3rd Sunday in Advent

Tomorrow is the third Sunday in Advent, and we have been so wrapped up in the world that we have not managed to speak of it. Well, we are hardly alone, although that is no excuse, nor do I believe in them. More to the point, neither does God. So it is time to step back and think about the wonder of what will transpire in just over a week.

For those of us whose churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (most liturgical churches, including Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and others) this is the first reading tomorrow:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For those of us who are Christian and feel beleaguered or are persecuted in the world at present that is a most heartening reading isn’t it? The Lord’s will be done, we always know that, and we pray for it, but sometimes it is hard to remember in the press of events. But our God is a God of justice.

But I’m no preacher, but I really like music, so let’s listen to some of the great Advent hymns.

This is Veni, Veni Immanuel, and it is traceable all the way back to the eighth century, and is still very current to our needs. This version seems to me to suit its message so well, that it has become my favorite.

This is attributed to Ambrose of Milan. the German version to Martin Luther and translated by William M. Reynolds.

From the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal

The music is by Rowland H. Prichard and the lyrics are by Charles Wesley.

And just because

The Psalm tomorrow will be this:

Psalm 126King James Version (KJV)

126 When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.

The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.

Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south.

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him

Have a good weekend.

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# Red Wednesday

Westminster Cathedral (Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk) courtesy Catholic Herald

You know me well enough to know you won’t find an article here on Friday about which of the sales are the best – my advice is if possible sleep of the food from Thursday. 🙂 But while I often denigrate virtue signaling, signals remain important. Today is a signal, churches in the United Kingdom, including Winchester Cathedral and a dozen other cathedrals, Walsingham and about 80 other churches, and the House of Parliament will be floodlit this evening in Red, as a reminder of Christian persecution.

Many churches in the US will follow suit, although I don’t have numbers here.

In Iraq, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, says that Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will also be lit in red.

In the Philippines, according to GMA News Online,

The Philippines is joining for the first time Red Wednesday, a worldwide religious activity geared towards raising awareness on the “ever-increasing” trend of Christian persecution in the world, set for November 22, in scores of cathedrals, dioceses and Catholic universities in the country.

On Wednesday, the façades of 82 participating churches, ecclesiastical territories, and universities will be bathed in red light, “the color of martyrdom,” to bring attention to the suffering of Christians being persecuted in many parts of the world, said Jonathan Luciano, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Philippines.

The international event, which is mainly marked by a Mass and the symbolic lighting, was first held last year, but Luciano said he hopes it will be an annual event for the church in the Philippines.

Luciano, quoting Pope Francis, said “there are more martyrs now than at the beginning of the Church,” referring to the large numbers of Christians who are in varying situations made to suffer for their faith.

Reading from a report, meanwhile, Mark von Riedemann of ACN’s parent office in the United Kingdom, outlined some of the scenarios of persecution Christians face.

In Iraq, the Christian population has dwindled from 1.5 million in 2003 to 250,000 to 300,000, prompting the European Union to call the situation a “genocide of Christians,” he said.

ACN’s report found 75 percent of religious persecution occurs against Christians through three main categories: state-sponsored persecution, fundamentalist nationalism, and extremism.

According to the report, religious freedom in Sudan, for example, is seen to be “spiraling downwards” because of government-issued Islamist threats, such as the tearing down of churches, the fining of women for dressing “immodestly,” and the mass exodus of Christians after the state removed citizenship rights of people with origins outside of the country.

For an illustration of extremist-fueled violence, one need not look further than the Philippines’ own experience in Marawi City.

And such examples of persecution are not only a threat to the Christian faith itself, but to the “plurality of society” in general, said von Reidemann.

“The survival of Christianity is a test case for the survival of plurality as a whole,” he said.

Red Wednesday will not end persecution, its organizers conceded. After all, Christians have been facing persecution for thousands of years, said Luciano.

He’s right of course, and that is why I, and many others, are often critical of these symbolic demonstrations. Too often they substitute for actually doing something, and that is a danger here. But it is also true, that if people are not aware of how extreme persecution has gotten, and the media isn’t telling much of anyone, then it is worth doing, simply to raise awareness. But it needs to be followed up with serious proposals, and even more important: action.

Symbols without follow-up are futile, but symbols are important.

#RedWednesday

Saints and Sinners

Pastor Hans Fiene.

There something interesting going on lately, particularly in conservative blogging. There are suddenly a certain number of the best writers going who write from a Christian, specifically Lutheran, perspective. A surprising number of them get highlighted here, not specifically because they are Lutheran, but because they are so good.

One of them is Rev Hans Fiene, a pastor in the LC Missouri Synod. Thos of you who know the Lutheran synods will know that the LCMS is pretty conservative, which means essentially that they teach the theology that Rev Dr Luther taught. And so Pastor Fiene does. Sound dry boring, and hard doesn’t it? Well, yeah, No. One of the things he does is Lutheran Satire. Here’s another sample that I don’t believe I’ve used before.

He’s very productive so you can find many on YouTube, it’s one of those places where I can spend days, and will if I’m not careful.

In any case, what Pastor Fiene teaches is pure Christian orthodoxy, and in most cases, he does it by making reasonably gentle fun of heterodoxy. All good and well. But he, like any good pastor, can bring it home when it needs to. And after Sutherland Springs he needed to.

I do my best to avoid the most sewer like areas on Twitter but sometimes they flood over like the Mississippi in spring, and this was one of them. Stuff like this.

or this:

Lovely, eh?

Well, Pastor Feine wasn’t amused either, and he thought a bit of a sermon might be in order. So, he wrote this.

However, we should all recognize that pointing to a couple dozen warm corpses and saying, “Fat lot of good your Jebus-begging did you” is an act of profound ugliness.

It’s also an act of profound ignorance. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

Evil Isn’t Just Temporal

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

During Christ’s crucifixion, for example, the same chief priests, scribes, and elders who conspired to put Jesus to death mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

Yet God proved his son’s divinity by, three days later, lifting him up out of the death those men gave him. Despite the chief priests, elders, and scribes doing all they could to silence the one who claimed to be the savior of the world, God turned their hatred into the catalyst of the world’s salvation.

Well, as is normal for Christians these days, especially orthodox ones, he pinned a great big target on his back, as I suspect he intended to.

Kim Quade, another one of us Lutherans out here described the shitstorm that enveloped Hans in her article, Lutheran Pastor Sets Off Storm with Article About Texas Massacre. It’s a good article, as well.

And, because Hans Fiene is a pastor with a German name in a German heritage Lutheran church body, someone blew the Nazi dog whistle:

There is absolutely no doubt that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) – the ‘mainline’ strand of Lutherdom – would never condone such a remark by this right-wing Lutheran pastor. indeed, this right-wing Lutheran pastor happens to be a member of LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). . . Whereas the membership of the LCMS is predominantly German-American, the membership of the ELCA is primarily Scandinavian-American and Finnish-American. . .

And they went on and on. As my husband said, the intellectual wattage demonstrated in that comments thread couldn’t power a 40-watt bulb.

Hans Fiene himself said, in a podcast on the controversy released on Tuesday, that this sentiment is part of ‘outrage addiction,’ which ‘makes us all stupider.’ These people are ‘chasing a dopamine release.’ Fiene also adds that ‘outrage addiction’ exists on the right, as well. Neither camp is exempt.

Sadly, for the hearer of dog whistles, unlike Pastor Fiene and Kim, I’m an ELCA Lutheran, and have been for 30+ years. Much of what the ELCA has temporized out of the basic doctrines of Christianity is pretty bad, just as it is in the Episcopal Church, but the basic doctrine is exactly the same as taught here. Do I personally have problems with a lot of the revisionism in the ELCA? Yep, but not quite enough, yet anyway, to change.

Frankly, I think  Pastor Frank Pomeroy of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX, who lost his 14-year-old daughter in the massacre, said it best.

“I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”

“Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding.”

It’s enough for me, anyway. And I am reminded that Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, long before the Nazis hanged him.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

 

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November; and Pictures, Too!

Tonight they’ll try to set a bonfire to burn England down. Why? Because back in 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught before he had time to light the fuse on 30 some odd barrels of gunpowder under parliament, in an attempt to destroy Parliament and the King (James I), thereby setting the stage for the restoration of the Catholic Church.

It has long since become nonsectarian although very often an effigy of Guy Fawkes is on the pyre. But mostly it’s a good excuse for a bonfire and fireworks, indeed rather like the 4th of July, where we really don’t rail much about old King George anymore.

It was celebrated here until the Revolution as well, especially in New England, where the effigy of Guy Fawkes was sometimes joined by one of the Pope. It was banned by General Washington while the Continental Army occupied Boston in the Revolution so as not to over inflame the residents, and pretty much never resumed.


Speaking of domestic terrorists

And, of course…

Most, as usual from PowerLine and Bookworm.

 

The [Continuing] Story of Freedom

I don’t know about you guys, but most of what we have talked about this week, I find distasteful. There are few things that infuriate me more than the abuse of power, and it’s only worse when it is a powerful man abusing young women. perhaps at least some of them were willing to play the game, after all ‘the casting couch’ is a cliché for a reason, but why, exactly, should they have to. Yes, people will always abuse power, if they can, but we do not have to let them. In any case that was part of the reason that this week’s picture post was about Navy Day, not that they don’t deserve the recognition. I had simply had enough, and most of what I had was about Weinstein. Yuck! As I said today in a comment, Lord Acton was correct, “The love of power corrupts, and the love of absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”

One of the things I do when I get in this spot is to go back in our earlier posts, usually Jessica’s. She had a way of making things clear, no matter how much mud was spattered about, and it is one of the things I miss most about her. Some of her basic goodness comes through in those posts, and they help me, and I hope they help your morale as well. In her post from December 30, 2012, she reminds us that our freedom has a long history which is intertwined in British and American history. Here she takes us back to show us that the original resistance to secular tyranny came from none other than the Church, in our case through the Archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas Becket and thence to another Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, who stood up to King John of infamous memory. But let her tell it, she tells it much better than I do. here’s my dearly beloved dearest friend, Jessica.

The story of Becket reminds us of the eternal conflict between the Church and the State. It is the natural wish of the latter, whether in the guise of a king, an aristocracy or ‘the people’ to encompass as much power to itself as it can. There is only one culture where this has been challenged successfully, and it is that of the Latin West. For all the atheists’ charge that the Church has been some sort of dictator, it never has been; indeed it has been the bridle on that happening in our societies.

I mentioned Stephen Langton yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury whom King John had refused to accept, and who sided with the Barons in their fight against the King’s tyranny. That does not mean, of course, that the Church has not had times when it has cooperated with tyranny, but it does mean that it has stood out, always, against the State controlling everything. Indeed, it was this example which gave courage to those who came to see the Church itself as a spiritually tyranny, corrupt and refusing to mend its ways. We can argue over the results of that, but what is unarguable is that it is from the deepest part of Christianity that the belief in freedom under God comes.

That qualification matters. Our forefathers did not mistake freedom for license. They knew they would stand one day before God to account for their time here on earth. They knew their sinful ways, they did not blame ‘society’, they knew that sin was an act of will on their part – of sinful rebellion against God. But they also knew that only through freedom could man be truly himself. Like God Himself, they believed in free will. Man was not free when he was in chains – literal and metaphorical ones. The black slaves were in literal chains, their owners in metaphorical ones.

Freedom has a price. Part of that is that we have to bridle ourselves. The excesses of our species when left to itself show why. Made in the image of God, we are capable of deeds of utmost evil, and we can also rise to heights of altruism and love – as the lives of the Saints show us.

We Christians are strangers in this world. We are meant to be the leaven; but too often we are the salt that has lost its savour. America is the one country in the world founded on a vision of how things could be. From its beginning it has taken the hard road of trying to rule itself without kings or aristocracies. It has found itself in some dark places, not least during its Civil War. But it has always valued freedom – and always acknowledged that there is a price to be paid.

There is a long and continuous thread leading from Magna Carta to now. We forget at our peril how unique that story is. You won’t find it elsewhere  – do we cherish it as we should?

Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

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