Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmass Prayer

As a prayer, I found this to be a bit awkward on a couple of levels. As a Christmass meditation, though, it's a wonderful way to begin the Twelve Days of Christmass. spt+

O Merciful, Eternal God, heavenly Father, we Thy children thank Thee from the inmost of our hearts, that Thou hast so faithfully kept Thy promise and didst turn to us They heart of fatherly love, in sending to us the highest Good, Thine only begotten Son, for our Savior, and making us acceptable in Thy Beloved.

O Christ Jesus, Thou eternal Son of God, we honor, praise and magnify Thee, that Thou on this festal day didst become our brother and Emmanuel, that is, God with us; that out of unspeakable love, Thou hast befriended us and clothed Thyself with the garb of our flesh and blood. In no wise didst Thou assume the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, our human nature, that is but earth and ashes and dust, Thou didst so honor as to unite Thyself with it personally, inseparably and eternally. Thou wast conceived without sin and born into this world by a pure and chaste virgin; thus Thou didst sanctify and consecrate our sinful and impure conception and birth, that it may not be harmful to us, we being by nature the children of wrath, conceived in sin, and flesh born of flesh. Thou wast born in a stable and didst lie in the manger on straw in abject poverty and Thou didst not take offense, so that, having enriched our souls, Thou couldst make us great lords in Thy heavenly mansion. Thou hast humiliated Thyself in order to exalt us; Thou didst come down upon this earth, that we might go up to Thee in heaven.

O God, The Holy Spirit, our highest teacher and comforter, we today offer Thee the sacrifice of our lips, heartily thanking Thee that Thou hast revealed unto us this great "mystery of godliness"; and as the angels proclaimed and chanted it to the shepherds on the field, even so dost Thou proclaim it to us through Thy Word and Thy servants. Glory be to Thee, O God, Father Son and Holy Spirit in the highest, peace on earth and good will towards men. Grant, O faithful God and Father that sharing in the benefits of the human birth of Thy dear Son and delivered from the evil results of our sinful birth, we may be and remain newborn children of Thy grace and heirs of Thy kingdom. O dearest Jesus mine, Do Thou in my heart's shrine, As on a bed incline, That I be ever Thine.

Do Thou, O God the Holy Spirit, bring it about that this our Savior be spiritually born and grow in us at present and ever after. Help us also to rejoice over this birth and find comfort in it amidst all temptations, to suffer all things patiently and to gain the victory, so that we may honor, praise and glorify Thee with all the angels of God, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Amen.

- from Abridged Treasury of Prayers (early 1930s), as used in For All the Saints as the Closing Prayer for Christmass Day of Year Two

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

50 Stars: The Rest of the Story

The photo is a clipping of the first time I appeared in a church publication, the monthly newspaper of the old Pacific Southwest Synod, LCA. The date, as you can see (click for a larger version), is January 1971. The names aren't listed in the order we're standing: its Mr. Pfundstein, me, Bruce, Greg, Ken, and Jon. Here's the story.

I first went to camp when I was 11. It was one week in the summer of 1970 at Camp Yolijwa, the Synod's camp outside Yucaipa, California. That's in the mountains east of San Bernardino. I had never been that far "back east" before. I'd never been away from home that long before.

First thing every morning we'd all gather at the flag pole to raise the colors and say the Pledge of Allegiance. "Hey," I whispered to one of my friends the first day, "you notice anything about that flag?" The stars looked different. It was a 48-star flag! For boys who had been born the year Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union, we thought it was pretty pathetic that the church camp would have an out-of-date flag.

Naturally that became an item of conversation when The Odd Squad -- Bruce, Greg, Jon, and I were all in the same Sunday School class, Ken was a year ahead (and who'd been trying to get all of us to Yolijwa) -- and we'd been we palling around Resurrection, were in the choir, etc. -- came home. I don't recall who gave us that moniker, but I'm thinking we were tagged with it shortly after The Mod Squad came on the air. None of us, of course, were anything as cool as Linc, Pete, and Julie.

Several weeks later, Pastor Gibson gathered us all together at church and took us to one of the Canoga Park mortuaries, where we were presented with a brand new 50-star flag. Which we then presented to Mr. Pfundstein, who came up to the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Canoga Park from the Synod Office.

I've intended at some point to tell that story here just because. The old Odd Squad doesn't have much contact with each any more. Bruce and his family would move away after we were confirmed and his dad got a new job in Ohio. He's an ELCA pastor in Reading, Pennsylvania. The rest of us stayed in the West Valley through high school. Ken went to ULCA and, after working a while at Hughes Aircraft, headed to Silicon Valley -- his older brother (Wayne) is an ELCA pastor in Port Byron, Illinois. Jon and Greg went to Humboldt State and made their lives elsewhere. Jon is the Director of the New York Aquarium.; Greg (last I heard) is with the Portland, Oregon, water works.

So why "the rest of the story?" That showed up Monday over at the pretty good lutherans blog, which I recently discovered as a fine source for ELCA news.
Robert Heft, the designer of the 50-star U.S. flag, died Saturday at Covenant Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich. He was 67.

Heft created the flag in 1958 for a high school project. He was 17-years-old and a junior at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Ohio.

He received a B- for the project, but the teacher eventually changed his grade to an A.

“His interest in flags originally came from his volunteer work as a former Boy Scout,” his newspaper obituary said. “Bob was a very proud American. He devoted his life to inspiring others.”

President Dwight Eisenhower chose Heft’s design to replace the 48-star flag. At the time, Alaska and Hawaii were expected to soon make the country a 50-state nation.
Should you read it all here, you'll discover that Mr. Heft was -- a Lutheran.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Set the Course for Mars!

From Humans To, hat tip to the Mars Society. Zip+:


President Obama: Set the Course for Mars

The American space program, begun and carried out so successfully during the Apollo era, has drifted ever since. Four decades of stagnation is enough. It is clear that if progress is to resume, NASA needs a goal that can mobilize and focus its efforts today in the same way that the reach for the Moon did in the 1960's. That goal should be sending humans to the Red Planet.

Mars is where the challenge is, Mars is where the science is, and Mars is where the future is.

While there are problems that must be solved, overall from a technological point of view, we are much better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to reach for the Moon in 1961, and we were there 8 years later. Given leadership willing to embrace challenge, we could have our first teams of human explorers on the Red Planet before the end of the next decade. We should settle for nothing less.

The American people deserve a space program that is really going somewhere. Therefore, we the undersigned urge President Obama to courageously embrace the challenge before us, and commit the nation to send humans to Mars before the end of the next decade.

Tell President Obama to Set the Course for Mars:

Click Here to Sign the Humans for Mars Petition
I signed!

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy...

Yes, it was 68 years ago today, some 17 years before I was born. Nevertheless, this is in my bones. And what follows remains a marvelous speech that evokes in my mind "President of the United States" — even if it is "That Man." You can listen to it here from a radio broadcast, but if you're like me, you can hear the voice just by reading the words.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.

The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. [applause]

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. [cheers, applause]

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. [applause]

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God. [applause]

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

[applause, cheers]

Friday, December 04, 2009

Conference Re-scheduled

The Conference on The 50th Anniversary of The Hammer of God that I posted last month has been rescheduled. It will now be held on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 -- one week later than previously announced. All other details are the same. Click here for the corrected announcement.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What Are Pastors for, anyway?

This question was recently asked in a Facebook group made up of ELCA Lutherans, lay and clergy, I'm in. There were several different sorts of answers offered. Here's what I wrote — and since that group is going to be closed soon, I figured I ought to put it in a place that won't disappear:
Key to the question, "What are pastors for, anyway?" especially from a Lutheran perspective, is Article V of the Augsburg Confession.

"To obtain such faith [that is, the faith described in Art. I-IV] God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gosepel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.

"Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us thorugh our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel."

What are pastors for? The Faith. The Gospel. The Means of Grace (of which the ministry -- that's flesh and blood pastors, not some platonic ideal of "the ministry" -- is one).

While Christ is The Good Shepherd, pastors are also shepherds of their flocks, and we confess that this is something instituted by God.
And, as I acknowledge when I teach Ordination as a fourth sacrament for Lutherans, what I wrote there is a good way to get Lutheran pastors debating.