Aardvark Alley

Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

30 August 2005
  Bach Was Right … Again!
Music, Theology, and Now Medicine

One of my favorite "light" works by J. S. Bach is Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be quiet, stop chattering!), also known as the Kaffe Kantate (BWV 211).

In this father-daughter contest of wills, Bach pitted the plodding, controlling Herr Schlendrian (a rough translation might be "Mr. Stick-in-the-Mud") against his lively, coffee-loving daughter Lieschen. Against his approbation, she joyfully confesses the wonders of the beverage. Here we catch a glimpse of her attitude:

Kaffe-KantateRecitative:
Father, don't be so severe!
If I can't drink
my bowl of coffee three times daily,
then in my torment I will shrivel up
like a piece of roast goat.

Aria:
Mm! how sweet the coffee tastes,
more delicious than a thousand kisses,
mellower than muscatel wine.
Coffee, coffee I must have,
and if someone wishes to give me a treat,
ah, then pour me out some coffee!

Her father goes on to threaten her with the loss of all privileges unless she recants her passion, ultimately vowing that he'll not find her a husband until coffee leaves her life. It appears that she gives in as they trade lines, but as Schlendrian goes to find Mr. Coffee Substitute, the omnicient narrator provides this observation:

Leischen secretly lets it be known:
no suitor is to come to my house
unless he promises me,
and it is also written into the marriage contract,
that I will be permitted
to make myself coffee whenever I want.

The cantata concludes with a Trio:

A cat won't stop from catching mice,
and maidens remain faithful to their coffee.
The mother holds her coffee dear,
the grandmother drank it also,
who can thus rebuke the daughters!

[View complete text]

Why am I now recounting this celebratory work? Science has finally caught up to the intuitive knowledge of the devout drinker of coffee: The stuff is good for you! I discovered at Balaam's Ass reference to a Fox News story citing the results of a new scientific study just disclosed by Joe A. Vinson: Coffee "provides more healthful antioxidants than any other food or beverage in the American diet."

The report cites an earlier Japanese study. In it, researchers discovered that "people who drank coffee daily, or nearly every day, had half the liver cancer risk of those who never drank it. The protective effect occurred in people who drank one to two cups a day and increased at three to four cups." Meanwhile, a Harvard study made a startling comparison to non-coffee drinkers: "Men who drank more than six 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee per day lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by about half, and women reduced their risk by nearly 30 percent...."

And you thought I was exaggerating about that "Elixer of Life."
 
29 August 2005
  Remember Your Vocation …
and Your Blogging Avocation

Just a reminder that after a week with Intolerant Elle, the Lutheran Carnival stops here. If you're considering an entry touching on the topic of Vocation, you might pick up a few extra thoughts from these comments at Ask the Pastor.

If you're new to submitting, please remember to read the instructions for entry and please, oh, please, remember that we ask that you maintain a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions.
 
27 August 2005
  After the Dust Settles …
the Rain Turns It to Mud

Madre has opened a sidebar commentary on the ongoing liberty and license, pride and pietism festerval between Bloghardt's Reflector and the Alley. Picking up on the second of my doppelgänger's (hey, a word longer than my snout!) comments to her post, I'll ask, "Who else was awake when hyperbole was handed out?"

A certain Benjamite taught me a few tricks about bragging (I think he could have out-crowed Mike Fink):

I have more: baptized on the eighth day, of the true Israel by faith, of the people of Saxony, of the tribe of Wittenberg, an Evangelical of Evangelicals; as to law and order, a Republican; as to theology, a Confessional; as to studies, under Saleska and Briel and Nagel in the hallowed halls of Winfield and St. Louis, something more than a slacker; as to the Holy Office, the son and the great-grandson of LCMS pastors, with thirteen years of faithful shepherding, being exiled seven years in Babylon (aka the Texas District) and then set free upon the Fruited Plain; as to literacy, a published author and columnist; as to purity, having passed doctrinal review at CPH. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

This may not give me a ThD, but if five years in the parish make one a doctor of the Church, I'll offer three stripes for Bloghardt's sleeve.

So until someone convinces me that "sanctified pride" is any different from "bold sin," I cannot, I will not recant.

I will, however, decant; I need a glass of wine.
 
  Christians Allowed to Lead Christian Organizations
Imagine an Imam in Your Church's Pulpit

I found the Part-Time Pundit by accident, and am glad I did, after reading his comments on PC run amok at Southern Illinois University: "The Seventh Circuit of Appeals issued an order on August 22nd requiring SIU to restore a Christian group's organization status after the University revoked it because of the groups requirement that the leaders of the Christian group actually be Christian. The ruling also clarifies that nothing in state or federal law requires religious groups to not require members be part of the religion."

[Read the rest of the article.]

Why is common sense so darned uncommon?
 
26 August 2005
  Upcoming Carnival: A Suggested Theme

Aardvark Alley will, God willing, host the fourth Lutheran Carnival of Blogs on the first weekend in September. This coincides with the Labor Day holiday in the United States and I suggest that in the days preceding the Friday deadline, confessional Lutheran bloggers consider writing at least one entry on the topic of Vocation, with the intent of submitting it to the Carnival. (For those who fear feeding self-pride by voluntarily offering one of your works, consider this your invitation.)

This is not to say that other topics will be excluded — any entries meeting the general criteria are welcome. However, I hope to encourage concerted writing on an often misunderstood and undervalued teaching of the Church.

Please spread the word through your own blogs.

Coffee break's over. Get back to work.
 
25 August 2005
  Pride and Prejudice Punditry:
Continuing the Carnival Conversation

I'm happy that Pr. Bloghardt enjoyed reading my previous "comical post" addressing the pride of Lutheran bloggers who submit their own work to the Lutheran Carnival of Blogs. Unfortunately, his funny bone seems to have been so tickled that he misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misapplied the serious underlying sentiment. So for a few paragraphs, I'll eschew intentional humor (except, according to the interpretation of individual readers, in the quoting of Bloghardt).

Especially I'd like to take up the idea I broached of "sanctified pride." Bloghardt latched upon the expression, saying, "'Sanctified pride?' Is that related to 'sanctified adultery?' I know! I know! It is it similar to 'sanctified idolatry?' It's related to 'sanctified-despising-of-preaching-and-His-Word' or 'sanctified coveting-the-approval-and-attention-of-others.' Right?"

Wrong. Sanctified pride is letting "your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16)"; sanctified pride is "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)" [Emphasis added; note that "our" light is Jesus, the Light of the World and "our" good deeds are Christ working in us.]

Pride is not an action, but an attitude. Adultery is the physical expression of lust. The parallel of sanctified pride is not "sanctified adultery" but "sanctified sexual desire" (see Hebrews 13:4). Similarly, idolatry cannot be sanctified; it must be rooted out and destroyed. However, the desire to worship something is sanctified and given the correct Object of Affection by the Spirit, or we would preach to empty churches. Thus, as Bloghardt notes from the Small Catechism, the New Man created by Word and Spirit does not "despise preaching and the Word"; instead, he will "gladly hear and learn it."

Sanctified pride is boasting in Christ while living out one's God-given, God-blessed vocation. Saint Paul noted concerning his call, "As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. (2 Cor 11:10)" He wrote the Galatians, "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (6:14)" Lest we think that this "boasting" is confined to the Office of the Holy Ministry, Hebrews 3:6 reminds us, "Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope."

Contrast the bragging of the world (see, as but two examples, Romans 3:27 or 1 Corinthians 5:6) with a boasting favored by God: Paul bragged about the believers several times in 2 Corinthians 7-9; he boasted about all God had shown him, given him, or allowed him to do in 2 Corinthians 12.

The difference appears to be whether pride (or boasting) is reflexive or reflective. That is, does it point to me, or does it point to what God has done or is doing (including, perhaps, in and through me)? Is it myself or selfless? Therein lies the rub.

I hope to speak carefully, so as not to wrongly judge or improperly ascribe motive, but over-concern with pride is not humility, since humility allows God to work and isn't overly worried about "what I do." I must be careful about humbling myself, never forgetting that only God can truly humble me.

Thus, in the context of blogging (finally!), we come back to the Carnival. May the New Man boast about Christ? Absolutely! Is he allowed (even encouraged) to provide guidance, direction, or reflection on topics sacred or secular? Certainly, especially if he has expertise or has properly utilized his God-given intellect. If one has a noteworthy confession of faith, should he invite people to listen, to read, and to discuss? Why not? Might he experience temptation to glory in self? Likely. Should this stop him? Should speaks the Law; if that's all he hears, the man should not continue, for it's the Old Adam standing front and center. However, if Christ stands in the forefront, the New Self taking refuge in His shadow, why hold back?

In Psalm 32, David commented on the damage we inflict upon ourselves when our confession of sins remains silent. God responded in verse 8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Yet how does he "instruct you and teach you"? Through the words of David! God allows us to experience the fullness of David's confession in this Psalm that it might also become our confession. Similarly, God still allows His faithful people to voluntarily confess the faith that others might believe and join the confession.

When surrounded and burdened by an iniquitous, unresponsive Judah, Jeremiah doesn't dwell on his own motivation but on the Word and the will of God: "My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. (4:19)" When you are surrounded by a wicked and adulterous generation, why seek an excuse to avoid furthering God's true Word — Law and Gospel?

The people are perishing. How can you not light the warning fires, ring the bells, and sound the alarm? Stand with Wisdom, inviting (through God's Word, as carefully blogged by you) the simple to enter her house and live. Let God work to keep you from adding your voice to that of Folly. Although pride in self as messenger (or top-rated blogger) certainly is a sin to confess, does fear of committing this sin cripple my pride in Christ and His message of reconciliation spoken through and written by me? May this never be!

Will your writings address evil, promote justice, or proclaim peace? Will they convict the unbeliever or instruct the righteous? Do they speak the language of the New Man both to your fellow redeemed and to the Old Adam? Why, then, withhold them from a larger audience?

If you're still wondering, ask yourself about your existing corpus bloggus: "Was it worth blogging once?" If so, it's worth blogging again. If not, delete it, shut down your blog, and seek some other way to brag about your Lord Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Paul in Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my beloved … blog out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who blogs in you, both to will and to blog for his good pleasure."

(All Bible quotes ESV).

Ask not what blogging can do for you but what you can do for blogging.
 
23 August 2005
  Pride Goeth Before a Blog
Reflecting Bloghardt in My Fun House Mirrors

Pastor Bloghardt at Higher Things wrote about his problems with an author contribution system for the Lutheran Carnival of Blogs. Now I'm going to stick my big nose in his business, with, God willing, no false pride.

Some good thinking went into his work and into the various comments by his readers. I believe the Proverb, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (16:18 ESV)" Yet, I still believe that the current system is still the best for several reasons, "pride" actually being one of them.

Before doing this, I humbly declare that I'm right up there with Bloghardt in the pride department. However, I won't let pride get in the way of good writing.

Considering that the Carnival is volunteer hosted and labor intensive, I believe that Dan, Elle, and the upcoming hosts all have real lives outside the blogosphere. Reading, culling, and selecting would demand a major time commitment. I know that when my turn rolls around, I'll be busy enough just getting everything formatted and linked. Plus, whomever hosts is also final arbiter of what is a) Lutheran, b) appropriate, and c) of decent quality. Thus, we do have some quality control, albeit at the expense of further time and effort expended by the host.

The sheer number of Lutheran blogs constantly grows. I doubt that the Lutheran Blog Directory includes half of them. My "confessional" blogroll alone lists some 70 or 80 blogs and I regularly discover new ones. What if I miss a gem because I didn't Google every way possible?

Granted, a nomination system could be put in place, but what if each of the visitors to each Lutheran blog submits even one favorite? It might be that Bloghardt enjoyed the muse's presence that week and most of them suggested one of his offerings. So we'd get "Bloghardt and the Seven Two or Three Dwarves."

Contrariwise, what if these hundreds of readers suggested hundreds of posts? We're back to mind-numbing pre-selection. Also, the submitters seem so far to have a fair grasp of a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions: Would the same hold true for the masses (not, of course, the enlightened bunch who read Aardvark Alley)?

Of course, Bloghardt's main problem is with the pride of the author / submitter. He rightly notes, "There is the Gospel and there is the promotion of self. The two are antithetical." Yet to not "take pride" in one's work diminishes the notion of Godly vocation (and blessed avocation).

I maintain that pride must be wrestled with before a confessional Lutheran blogger submits an offering to the Carnival. The very idea of putting one's own thoughts on public display is enough to puff the chest of the most ardent wearer of hair shirts. Yet even if I am not always most humble when I click the "Publish Post" button, I prayerfully desire that my real boasting be about Christ.

Does the good Pastor Bloghardt not take pride in his sermons? Marvelling that the Lord uses a sinner like me helps me stand tall and speak out on a Sunday morning. I want to listen to sermons and read blogs the originator proudly calls his own.

I can tell the difference between steak and bologna, and the readers of the Carnival should have steak. I'm not in a contest with Todd Peperkorn, hoping that one of my blogs holds a post that knocks the socks off of whatever he's submitted to the Carnival. However, sanctified pride makes me want to stand not only in his and others' worthy company but as worthy company to them. Sanctified pride (and yes, I think there can be such a thing, just as God can restrain and sanctify any emotions) drives me to my best effort.

If it pleases you, allow me to be so un-humble as to stand with Luther and challenge the writers of quality confessional Lutheran blogs to sin boldly. Conceive that baby in your mind, train and discipline it in your edit screen, and push it proudly into the blog world.

(Aside: I'm heavy into the "train and discipline" aspect with my major posts. I've edited various writings and publications since high school and I'm always wanting to revise my own stuff. Good thing I didn't write the Augsburg Confession or there'd be a new Variata every week.)

Sin boldly: Choose a "favorite son" for each week that you blog and introduce him to the Carnival's readers. To complete Luther, "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly." By your labors, the Lord may allow hundreds of others likewise to "rejoice in Christ even more boldly."

Now it's time for my post-midnight snack of humble pie.
 
20 August 2005
  Going to Extremes Against Extremists:
Italy Leads the Way

According to a recent editorial by Grant Swank of FaithFreedom.org, "Nations that stand for liberties personal will have to rid their geographies of Muslim murderers global...."

Swank uses the example of Italy, which recently began jailing known extremists in preparation for expulsion. Using growing amounts of information that Islam is (or has become) "not so much a world religion among religions but a killing cult," he recommends that others follow Italy's lead.

He cites recent quotes from British PM Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush to claim that the political perspective may be changing among other Western nations. Noting a shift away from sweeping claims that Islam is a religion of peace, Swank says, "Christian theologians all the while knew quite differently; but it took awhile for the politicians to wake up to the truth."

Maybe someone's been reading one of the "peace … no peace" passages to our elected officials.
 
  Cross+Wise Magazine Converts to Blogging

One of the best independent Lutheran online magazines may have just gotten better. I've appreciated the writing at Cross+Wise magazine since its inception and have no doubt the new Cross+Wise Blog will not only continue the excellence but will grow in stature.
 
  Samuel
A Series of Deceiving Appearances.

As I was preparing a bit of information to commemorate Samuel, the last of the judges and the first in a series of prophets who would anoint, counsel, and rebuke the kings of Israel, I started thinking about how so much of his life also involved mistaken assumptions. These include his mother's encounter with Eli, Samuel's call from Yahweh, Israel's desire for a king, and Samuel's initial encounters with Saul and David. Before that, however, let's summarize his life.

Samuel lived during the 11th century B.C. Hannah, wife of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, was childless, so she went to the Shiloh to pray for a son. The Lord heard her prayer, opened her womb, and granted her a son. His parents dedicated Samuel for sacred service and Eli the priest trained him in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. The Lord's blessings overflowed, as Hannah then conceived three more sons and two daughters. Thus Hannah and Elkanah received five-fold from the Lord to replace the child they gave to Him. (1 Samuel 1)

Samuel received a call through the Word of the Lord while sleeping. Thinking at first the voice he heard was Eli, he ran to the old priest. Eli finally realized it was Yahweh and told the boy to respond to Him. As he grew, the Lord established Samuel's prophetic authority. (1 Samuel 3).

As an adult, Samuel anointed Saul to be Israel's first king (10:1). Saul's wickedness led God to reject his kingship and took the inheritance out of Saul's household.

The Lord led Samuel to anoint David, son of Jesse, to be king in place of Saul (16:13). Samuel lived for some time afterwards, dying near the end of Saul's reign (25:1).

Now a few comments on assumptions and partiality. James warns us to eschew judgments made upon appearances (2:1-13). Samuel's life is filled with occasions where this happened in one way or another.

We begin before his conception. Hannah evidently judged herself much more harshly than did Elkanah. While she was distraught over having no children, Elkanah sought to console her by asking, "Am I not more to you than ten sons? (1 Sam 1:8)." When Hannah sat outside praying at Shiloh, Eli judged her to be drunk (1:12-14).

At that time, Israel was unaccustomed to hearing new utterances from the Lord. Thus, as Samuel was growing up in the household of Eli, he judged the call of Yahweh to be that of Eli. At least Eli finally figured out who must be calling and prepared his young charge to properly respond (3:1-10).

As Samuel grew older, his own sons followed the wicked path taken earlier by those of Eli (3:11-14; 8:1-3). This gave Israel the excuse to start "comparison shopping" with the surrounding nations. They judged themselves to be an inferior nation because they had no king and complained bitterly to Samuel about it (8:4-5). The Lord assured Samuel that this was not an attack on the prophet but upon the one true King of Israel, Yahweh Himself. However, He did command Samuel to give them what they desired. Thus, God would Israel that that which looked attractive often lost its appeal once one possessed it.

Samuel's encounter with Saul provides another case of deceiving appearances. Scripture shows him to be a striking young man, handsome and tall (9:2). He looked every inch the king he would become. Yet at the time, he felt not at all kingly, but unfit for the job. Later, this most attractive man made himself completely unattractive to the Lord through a series of evil events, culminating his iniquity by using a conjurer to call the spirit of now-departed Samuel (28:3-25).

This leads us to a final glaring instance of misjudging based upon appearances.

Samuel and David
Put yourself in Samuel's place in this narrative. The Lord told Samuel to go to to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem, out of which He had already chosen Israel's next king (16:1-3). As the events unfolded, Samuel made the logical (in his eyes) guess as to whom the Lord had chosen. Imagine how his thoughts changed as the events unfolded:
Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, "Do you come peaceably?" And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before him." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these."

Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here." And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (16:4-13 ESV)
Through the life of Samuel, we gain illustrations about the folly of granting favor based on human rather than divine standards. Showing preference for wealth or strength, desiring the gaudy, rich, or powerful things of our neighbor — all of these are forms of judging. All of them stand condemned by Yahweh's words to Samuel, by James' epistle, and by the words of Christ which begin, "Judge not...." Of course, these passages do not mean that we shouldn't exercise discernment and discretion; rather, we should make certain that we judge according to God's Word and not our own criteria.

Note on the art: The illustration comes from a series of frescoes commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 for his apartment and executed by Raphael Sanzio. They were part of a remodeling project which included work by Bramante. The project construction wasn't completed until 1517, during the rule of Leo X and the painting continued for a time after that. This fresco of Samuel anointing King David is part of what is collectively known as the Stanze e Loggia di Raffaello.
 
19 August 2005
  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
AD 1090, Fontaines, near Dijon – 21 August AD 1153, Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvauxernard of Clairvaux, a leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the 11th century A.D., is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy, he was drawn toward the Church by his own nature and encouraged by his mother's desire. His family opposed His desire to enter a monastery and sent him to study at Châlons in order to qualify him for higher ecclesiastical office. However, Bernard left his affluent heritage, entering the monastery of Citeaux at age 22. He persuaded four of his brothers, an uncle, and 26 other men, mainly the sons of nobles, to join him.

After two years he and several others were sent to a new monastic house at Clairvaux, where Bernard soon became its abbot. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some 68 daughter houses.

During the disputed papal elections between Anacletus II and Innocent II, he took the side of Innocent. From 1130-38, Bernard worked to solidify the papal claim through ecclesiastical and secular politics. He battled against the "New Teaching" espoused by Pierre Abélard at the University of Paris, resisting a broad-based liberal arts education using the philosophy of Aristotle. Instead, Bernard insisted that such an education was only to be used in preparation for the priesthood.

At the command of Pope Eugenius III in 1146, Bernard preached in favor of a new effort to free the Holy Land from the Mohammedans. This gave life to the previously moribund Second Crusade. While the results of the campaign were certainly mixed, events during it served to enhance Bernard's perception among non-Christians: When a monk named Radulf (or Raoul) incited the populace of Mainz against the Jews, Bernard vigorously opposed him, calling the monk arrogant, without authority, a preacher of mad and heretical doctrines, a liar, and a murderer. Radulf slipped away, the riots ended, and Bernard became known as a "righteous gentile." His reputation among Rhine valley Jews remained so good that his name is still given to some of their descendents. The most famous of these would probably be American businessman and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch.

Certainly, we remember Bernard for his charity and political abilities. Even more, we honor his preaching ability and, especially, his poetry and hymn writing: The original texts O Jesus, King Most Wonderful (MIDI audio) and O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (MIDI audio), as well as other hymns, remain vital parts of our Christian heritage, courtesy of Saint Bernard.

Suggested Collect and Lections:

O God, by whose grace Your servant Bernard of Clairvaux, kindled with the flame of Your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, walking before Tou as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,"even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Ps 139:1-12 ESV)
or

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps 19:7-11 ESV)

He who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be concerned with prophecies; he will preserve the discourse of notable men and penetrate the subtleties of parables; he will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables. He will serve among great men and appear before rulers; he will travel through the lands of foreign nations, for he tests the good and the evil among men. He will set his heart to rise early to seek the Lord who made him, and will make supplication before the Most High; he will open his mouth in prayer and make supplication for his sins. If the great Lord is willing, he will be filled with the spirit of understanding; he will pour forth words of wisdom and give thanks to the Lord in prayer. He will direct his counsel and knowledge aright, and meditate on his secrets. He will reveal instruction in his teaching, and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant. Many will praise his understanding, and it will never be blotted out; his memory will not disappear, and his name will live through all generations. Nations will declare his wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim his praise. (Sirach 39:1-10 RSV)

[Jesus said:] "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:7-11 ESV)

Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!

(P. Gerhardt; from Bernard's Salve caput cruentatum)

In case you're wondering, the Saint Bernard dog is not named for Bernard of Clairvaux but indirectly for Bernard of Montjoux (or Menthon), an earlier monk who founded a travelers' hospice and monastery in the Pennine Alps and another hospice in the Graian Alps. Both of these passes were later named for him and and the large rescue dogs for these places where they were stationed.

Hymn texts and MIDI audio linked from the Lutheran Hymnal Project.
 
17 August 2005
  Sanctorial Resources
"Holy information, Batman!"

Commenting on the previous post, the Terrible Swede wondered whence comes all this information regarding biographies, collects, lections, and the like.

I get most of my reminders from my monthly church calendar. That's because when I put it together, I plug in the month's feasts and commemorations, national holidays, and the like. My initial resource is pretty low tech: I scan the Lutheran Pastor's Desk Diary, an annual gift to rostered Lutheran clergy from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. It only has some of the basics, so from there, I go to the LCMS Commission on Worship, which includes among its resources a Lectionary which is being reworked for our upcoming new hymnal. This links to the Church Year Calendar with biographies and related resources.

Another source of hagiography (writing about the saints) comes courtesy of Mr. James Kiefer. An Episcopal layman, Mr. Kiefer maintains an online site devoted to Christian Biographies and distributes them through an email list to which you can subscribe.

Once I have a name and date, I also use the Christian Cyclopedia, an online version of the classic LCMS reference book. Wikipedia remains a regular resource, although I often fact-check their articles and occasionally log in to either expand or correct an entry. I regularly use Google, fine-tuning my queries through its advanced search capabilities. There are also some Roman Catholic and Orthodox sites which also have sanctorial calendars, biographies, and the like.

Each day, I check my email for a BIO reminder from Mr. Kiefer and glance at the church calendar. If there's someone mentioned who I wish to honor, I either copy existing info from the biographies I include with the calendar or else follow the steps above, then put everything together.

Writing about these resources brings to mind a recently posted response at Ask the Pastor. It deals with Lutherans using available technology to talk theology and share the Gospel. As I consider the Lutheran blogosphere, I hope that we do more than just talk (and argue) but that, as Xrysostom notes, we use our blogs to "follow the apostle's example of being 'all things to all people' in order that, through us, Christ 'might save some.' (1 Cor 9:22)"
 
  Johann Gerhard, Theologian
Commermoration of Johann Gerhard: 17 October 1582 - 17 August 1637

Johann GerhardGerhard, a Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Luther (1483–1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522–86), was the most influential 17th Century dogmaticians. Many still consider his Loci Theologici (23 large volumes) to be one of the most definitive statements of Lutheran orthodoxy. Born in Quedlinburg, Germany, Gerhard was stricken with a life-threatening illness at age 15.

Following this experience, coupled with with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, Gerhard experienced a turning point: He devoted the rest of his life to theology, serving many years as the Superintendent of Heldberg and, later, of the Duchy of Coburg. Eventually he become a professor at the University of Jena. With a sharp, critically trained mind, Gerhard also possessed deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus.

He wrote exegetical and theological works, devotional literature, history, and polemics. Many of his sermons remain in publication, still exercising wide influence upon confessional Lutheran thought. Since its writing and subsequent translation, his Sacred Meditations (see this online translation by Wade R. Johnston in PDF) probably outsold almost every book in the Western world except the Bible and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.

For more detailed information, see the Studium Excitare, Wikipedia, and the Christian Cyclopedia.

Partial List of Works
† Exegesis: Commentarius in harmoniam historiae evangelicae de passione Christi (A comentary harmonizing the Gospel accounts of Christ's Passion, 1617)
† Exegesis: Comment, super priorem D. Petri epistotam (1641)
† Exegesis: Commentaries on Genesis (1637) and Deuteronomy (1658)
† Theology: Confessio Catholice (Universal Confession, 1633-1637), a defense of the evangelical and catholic nature of the Augsburg Confession
† Theology: Loci communes theologici (1610-1622)
† Devotional: Meditationes sacrae (Sacred Meditations, 1606)

Suggested Collect and Lections
‡ O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out Your Holy Spirit upon Your faithful people, keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptation, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word.
 
16 August 2005
  The Aard Daughter Had a Pretty Fair Day
A sweet time in Sedalia.

Grand Piano
Today was the first day of school. After opening chapel and my customary Tuesday morning Bible class, I came back home to change and we headed off to the Missouri State Fair. Normally, I wouldn't consider the Fair an excuse to cut classes, but #2 daughter was entered in the piano competition.

We headed into the now-familiar environs of State Fair Community College and searched out her room. Finding it, Mrs. Vark and I endured Little Aardvark's fidgeting display, watched her spill (and clean up) part of her Dr. Pepper, and settled in to hear two groups of contestants. She was in the "Moderately Difficult III" class, which was coupled with "Moderately Difficult II," so we got a pretty good display of budding talents among the two groups.

Little Aardvark drew the final slot in the second group: First we waited, then we listened, then we applauded the first group's ribbons, and then we listened some more. Although my musical talents could be stored in a beer mug with plenty of room for a twelve-ounce pour, I heard distinct bobbles in her two main challengers' playing. Oddly enough, it happened with their "old" composers' works (Bach and Beethoven) and not their more contemporary pieces.

Finally our baby sat down to play. She was absolutely spot-on with her first piece, a lilting yet melancholy rendition of Briant and Zatman's Chanson. Could she keep it up for her second selection, Schumann's Knecht Ruprecht, or would the "old" composer come back to bite her, too? The quick tempo (¼ note = 126) and a score of almost all eighth and sixteenth notes means this baby moves. If you fall off, you have a hard time getting back on.

Wouldn't you know it, those old Germanic guys went three-for-three. However, a brief loss of tempo wasn't as severe as the problems others had and her overall playing was, in the judge's opinion, quite outstanding. Mrs. Vark got her tears from listening to the Aard Daughter's playing stopped in time to start all over with dry eyes when the judge announced our Little Aardvark as the first place winner.

You can keep your champion hogs and heifers; I'll hold on to my Blue Ribbon Baby.
 
15 August 2005
  Saint Mary, Mother of God

The Virgin MaryThe honor paid to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord, God, and Savior goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Indeed, it goes back farther: Even before the birth of her Son, Mary prophesied, "From now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:48 ESV)" Confessing her as "Mother of God" also confesses that the One whom she bore was and is, indeed, true God.

The New Testament records several incidents from the life of the Virgin: her betrothal to Joseph, the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to bear the Messiah, her Visitation to Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the Nativity of our Lord, the visits of the shepherds and the magi, the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at the age of forty days, the flight into Egypt, the Passover visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve, (Matt 1:16,18-25; Matt 2; Luke 1:26-56; Luke 2); the wedding at Cana in Galilee and the performance of her Son's first miracle (at Mary's intercession, see John 2:1-11), the occasions when observers basically said of Jesus, "How can this man be special? We know his family!" (Matt 13:54-56; Mark 6:1-3; Luke 4:22; see also John 6:42), an instance when she came with others to see Him while he was preaching (Matt 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21), and her presence at His crucifixion, where Jesus commended her to the care of His Beloved Disciple (John 19:25-27). Mary was also present with the apostles in following the Ascension, waiting for the promised Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thus, we see her present at most of the chief events of her Son's life.

Besides Jesus, only two people are mentioned by name in the Creeds. One is Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. Knowing that Jesus was crucified by Pilate's order pins down the date of His death within a few years, certifying that we are not talking "once upon a time," like worshipers of some mythical god. His death is an historical event, something that really happened.

The other name in the Creeds is that of Mary. They say that Christ was "born of the virgin Mary." That is, they assert that he was truly and fully human, born of a woman and not descended from the skies like an angel. Jesus was not a spirit temporarily cloaked in a robe of human-seeming flesh.

Telling us that His mother was a virgin excludes the theory that Jesus was an ordinary man who was so virtuous that he eventually, at His baptism, became filled with a "Christ Spirit" by God. His virgin birth attests that He was always more than merely human, always one whose presence among us was in itself a miracle, from the first moment of His earthly existence. In Mary, Virgin and Mother, God gives us a sign that Jesus is both truly God and truly man.

We know Little of Mary's life except as it intersects with the life of her Son; this is appropriate. The Scriptures record her words to the angel Gabriel, to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and to her Son on two occasions. The only recorded saying of hers to "ordinary" hearers is her instruction to the servants at the wedding feast: "Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you. (John 2:5 ESV)" Perhaps we may consider this a fitting summation of her message to the world. To this day, she reminds us, "Listen to Jesus. Pay attention to my Son. Do what He tells you."

She sought not the regard of others on her own behalf. If our honor for the Blessed Virgin doesn't turn turn our attention from her to the One whom she bore and suckled, to the Word made flesh, then we may be certain that it is not the blessing that she seeks. A right regard for Mary always directs us to Him who found in her womb His first earthly dwelling-place.

Here are suggested readings for the day:

Psalm 34:1-9 or Psalm 45:10-15
Isaiah 61:7-11
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:46-55
 
  Luther Bigger than Oprah?
Imagine the New York Times best seller list of 1521.

Ponder today's "Lutheran Tidbit" from Old Lutheran:

LUTHER'S LIFE — Of all the books published in Germany during the first ten years of the Reformation, Luther wrote one-quarter of them.

These days, when Oprah speaks favorably of a book, copies fly off the shelves. Think what it was like back in the 1520s. From the very beginning, the demand for Luther, Luther, and more Luther kept German presses busy and put plenty of beer and wine in the glasses of German printers.

Of course, from the very beginning, Luther didn't authorize everything that was published — the "Ninety-five Theses," for example, were translated and printed without his permission. Still, Luther was the darling of the budding publishing world, and if Luther was cranking it out like this, his opponents weren't just sitting around, hoping it would all go away. So we should figure that a fair number of the remaining books were written against Luther. The opposition had its points to make and their publishers their florins and guilders to bank.

We know that many of his friends and fellow reformers, following the path Luther blazed, also found their way into print. Add in the more radical reformers' works (also triggered at least in part by Luther's example). Finally, factor in all that was written from the Roman side against these other Evangelical or Radical reformers, the publications launched back and forth between various branches of the Reformation, and we're left to wonder, "What was left?" The answer, of course, is, "Not much."

Imagine a best seller list dominated by theology and critical thinking, leavened with brusque (sometimes childish or violent) outbursts, coarse humor, religio-political cartooning, and appeals to God, conscience, and reason. Even most of the "goofy" stuff was considerably more solid and substantial than the bulk of what's published today.

No bodice-ripping romances … no sleazy porn … no Ten Steps to This or Forty Days to That … just epistles and broadsides and tomes, oh, my!

Of course, as all this began, most "ordinary people" had little access to many of these books. Church and goverment regulations could hinder printing and distribution of undesired content. Literacy was only beginning to make deep inroads among the lower classes. And costs per book were considerably higher at a time when "mass production" was still largely human-engined. Yet this veritable torrent of books, coupled with the ideas they contained, probably served to build a new reading class. Volume increased, costs decreased, people tired of second-hand reports, and wanted to bring the sources into their own homes. The schools, especially in Evangelical Lutheran regions, fed a desire for the printed word and the printed word enhanced dreams of literacy.

If I were part of today's culture of victimhood, I'd probably be blaming my biblioholism on misguided TV stars' emotionalism and narrow thinking. But I'm not, so I'll merely say, "Thanks, brother Martin, for hooking me on my literary jones!"
 
14 August 2005
  The Carny Is Open for Business
No bearded ladies; just a rather hirsute reformer.

The first round of the Lutheran Carnival of confessional blogs awaits your visit. Come read an eclectic, author-selected cross-section of what some of my fellow bloggers and I have been pondering and positing over the past week or so.

Wonder of wonders, not a sideshow freak in the bunch!
 
13 August 2005
  ELCA Continues on Long and Winding Road
Some zigging, others zagging ... who's on the straight path?

As noted in a previous post, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) moved into closer communion fellowship with the United Methodists. Observers within and without that body were then freed to speculate what would happen on the (homo-)sexuality resolutions.

After all the smoke cleared … uh, wait, there's still plenty of smoke (and mirrors) remaining  … the homosexuality resolutions were either passed in watered-down form or else defeated outright. Regarding pastoral care, the ELCA voted to "welcome gay and lesbian persons into its life (as stated in Churchwide Assembly resolutions from 1991, 1995, and 1999), and trust pastors and congregations to discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care to all to whom they minister." The phrase "to all to whom they minister" replaced "to same-sex couples" in the original resolution. Basically, they allow each pastor to be as (in-)discreet as he (or she!) chooses in dealing with people choosing to exercise this anti-Scriptural lifestyle. They didn't establish rites and procedures for "blessing" or "marrying" same-sex couples; however, they didn't bar their clergy from so doing.

However, when it came to allowing the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals under a "special circumstances" provision, the assembly not only kept it from receiving the necessary 2/3 majority, they defeated it by a simple (although close) majority vote. This was done as some 100 rainbow scarved protestors stood silently before the assembly.

There's more, but these illustrate the difficulty that the ELCA and related bodies will continue to have in propping up their "big tents" of inclusiveness. It seems in the case of that ELCA as all eyes have been upon the radical left, they've had a core of American Evanglicals growing in their midst. Sprouting from cell groups, Promise Keepers, Alpha Ministries, contemporary worship centers, and the like, a different body of non-Lutheran thought is entrenching itself. Many of these people, while not "conservative" or "confessional" in a way recognizable in the LCMS, still are mindful of morality and will probably continue to oppose at least some of the most liberal thought in the ELCA.

It's funny, in a sad, thoughtful, ironic way, that many of those who resisted the most radical wishes of the pro-homosexual lobby probably came from ethnic outreach spurred in part by the very liberals whose desires they ended up opposing.

What's not funny is how so many people — both proponents and opponents of advancing the homosexual cause — could twist, mangle, or thoroughly ignore Holy Scripture. Granted, most claimed the biblical high road. However, while they pointed to the text, most actually practiced some form of pretext. As a body, the ELCA seems completely unaware that the Gospel is not "everybody gets to do what he damned well pleases."

What a strange display we've seen: The Gospel misunderstood and misapplied, legalism squaring off againt antinomianism as "moral" ELCAites hold back homosexual ordination. Meanwhile, women and avowed homosexuals male and female (im-)pastor congregations, gain bishoprics, and wield influence throughout the body. Communion theology is twisted so no one feels left out and people are invited to eat and drink "without discerning the body" of Christ and thus eat and drink "judgment" upon themselves (1 Cor 11:29 ESV).

Now the confessional heirs of the Reformation have months of explaining ahead of us as we try to point out that whatever the "L" in ELCA stands for, it sure as L doesn't stand for Lutheran anymore.

I wonder if the Grateful's Dead's "What a Long, Strange Trip It Has Been" will make it into the new ELCA hymnal.
 
12 August 2005
  Buttprints in the Sand
A parody.

A post on Preachrblog reminded me of this composition by a friend, the Rev. Robert Schaibley. He grants permission to copy.

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen;
Saw footprints of my Lord galore,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then did stranger prints appear.
I asked the Lord, "What have we here?
Those prints are large and round and neat,
But Lord, they are too big for feet."

"My child," said He in somber tone,
"My footprints do you see alone
Where you My promise did believe,
And victories you did receive.

"But when you struggled in My arm,
To live out your own righteous charm,
In your own pow'r you sought to strut,
Well, there I dropped you on your butt.

"As Christian daughter, Christian son,
'Tis true you have a race to run.
That race is only truly won,
When in My arms the work is done.

"When times do come to rise and fight,
To risk the loss, to do the right,
On Christ's strong arms you take your stand,
Or, leave your buttprints in the sand."

Actually, is it possible to parody kitsch?
 
  First the Supper, Then the Sex
ELCA Reinvents the "Cheap Date"

Following a pattern established by randy individuals through the years, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) got through the "supper" stage by establishing communion fellowship with the United Methodist Church (UMC). A vote of 877 to 60 of the delegates in ELCA's Churchwide Assembly authorized an "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" with the UMC, whose Council of Bishops had already approved the decision in 2004.

As in many relationships, there'll probably be a bit more resistance to the "sex" part of the equation as the ELCA prepares to take up various questions regarding homosexuality among its clergy and lay members. However, enough of ELCA is so thoroughly besotted with the spirit of the age, particularly regarding sexual deviance, that the orgy will likely grow unchecked.

Most of the world probably focuses on this latter issue. However, the former is just as telling as we consider ELCA's doctrinal fidelity (or lack thereof). Throughout the 1800s until less than 100 years ago, the parents and other ancestors of many of these delegates probably considered Methodism and its Arminian theology alien and repugnant. Now two bodies with historically opposing understandings of the Lord's Supper, grace, sanctification, and other major doctrinal issues have bulldozed any denominators not held in common. And the UMC — somehow able to still make ELCA look a tiny bit conservative by comparison — will have increasing theological influence upon the ELCA. Included in this would be the UMC's even greater tolerance, acceptance, and encouragement of homosexual expression among its members.

Bottom line: The UMC should be able to accelerate ELCA's ongoing exodus from the land of Christian orthodoxy. Already, I can hardly see them for the dust.

Somebody remind me again why the Missouri Synod wants to cooperate in any way with ELCA.
 
10 August 2005
  Sainthood in the Hot Seat
Saint Laurence, Deacon and Martyr: 10 August AD 258

Saint Laurence
St. Laurence (also Lawrence, Lorenz, Lorenzo, et al.), a Christian martyr of Spanish birth, died in Rome, becoming one of the most venerated saints in Christendom. He was ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II, only to meet his death shortly after the Sixtus' own martyrdom.

Tradition has it that Sixtus, when arrested, instructed Laurence to give away to the poor the church's treasures, consisting of precious vessels and money, for which Laurence, as deacon, was responsible. Not much later, the Roman prefect demanded that Laurence surrender the church's treasures. Laurence gathered a number of the poor and sick around himself and said, "Here are the treasures of the Church."

Whether for hiding the wealth, for replying so insultingly, or for both, Laurence was condemned to be roasted to death on a gridiron, a torture he underwent with equanimity. An early account has him speaking from above the coals, "See, I am done enough on one side, now turn me over and cook the other."

The above painting was by Valentin de Buologne. According to the Web Gallery of Art, he "was a French Caravaggesque painter who came so close to the master that he was perfectly in place among his Italian contemporaries, French characteristics being confined to certain details."

Lord Jesus, bless the Laurences of this generation; keep them faithful unto death. Amen.
 
09 August 2005
  Join the Carnival
The blog carnival, that is.

Carnival Girl
Blogging seems to take a lot of words and give them new meanings. One of these is "carnival," not a traveling amusement show, nor a pre-Lenten excuse to party, but a special showcase of current blogging on a specific topic.

I encourage confessional Lutheran bloggers to participate in the Lutheran Carnival, set to begin on Sunday 14 August. Entries are needed by each Friday evening (sooner, if possible). Submitters must hold a quia understanding of the Lutheran Confessions. Interested? Here's how to enter.

Wonder how I'd look in feathers?
 
08 August 2005
  Out of the Mouth …
… of a Lutheran Babe …

Props to one of the youngest saints shepherded by Pastor Jim Haugen. According to the good pastor, during distribution of Holy Communion, the little boy "shouted, 'I want the Blood! I want the Body.' He couldn't understand why he couldn't also receive Christ's body and blood."

I encourage you to read Pastor Haugen's comments about a Christian's proper "insistence and persistence to receive what God offers"

I want need the Blood! I want need the Body!
 
  By the Way …
… I'm back from vacation.

I won't bore you with the details. We visited family in St. Louis, MO. While there, the Aardvarks young and old visited Concordia Publishing House and toured the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Grant's Farm, the Museum of Transportation, Union Station, the Magic House, the Gateway Arch, and the Zoo. We also took a riverboat cruise on the Tom Sawyer, ate and drank around and about the town, and &mdash of course &mdash attended the divine service at Immanuel, Olivette.

Now I need to rest up from my vacation.
 
  Be Like Mike?
Michael Schiavo Still Surrounded by Controversy

According to the Orlando Sentinal, Michael Schiavo received an award from the Florida State Guardianship Association (FSGA), commending him for "carrying out his wife's wishes" by denying brain-damaged Terri food and drink and thus causing her death.

While FSGA past President Joan Nelson Hook, said "He was an ordinary guardian who carried out his duties in extraordinary ways," Brother Paul O'Donnell, Franciscan friar and spokesman for her still-grieving parents replied, "Oh, my God, that's offensive. Michael Schiavo … basically let her rot."

Along with all the other religious and legal questions, we're still stuck on the same debate wrestled with during Terri Schiavo's later days: Is food and water delivered by other than "normal" eating and drinking "extraordinary"? Denying food and water to children for an extended period of time is child abuse. Doing so to the incarcerated is deemed a violation of U.S. constitutional rights. If it happens to prisoners of war, advocates appeal to the Geneva Convention. However, the way things now stand, many of our nation's physically handicapped are not included among these most basic human rights.

Even if Michael Schiavo thought he was acting out of love, I have a hard time finding true charity in withholding food and drink from someone whose body can still process them.
 
02 August 2005
  Getting Randi over the Occult
Seminal Encyclopedia Now Available Online.

As I took my regular stroll through the amazing variety of Boing Boing, I discovered that James "The Amazing" Randi has done something truly amazing: He put his in-print book online! You can now read the full text (plus extra jokes and some needed corrections) of An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

Randi, one of the most accomplished stage magicians ever, has been debunking supernaturalistic, spiritualist fraud for years. He has an ongoing million dollar challenge for anyone to prove, "under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event." Needless to say, Randi's bank account is still flush.

He hopes that one observed phenomenon continues: "Experience has shown that, in the publishing business, making a book available on the Internet only stimulates sales of the actual book! Another mystery."

While I don't agree with all his religious thoughts, I've been a fan of both his showmanship and his scholarship for years and hope that more discover him and (maybe) buy his book.

See, Scooby, the ghost was actually a fake!
 
  A New Al Gore Rhythm
And I used to wonder why Pappy Vark called it the "Idiot Box."

Gore KissLooks like ex-veep, part-time tonsil-tickler, and full-time tree hugger impersonator Al "Albert" Gore has a new venture.

According to an AP story at Wired News, he's fronting Current, a new TV network. I'm not sure of the politics — Gore denies they'll be advancing any particular political POV — but Current is asking the viewers also to be the content providers. Folks will not only upload suggestions, à la a radio request line, but also packaged video content, ready to be beamed out to Current viewers. To stay in the here and now, "Every half-hour, Current promises a news update using data from Google on news stories most frequently searched for on the web." Can you imagine the FCC waiting until the next Paris Hilton folly tops the most-searched news item on Google?

All of the above is preface. Where I think it gets tricky comes from Current staking its future on a bunch of people who were weaned on America's Funniest Videos and came of age with Jackass as providers of meaningful content in two to seven minute pods. I wonder if the target audience has a collective attention span approaching the upward boundary of that brief time. And judging by some of the blogs I've had the misfortune to encounter, I wonder that, while democracy is protected by a free press, if a free press can be run by a democracy.

Well, Current, it looks like you've got spunk. But to quote Lou Grant, "I hate spunk!"
 
Aurous Effluence
Golden Nuggets from the Aardchives
Fresh Spoor
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