabbing, rubbing, touching, licking, drooling, fondling, shooting up, getting down, stealing cars, rolling joints, joining gangs, ganging up, falling down drunk, and dilating on uncongenial themes—and this just during orientation!
So imagine my delight and surprise when I came across the Augustine Project. The brainchild of some college students, the Augustine Project seeks to support Christian publications on colleges nationwide that share their belief that “all things hold together in Christ: art, history, music, philosophy, mathematics, literature, poetry, medicine, law, justice, science.” As an advocate of a serious Christian witness in every area of academic life, it also educates others on the particulars of starting Christian magazines dedicated to this very task: “We take, as our inspiration, men and women like Flannery O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, Walker Percy, G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, T.S. Eliot, Blaise Pascal, and, for that matter, Bach, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Galileo, Milton, Dante, and Leibniz. The Christian vision of these great minds once inspired a civilization, and although since then the Gospel has not changed, much of its fullness has been obscured. We take as our mission the re-formation of the Christian vision; not new things, but old things made new, for the renewal of our tired and post-modern world.”
There is hope, my Lutherans, hope—even though I do not see my name on that list! And what were my pen and ink drawings of herons and bluefish—ka-ka?!
In any event, log on to this site, send the link to other college-age nincompeeps who need some inspiration and support in remaining fully Christian while engaged in their vocational training, and support such college publications financially.
And now … Spam.
September 10, 2006
Nota Bene: If you intend on watching this program and want to be surprised, I suggest you stop reading after the next three paragraphs, which should be enough to whet your appetite but not so much as to spoil your dinner.
The series was created by Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, who also penned the pilot, which begins with a big help from the late Paddy Chayefsky, of Network fame. Minutes before Studio 60, the show that is the subject of the series, is about to go live on-air, a sketch is pulled by “standards and practices” for fear it will offend Christians. Judd Hirsch, the show’s executive producer, fights to retain it, as he sees it as the only genuinely funny, genuinely inspired, bit of business the program has to offer during the next 60 minutes. Hirsch is overruled, the sketch is pulled, and the show begins with a George Bush imitator demonstrating, once again, what an idiot the president is. Even Hirsch's character is unamused: "George Bush will never be mistaken for George Plimpton. We get it."
But that's not where his commentary ends: Hirsch walks onto the live set, shoos away the actors, and does his Peter “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” Finch thing, denouncing the show, the network, and contemporary television for caving in to the FTC and "psycho religious cults" for dumbing down programming. He is appalled that reality shows and "bad" porn comprise so much of TV, which is seemingly written for 12-year-olds, and stupid 12-year-olds at that, and opines that “snuff” films are the only direction left for prime time to go. How the censorship implied in Part A of his tirade is related to the crude fare of Part B is left for you fine folks to figure out.
And so there I was sitting, munching on my Malomars and Sno-Caps, thinking, “Ah, what an innovative concept: The Religious Right are to blame for the decline and fall of American television. And here I thought it was going to be a tired retread of liberal pieties.”
But not so fast: Among the cast members of Studio 60 is a born-again Christian, played by Sarah Paulson (late of Serenity), who is smart as a whip and takes no nonsense. She is also the ex-girlfriend of a writer, played by Matthew Perry, who was fired from that very show four years earlier but whose writing career is nevertheless flying high. His best chum, played by Bradley Whitford, is a director who recently failed a drug test and cannot be insured to direct a motion picture. He, too, was fired from the very same show.
So who does the new president of the network (Amanda Peet) decide to hire to replace the just-fired Hirsch? Why Perry and Whitford. What better way to deflect attention from the bad press generated by Hirsch’s tirade than to hire the two cutting-edge talents whom the network chairman, played by Steven Weber, fired four years earlier, implying an act of contrition on NBS's part (NBS being the fictional TV network that produces Studio 60).
And so the game begins: But not before Perry and Paulson have it out. Why exactly did they break up? Because Perry did not support her during a CD-promotional tour. Why did he fail to support her when she had supported him during his rocky time at Studio 60? Because she went on the 700 Club, a show, according to Perry’s character, hosted by “a bigot” and watched by virtual klansmen—which earns him a slap in the face from Paulson. “I didn’t go on the show for him but for his audience. Some of those people have nothing but their faith, and that moves me,” she says. He is unfazed, primarily because he is heavily medicated as a result of back surgery.
The writing on this pilot was sharp, witty, and entertaining. The acting is first rate. I particularly liked Mr. Perry, who is a congenial presence, even when being obnoxious. (I guess you just can’t take the Chandler Bing out of the man.) I’m sorry that Mr. Hirsch appeared only in the pilot. It was good to see him on TV again. Weber is a strange choice for the hard-boiled chairman who is full of his power and seemingly impervious to the idea that what he produces is just west of chicken dung. Whitford, late of the Sorkin’s West Wing, perhaps has a little of Sorkin in him, given Sorkin’s admitted drug problems.
Christians take their lumps, ludicrously, I think, given that the influence they have on broadcast and cable television is negligible, if not nonexistent, but someone has to be blamed for the banality of popular culture, so why not the Left’s favorite scapegoat? It certainly won’t be the guys who thought up South Park or Desperate Housewives (never mind the human waste that comprises much of cable TV, like Laura Kightlinger's The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman), who are looked upon as geniuses.
But so long as the Christians give as good as they get in this program, I say, “Bring it on!”
Oh—and the sketch that standards and practices was afraid would offend religious viewers but that even Paulson’s character was willing to defend? It was called “Crazy Christians.” And it was the last sketch written by Perry’s character before he was given the boot four years earlier. Oooooh, edgy! Oooooh!
On the basis of the pilot, I give Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip 85 Theses. Whether it holds up over time, or whether the Christian-bashing becomes addictive to the writers/producers as a way of generating controversy as they run out of authentic targets, remains to be seen.
September 09, 2006
Why Be Good?
Question #1 for these addlepates: Why is there something rather than nothing? Until you have answered that, you have only tentative answers to everything else, not the fundamentalist dogma that so many atheist biologists spew, even as they deride the "fanaticism" of religious fundamentalists.
Question #2: Why should this "something" survive at all and not simply die out?
Question #3: How can we speak of the adaptation of an organism over time in order to survive when we start out with the premise that this organism is the accidental by-product of a blind process (process, I would think, implying also some kind of purpose)?
Question #4: Can we speak of accidents having rights without sounding as stupid as Dawkins and Dennett and Peter Singer and Lee Silver on this subject? (These latter two nincompeeps are what constitute faculty at Princeton, Princeton being what's left of a fine university when its soul is sold to the devil on eBay, along with a 1966 box of Speed Racer Colorforms.)
But let us, as Lutherans, go back to the question of "Why be good?" If it is, as atheists suggest, merely a means of our own survival in the next life—an attempt to earn eternal life by accruing merits and the good graces from the grip of a tight-fisted deity—then I am sympathetic with their rejection of religion. Such an enterprise is self-defeating: If I'm only doing good in order to get something for myself, then the person I am doing "good" to is only a means to my own selfish ends—and how can being selfish win me the approval of a putatively good God? And who are we to judge others for their biologically reductionist worldview when I am playing into their hands with my own variation on the "survival" theme?
However, if my life is a gift, if my eternal beatitude is a gift, if the meaning I derive and the purpose I apprehend are gifts, for which there is no payment due—or even possible—then I am free. I am freed from having to earn all these things. I am free from alienation from the Lord and Giver of Life and free to be an agent of that same reconciliation. I am free to love my neighbor for his sake and for her sake. They now are no longer means to an end, but an end in and of themselves. To use people, for whatever purpose, is a great evil.
I am also free from the temptation of denying this gift to others by creating an arbitrary and artificial hierarchy of human life, with some ideal "human" as the criterion for whether others measure up and are fit to live—or are merely simply burdens best "put down" like some three-legged dog with ringworm.
When our God took on mortal flesh, he did not do so because he needed anything from us, including our love. The Trinity already lives in an eternal relationship of love. Christ died for me as an end in itself! In Christ, I am an end in myself—but only because when I was dead in my sins, Christ died to save me so I could enjoy the same love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father. As far as my natural self goes—that thing I have to kick-start every morning with all the huffing and wheezing and mucus—I have no end but the dust from whence I came; whatever ends I may fashion for my ultimately meaningless life are mere delusions—futile, finite, and doomed.
But as Lutheran Christians we are free to be "good"—that is, to be holy as God is holy by imitating selfless love, not for my own survival, or even to save the soul of my neighbor, which I can never do, but because it is an expression of life—God's own life—an expression of gratitude for the gift of life already given. The Good is now the meaning and purpose of my life (Ephesians 2:10).
I believe that Lutherans grasp this awesome fact in its fullness—and it is this and this alone that will spare us the bankrupt "reasoning" and depredations of the neo-eugenecists, who will concoct formulae for determining who is worthy and unworthy of life, a maleable and adaptable thing in their cockeyes. Just read about suicide pacts and legalized euthanasia and you can see the venom that has worked its way into the West as it has moved further and further away from the Gospel.
Pray for them. Even pray for the abovementioned jackanapes who scorn Christ—nothing is impossible with God. Antony Flew spent the entirety of his professional life promoting atheism. One morning he wakes up and says, "Oh, there is a God. And science proves it!" Ach! You don't know whether to embrace him or kick him down a flight of stairs!
And now ... Yoo-Hoo.
Post Scriptum: In light of my recommendation of For the Life of the World, I commend this blog post on the Pontifications site. Here we have a contemporary Orthodox prelate and theologian explaining that communion's understanding of sanctification. I believe he opposes "liberation from guilt" and "incorporation in Christ through baptism" unnecessarily. The two are not mutually exclusive. However, what caught my eye is the very last paragraph cited.
September 08, 2006
"LATM Wins an Aardie, Nation Rejoices, Zwinglians Inconsolable, Anabaptists Apoplectic, Papists Perplexed, Calvinists Choleric, Semi-Pelagians Tetchy"
AND IT IS ABOUT TIME!
Ahem…I would like to thank the academy of the Order of Tubulidentata for this honor. Even though well deserved, nevertheless, I take great pride in being recognized by a burrowing ant-eating animal. After all, I was a monk and associated with far worse.
While my post An Immodest Proposal was a work of extraordinary genius, I cannot take credit for it alone. Without the great grace and gifts bestowed upon me unmerited by Our Lord, I would be in a mine somewhere scraping tin out of rock for some jackanapes and his fat wife.
I would thank my miserable, execrable assistant, but that would entail taking leave of my senses (although his spouse is a lovely, kind, and long-suffering individual, and for her patience during the turmoil and tumult of the past few months, I am genuinely grateful).
On to bigger and better things, my Lutherans: the Platinum Platypus! The Germanium Gerbil! The Titanium Titmouse! Soon my mantelpiece will be groaning under the weight of gilded animals with ludicrous names—all mute testimony to my blogging greatness!
O if my Katie could only see me now!
AND FOR THE LAST TIME, WILL YOU TURN DOWN THAT MUSIC! MICHAEL BOLTON MAKES MY INCISORS SPASM WITH ALARMING INTENSITY!
September 07, 2006
I Would Never Have Thought He Was a Lefty!
I hear Leo X was quite a good golfer ...
While it is acknowledged that we Lutherans, too, have sacraments, and do not spiritualize them into subjective irrelevance, I would argue that, perhaps, our Holy Whappingians have not come to terms with what the film has to say about the nature of grace in its entirety, which I would argue is more in line with Lutheran thought.
Feel free to join the discussion, either here or at the Shrine.
And now ... pizza.
Orthodoxy and Lea Thompson
“Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. … Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity presented as a cult or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man.”
“Christians had no regard for any sacred geography, no temples, no cult that could be recognized as such by the generations fed with the solemnities of mystery cults. There was no specific religious interest in the places where Jesus had lived. There were no pilgrimages. The old religion had its thousand sacred places and temples. … The fact that Christ comes and is present was far more significant than the places where He had been.”
“The liturgy begins then as a real separation from the world. In our attempt to make Christianity appeal to the man on the street, we have often minimized, or even completely forgotten, this necessary separation. We always want to make Christianity “understandable” and “acceptable” to this mythical “modern” man on the street.”
“The Lord’s glorification does not have the compelling, objective evidence of His humiliation and cross. His glorification is known only through the mysterious death in the baptismal font, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
“The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and the manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Holy Spirit. …”
“To believe in Christ is to repent—to change radically the very “mind” of our life, to see it as sin and death. And to believe in Him is to accept the joyful revelation that in Him forgiveness and reconciliation have been given. … And yet sin is still in us and we constantly fall away from the new life we have received. The fight of the new Adam against the old Adam is a long and painful one, and what a naïve oversimplification it is to think, as some do, that the "salvation" they experience in revivals and “decisions for Christ,” and which result in moral righteousness, soberness, and warm philanthropy, is the whole of salvation, is what God meant when He gave His Son for the life of the world.”
“In Christ all sins are forgiven once and for all, for He is Himself the forgiveness of sins, and there is no need for any “new” absolution.”
“Centuries of “clericalism” (and one should not think of clericalism as a monopoly of the “hierarchical” and “liturgical” churches) have made the priest or minister beings apart, with a unique and specifically “sacred” vocation in the Church. … It is not accidental, therefore that the words “laity,” “layman” became little by little synonymous with a lack of something in man, or his nonbelonging. Yet originally the words “laity,” “layman” referred to the laos—the people of God—and were not only positive in meaning, but included the “clergy.” … Our secular world “respects” clergy as it “respects” cemeteries: both are needed, both are sacred, both are out of life.”
This is from For the Life of the World by Orthodox protopresbyter Dr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983). If there is much here that Lutherans can embrace, that may even enrich our own Lutheran faith, it is because Luther did not fashion a “new” Christianity out of whole cloth, as it has sometimes been charged, as if I had nothing better to do than rend Christendom, throw the Western church into chaos, and set Christians against one another out of sheer boredom!
Well, there was that… There is nothing to do on a Saturday night in Wittenberg, my Lutherans! We had a circus that was composed of a three-legged dog and a 90-year-old who could recite Virgil while twirling plates! Ach! What is that!
“But Herr Luther, this seems to me, surely, an idealized expression of the Orthodox faith! Surely most Orthodox do not express themselves in such a way!”
“Herr Doktor, you’re not saying that the Orthodox are really Lutherans, and the Lutherans are really Orthodox! What about justification by faith!”
“Herr Doktor, my girlfriend is cheating on me with a pudding salesman. What should I do?”
Silence, imaginary interlocutors! Silence!
1. Whether Dr. Schmemann is a faithful representative of Orthodoxy, or whether the average Orthodox layperson is as educated about the faith as the average Catholic or Protestant, I do not know.
2. Surely there are juridical aspects to our Lutheran understanding of justification that the Orthodox reject, just as there are aspects of Orthodox sacramentalism and devotional life that Lutherans would find alien if not semi-pelagian.
3. She deserves better than you, especially since you cheated on her with that waitress from TGI Friday’s!
Try this: READ THE BOOK. Take from it what enriches your faith and throw the rest on the dung heap! Ach! Look what you made me do—I was so upset with your protestations that I knocked over my family-size box of Captain Crunch Peanut Butter cereal! Wait! Wait! I think I can salvage that piece over there … come to me, my cerealicious tidbit!
Remember, my Lutherans, consume for breakfast only those foods with noble titles—Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, King Vitamin, General Tso’s Chicken!
Now I can’t find my remote! It’s buried under all this refined breakfast matter! This means I will have to call Time-Warner yet again—that is the fifteenth remote I have lost this week! Who wants to hear them! How will I change the channel—a repeat of Caroline in the City is starting in five minutes and I’m stuck looking at some hydrocephalic jackanapes on CNN! And another thing—Lea Thompson had better win that stupid Celebrity Duets reality show on FOX or they will hear from me!
Change, stupid television, change! Oh where is Mr. Spock when you need him—I am in desperate need of a mind-meld with my Zenith 52” Integrated HDTV with 2500:1 High-Contrast Ratio!
Will my suffering never end!
September 05, 2006
Babette's Feast v. Chocolat
In 2000, Chocolat came to screens to much praise. The story: A provincial town in France—close-knit, tradition-bound, suspicious of outsiders—is about to embark on its Lenten fast when a mysterious woman, Vianne Rocher, and her daughter open a chocolate shop. Immune to the Lenten discipline, Rocher, is a temptation to those who would remain steadfast. She is also a magnet for those who feel trapped in that community, whether by an abusive marriage, loneliness, or debilitated health. Rocher is, putatively, a breath of fresh air who will shake this den of dull convention out of its doldrums, self-imposed fasts, and narrow-mindedness—with the help of some Irish “gypsies,” of course.
But things are never that simple: First of all, parental figures loom everywhere, waiting for the slightest errant movement in order to utter a didactic NO. Taking pride of place in this regard is the mayor, played with Oscar-worthy yet Oscar-denied grace by the gifted Alfred Molina, who is intent on maintaining his grip on his town by shutting down the chocolate shop and driving out the gypsies who have settled by the waterfront (just as his ancestor drove out all those pesky Huguenots). He will save his little fiefdom from decadence and irreligion!
So we are presented with two potential savior figures: Rocher, with her pagan spirituality, and the mayor, who represents order, tradition, and repression (if we were being generous, perhaps we would substitute the word “sublimation”).
But wait! Our filmmakers have another agenda: Rocher, with her rootlessness, cremation ashes, and complacency, is just as “dogmatic,” you see, as the mayor and his sycophants. She, too, wants to control her emotions—by running away whenever things become too uncomfortable, regardless of the ill effect this has on her daughter, whose suffering she refuses to acknowledge. She too is controlled by the past! So Rocher and the mayor are mirror images of each other!
At first glance, a Lutheran might be beguiled into thinking this was a Lutheran-leaning tale. Shouldn’t we rejoice in the rejection of Romanist practices—these traditions of men! Shouldn’t we take solace in the fact that Rocher’s New Agey practices are apparently denounced as lifeless as well? Shouldn’t we see this as a lesson against self-salvation through ritual, either ascetic or mystical? And doesn’t the gypsy—even though Johnny Depp—stand for that “outside force” that brings true enlightenment and liberation to the various egoisms running rampant? And what of the village priest’s Easter homily that sums up the tale—our lives are to be defined by what we embrace and not by what we exclude! And we Lutherans embrace the gospel!
The great enemy in this film, as announced by the Narrator, is tranquility. It is in tranquility that the still small voice of God may be discerned. It is also the voice of conscience. The rituals mocked are not just Catholic, but Christian—a Christianity perceived as turned in on itself and unwilling to allow the spirit to blow where it will—not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of the flesh, the spirit of the age. This is a wholly pagan conception of life, in which one finds freedom by letting the past go—not through embracing the forgiveness of one’s sins but by simple rejection of such a concept as sin! True liberation lies in pursuing one’s passion in the moment and refusing to be restricted by the ties that bind one to what’s long gone—whether these commitments are personal, familial, or religious. It is a sentiment that finds reconciliation not in faith in God’s gifts, not in the sacraments that come to us through an institutional church, but in Nature’s gifts, which are salvific because they satisfy the appetites. Imagine there is no heaven, but only an abundant, fecund earth.
As for this village idiot, err, I mean priest, this is his homely homily in sum: “Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about his divinity. I'd rather talk about his humanity. I mean, you know, how he lived his life on earth: his kindness, his tolerance. Listen, here is what I think. I think we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”
Again—apparently Christian sentiments, if you are a member of the ELCA or the ACLU.
But this is the priest’s Easter homily. He would pull us away from thoughts of the miracle of Christ’s conquering of death—which is what Our Lord’s kindness and “tolerance” were in aid of—to what is to be enjoyed in this life. And in Chocolat, death is to be put far from us, which is what the fast is to put us in mind of. Forget Christ’s divinity—let us live at the Wedding at Cana. In the Kingdom of God, yes; in this veil of tears, those who feast incessantly get fat, drowsy, and ultimately depressed, as one becomes addicted to and immune from what had previously satisfied.
That there should be feast days as well as fast days even here on earth, Lutherans agree. But in the vision of Chocolat, there is no need of grace, because there is no concept of sin, only of ignorance. Discipline implies a higher way, higher things. The only thing to be denied in Chocolat, is denial; the only thing to be judged, judgment itself.
Old Testament Reading for Sunday, September 3, Proverbs 9:1-6: Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! To him who lacks sense she says, Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.
At first blush, it would seem that here we have an earlier version of Chocolat, transplanted to chilly Denmark—wherein a community of musty, crusty religious fanatics are rustled from their living death by an earthy Mediterranean debauchee. Ah, but the resemblance is merely skin deep, my Lutherans.
So a group of pietists (they are described in the subtitles as “puritans,” but what kind of puritans maintain a crucifix and make the sign of the cross?) live within meters of each other in a desolate and wind-swept swatch of Denmark. They are held together by the memory of their dead pastor/prophet and his two daughters, named Martina and Philippa—after me and Melancthon, if you can believe it—both of whom gave up opportunities for marriage in order to assist their father in his ministry, whose theology can be summed as “Mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and bliss kiss.”
One stormy evening, a refugee from civil war in France, Babette, comes knocking at the door of the two sisters. Babette has been sent to them as a potential maid/cook by an old suitor of one of the sisters, a French singing teacher whose advances were rejected many years ago.
Babette is willing to work for room and board—no wages. The sisters are relieved to have the help—and some extra cash, as this Babette is quite clever at finagling bargains from local merchants, who themselves have a tendency to pass off slightly fetid goods as fresh.
Fourteen years pass. Babette is thoroughly integrated into the community, having learned the language, the plain tastes, and the simple patterns of life. But all is not well. This small band of Christian brothers and sisters are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. Old resentments, old sins, old bitterness is beginning to come to light, and the right hand of fellowship threatens to degenerate into the left hand of “upside your head.”
Then, as if by "chance," Babette wins a lottery that a family member has been playing for her in her native France. Ten thousand francs is hers. The sisters, who have come to rely on and love Babette, fear she will no longer have any reason to stay in Denmark and will abandon them for Paris. However, before she does anything, Babette wants to prepare a feast—an extraordinary meal of all her favorite French dishes—in honor of the 100th anniversary of the sisters’ pastor-father’s birth. At first the sisters resist, preferring the plain supper they were used to on such an occasion. But Babette insists, even pleads—and she also insists on paying for it all out of her lottery winnings.
Yet as the meal’s fixings come ashore from France—a boar’s head, pigeons, casks of wine, wheels of cheese, etc., etc.—Martina has a terrible dream, that what she has allowed into their home is not a memorial dinner, but a witch’s Sabbath. She has permitted an indulgence that is pagan and antithetical to the teachings and spirituality of her sainted father. Martina brings together the community, without Babette’s knowledge, and confesses to them her “sin.” They rally around her and promise that, even though the feast shall proceed as planned, they will make no mention of it, and even as they consume it, it will be as if they were not eating at all. A spiritual discipline will be applied that will strangle the flesh and permit Satan no access to their souls.
The night of the feast is upon them. Among the guests is a general late of the Swedish court who as a young man had wooed one of the sisters but who had been shooed away by her father, who feared losing one of the “hands” that enable him to carry out his ministry. The young soldier vows to spend the rest of his life pursuing success on worldly terms, having been defeated in his quest for something deeper, more spiritual—true love.
Now he reappears, a success by the standards he set, yet all is not well with him. He remains empty, despite his medals and epaulets—vain things, he despairs. But once Babette’s feast begins, he is awestruck by its richness, extravagance, and overwhelming power. He remembers having a meal like it only once before, prepared by a master chef back in Paris. As he begins to sing the praises of each course, the until-now silent and apparently underimpressed villagers begin to allow themselves to enjoy the meal set before them. They begin to savor the tastes, the smells, and exotic dishes. As they relax and fill up, their tongues loosen, their hearts open, and they also unburden themselves. Those petty resentments that threatened to tear them apart are now confessed and laughed over. Sins are forgiven over the meal. What was beginning to come between them is now an occasion for reconciliation, as they recognize the same sins within themselves that they accuse others of.
So it would seem that Chocolat and Babette’s Feast have at least this in common: The satiation of the fleshly appetites are good, necessary, reinvigorating, even spiritual. In fact, true spirituality is realized only by satisfying the flesh. These prune-faced Danes, forgotten by time and culture, finally experience a richness of life because some Catholic—read pagan—cook has come into their lives and shown them a world they never knew. If only they had not feared their own appetites, they might have had happier, richer lives.
But no—that is not the moral of this tale. The two men who had long abandoned hope of winning the hands of Martina and Philippa—the military man and the opera impresario—are, at the end of their lives, quite unsatisfied. Yet they have enjoyed worldly success, they have had their fill of the good things of this life. But they have not had love—specifically, the selfless love of these two sisters, the product of this supposedly desiccated and backward existence.
If the sisters and their community can be faulted it is in this: They were living on the spirit of their pastor, not on the Spirit of his Master. That they had to be reminded of. And, as is always the case, it comes to them as a grace from without, a sheer gift.
The general sums up the beauty of this story when he finally addresses Martina at the feast’s end: “I have been with you every day of my life. … You must also know that I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening I shall sit down to dine with you. Not with my body, which is of no importance, but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.”
All is grace—even what we have been denied. The sisters missed nothing having stayed with their father’s flock. Yes, they might have married and had children, but they now will enjoy spiritual children—even such a one as this military man. And the general—he followed his vocation, he made his choice, and though he is alone, that too is a grace. Had the sisters married their respective suitors, they may have enjoyed certain pleasures but would not have necessarily fulfilled their vocations. “Everything we have chosen has been granted to us,” the general reminds us. All is grace.
Babette’s Feast does not chide the “all-too-spiritual” for neglecting the good things of the earth, for neglecting the flesh. Babette’s feast is just that—one feast, one meal. Babette spends all she has to give back to these people what she gained from them—a home. It is also an opportunity to practice her great vocation in all its strength and glory one last time. Babette has no intention of going back to Paris. The Paris she knew—and the restaurant to which she was chef—yes! the chef the general remembered so vividly was in fact Babette—are gone, as is her $10,000 francs. It came to her as a gift, it was expended as a gift. All have taken, eaten, and are reconciled with themselves and their “choices.” Martina comforts Babette in the knowledge that, even though her days as the best chef in Paris are over, there is a banquet, a feast, at which she may once again ply her trade—and that one will never end.
It is only when we realize that God is profligate with his grace that true gratitude becomes possible and true forgiveness can be extended to others. “In my father’s house are many mansions”—God does not scrimp when it comes to our salvation and the glory to be enjoyed in his kingdom. Foretastes of this are allowed us in this life in the form of good food, good drink, good friends, the love of spouse and children—but all of these must be held lightly, as they can be taken from us—even denied us—in an instant.
What truly prepares us for this joy is the sacrament of Holy Communion, where real food and real drink are given to us, and that food and drink are God himself. In Christ’s broken body we find that mercy and truth meet, and the bliss of forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God’s own sinless life kiss. “Mercy imposes no conditions,” the general says during a toast at the feast. Neither does God. Let us feast on that.