Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fool's Talk: Smart Talk on Christian Persuasion

If you enjoy thinking about the faith and how to defend it, I highly recommend Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, by Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press, 2015).

I picked up the book because of its focus on persuasion, a subject that’s near and dear to my rhetorical heart. I think I would have liked the book even without that bias, and I’m betting that many of you would like it, too.

That’s especially the case if you meet any or all of the following criteria:

1. You’re curious about how to defend the faith, and not just in an academic way.

Guinness opens his book with a bold claim, saying,
Our age is quite simply the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus and the apostles, and our response should be to seize the opportunity with bold and imaginative enterprise. If ever the “wide and effective door” that St. Paul wrote of has been reopened for the gospel, it is now. (p. 16)
The problem, according to Guinness, is that we’ve lost the art of Christian persuasion, and we need to recover it. In Fool’s Talk, Guinness takes a closer look at the nature of that persuasion and how it works. You’ll enjoy the journey if you’re curious about questions like these:
  • Is apologetics—the art of defending the faith—just for intellectuals?
  • What’s does the “anatomy of unbelief” look like?
  • What’s the relationship between apologetics and evangelism?
  • When interacting with unbelievers, what strategies of persuasion are useful?
  • Speaking of persuasion, does that art have any place in discussions of faith? Isn’t persuasion manipulative?
  • How can we answer the charge that Christians are hypocrites?
  • How should we respond to revisionists—theologians within the church who are revising doctrine to stay in step with cultural trends?
  • And what does this all have to do with the “Fool’s Talk” in the title? (I could spill the beans here, but where’s the fun in that?)
2. You’d be excited to go to a dinner party with people like C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and Saint Augustine.

Lewis, Chesterton, and Augustine, along with an array of other interesting thinkers (e.g., Old Testament prophets, the apostle Paul, Blaise Pascal, Peter Berger) show up frequently in the Oxford-educated Guinness’s book. Big thoughts, memorable words. (Prepare to do lots of underlining.)

If that’s your kind of crowd, this book’s for you.

3. You appreciate authors who can “talk Iowa” when dealing with challenging topics.

A book on apologetics could be complicated and deadly dull. Fool’s Talk isn’t that book. Guinness insists that apologetics is NOT just for intellectuals (so there you go . . . an answer to at least one of the questions above), and he proves it by speaking plainly and memorably about the process of advocating for the faith.

He tells stories. He includes myriad examples (e.g., Nathan’s creative persuasion with King David). He quotes liberally from others. And he makes a lot of common sense observations like the following:
True to the cross of Jesus, Christian persuasion has to be cross-shaped in its manner just as it is cross-centered in its message. (p. 28)
There is no McTheory when it comes to apologetics. (p. 32)
All unbelieving worldviews are not only a shrine to those who hold them but a shelter from God and his truth. (p. 85)
Words matter because we worship the Word himself, and our words used on His behalf should be spring-loaded with the truth and power of his Word—especially to those who are closed. (p. 167)
God is his own best apologist. At our best, we are humble junior counsels for the defense, and no more. (p. 51, emphasis added) 
The ideas are stated plainly enough, but they’re not lightweight. There’s a lot to think about in Fool’s Talk, which makes it a smart choice for curious readers.

It may even work for a book group, especially if the members smile at the mention of C. S. Lewis.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Third Annual Holiday Food Adventure: Kolacky

It’s time once again for the annual holiday food post on Ninth and Fillmore. This year, I’m going Czech.

We’re making kolacky, my friends, just like my grandma used to do every Christmas Eve (and every other week of the year).

Wondering how to pronounce kolacky? Don’t take your cues this YouTube video, at least not if you want to pronounce it the southern Minnesota way.

It’s kuh-LAHTCH-key, not kuh-LACK-ee.

But if you grew up saying it like the robo-YouTube voice AND you learned that from your Czech or Polish grandma, okay.

Come to think of it, I may have to cut you some slack, as well, if you have a different picture in your head when I say “kolacky.”

If you’re seeing a little square yeast bun like the picture above, filled with prune, poppy seed, or apricot filling, you and I are on the same page. That’s the Minnesota kolacky of my youth, popular in Montgomery, MN, the “Kolacky Capital of the World.” (For more details, check out the ladies from Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery cranking out the “real thing” here.)

But maybe you’re picturing something else, something you call kolaches (ku-LAH-cheez). Your kolache might be a round bun with an open-faced fruit dollop in the center. Or maybe it’s a fruit-filled cookie with cream cheese dough. Or how about one of those savory “pig-in-a-blanket” Hot Pockets delights? (In my lexicon, these are Nebraska, Iowa, and Texas kolaches, respectively—named for the states where I first encountered the variations).

They’re all good, and as luck would have it, I can now get the Nebraska and Texas kinds here in town at Josey Baking Co., which just opened. (If you’re in Topeka, make a beeline for this place!) Take a look:

Savory "Texas" kolacky at Josey Baking Co.
The "Nebraska" version with mixed fruit filling
As for the Minnesota kind, well, I’ll just have to make those myself.

Degree of difficulty: High, particularly when trying to replicate my grandma’s version, for which there was no recorded recipe. It was just one of those “pinch of this, some of that, and NO, NOT THAT MUCH FLOUR!!!” type of things.

So I’ve scanned my memory banks from back in the day when we helped my grandma make kolacky. I’ve checked my Czech cookbook. (You know, the one with “Jellied Pork Hocks” and “Squirrel and Gravy?”) I’ve scoured the Internet. And I’ve practiced.

Finally, I think they’re pretty close.

Minnesota Kolacky
Adapted from the recipe of Mrs. Skluzacek in 75 Years of Good Cooking (Immaculate Conception Parish, Lonsdale, MN)
Makes about 28


1 pkg. yeast
½ C water
½ C sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ C lard
1 C scalded milk
2 eggs, beaten
5 to 5 ½ C flour
1 can Solo fruit filling (apricot, prune, poppy seed, etc.)

Major points to remember: Don’t overdo the flour. Form with perfectly square dough pieces.

1. Soften yeast in warm water. Scald milk. Remove milk from heat, and add lard, sugar, and salt. Cool to lukewarm. Mix yeast, eggs, and 2 cups flour in mixer. Add scalded milk mixture and another cup of flour and mix. Add another 2 cups of flour and mix.

2. Turn dough out onto a well-floured board. The dough will be pretty sticky and limp at this point. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then knead the dough for 5-8 minutes, adding more flour as needed (as little as possible). Put dough in a greased bowl, and turn once. Cover and let rise in a warm place (e.g., inside an oven with a pan of hot water underneath) until double (about an hour or hour and a half for reg. rise yeast). Punch down dough and let rise again for an hour or so.

3. Divide dough into four pieces. Roll each piece until it’s about 1/8 inch thick and roughly 6 x 9 or 6 x 12 in size. (You want a nice rectangle here; cut off edges if need be.) Cut the dough into 3 x 3 squares. Perfect squares are important, or you’ll get lopsided kolacky! Fill each square with a little spoonful of filling. Bring opposite corners of the square together over the filling. Pinch. Do the same with the remaining corners. Place formed kolacky close together on a greased jelly roll pan. Repeat with remaining sections of dough. Let rise again (about 30-40 mins).

4. Heat oven to 375. Brush tops of kolacky with a mixture of one egg yolk and 1 tsp water. Bake for about 15 minutes; tops should be golden brown. The finishing touch, according to my grandma: brushing the tops with melted lard.

I know, lard. Ugh. But that’s the way she did it, so I’m following suit. Would butter work, too?

Guess you’ll have to test it and see. The worst that can happen is you have to make another batch of kolacky.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The "No Tears" Baby Jesus

Cue up this tune in your head: “Away in a Manger.”

Now, fast forward to the second verse:
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes / But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.
That line always gives me pause. What baby doesn’t cry?

Then again, I think about the infants who are labeled “good babies,” and who are they? They’re the non-fussy ones. (Parent: “She hardly ever cries. Onlooker: “You’re lucky to have such a good baby. My daughter cried all the time.”)

Jesus definitely wasn’t a “bad baby”; ergo, no crying. Or so the logic seems to work.

The Bible itself provides no evidence of crying or not crying in the nativity scenes. From the Luke 2 account (one of the passages at the heart of “Away in a Manger”), we have only these comments:
Luke 2:7: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:16: And they [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
If that scene included crying, it wasn’t worth mentioning.

So what was Martin Luther thinking when he penned “Away in a Manger?”

Just kidding. (You can now erase your furrowed brows, all you hymn lovers and Luther fans.)

Some of you have probably heard that at one time, Luther was thought to be the author of “Away in a Manger.” If that’s news to you, you can find more details about the history of the song, complete with details about the spurious Luther attribution, in this blog post.

Here’s what we do know. If you search in modern Lutheran hymnals, including the Lutheran Service Book (LCMS), Christian Worship (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELS), you’ll see that the text is simply credited to Little Children’s Book (1885, verses 1 and 2) and Vineyard Songs (1892, verse 3). LSB includes two different tunes, one by James Murray (click to listen) and the other by William Kirkpatrick (listen); ELH and CW include only the Kirkpatrick version.

"Away in a Manger," attributed to Martin Luther (1887)

The actual author, though, is anonymous. We’ll thus likely never know what he or she was thinking when writing about a non-crying Jesus.

Maybe the writer was a parent of an infant, tired of all the crying.

Or maybe the line was simply poetic, adding to the lullaby-like quality of the song.

Or maybe the writer was a big fan of Saint Augustine, who in his Confessions associates infant crying with sin.

Have you heard that one? In book one, Augustine reflects on his babyhood, saying,
Gradually I became aware of my surroundings, and wished to express my demands to those who could comply with them, but I could not, since the demands were inside me, and outside were their fulfillers, who had no faculty for entering my mind. So I worked my limbs and voice energetically, trying to signal out something like my demands, to the best of my little (and little availing) ability. Then, when I was frustrated—because I was not understood or was demanding something harmful—I threw a tantrum because adults did not obey a child, free people were not my slaves. So I inflicted on them my revenge of wailing. (Garry Wills translation; emphasis added) 
Cue “evil mastermind” music.

If I were reading this passage at the same time I was writing a song about baby Jesus, I might be inclined to make our tiny Savior a non-crier, too.

Second image:

First publication of James R. Murray's melody for "Away in a Manger,” in Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887). By James R. Murray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Thou Shalt Be Biblically Illiterate: NOT One of the Ten Commandments

Jacob and Leah. Do you know their story?

Or maybe it was Jacob and Rachel. Which was the beautiful sister Jacob loved, and which one did he get stuck marrying initially? And one more question: where can I find that story in the Bible?

If you’d been sitting with me a few months back in Bible study when I was trying to find the story, maybe you could have helped me out. Instead, I fumbled through the pages of my Bible, hoping to see a familiar story header in bold. (In Judges? No. Exodus? No. What? Genesis? Really?)

Sheesh. Good thing I know my Bible so well, right?

I suppose it could be worse. According to recent research (e.g., Barna; Lifeway), there are a whole lot of people in this country who don’t engage much with the Bible. That’s understandable if we’re talking about the unchurched, the dechurched, and people of non-Christian faith traditions. But for Christians? Not so much. 

According to a 2014 Barna survey, 88% of American households own a Bible, with an average of 4.7 Bibles per household, but only 37% report reading the Bible once a week or more.

That trend has given rise to alarming sounding articles like these:

Click just one of these links, and you’ll read about all sorts of misperceptions and errors regarding the Bible.

Sodom and Gomorrah? A married couple. 

Joan of Arc? The wife of Noah, right? 

The Ten Commandments? Ummm . . . I can name a few.

Think you’d fare better? You can test yourself with this 20-question Biblical literacy quiz. My result: 14 out of 20, which makes me “moderately Biblically literate.” (Incidentally, had I not been writing this blog for the past 2 years, my score would have been closer to 7 out of 20, and that’s with some good guesses in the mix.)

Some of you might have issues with the quiz. It does address some minute details—less prominent and central as, say, the Ten Commandments. And it focuses more on stories than doctrine.

The lesson is still worth thinking about, though. God tells us to abide in His Word (John 8:31) and to search the Scriptures (John 5:39). It’s important for our faith, and important for talking about the faith—to ourselves, our family, and others.

I remember a time in college when I was approached by some missionaries—Jehovah’s Witnesses, maybe, or Mormons. I thought I knew my Bible pretty well by then, but it wasn’t enough to deal with them effectively. They pointed out passages I hadn’t seen or really studied (“It says right here…”), and I had no good responses. All I could say was, “Well, I’ll have to take a look at that.”

We need good responses. Apologetics training would help, but simply knowing the Bible—inside and out—is important.

The words of the apostle Peter come to mind here: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as Holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

That might not demand remembering the name of Leah and Rachel’s father, but it does demand that we take the time to know our Bible.

Image of Jacob and Rachel from The Bible and Its Story (1908). By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book of the Month: The Executioner's Redemption

A couple months ago, I was browsing books at Concordia Publishing House after a board meeting, and I picked up The Executioner’s Redemption, by Rev. Timothy R. Carter (CPH, 2016).

One of my fellow board members, a pastor, was nearby. “Your husband would really like that.”

I bought the book, but not for my husband.

Now that I’ve read it, I know why pastors—and anyone else who has visited a prison—would find the book useful. Rev. Carter, a Texas executioner turned Lutheran pastor, has an amazing story to tell.

Read it if you’ve worked with inmates, their families, or victims of crimes.

Read it if you’ve watched movies or TV shows set in a prison (e.g., The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking) and wondered, “How can people work there?”

Read it if you’ve heard stories about people like the Carr brothers, who are currently awaiting execution in Kansas (a state that, incidentally, hasn’t executed anyone since 1965). It’s easy to be revolted by their actions, to wish for vengeance, and to think that they’re outside of God’s mercy.

Carter understands the impulse. He harbored similar thoughts himself in the early days of his prison career. He took a job as a prison guard in Huntsville, Texas, during college, and he quickly came to see himself as “an agent of God’s wrath.” He recalls:
I could once bench press twice my weight. I was quick, agile, muscular, and had little difficulty standing my ground and proving I was one not to be reckoned with. I enjoyed fighting prisoners. Compassion and lenience were left behind, replaced by a keen attentiveness to winning the war against inmates. Mentally and emotionally I became hard as a rock, and my heart became equally calloused and insensitive. (p. 8)
Carter describes himself in those early days as foul-mouthed, rough, self-righteous, and judgmental—easy to understand, in light of his circumstances. But he wasn’t happy with that. His attitude changed over the course of his career, and that’s the story at the heart of the book.

 So what changed him?

In a word: Christ.

Carter grew up Catholic but was disconnected from the church. He started reading the Bible as a young man after a conversation with a coworker. Later, he found his way into the Lutheran church after a conversation with George Beto, a criminal justice expert and ordained Lutheran minister.

He recalls asking Beto how he, as a Christian, navigated prison management.
He respectfully, yet firmly answered by reciting one Scripture verse. It was Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise [or shrewd] as serpents and innocent [or gentle] as doves.” He then explained that I had it half right. He said that I was very good at being as wise as a serpent, but I appeared to be a complete failure at being as innocent (or gentle) as a dove. (pp. 20-21)
In short, you need both Law and Gospel, and the help of God. Carter got the message.

In the remainder of the book, Carter describes the lessons he learned in prison, focusing particularly on his work as a member of “the death squad” at the Walls Unit, where all executions in Texas take place. (It’s a busy unit; for stats on Texas executions, see this article.)

Most of us, thankfully, will never see anyone strapped to a death gurney, awaiting lethal injection. Carter saw it over 150 times, which gave him plenty of opportunities to think about the inmates, their families, the families of victims, protesters, and God.

All of those lessons made an impact on him. They’ll likely make an impact on you, too.

P.S. Here’s one other reason to check out the book: flip animation! (Remember flip books?) Give the pages a flip, and you’ll see Carter symbolically go from compassionless tough guy to caring servant of Christ. Kudos to the illustrator.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In Moments of Fear, Where Is God?

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

If you’re searching for Scriptural words of wisdom on the subject of fear, you’re sure to find that passage from Isaiah, along with a host of others.

Fear not! Perfect love casts out fear. I will fear no evil. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Is. 41:10; 1 John 4:18; Ps. 23; Ps. 56).

“I put my trust in you”. . . except when I don’t. And then I realize this whole business of “fearless living” is much easier said than done.

We know God’s expectation, and His promise. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Those are sound words, but they were nowhere on my radar yesterday, when I had an unsettling encounter with a stranger.

I blanked on God’s verses—all of them, including the “Fear not!” passage that’s been in my head for over 40 years.

I didn’t put all my trust in Him. I was anxious, unnerved. I thought, “What would Jack Bauer do?”

I did not act in accord with this upbeat reminder from blogger Grace Robinson: “We do not need to fear people or circumstances because God is with us. The very same God who gave Joshua victory on a battle field gives us victory in all of life’s challenges.”

If only my brain had been processing those sensible thougths as I watched the shady character outside my window.

Here’s what I was thinking instead: Nearest exit? Where’s my phone? If . . . then. Call 911? Non-emergency or emergency? Paranoia, or possible threat? Scenes from Blindspot: What would Jane Doe do?

And then, in the middle of those anxious thoughts, a prayer popped into my head—perhaps God’s way of giving me a little shake and saying, “Focus, girl!”

The words (as I recall them): “Dear Lord, please remove any malign intent (yes, I actually said that) from this situation. Be here with me. Give me the courage to do the right thing.”

I still felt rattled, which suggests my trust wasn’t up to snuff. Such is a life of imperfection. I’d love to be able to look at all of life’s moments of threat, disaster, hardship, and anxiety and say with a smile, “Fear not!” But I can’t.

And yet God is still our strength.

To Him I say:

Thanks for sending that prayer in my moment of anxiety. I pray that you’ll do the same for everyone else who’s too stressed out to be one of your fearless souls.

Thanks for supportive family, friends, and public safety officers. Please keep them all safe.

Thanks for the guardian angel—the one that a friend assures me was there.

And one other prayer: for all shady characters, that they’ll turn away from trouble and toward You.

Image (which I recall seeing in my grandparents’ house):
Guardian Angel, German postcard (1900). By unknown, similar to works by Fridolin Leiber. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Few Things You Might Not Know about the Antichrist

In 1976, when I was in elementary school, The Omen was released. That movie still gives me the creeps.

I was too young to see it in a theater, but I remember seeing snippets of the film, and I recall seeing a book with pictures of the devilish Damien.

He was the antichrist, and hed come to wreak havoc on the world.

A few years later in confirmation class, I learned the real identity of the antichrist.

He was not Damien, but…the Pope! No, he wasnt John Paul II, but rather, the office of the papacy. The revelation was a little hard to wrap my head around, especially as I thought of the Catholic half of my family.

All that by way of saying, I don’t think much about the antichrist, unless there’s a trigger. And this week, it was a headline in The Sun (UK): “Donald Trump is the Antichrist Who’ll Bring the Apocalypse, Crackpots Claim.” The article includes a link to a website that presents a top ten list of connections between Trump and “666, the mark of the antichrist.

I’m not persuaded, but the article did inspire me to do a little reading on the Antichrist. Here are a few surprises I picked up along the way.

1. Many people throughout history have been called the Antichrist.

I had heard that accusation about Mikhail Gorbachev (remember the birthmark on his head?). But Ronald Reagan?

Yes! Count the letters in his name. Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6). (If you need more convincing, you can find a book on Amazon that identifies 45 signs pointing to Reagan.)

How about Barack Obama?

Yes! As of today, you can still see the “Barack Obama is the Antichrist” page on Facebook (with 972 likes).


Yes! Nero, one of the earliest suspected antichrists, appears on a list of 7 top contenders for the title. The others? The pope (office or individual), Hitler, Napoleon, Henry Kissinger/Gorbachev (tie), the American president (tie), and Nicolae Jetty Carpathia, a character in the Left Behind series.

The theories are kind of fun to read (here’s one on the papacy and Daniel 7), but I’m generally skeptical of efforts to “crack the code/read the tea leaves.”

2. Confessional Lutherans do maintain the “Papacy as Antichrist” teaching, and yet…

Some of you might remember Michelle Bachmann, a former Republican presidential candidate who came under scrutiny for the “anti-Catholic” views of her Wisconsin Synod church (which she has since left). An Atlantic headline in 2011 proclaimed: “Michelle Bachmann’s Church Says the Pope is the Antichrist.” Ouch! Included in the article is a statement Bachmann made during a debate, in which she denies the position: “I love Catholics, I'm a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, that's absolutely false.”

Well, not entirely. The WELS does maintain the connection between the papacy and the Antichrist, and so does the LCMS. You can find support for the position in the Book of Concord in the treatise, “On the Power and Primacy of the Pope.” There, Philip Melanchthon writes: “It is clear that the Roman pontiffs, with their followers, defend godless doctrines and godless services. And the marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers” (39).

Melanchthon then cites 2 Thessalonians 2:4, concluding that Paul “calls [the antichrist] the enemy of Christ, because he will invent doctrine conflicting with the Gospel and claim for himself divine authority.”

It’s an interesting read, and the position is completely understandable in the context of the sixteenth century. I do wonder, though, how Melanchthon and the reformers might modify that statement today.

Would they agree, for instance, with this FAQ document on the LCMS website?
Concerning the historical identity of the Antichrist, we affirm the Lutheran Confessions’ identification of the Antichrist with the office of the papacy whose official claims continue to correspond to the Scriptural marks listed above. It is important, however, that we observe the distinction which the Lutheran Confessors made between the office of the pope (papacy) and the individual men who fill that office. The latter could be Christians themselves. We do not presume to judge any person's heart. Also, we acknowledge the possibility that the historical form of the Antichrist could change. Of course, in that case another identified by these marks would rise.
Those acknowledgements seem pretty reasonable to me.

3. The term “antichrist” appears only 5 times in the Bible, all in the writing of John.

If you search online for antichrist verses, you’ll find lists that range widely in number. 7 verses. 22 verses. 81 verses. Many of these lists include verses that speak about the antichrist without actually using that term (e.g. the beast in Daniel and Revelation; Paul’s discussion of the “man of lawlessness” in Thessalonians).
Albrecht Dürer, via Wikimedia Commons
But “antichrist” (ἀντίχριστος) shows up only in John. The four verses:
1 John 2:18: Children, it is the last hour; as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.
1 John 2:22: Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
1 John 4:3: And every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it is coming, and now it is in the world already.
2 John 1:7: For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
John’s advice: He who abides in the doctrine [of Christ] has both the Father and the Son (and can give all antichrists—big and small—the boot).

Take that, Damien.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Praiseworthy Metaphor for Liturgy: Incremental Deposits

I’ve just experienced a flash of prose envy.

The definition of prose envy: A feeling of covetousness over words you WISH you would have thought of yourself (but are pretty sure would never happen).

An illustrative example: James Parker’s description of Donald Trump in The Atlantic (October 2016): “He flames here and there, impossible to pin down, an ignis fatuus topped with a toasted golden ghost of a hairdo.” (Toasted golden ghost! Genius!)

And then there are the words that triggered my most recent bout: “incremental deposits.”

Yes, that’s right: incremental deposits.

The words don’t look all that swoon-worthy when they’re sitting there out of context.

But in context, the words become a metaphor, and that metaphor has changed the way I see the liturgy.

The Inspiring Words

Rev. Robert Zagore talks about incremental deposits in a short article called, “The Liturgy Serves Us.” When Zagore was in the seminary, he got involved in a hospital chaplaincy program, and that experience gave him a new appreciation for the words of the liturgy­ (e.g., Invocation, Apostles’ Creed, etc.). He recalls:
“During those months of overnight chaplaincy, I would often be called to attend those who were in shock, unconscious, near death, critically injured. I was called in to speak to families enduring devastating trials. The work was always easier if they knew the liturgy—and surprisingly, many of them did.”
Zagore then talks about the advantage of learning the liturgy “day by day, week by week,” noting,
In this way, the words of the liturgy make incremental deposits in our hearts and minds from which the fruits of hope are drawn in times of trial.”
I’m sure you can imagine those times of trial.

Maybe in an emergency room.

Or in some other crisis situation.

Or when memory—a parent’s, a spouse’s, your own—fades.

Or when hearing and vision fail.

At the end of life.

At those times, I imagine it’s a great comfort to have a ready storehouse of perfect words, words that you can call up without even really thinking.

“When parishes cultivate a liturgical life,” says Zagore, “they arm their sons and daughters with words ingrained with the Gospel. They implant a resolute and joyous hope. Reinforced over a lifetime, they are unshakeable, even by death.”

Zagore speaks from experience, and I suspect many of you can relate. Just a couple months ago, in fact, blog reader Bev shared the following anecdote in response to a post on the Lord’s Prayer:
“Have visited a lady with significant memory loss on occasion. She can't remember if her husband is alive, or her sons visit from earlier in the day, or what town she is in. But guess what she can remember? The Lords Prayer and Apostles Creed. Three cheers for repetition.”

A Changed Perspective

Examples like Bevs, paired with the “incremental deposits” metaphor, have given me more to think about with the liturgy.

If I were asked to explain and defend the liturgy, Id be inclined to look to the past (“the liturgy is a historic, time-honored tradition passed down from generation to generation”) or right in front of me (“the liturgy is reverent/teaches the full sweep of the faith/is heaven on earth/allows me to receive God’s gifts”).

I really haven’t thought much in terms of banking and building—of making small and steady deposits for the future.

But I will now.

And when the days come when I need those words, I trust that, as Pastor Zagore says, they’ll “revive a thousand moments in the presence if a merciful and loving Father, and bring us there again.”