Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the problem with the short term lay mission trip


At this link please find an article, which references another article, and ultimately a video which started the whole discussion.  The video has sparked widely diverging opinions.  Unfortunately some of it has sunk to immature accusations.  I myself find nothing particularly hateful about the video.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  This is quite regardless of whether I would have done a similar video in the same style.  For it is the central point the gentleman makes that is important, not how he makes it.  That point is not, as some falsely infer, to condemn all who go on these short term "mission" trips; the point, rather, is to attack a certain mindset.  It is a mindset not always found in its fullest, boldest, most consistent form; that is, some are guilty of it in lesser degrees, and some in more degrees, than others.  Nevertheless, it is a faulty sort of spirituality which is, in its essence, all too common today.  I do not blame those guilty of this way of thinking of mission trips (especially the youth) as much as I blame the culture of the modern Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (the LCMS is not alone in this, but is my chief concern here). 

Modern Lutheran church life encourages an unhealthy approach to volunteer work by using language like "mission" and "missionary," which implies that God has actually called and literally sent the youth to do the work they will do for ten days or a fortnight, language which confuses this volunteer work with the ministry of the Gospel.  Missionary work is halieutic in nature; that is, the missionary cannot say that he'd rather be fishing because fishing is precisely what he is doing.  Those who help, in a variety of ways, in these mission fields, are doing valuable work of love, but they are not doing missionary work.

The Church encourages and promotes an unhealthy approach to this work by its tendency to shine a spotlight on it.  In some cases the student volunteers become minor celebrities, and go on virtual speaking tours (like some of the seminarians who led several parish "Bible studies" a few years back to talk about the clean up work they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).  Going off to a foreign mission field, if done for the right reasons, used to be a noble way to be forgotten and and to diminish, so that Christ may be promoted (as the holy Forerunner sought to decrease so that Christ may increase).  Today, however, it too easily earns praise and attention, in many cases despite the intentions of the young Lutheran who may have, for his part, done nothing but pure selfless work.  Our Lord tells us, in the sixth chapter of Matthew, to do alms, but to do them in such a way so as not to blow a trumpet, so that the left hand is not even aware of what the right hand is doing. 

The work that is done on these trips is good, helpful, and appreciated.  If it distracts in any way, to any degree, or for whatever motivation, from one's local calling, from the love that can be shared with those God has placed around us, or from the work of Christ for each of us and for His Church, then such has become spiritually harmful to our youth, and to the Church in general, despite how it may feel.  The junior relative of the "mission" trip, I hasten to add, is the "servant event," and thus poses a similar potential for misleading our youth if not handled judiciously and carefully.  Both can easily become modern extensions of the medieval pilgrimage impulse, in which the Christian finds some level of spiritual fulfillment by going off, to a far country.  It is our Lord, let us always keep in mind, who went off to a far country, and spent His inheritance prodigally on us.  Wherever we are in this world is our place of receiving good gifts from Him.

I would ask those offended by the video to watch it again, and try to absorb and meditate upon its message.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

the veiling of images

For the final two weeks of Lent, an old ecclesiastical custom has it that the crucifixes, as well as other statues and images, are veiled with violet veils. I have seen churches where the veils are black. In either case, the effect is to hide, or cover, the holy images with veils of somber penitence. (The exception to this dark veiling is on Maundy Thursday for the Mass of the Institution of the Lord's Supper, for which the crucifix on the altar is properly veiled in white.)

But what is the reason for this veiling of images in Passiontide? It serves several purposes. In former times it was more common in churches to see images and crosses adorned with precious and costly jewels and metals. (Too often today, by contrast, Christians tend to be more eager to furnish their own homes with the highest quality items than to worship our Savior by furnishing His churches with the best and highest quality materials. On this count we can take a lesson from our fathers in the faith, who often gave all they had for the beauty and good of the church.) And so during the Season of the Passion of our Lord it became necessary to subdue the effect of these decorations by covering them.

This custom grew, or evolved, so that the veiling was in the course of time applied to all images and crucifixes, even if only made of wood. And so beyond the historical, utilitarian reason for the veiling of images, the Church practices this old custom still today because its symbolic significance itself becomes an act of devotion.

And what is that symbolism? The holy season of the Passion of Christ is a time when the liturgy focuses most intensely, as the name of this season itself tells us, on the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the cross is that in which we glory. It is our sign of victory. It is the place from which the river of life flows for us. These are important truths, which we do well to always meditate upon and ponder. Yet we look quite particularly, in Passiontide, at the cost of our Salvation, namely, the profound suffering and painful death which Christ suffered on that cross. And when a loving spouse grieves the death of her husband, she behaves in a way consonant with that grief. She is in mourning. So, for example, she covers her head, her glory, in black. (Here I might add that many a Christian woman still covers her head in black when in the church, throughout the year, not, to be sure, out of mourning per se, yet partially as her own devotion to her Lord, present in His Word and Sacraments, Who gave His life for her.) Likewise the Church, the Bride of Christ, has adopted the custom in this world of covering some of the outward glory of her appointments when the time is most apropos for mourning the death of her Lord.

To be sure, she mourns this death even as she knows it is the source of her life. These truths and sentiments do not cancel each other out. They inform each other, and help give both meaning. At various times the Church focuses more intently upon this or that facet of the mystery of our salvation. So just as we express our grief liturgically during the fortnight of Passiontide, grief over the death of the Lover of our souls, and grief over our sins which He bore in that suffering, and yet do not thereby deny the joy of our victory in Christ, likewise during the Paschal octave we focus quite intently upon the joy of the resurrection, while in no way denying the suffering and death of Christ. In fact, let us always bear in mind that Christ's death and resurrection are twin aspects of the one Paschal mystery. The Church's faith and worship is always centered around this twin mystery. Consider, for example, the beautiful significance of the fact that when the veils are taken away, and the Church enters into the joyful celebration of the Easter Season, it is precisely the crucifix which is once again displayed for us in all its detail.

So the Church begins to turn more intently toward the cross as Passiontide commences, the cross which both hides and reveals the glory and power of God. She thus turns intently toward the cross on Calvary precisely as we see Christ Himself turning more intently toward His journey to the cross outside of Jerusalem. Significantly the Gospel on Iudica Sunday, which begins the Passion season, tells us that Christ seeks not His own glory. He walks to the cross knowing that in honoring His Father, He is glorified, and thereby gives eternal life to all who are faithful to His Word, the Word of the Cross. And after He speaks His Word to those who cannot see Him for what and who He is, we are told that He hid Himself, and went out of the temple. So the veiling, which begins on this day, fits most significantly with this Gospel, for the image of Christ, along with images of His holy ones, whose lives are really icons of Christ, are hid from our outward view, and He is seemingly taken out of His temple, as it were.

So let us accompany the veiling of images this Passiontide with prayer and devotion, with intense focus upon Christ's death on the Cross, the glory of which is subdued for a time. And in two weeks we will see a striking example of how the liturgical year has a heart that beats with a lively rhythm. For this contrast between Passiontide and Paschaltide is an outward expression of the rhythm of the Church's faith and life, a contrast also shown by the omission of the Gloria Patri and Alleluia which converts after Lent into triple Alleluias and once again punctuating the opening song of the Mass with the wonderful hymn, Gloria Patri. May your devotion and prayer, both through the darkness of Passiontide and through the overt joy of Pascha, each in its own way be filled with grace and life, in Christ our Lord.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Laetare Jerusalem

For anyone who had to hear a "three year" introit today, or who was denied the chance to hear any introit, I share with you a couple of youtube clips.  This first one is the traditional introit for this the Fourth Sunday in Lent, in English, and the second one is the same introit in Latin.  Hear, meditate, and enjoy.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Essential Lutheran Prayer Book

The Essential Lutheran Prayer Book is an excellent devotional resource for the student in your life.  For by grounding the Christian in a variety of the Church's best prayers and devotions, it keeps him rooted in the rich soil of the regular and ongoing life of prayer, as though he were a tree planted by the waters of holy Baptism, teaming as they are with spiritual refreshment and life.  It also helps train the Christian mind and heart in the lovely and elevated language of classic English, along with a healthy dose of Latin.  It is a book worthy of the beautiful mind and heart of the thoughtful Lutheran in your life. 

It comes in three different forms:
  • paperback
  • hardcover
  • and digital

And you can chose from three different cover themes:
  • black background, with the Luther seal on the front
  • white background, with the Luther seal on the front
  • or you could choose something outside of that mold, with a picture of the Milwaukee sunrise on the front cover, and a gothic baptismal font on the back cover
Through the links below, you can get a preview of each edition.  Consider this book for your student, or for your class.

Black theme-hardcover

Black theme-paperback

White theme-hardcover

White theme-paperback

Sunrise theme-hardcover

Sunrise theme-paperback


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Lord, Teach Us To Pray is a very handy prayer book, designed to ground the Christian man, woman, and youth in a good variety of basic traditional prayers and devotions, such as daily prayers for morning and evening, table prayers, canticles, creeds, litanies, the Catechism, and more, all in decidedly traditional forms.  Is there still a place in the Church, and in your life, for the intersection of rich, evangelical substance with classic, mind-elevating form?  Give this resource a look, and see for yourself.  At the Lulu web page you can get a preview of the first several pages, which will show you the table of contents and preface. 

You will notice that the book can be purchased in three different forms:
Get one for yourself, and one for someone you love.