The invention of breakfast cereal and other wacky church history

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You need to know about Luke T. Harrington, a Missouri Synod Lutheran who like me lives in Oklahoma.  He writes, among other places, at Christ and Pop Culture.  He has a series D-List Saints on “the many less-than-impressive moments in Christian history.”  For example, the time the Catholics had three popes; the story of Oliver Cromwell’s severed head; and how those little communion cups were invented.

Mr. Harrington is a very funny writer, but his pieces are also informative and often strangely inspiring.  (For example, Cromwell as an example of becoming what we hate.)

I have always thought that Lutheranism can be a good foundation for humor: a strong view of sin yielding a healthy cynicism about human pretensions; a Reformation-bred skepticism of man-made religiosity; an openness to pleasure that makes it OK to laugh.

After the jump, the opening and the link to Mr. Harrington’s latest piece on the invention of breakfast cereal, with a digression on why Baby Boomers eat it and Millennials don’t. . . . [Read more…]

The cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

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The Reformation wars as board game

Right after Luther’s death, the Holy Roman Emperor resolved to undo the Reformation by military force.  The Lutheran princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to fight against him.  In the ensuing Schmalkaldic War, the Emperor defeated the Lutherans–taking away the princes’ lands and titles and re-imposing the Roman Catholic faith.  But that was not the end of the story.  In a bizarre and providential turn of events, Lutheran theology became legalized after all.

UPDATE:  What happened was this:  The Emperor bribed one of the Lutheran princes, Maurice of Saxony, with lands and titles if he would change sides.  He did.  As a direct result of this treachery, the Lutherans were defeated and the Reformation, evidently, was over for good.  But later, Maurice felt the Emperor reneged on some parts of the deal.  So he changed sides again and went to war with the Emperor.  Even though he was fighting the vast Imperial army pretty much by himself, he defeated the Emperor!  And made him legalize the Reformation!  And so we see how God uses even sinners and acts in ways we could never expect.

Now there is a board game in which you can re-enact the military exploits, the political intrigue, the personality conflicts, and the theological commitments that played out in this strangely-forgotten but pivotal moment in history.

The game is called the League of Confessors and it’s available here.   You have got to check out the website.  The cards that are pictured there and that you play with in the game amount to a who’s who of the late Reformation:  John the Magnanimous, George the Pious, Ernst the Confessor; and on the other side Ferdinand I, Albrecht Alcibiades, and the perfidious Maurice of Saxony.

And if you order the Reformation 2017 edition, you will also get the Franco-Ottoman extension, in which the “unholy alliance” of France and the Turks takes advantage of the war between Catholic and Lutheran “confessors” for their own global-political advantage.

This game is clearly the brainchild of a gamer who is both a confessional Lutheran and a history fanatic.

This would make a good 500th Reformation Anniversary present to oneself or others, although I’m not aware of any Reformation Day gift-giving customs.  But still, there are at least some of you who would love to play League of Confessors. [Read more…]

The little nation that defeated the Soviets

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Simo Häyhä, the “White Death”

A nation is defined by its history and its people’s common experiences.  That is especially true of nations whose citizens, for the most part, share a specific ethnic identity.  In Finland, where I spent some time recently, history is a living force.

For some 500 years, Finland was part of Sweden, a region in the East where members of the Finnish tribe dwelt.  Finland was Swedish during the 17th century when that kingdom was a world power, as the Swedish kings saved Lutheranism during the Thirty Years’ War and dominated much of Northern Europe.  To this day, Finland has a Swedish-speaking minority.

But then, in 1809, Sweden lost a war with Russia.  Finland, on Russia’s border, was ceded to the Czar, who made it an autonomous Grand Duchy under his authority.  So Finland went into its Russian phase, though it resisted assimilation.

When the Communist Revolution broke out, Finland saw its chance.  It declared independence and established itself as a free republic.  This happened in 1917, so that this year Finland is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The Communists had their own problems in 1917 so basically let Finland go.  Some Finns, however, were on the Bolshevik side, so the new nation fought a bloody civil war, with the “Whites” defeating the “Reds.”

But in 1939, Stalin resolved to take Finland back.  Soviet troops poured over the Finnish border.  In this conflict, known as the “Winter War,” the Soviets outnumbered the Finns three to one, with 30 times more airplanes and 100 times more tanks.

I was told that the president of Finland then was a devout Christian.  He called upon all Finns to pray.  And they did. [Read more…]

Repealing chivalrous laws

318px-John_Everett_Millais_The_Black_BrunswickerThe Oklahoma state legislature, supposedly a conservative lot, has repealed the criminal seduction law, which forbade seducing a virgin by promising to marry her.  Also repealed was a law  forbidding slandering a woman’s virtue.

The state senator who pushed these repeals, a woman, thought the laws were funny.  She also said they were “obsolete, antiquated, inappropriate for our modern society.”

The Daily Oklahoman, supposedly a conservative newspaper, also thought these laws, designed to protect women, were funny.  But when the reporter, in the spirit of fun, quoted advocates of the law from 100 years ago, those gentlemen came across as noble and chivalrous in their zealous concern for wronged women.

I’m not saying we should or should not have such laws.  But the notion that chronology determines whether or not an idea is right or wrong or a law is appropriate or not is surely fallacious.  Yes, women now must be treated just like men, and the Victorian exaltation of womanhood is now considered sexist.  But women are still exploited sexually, and the problem of slandering a woman’s reputation has become even worse in the age of social media.  At any rate, mocking those chivalrous laws designed to protect women just shows the coarsening of our age.

Painting:  “The Black Brunswicker,” by John Everett Millais (1860), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=564102 [Read more…]

The search for Christ’s DNA

492px-DNA_Structure+Key+Labelled.pn_NoBBForensic archaeologists have been extracting the DNA that can still be found in old bones and on ancient artifacts.  Some are aiming at the big prize:  the DNA of Jesus!

We may have found the bones of John the Baptist.  He was a cousin of Jesus, so they would share some DNA patterns.  We may have found the ossuary that contained the bones of James, Jesus’ brother.  And there is genetic material on the Shroud of Turin.  And there are other relics that purport to be connected to Jesus.  Scientists are studying all of this stuff.  Read Oxford geneticist George Busby on this quest, excerpted and linked after the jump.

What would that mean if Jesus’s DNA could be extracted?  Would it have only His mother’s genetic information?  Presumably God created a Y chromosome, since Jesus male.  But could DNA data shoot down the doctrine of the Virgin Birth?  Or give evidence of Christ’s divinity?

And if we could reconstruct His DNA would there someday be an attempt to clone Him?  And what would that give us?  We might have information about His human nature, but without His divine nature, He would seem like any other ancient Jew, though of the House and Lineage of David.

First of all, this isn’t going to happen!  You can’t identify anyone from the past based on their DNA.  And attaching a name to bones and relics is itself highly speculative.  The quest to find Christ’s DNA is surely a wild goose chase.  But still, it sends the mind reeling. [Read more…]