Friday, October 31, 2014

Repost: Happy What Could Have Been Day!

Today is October 31st and in many circles of the Protestant world it is Reformation Day. Below is my annual reposting of my Happy What Could Have Been Day post, a remembrance of what could have been but was not reformed starting on that day. While the soul saving doctrines that had been suppressed for so long of the free justification of sinners by the grace of God were rediscovered in the church this day there was so much that was "unreformed". So celebrate the rejection of the papacy, the denial of the false priesthood, the renouncing of the abomination of the mass, the overturning of the endless pursuit of righteousness by works but remember was well that there is much that was retained in form and practice, and that has weakened the church in the hundreds of years that have passed since that fateful day on October 31st, 1517.


October 31st is often celebrated as "Reformation Day", especially in local gatherings more in tune with the Reformation and confessional Christianity. October 31st, 1517 was the day that Martin Luther (in)famously nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, "officially" launching what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

I used to look forward to this day as an exciting day in the church, a day when we should redouble our focus on the "Five Solas of the Reformation" and cherish the memory of the giants of the faith who came before us and laid the foundation for the Reformed, confessional wing of the church: Calvin, Luther. Zwingli.

Now? Now I look back with regret at this time, regret over what might have been. In those days when the shackles of Rome were first cast off there was a very real chance to reform the church in practice as well as in doctrine. Instead institutional inertia won the day. The doctrine got better (at least some of it) but the practice stayed the same. Pastors replaced priests but the machinery of organized religion kept chugging along. When a group of Christians started to ask questions and reject Protestantized Roman Catholic practices like infant baptism they were met with essentially the same response that the Roman Catholic church gave to the Reformers: persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder.

Today is as always an important day in the history of the church but rather than looking back at the Reformation as a golden era in the church to be emulated, let us instead use that period as a launching point to go even further back, all the way back to when the apostles were leading the church through service, sacrifice and imitation. Our foundation for church practice and doctrine in not found in the 16th century, it is found in the 1st.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A quick note on tax deductions for the church and Caesar

The latest buzz in the world of religion, American style, revolves around is the unconscionable and frankly illegal political fracas in Houston where the lesbian mayor has decided to not only participate in the disenfranchising citizens (odd that the left is only concerned about allegations of disenfranchisement when it impacts people that vote for leftist candidates) but is pursuing the private and privileged speech of citizens that dared to hold a view contrary to hers.

This was instructive from National Review:

To understand the full extent of the city’s overreach, it is worth quoting the actual subpoena: The request for sermons, for example, seeks “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to H[ouston] ERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” “Or in your possession” — suddenly a Billy Graham sermon is the legal equivalent of child pornography. 

 The inclusion of material that refers to Annise Parker makes clear just what is afoot: “political retribution,” says Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the five pastors. ADF has filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, and is now awaiting the city’s response. 

It is obvious to all but the most dense among us that this is an outrageous assault on liberty whether those being targeted are Christians or Jews or Muslims (or Hindu, Buddhist, etc.). This is the worst sort of government excess, combining an assault on free speech, freedom of religion and the right to free association with a blatant attempt to intimidate anyone who dares hold a contrary view on a contentious subject via a clumsy, overly broad and intrusive fishing expedition aimed at chilling free speech.

All that is true, crystal clear and completely expected by anyone who has even a cursory grasp of the Bible. What is also true is that the church has helped contribute to this situation by our parasitic dependency on favorable tax treatment from Caesar. In a classic example of having our cake and eating it too, the church in America demands the enjoyment of special and privileged treatment from Caesar while at the same time demanding that the state stay out of our business. Guess what? That is coming to a screeching halt and I mean like right now. The church in America will, like it or not, find herself in the position of choosing between remaining in the favor of Caesar by abandoning every fundamental truth of the Gospel or by choosing the truth over tax breaks. Some groups that already had a pretty tenuous grasp on the Gospel have already chosen the path of remaining in the cozy embrace of the world. Others will take the hard road and face the consequences. One thing is certain, the church better figure out how to get our fiscal house in order in a less tax friendly environment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Repost: A Season of Consummation and Melancholy

Last year about this time I wrote this post on the rhythm of agricultural life in the Midwest. The nearly twelve months that have elapsed since I wrote this have been very difficult for me and for my family. I am not prepared or inclined to share much more but it has been one of the most trying seasons we have endured. As I look back and hopefully learn this post came to mind.

We spent some time over the last week opening up a corn field. That isn't something you see in industrialized agriculture where the monstrous combines rapidly blaze through a corn field, slowed mostly by the need to continually unload the corn or beans before returning to harvesting at speeds that would be incomprehensible to farmers a few generations ago. Opening up a corn field is an Amish thing, creating space on the ends and through the middle for the horses to walk while pulling the corn picker. As we worked as a family in the field in near silence from our surroundings other than the whispering rustle of corn in the autumn breeze, I was thinking about how the seasons of life parallel the seasons of the harvest. When I was younger and my children were as well I did the heavy lifting. Now as the years slowly take their toll on my body while hopefully doing the opposite for my wisdom I rely more and more on my children. My older kids are the strong arms to chop corn and the younger are the strong backs to bend over to pick up ears of corn again and again never seeming to weary. On a farm kids are more than decorative ornaments to adorn our Christmas cards and Facebook pages, they are an integral part of daily life. On many farms they are nothing less that indispensable. Were it not for my kids we wouldn't have fresh raw milk to drink. Most of the more demanding chores around the farm wouldn't get done. Each year that passes sees a subtle shifting from parents to children. It is a fascinating progression to watch once you get over the fact that you are the one getting older and the inevitable jolt to the ego that comes from having your son handle something that you probably could still do but really shouldn't. All is part of the Creator's grand design for life.


As October swiftly winds down here in Indiana I am reminded anew of the uniqueness of autumn in the Midwest. There is just something special when you live here out in the country that isn't replicated in other places we have lived around the nation . Sure New England has the fall colors and "Up North" Michigan has hunting season in the brilliant fall hues of seemingly endless forests. More southerly states have delightful weather, when we lived there the fall in Kentucky was a wonderful relief from the oppressive summer heat. I am sure other regions of our fair nation have their own charms in autumn but none match the Midwest for me. Perhaps it is just the natural affinity for the place one grew up. Whatever it is, nowhere we have lived can match autumn in the Midwest. It is something that is a part of what makes us who we are.

While suburbs mark the changing of the season from summer to fall with going back to school, curbside piles of leaves to picked up and the beginning of the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season (a shopping season that is starting to blur together into one massive frenzy of shopping and consumption), autumn in the Midwest means the harvest. Not the harvest in the sense of "Harvest festivals" and a few corn stalks in your yard. I mean real harvest. All around us for the past few weeks the quiet fields of corn and soybeans went from the passive state of green to a frenzy of activity. Combines mowed down acre after acre of crops while trucks and tractors hauled away what is estimated to be the largest corn harvest in American history. It is incredible to watch fields of beans and corn disappear into the maw of a combine and turn into rivers of golden corn and beige soybeans.

In a unique and jarring contrast we also have the local Amish harvesting their crops. In one field you have a state of the art John Deere combine, a machine that will set you back in excess of half a million dollars, with the ability to cut up to 18 rows of corn at a time sweeping through fields, casting the discarded husks and stalks behind before emptying into huge tractor trailer trucks, trucks often lined up three deep because a modern combine can fill a tractor trailer faster than they can get to the grain elevator to dump the crop before rushing back. It is the pinnacle of American agricultural progress and innovation on display, the one industry where America is still second to none. In the next field you might have a team of four Belgian draft horses plodding slowly but surely through a field of corn, pulling a corn picker that harvests two rows at a time. Instead of corn that has been plucked from the stalk, husk removed and shaken and sifted through screens leaving just the kernel behind, the Amish fill their wagons with corn still on the cob. Rather than ending up in giant concrete silos, their corn often ends up in corn cribs at their home. While they have some modern conveniences, they harvest their corps in much the same way that farmers did in those same fields 100 years ago. Reminiscent of an agricultural John Henry versus the steam powered hammer, the Amish thrive using methods that seem quaint to our eyes and yet they prosper, often beyond their "English" counterparts.

The harvest is a season of accomplishment and consummation but it is also a wistful and melancholy time. The promise of harvest, just a whisper and a hope in spring as bare fields sit seemingly dormant while the seeds beneath the soil stir and grow unseen, has come to fruition. In normal years all the worry and fretting of impotently watching the weather to catch a window between the time the crops are ready and the fall rains vanishes as the crops come off as they almost always do. Farming makes for a powerful dichotomy, on the one hand farmers today have unimaginable technology at their fingertips. Precision farming, super efficient machinery, hybrid crops that produce unnatural yields, chemicals of all sorts to increase productivity and eliminate weeds and pests, all work together to squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre of land. Yet in spite of all the technology the farmer still spends most of the year on the sidelines, completely helpless waiting on the weather. Is it warm enough to plant but dry enough to get in the field? Is it hot and sunny but not too dry in the summer? Are the crops mature and dry enough to harvest but has the rain held off so we can get those green, red and orange behemoth machines in the field to harvest? I can't think of another economic endeavor that is so critical to our national economic security, so ancient and yet driven by technology, that is still dependent on something as fickle and primal as the weather.

There is something sad about the vast fields bereft of crops. Where once there were acres of tall, green corn softly rustling in the wind there is now only stubble. In one field near our home the corn is all gone except for the solitary stalk standing all alone, sole sole survivor of the combine. I know that empty fields mean successful harvests and that those fields are testament to overflowing grain silos holding the American treasure from the breadbasket of our nation. I know that many farm families are smiling as they get their checks, the reward for a year of hard work and worrying. Still they make me sad. Empty bean and corn fields mean that winter is coming, just around the corner. The days will grow shorter and the extra darkness each day that I dread is also on the horizon. The joy of spring with new life in budding plants, fields being planted, lambs and foals being born, it all seems so far away, a distant and unattainable dream. I know that the winter is but a brief interlude and soon enough the horse drawn planters will be working the fields alongside massive tractors but that certainty is not enough to offset the melancholy that invariably settles on me each year at this time.

It is all part of the love-hate relationship so many of us have with the Midwest. Ours is a region that is sneered at by other parts of the country, derided as "fly over" country, an obstacle to fly over going from one fabulous place to another. It is a vast, flat landscape that is so awful to drive through but for many of us it is home, something deeply connected with who we are. So many of us strive for relevance and hipness but choose to live in a decidedly un-hip and in the eyes of many irrelevant region. In spite of the melancholy I feel in fall, the humid summers, muddy springs and freezing winters there is nowhere else that we feel so at home. This is where we belong, amid the generally simple people who make their living building stuff, moving stuff and of course farming. It is not glamorous, just like our football teams in the Big Ten are not glamorous (and not very good right now) but it is home.

Autumn in the Midwest. There is nothing else quite like it.