State of the Union

I always make a point of watching the annual state of the union address–no matter who the president is– as a sort of patriotic discipline. But I was not able to watch it last night. What did I miss? What did you learn?

Pastor Megadeth

David Ellefson, bassist for the heavy metal group Megadeth, is studying to become a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:

Ellefson grew up in the church. Each Sunday, his family drove from their farm in southwest Minnesota to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where David attended Sunday school and was confirmed at age 16. His mother sang in the choir. His father was active on the building committee.

Just a few years after his confirmation at Our Savior’s, in the summer of 1983, Ellefson moved to Los Angeles. Within a week of arriving, he had formed a band and named it Megadeth for the unit of measurement equal to the death of 1 million people by nuclear explosion. Soon, he was playing bass on stage in front of thousands of heavy metal fans in New York with other bands like Metallica and Slayer. In 1985, Megadeth released its first album, “Killing Is My Business … And Business Is Good!”

In “The Skull Beneath the Skin,” Ellefson and his bandmates sang:

“Mean and infectious the evil prophets rise

Dance of the Macabre as witches streak the sky

Decadent worship of black magic sorcery

In the womb of the Devil’s Dungeon trapped without a plea”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Megadeth gained a reputation for an intelligent take on heavy metal, earning several Grammy Award nominations, and was known for its album covers, many of which depicted a character named Vic Rattlehead, a skeleton whose eyes, ears and mouth were fused closed with metal.

But by the time Ellefson was 25, the rock star lifestyle had caught up to him. In a 12-step recovery program, he was reintroduced to his faith and embraced it. He moved to Arizona, married and had children. He also began church shopping, eventually landing at Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Scottsdale.

“I came from a good family, not a broken home,” said Ellefson, 47. “That became a model for me, and I saw church at center of it.”

The Rev. Jon Bjorgaard , pastor of Shepherd of the Desert, asked Ellefson to start a contemporary worship service. Ellefson began to use lyrics from the Old Testament as a springboard for songwriting, penning praise music — worship songs with a soft-rock hook.

“For a Christmas service, I remixed some classics, not quite in a Megadeth fashion, but in a pretty heavy rock fashion,” Ellefson said.

Combining his musical abilities and his faith led Ellefson to a deeper exploration of Christianity, he said. And it led him to start a new music ministry within the walls of Shepherd of the Desert.

He called it MEGA Life, partially a play on Megadeth. But it’s also a reference to a verse from the Gospel of John: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

MEGA Life became so popular in Scottsdale that Shepherd of the Desert bought a new space for the ministry.

And last year, Bjorgaard asked Ellefson and MEGA Life director Jeremy DaPena to enroll in Concordia’s Specific Ministry Program.

“Most people want to become a rock star,” Bjorgaard said. “David’s a rock star who wants to become a pastor.”

via Megadeth bassist studying for Lutheran ordination at Concordia.

This has sparked some controversy in the LCMS not because a heavy metal musician is going to become a pastor–Lutherans generally wouldn’t have a problem with such things–but because the route he is taking, an online seminary lite, that qualifies him to serve just in a specific place, is taken by many confessional Lutherans as violating the pastoral office.  (If you’ve been ordained, you are ordained and should be able to serve anywhere and  should have the thorough seminary training all other pastors have.)  Also, some Lutherans who don’t mind heavy metal DO mind contemporary Christian music, and the suspicion is that the future Rev. Ellefson is being trained to go from Megadeth to Megachurch.

STILL, I appreciate the way Ellefson has gone from mega-death to mega-life, through the mercies of Christ, and I pray all blessings on his call to the ministry, adding also a petition that after getting a taste of good theology online that he will take the normal route after all and come to appreciate the greater heaviness of liturgical worship.

HT:  Pr. Charles Hendrickson

Petronius, gluttony, and the Internet

Another example of how classical literature can help us think through contemporary issues.  Rob Goodman writes about the information overload that the internet can give us in terms of Petronius:

For those of us left numb by the Internet, it might help to consider the ways in which gorging on information parallels (and has, for many of us, replaced) gorging on sensual pleasures. And if we want to take that comparison seriously, there is no better guide than the pioneering Roman novelist of decadence, Gaius Petronius Arbiter. Few have ever described—or lived—the attractions and exhaustions of overindulgence more vividly.

In the court of the Emperor Nero—his friend, partner in excess, and the man ultimately responsible for his death—Petronius was employed as the official “arbiter of elegance.” In short, he was a style consultant to the Roman elite. The historian Tacitus describes him as an expert “in the science of pleasure.” Unmatched in his day as a trendsetter, Petronius is best known in ours as the probable author of one of the earliest surviving novels, the Satyricon. And out of this picaresque story, which has come down to us in fragments, the most outrageous figure by far is Trimalchio: the nouveau-riche ex-slave whose wildly gluttonous banquet forms the Satyricon’s centerpiece. . .

Trimalchio—if only he would stop shooting dice, or loudly discussing his constipation problem—could be a master entertainer. He is a man of abundant means and an almost-pitiful eagerness to please, but his party turns into a feast of steadily diminishing returns. Good food isn’t enough for Trimalchio’s table: Nothing can be served if it isn’t in disguise. Visual jokes were a fashion among Roman chefs, but in Trimalchio’s household they are taken to absurd heights: olives disguised as rocks; sausages “roasting” over pomegranate seeds disguised as coals; pastry eggs hiding roast songbirds; a pig prestuffed with sausages; fruit filled with saffron perfume; more pastry birds, and fruit stuck with thorns to resemble sea-urchins; goose, fish, and game all made out of a pig; oysters in the water pitchers; a whole roast boar surrounded by suckling sweetmeat “piglets,” stuffed with live birds, complete with droppings that turn out to be fresh dates. The boar is also wearing a hat.

One of these courses might have been a surprise; two or three or four might have been marvelous. But after our narrator is bludgeoned by hours of course after dressed-up course, all of which have to be applauded and swallowed, his only thought is for the exit—which he can no longer find.

Is the host, at least, enjoying himself? It’s hard to see any real pleasure in a man who announces how many pounds of jewelry he’s wearing and then demands a scale to prove it—a host who tops off the evening’s entertainment by ordering the guests to “make believe I’m dead” and who then ends up weeping as they act out his funeral.

If Petronius had been a Christian moralist—an ancient John Bunyan, maybe—Trimalchio’s feast might have been marshaled against the sin of gluttony. But Petronius doesn’t criticize the monster he’s created from a standpoint of better morals. He criticizes Trimalchio from a standpoint of better taste: Petronius’ attitude to Trimalchio is equal parts fascination and snobbery. The author was every bit as decadent as his character—he was simply, effortlessly, better at it. . . .

Under decadent circumstances, such as Trimalchio’s feast or Nero’s court, pleasure becomes cheap. It must, at first, be exhilarating to find exquisite versions of the things we most want—food, sleep, sex—right at hand. But then comes the revelation that even with unlimited means, our capacity to take pleasure is itself limited. The usual enjoyments become repetitious and dull, until we can barely taste them at all, or remember how they once tasted. . . .

And there’s the key to understanding the often anesthetic effect of the Internet. Decadence doesn’t demand great wealth: Decadence is a useful way to understand any situation in which an existing pleasure becomes cheap, and it takes the ingenuity of a Petronius to fight off the boredom. That is now the case with information—the small burst of satisfaction that comes from a refilled inbox or a new text, from connecting with friends, or sharing the meme of the day. Millions of us are now richer in these pleasures than our parents’ generation could ever imagine. But our capacity for enjoyment is still finite: We’ve built up a tolerance to the pleasures of information, just as Trimalchio built up a tolerance to the pleasures of food. Those who experience our constant connectivity as dulling should be able to identify closely with his guests.

via Gluttony Goes Viral – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Do you agree that we can become “gluttons” of information?  That the internet can have an “anesthetic” effect?  That it can make us “decadent”?

Church organizations must provide free contraception & abortifacients

Obamacare will force church-affiliated institutions to have insurance policies that will give employees free contraceptives (without even the usual co-pay!).  There will be no exemption for Roman Catholics who disapprove of birth control as a matter of doctrine:

Many church-affiliated institutions will have to cover free birth control for employees, the Obama administration announced Friday in an election-year move that outraged religious groups, fueling a national debate about the reach of government.

In a concession, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said nonprofit institutions such as church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies will have one additional year to comply with the requirement, issued in regulations under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.

Yet the concession was unlikely to stop a determined effort by opponents to block or overturn the rule. If they fail, some predicted that religious employers would simply drop coverage for their workers, opting instead to pay fines to the federal government under the health care law.

“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

via Birth control: Feds say many church-affiliated employers must cover but grant 1-year extension – The Washington Post.

Churches construed narrowly as houses of worship would be exempt, but not hospitals, schools, universities, and ministries.

Here is the kicker for Christians who may not oppose birth control but who do oppose abortion:  The government is classifying the Morning After pill, which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting thus killing the embryo, as a contraceptive! From the same article:

Workplace health plans will have to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ranging from the pill to implantable devices to sterilization. Also covered is the morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex and is considered as tantamount to an abortion drug by some religious conservatives.

This means that Christian organizations that oppose abortion as a matter of  religious conviction will be required by law to pay for abortifacients and thus violate their religious convictions.

Why the “open marriage” charge makes Newt more popular

The rumor on the Drudge Report was that Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife would come out with revelations that would sink his campaign.  It didn’t work that way.  Her interview, along with Newt’s smackdown of CNN’s John King for bringing it up to lead off the last debate, seems to have created a backlash of sympathy.

The biggest revelation was that he had asked his wife for an “open marriage.”  But he didn’t exactly say that.

Marianne Gingrich told The Post that when her husband told her he was leaving, “He said the problem with me was I wanted him all to myself. I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.’ Of Callista, he said, ‘She doesn’t care what I do.’ ”

“He was asking me for an open marriage,’’ Marianne Gingrich said, “and I wouldn’t do it.” She said Gingrich already saw Callista as his first lady, though, telling Marianne, “In a few years I’m going to run for president. She’s going to help me become president.”

Still bad and embarrassing to listen to, but the issue is old-fashioned adultery rather than 1970s-style open marriage, as such.  The above is quoted from an article in the Washington Post about how women are not being particularly sympathetic to Mrs. Gingrich #2:

If anything, Republican women interviewed here today seemed even more supportive than men of the way Newt Gingrich handled debate moderator John King’s question about ex-wife Marianne’s allegation that the GOP presidential candidate had asked her for an open marriage as their union was falling apart in 1999.

They definitely expressed less sympathy for Marianne, Gingrich’s second wife, who told ABC News and The Washington Post that her husband had wanted her to “share” him with Callista, now his third wife, as they were breaking up. Several women noted that since Gingrich was also married, to his first wife, Jackie, when Marianne got involved with him, his infidelity should not have come as a surprise to her.

Kathleen Parker offers an explanation of why digging up transgressions and taking them public can make the accused more popular, as it did also with Bill Clinton:

The more you pick on a person for human failings with which all can identify, the more likely you will create sympathy rather than antipathy, especially if that individual has been forthright in his confession and penitent for his transgression, as Gingrich has been. He was ahead of the curveball this time, with nothing left to tell or for his aggrieved former wife to expose. Thus, her interview and the King question had the feel not of revelation but of a political hit aided and abetted by a salacious press.

Even Bill Clinton, who was less forthcoming and therefore, at least initially, less sympathetic, came to be viewed as a victim following months of investigation and the airing of sordid details only voyeurs could enjoy. Starr, as King, was merely doing his job, yet he became less likable than Clinton among Regular Joes watching television in their kitchens. However nobly Republicans may have considered their mission, everyday Americans — particularly men — saw persecution.

A Catholic friend captures the operative sentiment in terms Gingrich surely would appreciate. When she sees someone succumb to temptation or betray some other human frailty, she says: “I have those weeds in my garden.”

To err is human; to forgive divine. We like that way of thinking because we all need others’ forgiveness. When Gingrich turned to his audience and said that we all know pain — we all know people who have suffered pain — he instantly morphed from sinner to savior, the redeemer in chief. He correctly counted on the empathy of his fellow man, if not necessarily womankind, and won the moment.

But a moment is just that, and projection of the sort experienced by the Charleston, S.C., audience can be fraught with peril. Over-identification clouds judgment, and, though we are all sinners, we are not all running for president of the United States.

via Newt Gingrich and the forgiveness ploy – The Washington Post.

I appreciate all of that.  And I know very well that Christianity is about sin (from which no one is immune) but also redemption and forgiveness.  But I’m still bothered by Newt’s manifest character flaws.  Is that wrong of me?

Latin as the language of botany

The field of botany has changed its requirement that new species have their official scientific descriptions be written up in Latin.  Now an English description–though not a description in some other language–will be acceptable.  (The scientific name will still be Latin based.)  The article on the subject, though, shows just how important Latin has been and still is important in the sciences.  For one thing, ironically, the English technical vocabulary that will replace Latin itself derives from Latin etymology.  From the Washington Post:

For at least 400 years, botanists across the globe have relied on Latin as their lingua franca, but the ardor has cooled. Scientists say plants will keep their double-barreled Latin names, but they have decided to drop the requirement that new species be described in the classical language. Instead, they have agreed to allow botanists to use English (other languages need not apply). In their scientific papers, they can still describe a newly found species of plant — or algae or fungi — in Latin if they wish, but most probably won’t. . . .

Although botanical Latin paid homage to the great Roman plant chronicler, Pliny the Elder, it quickly evolved into a specialized, descriptive and scientifically precise language far removed from classical Latin. The late British scholar William Stearn, who wrote the definitive reference book on botanical Latin, said Pliny would have understood the work of Clusius but not that of 19th-century botanical luminaries.

The wry joke is that even with the diminished role of Latin, the argot used by English-speaking botanists might as well be Latin. In describing flower parts, they speak of “the corolla tubular with spreading lobes.” The familiar thick green leaf of the magnolia is described in one encyclopedia as “elliptic to ovate or subglobose, obtuse to short-acuminate, base attenuate, rounded or cuneate, stiffly coraceous.”

As botanists increasingly seek to deconstruct organisms at the microscopic level and through DNA sequencing, the vernacular descriptions become even more opaque, said Alain Touwaide, a researcher and Latinist at the Smithsonian who would translate for botanists.

Keeping the Latin description, he argued, would ironically make it more understandable. “To make these notions understood, you have to create Latin words that have an etymological root that renders the word self-explainable,” he said.

via Botanists agree to loosen Latin’s grip – The Washington Post.


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