Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The "N" Word

This morning while working at my desk I had the radio on, and was listening to a discussion about a book soon to be published about Barack Obama.  The book is by Dinesh D'Souza, and is titled The Roots of Obama's Rage.  I cannot comment on the book, because I have not laid my hands on it yet.  I respect D'Souza, and it was an interesting discussion.  What caught my ear, and what I found blog-worthy this morning, is that at one point, after D'Souza uttered the word "nigger," the interviewer politely asked him not to say that word on his show. 

I want to emphasize that the interviewer is someone whose public discourse contains ideas with which I agree and ideas with which I do not agree.  I do not condemn him; nor would I commend him wholesale to the general public.  He has been polarizing, so I'd rather just leave him personally out of this.

Further, it is necessary to clarify the context of the controversial vocabulary in this conversation.  D'Souza was quoting President Obama, who in his book, Dreams From My Father, admits that he thinks of his grandfather, or that at least at one time he thought of him, as a "House nigger." 

I find this sort of censoring to be very odd.  I think that future generations will look upon the current place of the word "nigger" in early twenty first century American culture to be most bizarre.  It is a triumph of fear, paranoia, and a politically correct agenda, over simple intellectual honesty, academic freedom, and open linguistic discussion.  In fact, if we take a step back and think about it, we will begin to notice that it even comes across as oddly superstitious.  Can we be adults, and use real words, or must we sound like characters in a story who must avoid the name of Voldemort?

To be sure, I am not advocating for a resurgence of the term in ordinary street speech.  In fact, I'd love to see it disappear from that arena, which, by the way, ironically remains an accepted facet of America wherein the word still has free reign.  That is, while it is improper to refer to the word in a discussion about the word, or to quote it in an intellectually respectful discussion about the culture, it is completely acceptable for one thug on the street to use the word casually to refer to his fellow black man.  I know that some high profile Black Americans are opposed to that use as well, such as Oprah Winfrey.  Yet there is no real societal consequences at all.  In fact, one can become a millionaire by making hip hop music peppered with the word.

Nonsensical dogmas of modern America, such as the virtual nonuse of a word of the English language, are icons which I refuse to kiss.  In my own way, I aim to break them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Church Celebrates the Holy Eucharist

I respect those whose concerns have led them to the conclusion that the Eucharist should not be celebrated at Synod gatherings, yet I would like to offer the opposite argument.  If there is one thing which we should be able to say about the Church, it is that the Eucharist is her life and her heart.  The holy Eucharist is the sacred heart of the Church.  And so when she gathers, when she assembles, that is, when she is together as church, ecclesia, it is always fitting, and in fact, it is vital, that she be about her eucharistic business, both because she, and her members, find there true life in her Lord, and because this is a witness to the world, a proclaiming of Christ's sacrificial death, and a proclamation that the Church wants nothing other than to be associated with, and indeed to be fully integrated into, the death of Christ.  The Holy Eucharist is so central to the true life of the Church that Christ calls it the New Testament.  The church which claims that Christ is vital to its life is disingenuous if its christic vitality is not manifested by means of a devout and vibrant eucharistic life. 

These are not self evident truths.  I know of "Lutherans" who would bristle at such statements as being too focused on the Lord's Supper, and not focused enough on the preaching of the Word.  I don't have time to wrangle with such people today, however.  Instead, I will say that having established the eucharistic nature of the Church, we are still left with a couple of questions. 

1. Is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod the Church?  If it is not, then "church" should not be in its name.  If it is not, then I ought not waste my time with it.  2. How can the mysteries of God possibly be handled in a responsible and reverent manner in a gathering of people many of whom are not united in doctrine and practice?  The same as they should be handled in any parish church or university campus chapel, namely, carefully and responsibly. 

Precisely one of the problems with many LCMS circuit meetings is that they no longer celebrate the Holy Mass.  If pastors in a circuit do not see themselves as brothers, then why bother going to meetings with each other?  So that you can work on the problems, so that hopefully one day you can see your circuit as finally qualifying as faithful and united?  Then don't call it a circuit of a Lutheran "church."  And don't claim that those are your brother pastors.  And don't be an official member of that "church." 

The LC-MS is a church with deep troubles.  And from the depths of that abyss, from the deep, she calls out to her Lord in faith: With Thee there is forgiveness, and My soul waits for the Lord.  I pray the Missouri Synod will 'wait' for her Lord more and more at the altar, as Church, and seek there the forgiveness of her sins.

Some Springsteen for 9-11, with a thought or two of my own

It is my distinct opinion, and has been since July of 2002, that Bruce Springsteen's album The Rising is one of his overall finest, and represents some of his best songwriting.  Clearly much of it is a reflection of the 9-11 attack, and an attempt to see a 9-11 world from various personal perspectives.  So on this 9-11, I would share two or three songs from that album.

Into the Fire:


Empty Sky:



The Rising:



A final thought.  While I have political thoughts and opinions, I'm certainly not partisan, and in fact, I try to make my public discourse as apolitical as possible, so as not to get in the way of my theological vocation. So I hope this comment is not taken as a political statement, but perhaps more as a cultural one.  Namely, it is shameful that the World Trade Center has not been rebuilt by now, and taller and more impressive than the last one; the new building, and the permanant memorial being planned in New York, as far as I have seen their plans, are pathetic and embarassing.  I am not saying that America should be triumphalistic and arrogant.  But the simple fact is that there is nothing inherently wrong with New York having a world class world trade center, and in the wake of its destruction, it should have been replaced by now.  There is nothing civically improper with having an Islamic cultural center in that neighborhood, but the World Trade Center, more impressive and memorable than the former one or its destruction, should have been built first.  That would have been an unmistakable sign, not that America is intolerant (a "world trade center" in the heart of the most cosmopolitan city in the world, is itself the opposite of intolerance) but that America has once again asserted itself as a respectable and respected force of culture and stability in the world, a world as geopolitically and culturally unstable as ever.  So my own hope for the "ground zero" area is that one day soon a real world trade center will rise there, one of which New York, and the free world, can be proud, and on the day of its dedication, hopefully 11 September, I 'd like to see Springsteen play this song at that site.

a few items

There's a number of topics on which I would write, or at least blog, but they have been on the back burner (which reminds me I have something on the stove, be right back...okay, that's better).  For now, let me just take note of some things that were on my mind in recent days.

Remembering someone at the altar is a concept that carries with it some unfortunate purgatorial baggage.  Think of the specious claim that Saint Monica asking to be remembered at the altar is a proof of purgatory.  So at the risk of childish reaction from some Lutherans, I must admit that on 1 September I thought of my mother at the altar.  It was the date of her birth, and it is unusual that I actually get the chance to attend the Holy Mass, in a Lutheran Church, on that date.  But now my chances are better, since I am now with a parish where Mass is celebrated every day.  I was serving at Mass that day, and as I knelt at the altar I thought of her twice, when I confessed the resurrection of the dead in the Credo, and when I received holy Communion.  It was probably the most ideal way to remember her.  In fact, let me use a different word than 'remember.'  At that moment I was blessedly 'aware' of my mother's place, her life, in the family of God, with which I enjoy communion.

On 4 September I thought of a milestone of Lutheran history.  The first Lutheran church in America, that of a Swedish congregation, was dedicated on that date in 1646, near Philadelphia.  Only one hundred years earlier the Blessed Reformer died.  Two centuries and a year after that first Lutheran church was dedicated, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (Die Deutsche Evangelish-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Anderen Staaten) was officially born on Saint Mark's Day.

Speaking of the Missouri Synod, on this day, 11 September, if I understand correctly, the new president of the Synod, Fr. Matthew Harrison, is to be ritually installed as president, at a liturgy which will feature the Most Reverend Walter Obare, Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Kenya, as homilist.  One of the things I like about Harrison is that he has a sense of history.  He is stepping into a big role that has been filled by some great men, and as he does so, he is well aware of the gravity of the moment.  Another thing I like about him is his ecumenical mindset.  That is, he is keenly aware that he stands in brotherly fellowship with the church beyond corporate Missouri, with a Lutheranism that often looks different than the upper middle class parishes that, to many, define the modern LCMS.  Such a sense of history, and a full awareness of the church in the present, these are sine qua non for a healthy move toward the future in our church body.  Let us pray for Matthew Harrison, and for the LCMS.