Thursday, August 23, 2007

STS at CTS

It is well known and established that Concordia Theological Seminary of Fort Wayne would never do anything against the Gospel and the Confessional heritage from which the school derives its name. It should be no surprise, then, that this Missouri Synod seminary is hosting this week the general retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a society of mostly ELCA priests and priestesses. I see no problem there. In fact, my favorite part of the whole thing is the fact that for the past three days all sorts of men, and women, can be seen walking around campus dressed in clerical collars and cassocks. I take this as evidence that the seminary does not see this as in any way offensive to elderly lay Lutherans (and potential donors) that might visit the campus, or to the Synod bureaucrats who might get wind of such cassock wearers. I know I'm not offended. It is open minded, welcoming, and ecumenical of the seminary to host such an event.

To be serious, though, I do believe it is worth finding out if one of the scheduled preachers for this year's STS Retreat, Pastor Erma Wolf, is a man or a woman. And I do believe it is worth asking the seminary administrators if it is truly comfortable hosting such an organization.

The chance to get pictures of some of the sights of this event was almost too good to pass up, yet I was without a camera. Nor am I sure of the copyright legality of pasting here pictures of a past retreat, so that you might get a feel for what went on in Ft. Wayne this week. But I will offer the following link: http://www.societyholytrinity.org/ from which you can click the 2007 retreat, and then click to the photos of the 2005 retreat, and see some really nice shots of the type of gathering I'm talking about.

Long live the Fort Wayne seminary, which is proving itself more and more to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dormition of the Mother of God

The first thing that comes to mind, which prehaps merits some discussion, is the question of what we call today's feast. Does the designation one gives to this holy day tell us about his thelogy, or of what he thinks of Mary? Not necessarily all that much, though I would say that some designations are less advisable than others. The modern day Missouri Synod Lutheran has a few choices to make.

He could stick with his church's official literature, which prefers to say that this is the feast of Saint Mary, Mother of our Lord, a term which is not heretical, so it passes the all important Doctrinal Review process of the Synod, but which does have a couple of problems. One is that it seems to be a generic Marian feast, not specific to any event or mystery in her life, as if this were the only day for Mary, which is simply not the case, not even in modern Lutheran service books, in which the Annunciation, Visitation, and Purification are all kept. In fact, this feast specifically is meant to celebrate the outcome of Mary's earthly life, the fact that she fell asleep in Christ, and is now with her Lord. The second problem with the Missouri Synod's preferred designation, Mary, Mother of our Lord, is that, while true in itself, it is most noteworthy that Nestorius also would have been quite pleased with it, for it gets around having to face the question of Mary being the Mother of God. Since Mary's Son is God Himself made flesh, the creator of all things, the Church in her wisdom decided that, indeed, it is right and proper to say that Mary is the Mother of God. Why is the Missouri Synod unwilling to call Mary the Mother of God? Surely the Synod is not dogmatically opposed to it, her defenders will tell me. I fail to see the defense, however, for erecting a wall between dogma and practice.

The LCMS Lutheran could call it the feast of Mary's Assumption. Most Lutherans, even of those dissatisfied with the Missouri Synod's practice, shy away from this, for a variety of reasons. Not all have all the same reasons. You would really need to ask each Lutheran who dislikes using "Assumption" just why it is that he feels that way. Some say, for example, that it is Roman Catholic. Lutherans are not Catholic. Therefore it is unLutheran terminology. This logic has many problems, but for now let us just point out that Mary's Assumption is not something that has ever been condemned by the Lutheran Church. In fact, there is a history of this feast being kept as the Assumption in the Reformation churches. As Professor Joseph Herl shows in his book, Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, the Assumption is listed in the church orders in Weissenburg 1528, Dessau 1532, Nordlingen 1538, Brandenburg 1540, Palatinate-Neuburg 1543, Schwabisch Hall 1543, Brandenburg-Ansbach-Kulmbach 1548, Hohenlohe 1553, & Nuremberg 1543. To dogmatize the Assumption, as Rome did in 1950, is not the sort of thing the Church of the Augsburg Confession would do, yet it is quite another thing to claim that the Assumption itself (the event, not the dogma) is impossible and unLutheran.

There is another option, namely, to see this as the feast of Mary's Dormition. Some see this as too Byzantine, too Orthodox. Here we must clarify a few things. One is that there is no conflict or contradiction between the Assumption and the Dormition, as if one necessarily cancels the other out. Many of those who, even in the ancient church, believed and celebrated and preached the Dormition also believed that Mary was taken bodily to heaven. Likewise many who believe in Mary's assumption also believe that she did in fact die. Even the Roman Church's official definition of the dogma of the Assumption allows for Mary's death at the end of her earthly life, contrary to what I've heard some claim about that dogma. Many do prefer to simply celebrate this, though, as Mary's Dormition, and to be content that she is now in heaven.

In Mary's death we see the perfect image of the Christian who falls asleep in Christ, who finds perfect rest in him. Mary's death is the Happy Death (bona mors), for which we pray.

Here is what Saint John of Damascus preached on this feast over a millenium ago:

"Today the sacred and living ark of the living God, she who conceived the Creator in her womb, comes to rest in the temple of the Lord which was not made by men's hands...Today the Eden of the New Adam receives the living paradise in which our condemnation was dissolved, in which the tree of life was planted, in which our nakedness was clothed."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Josh McDowell teaching your children

I assure you that I do not report on such stories out of pleasure, but out of disappointment. Josh McDowell, as many readers know, is a well known Evangelical apologist. As such, there is no place in his theology for little things like Baptismal regeneration, or the true, substantial presence of Christ's Body & Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Whatever he may have to say that is true in its own right, what the above tells me is that he does not know Christ aright. He does not know Him when He sees Him, where He told us He would be. To put it another way, Josh McDowell, though he says many things that are true, has distorted beliefs about God, Christ, and His Word.

Why do I point this out? Because McDowell is on a speaking tour right now, holding seminars for high school children. Here is a quote from McDowell used in the publicity material for this seminar:

"Our churched young people are adopting distorted beliefs about God, Christ and his Word. And these distorted beliefs are directly attributing to our kids making wrong moral choices."

Hold on, here's the good part, he will be delivering this talk at Concordia Lutheran High School, Fort Wayne, IN, on 11 September of this year. I can see having McDowell speak at a theological symposium, or at a writers conference, but I cannot conceive of how it is good, right, and responsible to have him come in and teach our Lutheran children, at a Lutheran high school.

I also find it interesting that the advertisements for this event list as sponsors, not only a couple of Protestant radio stations, which is to be expected, but also such trustworthy institutions as Thrivent and Concordia Theological Seminary. What can I say, but, way to go, Lutherans.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

what women wear

Lately I cannot help noticing certain trends in the area of female attire, trends upon which I'd like to comment.

It seems that just about everywhere I go, whether it be a shopping mall, a grocery store, a bookshop, a library, a church, whatever, I see females of almost every age level in flip flops in stead of shoes. By every age level I mean little girls, older girls, and their mothers in their thirties or forties. This trend seems to exclude only the infant and the truly old.

I have never seen more skin, and among a broader range of females, than I do these days. This trend is not quite as age inclusive as that of the flip flops, but still alarmingly broad, and seems to be getting younger and older each season. By more skin, I mean whatever area you have in mind, legs, chest, belly, all of it.

Skirts are getting shorter and shorter, while flirtatious pants are more in than ever. That is, pants (of either denim or softer fabrics) which are tight at the top to draw attention to the rear area, sometimes full length, many times shorter, showing off some leg.

Breasts and cleavage are on display everywhere.

Yes, yes, I know, I open myself up to great dangers by discussing such things so openly. Despite the risk of jokes about why one notices such things, or the risk of criticism of being too old fashioned, too unrealistic, too out of touch with the modern world, or legalistic, the man of the Church is called upon to speak up on precisely such issues as this. Our girls and women are worth the effort.

There are other trends in female fashion worthy of comment, but I think I hit some of the basics, or highlights. Now one thing you will notice about what I observe above is that some of it actually contradicts each other. For example, there are short skirts, and there are long pants. These seem to be opposite trends. Let me explain what I think is going on. We have very different trends in the feminist world competing. One tends toward the notion of obscuring one's femininity, the other tends toward the notion of flaunting and exploiting one's femininity.

Pants are an interesting case because the danger, it seems to me, goes in both directions with the choice to wear pants. It is very difficult for pants not to show off your rear end, unless a girl is determined to utterly hide the fact that she is a girl, and in that case will end up wearing loose blue jeans that make her fit in with the guys. So girls who like to utterly hide their girlhood can find the pants to serve that purpose, while the girl who wants to be flirty knows precisely what she is doing with pants. In the area of blue jeans she will find the tight, low rise fit. And outside the realm of jeans there is a whole world of flirty pant styles. Indeed, in between these two types of girls, there is the girl who does not want to be a man, and is not aiming necessarily to be "sexy." She, nonetheless, I contend, will find it difficult to find pants that do not either show off her rear, or on the other hand make her look like a man.

In the area of skirts, as I say, they are truly getting shorter and flirtier. We see it in high school girls and junior high girls, on the street, in the stores, and even at church. We also see it, I hasten to add, with adult women on television, whether news ladies, or actresses, or whatever.

Okay, so what is behind all of this? First, this is not to condemn every girl who dresses in these ways. I have gained good friends in the world, some of whom seem to know no other way than to dress provocatively. Some women do so perhaps in a completely conscious effort to flirt, show off, and give boys ocassion for sin, some perhaps out of a truly neutral notion that this is how girls dress, and I really believe that many girls fall in between these two attitudes. That is, they don't get up each morning consciously aiming to show off their bodies, yet they cannot be completely ignorant of the fact that this is what happens when they wear much of what is in their closets. Most of these girls need love, guidance, and good examples.

Second, this is not to condemn each particular of what I observed above in some absolute way. We need to recognize, I think, that over all, there are trends in motion which are harmful to our women.

I propose that there are three basic principles which ought to govern how girls and women dress. 1. A lady should dress femininely. 2. A lady should dress modestly. 3. A lady should dress in a way that is appropriate for the ocassion.

1. Dressing femininely is to avoid dressing like a guy. Is it absolutely immoral for a girl to wear pants? Without going to that point, we ought to admit that, despite the very feminine styles out there, pants are historically men's clothing. As I argue above, there seems to be an almost inherent danger for women wearing pants, that is, she will either look mannish, or flirty; but neither is very ladylike, is it? Dressing femininley also means, I think, avoiding other articles of clothing that are overly "frumpy." Some girls, it seems, (and women) need to be reminded that they are made by God to be women, and that they ought to take pride in that gift and high calling.

2. Dressing modestly is something about which today's fashion culture, media, and entertainment industry know virtually nothing. The world will not help us on this. Our girls and young women have a truly uphill battle. Anyone who wants to learn what that culture is really like should read the recent book by Laura Sessions Stepp, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (Riverhead Books, 2007). Though I know bits and pieces of this culture from some of my acquaintances, this book was a great eye opener for me. Again, these young women need our unconditional love, friendship, prayer, and guidance. They need us to speak up.

3. Dressing appropriate for the ocassion also seems largely lost in today's world. This, for example, explains the flip flop craze. Flip flops are designed for the beach, or perhaps the house and yard. In the army we were required to wear them in the shower, we even called them "shower shoes." They are basically, however, beach wear, not shopping attire, not attire for visiting the President of the United States, as the womens' championship LaCrosse team did a couple years ago. The flip flop, on the face of it, seems neither slutty nor masculine (they do show off a girl's pedicure, after all), but they do betray a laziness, and a lack of effort at dressing for the ocassion. Another area where we would do well to stress the value of dressing for the ocassion is church. We Lutherans believe there is something truly sacred at church, ecpecially at the Holy Mass, where we hasten as a chaste bride to meet our Lord (borrowing a phrase from a great eucharistic hymn). We ought, therefore, to wear our doctrine on our sleeve, to manifest our faith, and our reverence, by dressing like ladies and gentlemen. Men dressing the best they can, in coat & tie (or collar & cassock for the clerics), women in skirts that at least cover their knees, feminine shoes that do not show off the pedicure, and avoiding deep plunging cleevage, and yes, even being taught the value of the traditional practice of veiling the head.

I would also like to offer links to a few web resources that might prove helpful on this whole issue. One is Pure Fashion, which can be found at http://www.purefashion.com/. There are two good pages at the traditional Catholic "Fisheaters" web site I'd recommend, one is www.fisheaters.com/modesty.html, and the other is www.fisheaters.com/theveil.html. Also, you might check out the resources at http://www.ladiesagainstfeminism.com/.
LHG