Thank God That I Am Not Like The (Re)publican

In Jesus’s day, publicans were often tax collectors, and Scripture lumps them in with sinners as in Mark 2: 16: “When the teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors [publicans]… ” They were despised and looked down upon as corrupt and greedy.

Jesus tells The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Today it is no longer Thank God I am not like that Publican, but Thank God I am not like that Republican. In “Bleeding Hearts But Tight Fists,” columnist George F. Will exposes the harsh truth behind liberal rhetoric. It turns out that, according to Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, “liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.” Here are some of the data:

• Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

• Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

• Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

• Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

• In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

• People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Will concludes that “using public office to give other people’s money to government programs,” is “charitable, as liberals increasingly, and conveniently, understand that word.” Indeed, this is the new Pharisaism, the belief that an ideology of spending is the same as loving one’s neighbors, giving lots of alms publicly so that you can get on your high horse and proclaim how wonderful, kind and giving you are, saying I thank You that I am not like the Republican.

“The single biggest predictor of someone’s altruism is religion,” and those who are familiar with Jesus’s model of giving in Matthew 6 know that giving that honors God is done in secret. Looks like the secret is out.

Of course, some will say much of that “charitable” giving is to the church instead of directly to the poor, but so what? Most churches have excellent outreach programs and service projects, not to mention poor people go to church and churches minister to their members. Charities have overhead, just like churches: buildings, staff and utilities, among others.

The sad truth is that the media characterize Republicans as greedy and heartless and Democratics as saints. If you were bit by a snake who’d you want to help, the one who talked about taking you to the doctor or the one who picked you up and took you?

Apparently conservatives are putting their money where the liberals’ mouths are.

Keep Me From Clinging, Lord


Do not let me be so committed to an idea because it is “mine” that I cling to it when you would have me let it go because it is not yours.  If there is any idea that I cling to that is not in keeping with your heart and mind, no matter how clever it is, purge me of it and replace it with your truth.  In Christ name.  Amen

Seasons in the Son: Why I Am Lutheran IV

I am writing this on the eve of spring; as the northern hemisphere transits from the season of death to the season of rebirth, so too the Church transits from the season of Lent to the season of Easter. Because Easter is dated on the lunar calendar used to calculate Passover, we do not always have Easter so close to the start of spring, so it is a perfect time to write about the importance of seasons to the Christian life.

Recently I attended a men’s conference at a local church because one of the seminars offered was “Mentoring Youth.” Prior to the seminars we had a worship service in the style of that church. I am no stranger to their style of worship, and it is authentic worship of our Triune God by people who genuinely love our Lord Jesus Christ; however, my personal worship experience was jarred by the constant use of the exclamation ‘alleluia.’

Not all churches follow the practice of “burying the alleluia” during Lent, and the Sundays in Lent, like all Sundays generally, are, in a very real sense, “little Easters;” however, I have always felt that such practices heighten the awareness of the important distinctions of our church seasons. I like them, and the Lutheran church’s incorporation of the seasons of the church year—and the various liturgical practices connected to them—into its worship has a strong appeal to me.

Unless one lives in Camelot where “the climate must be perfect all the year,” we all experience temperate seasons as well as more symbolic seasons of life like the season of youth or the season of grief. Seasons of all sorts (even sports seasons!) help to regulate our lives. Church seasons reflect this natural aspect of being part of creation, and they point us to the God of seasons. They assure us that the Lord of creation is also the Lord of time, the Lord of transition, the Lord of change.

Being attuned to the changing seasons of the Church is as important as being attuned to the changing seasons of nature or of life. Rather than being quaint or archaic, seasonal practices can enrich our personal prayer and our corporate worship and also help us develop spiritual discipline by nurturing spiritual structures.

Jesus lived and suffered and rejoiced in all ways common to all people, so it is fitting and instructive that our Church seasons reflect the seasons of His life. Though extraordinary in every way, we sometimes forget He even lived quite a bit of His life in “ordinary time.” (Kathleen Norris wrote a brief and wonderful book called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” that properly connects “ordinary time” to worship.)

Christ is found in the rhythms and patterns of life. In fact, he reconciles them as well as us for He “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Now that it’s Easter, can I get an alleluia?

Of Markets and Men

When are we going to realize that if men are not moral markets can’t be. The idea of markets, of freedom in general, are moral, but their operation will only be as moral as the people who use them. Free markets don’t make men moral; moral men make free markets.

I support free markets, but just because we are a capitalist country doesn’t mean we are fated to allow the market to dictate all our choices, or that we should leave God’s work up to the “Invisible Hand.” “We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” He called us, His disciples, to be his hands in this world, not a system. We can do that by establishing an economic and political system that maximizes freedom, but not by pretending the system creates morality.

The moral life is not one of striving; rather, it is one of surrender, surrender to the Lordship of Christ, over men and markets.

This does not mean government has to replace markets. There are other, self-imposed, alternatives to government intervention, but the advertising paradigm and profit maximization are so pervasive and accepted that no one will seriously consider challenging them.

I listen to a listener supported radio station; Hillsdale College which refuses to accept any government money; bookstores that refuse to sell porn even though it would sell well, a small businessman who refuses to take the money and run when a big company wants to buy him out and close him down, there are many examples of people voluntarily not doing something even though doing so would turn a bigger profit.

Once people stop making choices based on principles other than profits then they cease to be free markets and we become slaves to them.

Why I Am Lutheran–Part III: Song

“Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.” Man, do I love to sing! I took a lot of heat in the clique ridden halls of high school for listening to the kinds of music I did. Imagine a fifteen year old in 1980 walking the halls singing “Do you hear that whistle down the line, I reckon that it’s engine number forty-nine,” or “Oh give me land lots a land under starry skies above; don’t fence me in,” or even “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande.”

Big Band and Swing, Frank and Bing—deathless music, the kind of music you can sing along with, and that’s what matters to me: participation. Garrison Keillor once wrote: “I have made fun of Lutherans for years—who wouldn’t, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.”

So true! Most all Christians love music, but Lutherans love to sing, and we’re willing to do it in public, as long as our pew mates are singing with us. I love contemporary Christian music. I love listening to it, but in church I don’t want to just listen to other people sing; I want to follow the advice of the Amy Grant song: “Sing your praise to the lord. Come on everybody stand up and sing one more Hallelujah!” It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s scripturally sound, honors God and I get to sing along.

In the first part of this series, I wrote about the importance of the liturgy, and song is closely related to that. The primary purpose of the liturgy is to focus our attention upon Christ, and singing helps us do that. We sing hymns, like everyone else, and we have fantastic choirs, but in addition, as part of our worship, Lutherans have the “Ordinaries” (ordinary, every Sunday songs) of the liturgy: the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”), Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).

In other words, throughout the entire service, I get to “sing praise to my God while I have being.” (Psalm 104) Singing is a very important part of Christian worship. There are 165 references to the words ‘sing’ and ‘singing,’ in Scripture, and they are not just found in our hymnbook, The Psalms, either.

Chronicles tells us to “Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Zechariah commands “Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the LORD.” Samuel says “For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.” Paul tells us in Ephesians to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

The adult Sunday school class recently watched a film (“Amazing Grace”) on the life of the evangelical Member of Parliament and anti-slavery champion William Wilberforce. He first introduced his bill calling for the end of British involvement in the slave trade in 1789. By 1797, still unsuccessful, he had worked himself to the point of illness and exhaustion. Earlier in the movie, he had stood up on a table in a gambling establishment and joyfully crooned “Amazing Grace,” the hymn written by his mentor, and former slave ship captain, John Newton. But by 1797, his voice was shot, and he said “the worst thing is that I can not sing anymore.”

At one point his friend, the Prime Minister William Pitt, asked Wilberforce: “Do you intend to use your voice to praise the Lord or change the world?” Wilberforce did both because he understood that it is in praising the Lord that we change the world. He won his fight, regained his voice and went on to champion other just causes.

In Psalm 40:3, David says “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” In five other Psalms the phrase “new song” can also be found. When we become “new creations in Christ” we sing a new song. Indeed, John tells us in his Revelation that none but the redeemed can sing that new song. (14:3)

Last month I wrote about Baptism. This is where we learn the new song, “And this must be the start of something…This could be the heart of something…This could be the start of something big.” The liturgy is where we Lutherans get to practice it, so “Come on and sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody start to sing.”