Monday, September 29, 2008

Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

Yesterday at Mass we sang as the final hymn John Athelstan L. Riley's "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," and though I am not normally one to advocate for modern hymns (this one was written in 1906), I would say this hymn seems very appropriate for congregational worship at Holy Mass, for any number of reasons.

First, it is a hymn of jubilant praise, in which all the heavenly host is enlisted to join our praise, and therefore would actually seem appropriate for eucharistic worship anytime, outside of the penitential seasons. To be more theologically precise, it would be better to say that we join the heavenly choirs than that they join us. And that is what is so significant, I think, about a hymn like this. Namely, while it does not expound the faith nearly as nicely and fully as other hymns do, it seems most concerned with catching the invisible reality of what is going on at the moment of the Blessed Eucharist. And so in a certain sense it reminds me of Luther's hymn paraphrase of the Sanctus, namely, "Isaiah Mighty Seer."

Second, it preserves, in its first stanza, the traditional ranks of the angels. This is very useful for a feast like that of Saint Michael and All Angels (though as a traditionalist, I would argue for the return of the sanctoral scheme wherein this feast focuses on Michael, and the other angelic feasts are brought back, such as Gabriel, Raphael, and Guardian Angels).

Third, this hymn is built on a strong sense of the communion of saints. The Mass itself teaches us this lesson in several ways, but it is good to reinforce it from time to time by means of hymns of this sort. The fact is that the angelic hosts, along with the saints that have gone before us, as well as our brethren around the world we cannot see, are all in an intimate communion in the Church, and are one in the worship of Christ our Immanuel.

Fourth, since the above is true, it is most certainly true in the case of the greatest of the saints, the one the Lutheran Confessions call the "pure, holy, and always Virgin Mary." The one through whom the God man came into the world must always have a prominent place in Christian meditation, for she is the bearer of God, and therefore stands in a unique way as type of the Church and indeed of the Christian. So I rejoice that such a hymn stanza as the second one of this hymn is employed in our churches. At times I have seen some react with surprise when it is pointed out that the Virgin Mary is referenced in this hymn. Too often we Lutherans sing our hymns without really thinking on the words.

Here is the second stanza of "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," and though its text in Lutheran Service Book and in The Lutheran Hymnal are identical to each other, let me state explicitly, that I quote here from The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941, the makers of which have, in Christian kindness, graciously given it to the Church for free use. So I recognize them, and thank them.

TLH: 475: 2
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Father Michael Hill

For several weeks I had been offline; now that I am back online after our move, I have taken the opportunity to catch up on some of my blog reading, and one happy discovery is that Father Michael Hill has been blogging again. I commend his blog to your reading; you can find it here, and also know that it is included in my blog list at the right.
Fr. Michael Hill is a churchman who is not recognized as such by the church, or at least by its current bureaucracy. Just as Luther's excommunication was not a true and rightful excommunication and did not mean that he was excommunicated from the Church, likewise, despite how some are led to think, Hill's removal from the roster of the LC-MS does not in any way alter his true identity as an ordained minister of Christ. His removal was a wrongful act of synod bureaucracy.
God asks us to live with certain ironies in this life. One of them is that the Reverend Father Michael Hill is forced to earn a living in the world, where he is known simply as Michael Hill, rather than receiving his living from the Church, while some ordained men of the Missouri Synod, for the sake of their rising careers in the church, have quite willingly left the ministry of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, and yet are called "Pastor" so & so. Some of these men have been moving from one arm of bureaucracy to another for years, apparently never stopping to consider the option of actually going back into the work of the Predigtamt.
To be clear, I am not a functionalist, as my remarks about how I view Fr. Hill (ie., as Fr. Hill) testify, nor am I a congregationalist, as though the only way a man can serve in the church is in parish ministry. My complaint about certain synod officials, rather, is that while some of them indeed preach on occasion, these men who are ordained ministers of the Word of God will not stir up the gift that is in them, but prefer to don their corporate tie, sit behind their desks, travel the speaking circuit, and assure themselves that they are rendering a great service to the Church. I am sure, moreover, that such synod and district officials are good men who pray, work hard, and only mean well for Christ's Church. I believe, however, that the disconnect that happens in today's synod from the life of preaching the Gospel and celebrating Mass, when a man moves out of the parish, and into a synod office, is not only against the healthy scriptural tradition of our Confessions, but that it also leads the official perhaps inevitably towards a mindset of institutional loyalty. The temptation for this institutional loyalty to take precedence over truth and the Gospel overwhelms some of them, and injustice and untruths result, and become the new truth.
Fr. Hill's experience with the synod is a case in point. As negative as this diatribe may seem, my ultimate point is positive. Namely, I would like to highlight one of the things I love most about Fr. Hill, his integrity. And I am reminded of one of my favorite film quotes. You, dear reader, have likely seen the movie V for Vendetta. Evey (played by Natalie Portman), while suffering torture and imprisonment, discovers a letter tucked away in her cell. The letter is the first person account of a prisoner who went through a similar experience at the hands of her captors. As Evey reads the story of Valerie (played by Natasha Whightman), the lesbian actress who at length gives her life to stay true to her integrity, she is inspired and strengthened to remain true in her stand against her tormentor (who turns out, incidentally, to be the very one she is protecting).
In the midst of Valerie's letter she makes the following statement, "Our integrity sells for so very little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free."
I strive to be that free, and I am thankful I have such true churchmen as examples. One of them is Fr. Michael Hill, though he may not appreciate me comparing him with a futuristic English lesbian film character.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

grade school football

One of the great benefits of living in Milwaukee is that I get the opportunity to be in the life of my siblings and their children much more now. Yesterday, for example, I had the chance to see my nephew Cyrus' football game. Cyrus, son of my brother & sister in law, Daut & Susan, is a sixth grade student at Our Father's Lutheran School on the south side of Milwaukee, and plays tackle football in the elementary football program at Martin Luther High School.

I have nothing to which to compare grade school tackle football, since I never knew it as a child (when I was in grade school, they had us play flag football). So my mind only contrasts it with tackle football of older levels, and therefore the manner the play seemed funny to me. Very cute. Instead of kick offs, for example, one of the adults threw the ball down the field.

Make no mistake, however, those kids love their sport, they play with an all out effort, and on top of it, they are evidently inculcated with an all embracing faith in Christ. I think that's what I love most about children, when they are raised in the Christian faith, the sincerity of their faith is absolute.

I couldn't help noticing from our spot in the bleachers that just before the boys took the field for kickoff, Cyrus made the sign of the holy cross. I mentioned it after the game, and he confirmed that he made the sign of the cross, and he said to me, "I hoped that I would do two things, one was to do my best, and the other was to make you proud of me, Uncle Latif." I thought, isn't that the nicest thing I've heard all week.

Cyrus is a good Lutheran boy, who is learning the faith very well. And I am very proud of him. Oh yes, he's also a good footballer.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is Palin a Victim of Sexism?

The questions, and in some cases open criticism, of Sarah Palin, which have been raised in recent days by the liberal media and political liberals, are being called sexist by Palin's advocates in the McCain campaign and by some in the conservative media. I have in mind issues like her daughter's illicit pregnancy, and questions about the feasibility or appropriateness of having a high level executive job in government while raising small children. So is sexism a fair charge to make in this case?
No. Let me explicate. For one thing, a distinction must be made between an issue in itself on the one hand, and the reasons it might be raised in any given circumstance on the other. That is, the liberals in raising these issues are not wrong. Another matter entirely would be their motivations. And I doubt very highly that their motivations are sexist in nature. They are probably political in nature. In other words, the proper question, I think, is not whether they would raise these questions about a man, but rather whether they would raise them about a liberal democrat female candidate. The political conservative Republican types are a bit defensive about this whole matter, and part of the reason may be that some of them know deep down that in this case the questions are proper, even if they may have been raised for improper reasons.
Is a woman in civil government a thing of which we ought to be proud? No, it is not. On this point I am neither ecstatic (sorry Fr. Fritz), nor stoked (sorry Fr. Beisel). The Christian woman, taking the Blessed Virgin Mary as her archetype, is content to be ruled by those God has placed over her, and she knows, and glories in the fact, that she is the type of the Church, and of truest Christianity, when she most fully lives out the receptive character of her feminine nature. As shockingly out of place in 2008 as it may seem, it must be said, therefore, that it is precisely in the realm of the home that the woman is most fully herself. She, in fact, is the home, which thankfully (eucharistically) receives the man in her life.
Odd as these thoughts no doubt are to some readers, they are worth exploring, and discussing further. My arm is still healing from a pinched nerve (therefore the brevity of this thesis), and I am about to pack up the computer, with everything else, in preparation for our move, so I won't be able to tend to such a discussion for a few days. But I wanted to express this point of view while it was still so politically timely.