Bigger than Ideology

The American political system is broken. This has been the case for quite some time, but recent elections and events have served to lay bare the dysfunction which has become the norm in Washington. The balkanization of the nation into micro-tribes has been thorough, with utter enmity evident between political parties, within political parties, and between the administration and the media. If democratic politics is the art of compromise, then politics, as we have known it, is dead.

The combination of rank partisanship, angry and unrestrained rhetoric from the highest positions of power, and the seeming inability to acknowledge even a modicum of virtue or sincerity in those being opposed is a recipe for disaster. No representative government is designed to survive such rigid inflexibility.

All of this is distressing for someone who believes deeply in constitutional republicanism. But even more disturbing to me is how many Christians have bought into the current climate, adopting the tone and tenor of the most strident partisans. They violently attack the perceived opposition, often personally and on matters that once might have been viewed as outside the boundaries of political debate. Yet these same individuals will be the first to defend “their guy” from similar (or worse) charges simply because of affiliation.

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Lessons from a Children’s Sermon

childrens-sermonLutheran worship is a very structured and orderly thing.  There are moments to stand, kneel, or sit, all of which are specifically laid out in the worship bulletin.  We have elements like the kyrie, the gloria in excelsis, and the nunc dimittis in our services, and while we might not know exactly how those words translate into English, we probably have the lyrics memorized, and can sing them with multiple harmonies.  Vestments and paraments are color coded to match the liturgical calendar, and the readings for any given Sunday are determined years in advance.   We can easily pick out visitors during the responsive readings, as they have yet to master the “Lutheran cadence” that can only be developed after years of attendance.

Now, I love the Lutheran liturgy.  There is something very cool about using the same words in the same order along with other Christians around the world and through the centuries.  The fact that the very structure of the service, and not just the homily, proclaims the Gospel is something that I have grown to appreciate more and more with each passing year.

That said, a little chaos now and then is good for the soul.  Perhaps this is why I so enjoy the Sundays where we have a children’s sermon in the middle of the service.  It’s five minutes of pure improv in the midst of a tightly wound, highly organized program.

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Baptism of Samuel Rempe

There are many different ways to describe baptism.  It is a cleansing and forgiveness of sin.  It is an imparting of the Holy Spirit.  It is adoption as God’s child, and initiation into the one holy and apostolic Church.  It is the drowning of the “Old Adam,” and the promise of a new life lived in Christ.  Baptism is all of these things, and more.

On September 9, Samuel Robert Rempe was baptized at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and was welcomed into the Lord’s family.  Apparently, the old Adam was not too keen on the whole drowning thing, as Samuel cried pretty much through the whole ceremony.  (In a tactical error on our part, Beth and I found ourselves on one side of the baptismal font with a pacifier, with Grandmas Rempe and Friedrich on the other side holding said screaming infant.  I was tempted to relive my old basketball-playing days and transfer the pacifier with a well-placed hook shot, but I have my questions about mom’s hands, and I suspect that such a move would have been frowned upon in such a setting.)

Samuel was able to calm down long enough to take a few pictures after the service, and Grace and Caleb slowed down just long enough to remain in the frame for a couple of photos.  (Phase II: getting all the kids to look at the camera at the same time.  We hope to have this accomplished by Grace’s high school graduation.)

Thank you to all of you who were able to come out and join us on this blessed occasion.  For those of you who were unable to join us, here are a few photos.

Making My Mother Cry

The following post was written in February 2011.  As I type, Beth and I are about three weeks out from meeting our third child.  Rest assured, Children of the Heavenly Father will be sung at his baptism, and yes, I will probably cry again.


One of the lasting memories of my childhood was seeing my mother cry in church.  This was not for anything my brothers or I did, mind you (although I’m sure such moments did occur), but because of one particular melody that had (and has) the unique ability to turn an unflappable mother of four boys into a blubbering puddle of tears.

Children of the heavenly father
Safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.

It didn’t help matters that the song is one of the most omnipresent in all of Lutheran hymnody.  Even Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God isn’t as oft-repeated as this simple Swedish folk tune.  While Luther’s “battle hymn” is largely reserved for festival days like Reformation Sunday, Children of the Heavenly Father is used to mark every major milestone in a congregant’s life.  Be it baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral—it is understood that such celebrations of life or remembrances of life past are to be accompanied by the hymn.

At our church, Children of the Heavenly Father was the official hymn sung at every baptism.  And living in a growing suburban neighborhood, we had a lot of baptisms.  When opening the bulletin, we recognized the hymn on sight (hymn number 474 in the old Lutheran Book of Worship), and would take no small joy in pointing it out to mom before the service started.  She would always vow that she wasn’t going to cry this time, but before the first verse was completed, there were always tears streaming down her face.  Dad kept a handkerchief in his church suit pocket, just in case there was a baptism scheduled for that Sunday.

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The Good Person

The following post is adapted from an earlier version originally appearing on the Prison Fellowship weblog (a/k/a: my day job). Give it a look!

“Everybody does it. … At least I’m not doing what they’re doing!”

The argument should sound juvenile to most adult listeners.  Indeed, if we haven’t heard our children make such a case, we can most certainly remember a time when we ourselves presented such a defense to our parents.  I can also remember, vividly, my father’s response: “You are not everyone else!  You are my son!”

While most “grown-ups” would avoid such argumentation, recent research would indicate that the desire to be graded on a sliding scale is deeply entrenched.

In a recent New York Times article, David Brooks describes what he calls the “Good Person Construct.”  For many generations, people in the West saw themselves as sinful beings, waging a daily battle against evil.  “But these days,” he says, “people are more likely to believe in their essential goodness. … They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory.”

Brooks references a new book by researcher Dan Ariely, entitled The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.  The book describes a number of experiments taken to test its subjects’ honesty.  In one test, Ariely placed cans of cola and plates of dollar bills in the common kitchens in college dormitories.  Students typically walked away with the sodas, but left the dollar bills.  His conclusion: students chose the soda over the money because taking the dollar bills felt too much like stealing.

In another test, Ariely had two colleagues – one sighted, one blind – take identical cab rides.  The cab drivers proved to be willing to take the “long route” with the sighted passenger, even though he would have been much more likely to detect the unnecessary distance.  Presumably, cheating the blind passenger would have made the drivers feel guilty.  Cheating the passenger who was not visually impaired?  Less so.

“[M]ost of us think we are pretty wonderful,” Brooks says.  “We can cheat a little and still keep that ‘good person’ identity.  Most people won’t cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves.”

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