I have a couple more pictures to share with you from the week of the Society of Saint Polycarp's Retreat. My hypothesis, you see, is that their juxtaposition has something to teach us about Lutheranism, or something. Both were taken by my dear wife.
This first is a close up of the portal of the Basilica at Holy Hill.
The second one is what I call, "A Priest and a Deacon Hanging Around Milwaukee."
Milwaukee is in the national political news again. Quite apart from any political or partisan concerns, my reaction to this incident is that it is regrettable to see the nation's vice-president use such language in a family establishment like Kopp's.
Here are some pictures from Saint Stephen's Lutheran in Milwaukee (corner of 5th & Scott-just down the street from the Allen Bradley Clock Tower-come join us any day for daily Mass, 9 a.m.). This first one is part of a lower panel of stained glass.
This is a picture of one of the credence tables, decorated in the back by an icon of the Virgin Mother of God with the Christ Child. All three items on this table, the lavabo pitcher & bowel, the sanctus bells, and the server's paten, are items which, with their uses, we have added at Saint Stephen's only within the last two years.
The next three are some detail of the woodwork within this church, built almost 110 years ago for the worship of our Immanuel, in 1901.
It's true, this woman is a Milwaukee County official. This, it seems, is a measure of the intellectual standards in today's political realm. Bear in mind that Miss West is a product of MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College). So she is also a reflection of our educational system.
The Rev. Ernie V. Lassman, a Lutheran pastor at a church in Seattle, has a series of videos on youtube. I am somewhat new to these videos, so when I came across this one, I found it interesting. Lassman is arguing against prayer to the saints. Now I would not encourage one to pray to the saints. That is because prayer, in the narrow, proper sense, is proper to the One we trust to give us all good things, the one true God. (That is not to say that I would discourage the traditional Christian acknowledgment that the saints do pray for us.) What I find odd and unfortunate is that this is not Lassman's argument against prayer to the saints. His argument, rather, comes out of the claim that the saints cannot hear us. It is what I would call a merely practical argument, rather than a theological one.
The other thing I find odd and unfortunate is that in the process of this argument he continually says that the saints "are dead." That is very insensitive. And I don't mean "insensitive" in the sense of being inconsiderate. I mean, rather, that this topic really requires a theological sensitivity, and a clarity of phraseology. The saints have died. But I myself would not say that they "are dead." For that is not sensitive to the truth that, in fact, they live.
One assumes Pastor Lassman is a good, faithful pastor, and he has my respect and prayers. However, in this video his words are a most unfortunate reflection of the modern Lutheran Church.
As Milwaukeeans know, especially Eastsiders, and as all of you have caught on by now, there are many picturesque spots in the Beerline neighborhood. In this final series of photos that we took on our Memorial Day walk through some of the scenic parts of Riverwest and points south and east, you see the final pictures of the Marsupial Bridge, as we got to the south end of it, where it connects with the Lower East Side and Brady Street neighborhoods. The group of benches is at the south end of the bridge. Then, across the street from the bridge, on Water Street, is the Trocadero Gastrobar, so I had to take a few shots of that great establishment. Back at the other end of the Marsupial Bridge, we got a picture of the relic of the old Beerline railroad. These rustic remains amid the trendy reincarnation of Beerline remind Milwaukeans of what once was. From there I decided to walk the Booth Street Stairs, and took some shots at each stage along the way. Ruth decided to walk the long path instead, so I got her in one of the shots from above. From there we picked up some groceries at the Pick n Save on Garfield and Humboldt, which means that yes, essentially, this whole thing was one long Latif-style diversion on our way to the grocery store.
Today all too many popular and influential voices are advocating views of the Church which are fundamentally flawed. The Church is being refashioned into the image of our own warped egos. Since the Church is, from one point of view, the sum of those who comprise it, it makes sense that it would come finally to be remade after our own image. And so we have "churches" that are designed merely to satisfy our own felt needs. We feel the need for a coffeehouse, and good music; we feel the need for social networks, and edifying relationships; we feel the need for some resource in our life which can help us exercise our intellectual muscles, and which can even help us improve our habits, and modify our behavior, make us better people. Lost in such worldly wisdom is any unique raison d'etre for the Church. And if there is nothing special about the church, nothing other-worldly, then there really is no point in it at all.
On the same note, Flannery O'Connor in one of her letters to "A" in December of 1955 recalls the following incident:
I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the "most portable" person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable. (The Habit of Being 124-125)
Instead of seeing the Church as though it were a rock show at Summerfest, or better yet, as all of Summerfest, or even merely as the place where one enjoys singing his favorite hymns, instead of treating the church as though it were a visit to one's favorite coffee house, instead of thinking of the church as a sort of spiritual version of the fitness club, let us consider afresh and take seriously what the Church says about itself. And if our faith (fides qua creditur) takes seriously the faith (fides quae creditur), and is seeking for an apt metaphor, we will come to rediscover the richness and truth of the Church as a hospital for the spiritually sick, wounded, and dying. For our sin has cut through every cell of our livelihood; like a cancer, it leaves us dying and helpless. Not only does our sin harm ourselves through and through, it also harms everyone around us, or as Bernanos writes in The Diary of A Country Priest, our sins "poison the air which others breathe" (129 in the Doubleday Image Book edition). (Speaking of this great little novel, note also how, in the face of the modern worldly dogma that life apart from the claims of Christ and His Church is supposed to be liberating and exciting, Bernanos with literary genius has his protagonist in the very beginning of the story compare the deadly sin in his parish to an essential "loneliness" and "boredom.")
In fact, we are attacked on all sides in this world, not only by our own sinful flesh, which due to our own depraved will, wages war against us, but also by the ruler of this world, the devil, and also by the world which he so masterfully rules. And in the light of this onslaught we are left mortally wounded and in need, not so much of advice or affirmation, as of rescue, healing, and of new life.
This is precisely what the Church provides. How does it do this? By dispensing the remedy for sin, namely forgiveness and absolution. It can do this because it is not so much a thing, a social institution, as much as it is the living Body and holy Spouse of Christ Himself, the God-man Whose sacrificial death in the lonely and forsaken torment of crucifixion has paid the price for our sin. Henceforth, then, we shall refer to this living embodiment of Christ in the world as though she were a feminine person in relation to her Lord and Redeemer, for that is what she is. This Church, like the caring and competent mother who has exactly the remedy that her child needs, offers to us the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of Christ Himself. It is Jesus Himself Who forgives sin, and thus offers us the medicine we need, for He is the great Physician.
We have already spoken of the sacramental nature of this medicine, since Jesus administers it to us by means of the Church. Yet we must go a step further. For He gives us the forgiveness of our sins, won for us by the glorious merits of His Passion and death, indeed by means of giving us His own self. Jesus Himself is not some distant God who tosses down what we need, like a NATO plane dropping boxes of food and medicine to us from several thousands of feet in the air. Rather, He Himself gives us the gifts He won on the cross by giving us His own crucified and risen flesh. Jesus is the Physician Who heals us by giving us a divine medicine, namely, Himself! He is the pelican who feeds her young by feeding them her own flesh, as the ancient hymn puts it. Or, He is the mother, at whose breast we nurse, as Luther put it in one of his New Testament lectures. In other words, Jesus does not merely give us medicine which is somehow essentially alien to him; rather, He is the very medicine we need, for our bodies and souls broken by sin.
As often as we sit at the feet of faithful preachers of Christ, Christ Himself is healing us, He is bespeaking us whole and clean, and we are born anew. As often as we partake of the holy liturgy of the Church in faith, we submit ourselves to the healing of the eternal Word. As often as we go to Confession and lay bare our sin and the wounds of our soul, Christ Himself heals us and brings us back to our Baptism through the mouth of His minister, or what Luther calls a "brother" in the office of Christ. And most profoundly, as often as we open our mouths, like good patients, at the altar, Christ feeds us the very medicine we need, namely, His own sacred Body and Blood.
Saint Ignatius, in the second century, wrote to the Ephesian Church on his way to martyrdom, that the Eucharist is "a medicine that brings immortality, an antidote that allows us not to die but to live at all times in Jesus Christ" (Bart D. Ehrman's translation, proving that bad theologians can still be good for something). When Christ gives His very flesh to us in the Sacrament, He is administering to us the pharmacon athanasias, the medicine of immortality. The holy bishop was not here engaged in mere literary flourishes, but was writing at a most sober point in his life, on the very road to his own torturous death, when he wrote about the true life we have in Christ our medicine. In light of his appreciation of what the Eucharist is and gives, he says in the same letter, "Be eager, therefore, to gather more frequently and celebrate the Eucharist." (Some, to be sure, prefer to translate this as to come together and give thanks; that's okay, there will always be room in the Church for literalists.)
Today you and I do not have death thrown in our faces in the same way that the Christians did in the early and middle ages of the Church's sojourn, at least not in America. Yet we do have death and destruction thrown at us from all sides, and the first step to healing is to wake up to this reality. The second is to learn again to appreciate the immeasurably rich and awesome healing that is offered to us and is available to us in the sacramental life of the Church. The understanding of the Sacrament of the Altar as medicine, bringing us to the eternal life of body and soul, which we see so beautifully articulated in Saint Ignatius of Antioch, is picked up and handed on for us in manifold ways by the tradition of the Church. For example, in the Litany of the Blessed Sacrament, we pray:
Medicine of immortality: Have mercy upon us.
Pharmacum immortalitatis: Miserere nobis.
Some of you have not heard of this Litany of the Blessed Sacrament. Well, we'll just have to remedy that. But for now, just know that the Church never saw the phrase 'medicine of immortality' as mere pious speculation. Rather, it is pious faith, which she has preserved for us in her rich devotional tradition, and which reflects a truth sorely in need of recovery today. For there is no automatic guarantee that the truth to which I refer will be apprehended in a church that claims itself to be sacramental, like the Lutheran Church, nor even where the holy Eucharist is celebrated often. Rather, we need to continually meditate upon this truth, and delve more and more deeply into it.
And that truth is this: while we will always need medication and other therapies, of mind and body, in this world, the Eucharist, ie., our Sacramental Lord Himself, ought not be overlooked or given merely peripheral consideration as the healing agent that He is, for not only our hearts, as though we could really fragment our lives into parts, but for our whole selves. Let Him truly be the "center of your existence," and the heart and core of any therapy for your own brokenness. He, that is, Christ our medicine, is there waiting to give us forgiveness and life. For in the Spirit He is not only our Lord, but also vivifivcantem, the One Who gives us life, in all its fullness.
No man can see and appreciate the Gospel until he has learned the blues. In fact, I'm not sure I want to hear from a preacher who doesn't know the blues. Instead of holding forth on such a rich thesis today, however, I would share some blues with you. Then, maybe we'll talk about its theological significance. The following is a recording of "How Long Blues" by the great early twentieth century bluesman, Lerow Carr, whose tragically short life produced so much beautiful music.
Now the same song interpreted by Eric Clapton:
And now, perhaps a slightly more unusual rendition, which I think you might enjoy. It's Lil Rev on vocals and baritone uke, with Brian of the Fabulous Heftones on soprano uke:
Taken the same day as the ones a couple posts down, these pictures are also in the Beerline neighborhood. The first one is looking up toward Roots, a restaurant overlooking the Milwaukee River below. The rest are taken from the Marsupial Bridge, suspended as it is under the Holton Street Viaduct, which together stretch across not only Commerce Street, but also over the Milwaukee River, and connect to the Lower East Side and Brady Street area. The Cream City Brick building along side the river in the picture below is Lakefront Brewery.
Okay, just for the fun of it, here is the video of "War" from the last of the Born in the USA shows. As a bonus bit of Springsteen trivia, the reason you see him holding his left arm in sort of a funny way is that he has the lyrics taped there. Jon Landau had only recently suggested Bruce and the band do this song, and Bruce barely had time to teach it to the band, so by show time, he felt, to be on the safe side, he would keep the words taped to his arm, in case he needed them. Of course this song features the great drumming of Mighty Max Weinberg, and also the guitar work of Nils Lofgren. A warning, this song starts off suddenly with a downright "war"like attack on the ear drums. Consider yourself warned.
To top off the Born in the USA tour in 1985, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band played five sold out nights at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the five nights totalling a record 323,000 people in attendance. He wanted to do something special for those nights. One thing highly unusual, which he did just for that audience, was a cover of Edwin Star's "War." Perhaps I'll post that here later. But another special piece Bruce pulled out, more on his folk side, was his version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."
Friday night, our friends Mike and Amy Green treated us to frozen custard. They didn't want to leave town without having tasted some genuine Milwaukee frozen custard, and who am I to argue? So we enjoyed a scoop or two over at Kopp's. Delicious as always, of course I had a scoop of chocolate. For those unfamiliar with Kopp's, and frozen custard stands of that sort, you will often see the daily special for each day printed out on a sheet or pamphlet for the whole month. On the back of the monthly menu at Kopp's is the story of Bob, the dog. It's quite a story. You may read it at the Kopp's web site here. Go ahead and take a moment. If you love animals, and who doesn't?, then I think you'll appreciate it.
And that reminds me of another animal story. At Saint Stephen's last Thursday or Friday morning, my pastor, Father May, showed us an alley cat, most likely feral, which was protecting her newborn kittens down in one of the window wells of the church. Somehow she got in there. I call her Fran. One of the things we were worried about was if she would be able to get out okay, and get her kittens out. On that count I can say that there is nothing to worry about, for on Sunday morning, before I went in to get ready for the liturgy, I checked that window well, and I saw Fran was there, but then leaped right out, and trotted down the street. I did not see her babies, but I suppose that she got them somewhere safe. She and her kittens have been and remain in our prayers.
Here are some more pictures Ruth and I took on Memorial Day. A few posts back you saw the pictures we took that day from the top of Reservoir Park, mostly looking toward the East Side and Downtown. After we left there, we headed over to Brewers Hill, and took these shots overlooking the Beerline area. I rather like the old man reading on the bench. For those unfamiliar with that area, Commerce Street, right along the Milwaukee River, situated below Brewers Hill and also under the Holton Street Viaduct, is where Lakefront Brewery is located. Now you know where I'm talking about, don't you? Or now you're at least curious, since Lakefront is your favorite beer too. Well, you'll just have to visit Milwaukee more often, now won't you?