The Importance of Saying Things Out Loud

I was talking with my daughter last night and told her that I’d started writing fiction again. I’ve pulled out an old idea, some of the background writing on it, scrubbed off some of the rust, and started a new “Chapter 1.” This one was already feeling different than my previous aborted novels and even the wretched ones I’d completed in the past. I knew how it would work, where it was going to go and where it would end. It was all in my head.

And then I told my daughter and it all came out a bit more jumbled and unfinished and cliched than how it appeared inside my brain. It was a little disappointing. I thought it was all figured out and organized and coherent. And it was up there in thinking-land. But not in expression-ville.

Brains are pretty good at filling in missing detail, making inferred connections, sticking images in where words don’t exist. That’s the job of brains, after all. They gather millions of individual stimuli and paint a coherent picture for your mind. Much of it is filtering out: the birds I hear tweeting in the courtyard? They were unimportant and filtered out until I went listening for them. The muffled conversations down the hall, the silky feel of this Lenovo keyboard, and millions of other thoughts and sensations get filtered out, tucked away, or sent to other offices in the noggin to be processed there, while my awareness plugs away at this.

Other times, brains fill in. An experiment: close your eyes and think about your elementary school. Now try to draw a map of it. I bet parts are missing, though they exist in your head. I’m trying to remember exactly where the library was right now. I know it was…over there, but….?

From the beginnings of Christianity, Scripture was read aloud. Many couldn’t read themselves, so they had to listen. But even readers would vocalize the words. The famous story of St. Augustine marveling at silent reading often stuns people today (read more here or here). Yet even 1,000 years later, Martin Luther emphasized reading Scripture and praying aloud.

Praying out loud forces your brain to remain attentive to your words, gives it less chance to fill in the gaps, and focuses you. Reading aloud does the same. It’s much harder for your brain to do what it does naturally, that is, fill in gaps, make associations, and take short-cuts, if you are forcing it to make your mouth move and words come out.

The effect of all this is to get out of your head. It’s a dangerous place sometimes, and the good stuff needs to be put somewhere safer and made coherent.

What a Pastor Tweets vs. What I Want to Tweet

Will Tweet: “Someone is having a worse day than you. Pray for them and build them up if you see them. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:26 ESV)”

Want to Tweet: “Someone is having a worse day than you. Find them and punch them. It makes you feel better, and how could it make their day worse?”

This may be a new feature.

I Don’t Think Twitter is the Greek Academy

I still don’t get Twitter. It feels like people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in an aircraft hanger all of them shouting in simple sentences. Every thirty seconds someone hears a pithy utterance from across the room, and shouts a response to them which is meaningless to anyone standing around, catching their breath. Pictures are tossed up, Coke cans bounce around and Wells Fargo brochures fly like paper airplanes over the heads of the people, and sometimes you catch them speaking robot, “sdliey.me/FSkdih1”

Beep-beep-bo-bop.

Now that Blogging is Passe

I’d like to announce that I’ve become a Good Lutheran™ and am now acting in a completely culturally irrelevant way. Not that Lutherans started that way, mind you, but we’ve become that way by ironically chasing after the culture instead of living our vocations.

For instance, instead of pursuing excellence, we began uncritically adopting the zeitgeist and then freaking out about it, over-analyzing it, mercilessly critiquing and defaming it, and then, gradually adopting it while looking around with awkward smiles wondering where everybody is at and why they’re not interested anymore.

Anyway, I haven’t written much outside of parish concerns since I moved congregations several years ago, and now that changes. Or not. Maybe I’ll get distracted by something else and look back in 18 months at this embarrassing Kramer-esque re-entrance into this empty room and wince. Regardless, it’s been fun.

The Day the Flag Changed

Our_Redeemer_Lutheran_Church_(Staplehurst,_NE)_sanctuary_1You walk into your little Lutheran Church on Sunday morning and it’s just like every other Sunday. The beautiful altar is built like a city, with towers and pinnacles, like the New Jerusalem coming down from the clouds now anchored in front of you. On either side stand the flags, the flag of the United States on one side, the white “Christian Flag” on the other. Just like every Sunday since WWII when it became fashionable to put political flags inside the sanctuary.

But the next morning the Texas legislature declares independence from the United States and you now live in the National Republic of Texas. Or maybe there was a referendum. Regardless, you are now a citizen of Texas, and no longer an American. Or maybe the Republic of Texas grants you dual citizenship. No doubt there would be conflict. Lifelong friends will disagree on whether it was right, or legal, or smart. Legal experts, lawyers, and alarmingly, the military get involved and things get precarious. But no matter how peacefully it happens, there is bound to be disagreement about why and how.

Then the next Sunday rolls around and the church parking lot is plum full. You overhear boisterous greetings and see joyful hugs. But you also see the hand extended by the rancher to the “transplant” left dangling in the air. You stay neutral, nodding greetings at everyone, neither greeting one another with a “Mornin’ fellow Texan!” nor with “Mornin’ fellow American!” No, you simply nod your head and pass by everyone, walk up the steps of the church into the narthex, grab your bulletin and step into the sanctuary.

What do you see? There’s the altar, white and pristine with the communion elements already set in the middle. What do you see next to it? Which flag is flying? Which “side” wins? Where does the church stand on this?

We can argue whether its possible for a state to secede from the Union. We can argue if Texas has some “special exemption” to do so, as rumor abounds. It might never happen. This could very well be a useless scenario and a waste of computer bytes, but for the greater implication and truth. To whom is a church loyal? To which nation does the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints belong? When the flag is placed inside the church building what is being communicated?

We are blessed with stability in our nation and its borders, despite the deep differences and social division we have. We haven’t had to face changing borders and changing governments like many countries do, and have in the past. But this is temporary. Nations do not remain forever and every “Eternal Kingdom” has come, and will come to an end.

Which flag flies next to the Holy Altar of God? Which flag is planted inside the Kingdom of God? For we are, and are present in, the Kingdom of God when we gather in that holy place to receive God Himself and to commune with the Holy Trinity, with the angels and archangels, with the saints visible and invisible. We have a Lord and a Kingdom not of this World.

This truth made heads roll in ancient Rome. Caesar claimed lordship complete and Christians were condemned as traitors to Rome for claiming Jesus as Kyrios, even of an unearthly kingdom. But Kingdoms rise and fall, Nations come and go, and our inheritance is eternal. You are a holy nation to God (1 Pet. 2:9).

What belongs in the sanctuary? Who is Lord?

All Your Whatever Belong to Whomever

 

What should be taken for granted is up for grabs in our society, and what we see in a mirror is questioned from every angle. We face a crisis of identity in Western Civilization.

“Who am I?”should be a basic question to answer. We look down and see our sex. We look around and see our relationships. That’s who we are. But modern gnosticism denies this. For the Gnostics, there is an inner you who may not match the outer you. Your identity is, or could be separate from your sex and family and work and all other outer things. The body, your body, you, is not reality. Or not necessarily reality, and what you do with your body has no importance compared to the pleasure it gives the mind. Or the soul. Or the Ego, or whatever it is that the gnostics think they are.

I suppose the Christian might say that identity disorders go with the territory. Our fist parents wanted, not so much “to know good and evil” as to be the kind of creature that is like God. A change in identity occured, from eternal to mortal, from pure to despoiled.

I know the Christian says that the Christ gives identity. That is the nature of our faith. It is not so much in stain-removal or judicial metaphors about guilt but in ontology and identity. You are a new creation. You are now in Christ (ἐν χριστῷ). You are royal priests. You are the baptized. Or as the kids would  say, “All your base identity belong to Us Christ.”

But when we proclaim this news, which we believe is the best news there is (εὐαγγελίαν) it amounts to shouting into a tornado. The last thing modern types want to hear is that their identity is defective. Perhaps the starting place is to remind the world that we are souls and bodies, not the soulless fleshbags that some think, nor the hidden Ego trapped in a shell of the wrong sex (I refuse to call human sex “gender”, for the record) or desiring to manipulate the fleshbag in order to comfort the seared conscience.

The RNG and You

dice.jpg.scaled1000Gamers know about the RNG–the Random Numbers God. This is the personification of having those randomly generated events and rewards in video games. For Gamers, the RNG is always against you, giving you the opposite of what you need at the time, or giving something incredible too late. Seth Godin blogs about this in conjunction with iPhone games, concluding that it’s human nature to form narratives. When randomness is inconvenient or tragic, we are victims. When we benefit from the random (luck, gamble, coincidence) we somehow pat ourselves on the back. He rightly exhorts us to see reality, writing, “Here’s the truth: There is no reason. That’s why we define it as random. All the time we spend inventing reasons is probably better spent responding to what occurs.”

This opens a whole can of worms about providence and the foreknowledge of God and human freedom. Is there and RNG at work in our lives? Is it the Creator? Is it Jesus?

I’m not going there. But we do make stories of ourselves and our lives and we are the star and protaganist. When things go our way, then we deserve it and take credit. When things go against our wishes, we are the victims of conspiracy–divine, devilish, or human.

The Christian is not the star of our life, and we have no real story or overarching narrative. We are in Christ. It is His life that we live. It is His narrative that has become ours: suffering, death, and resurrection. He is our head, we are His members. Our lives have meaning and purpose and telos only in Him.

When things go for or against us, we have but one option: respond according to our true narrative as members of Christ’s body, knowing His narrative is at work, putting us to death and resurrecting us.

Or we can fight against this and try it on our own. But even then we may not be a star, but a supporting actor in some self-serving story another foists upon us.