Tweaks to the blog

In the midst of your fulsome praise of this blog and its design–in response to some silly words from Redeemed Rambling–you DID include a few suggestions.   Thanks to Stewart Lundy of Bulldog Media (click the dog in the sidebar for all of your website needs), we have fulfilled your dreams.   There is now a “Preview” feature for the comments.  The black borders have been lightened to a dark grey, which also seems to make the white appear lest stark, being more friendly to the eyes.   Some of you have complained about the field of the blog becoming narrower, but that is apparently an optical illusion, since nothing about that has been changed.  Anyway, thanks for your suggestions.   Especially for the suggestions to keep things, for the most part, the way they are!

You will also notice a visual touch at the top:  Cranach’s seal.   The great artist/entrepreneur/printer/politician and exemplar of the doctrine of vocation would sign his paintings with a stylized squiggle of his family seal:   A winged dragon, crowned, bearing a ring.  That is the logo of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, which is the institutional home of this blog, and it is fitting that it be displayed here.

How would you interpret the dragon iconography?

Versions of Cranach’s Seal

As an update to the post on tweaks to this blog, let me show you some different versions of Cranach’s Seal, as we try to interpret what it means.  (I thought it is an image of redemption; Tom Hering suggested it was alchemical symbolism, so I’ve asked Dr. Montgomery; it could also be some kind of conventional heraldry symbolism–someone who knows something about heraldry, please chime in.)    Special thanks to Abby for alerting me to the final version here, which is the most expressive, detailed, and dragon-like.  Should we use that one for our logo, or is it too disturbing?

Happy National Day of Reason!

In their attempt to become, in effect, a socially-acceptable religion–getting military chaplains, vaunting how moral they are, and evangelizing the unenlightened–atheists are trying to start a holiday.  May 5 is the National Day of Reason!

I love holidays and I love reason, so I am willing to celebrate. . .uh, what is it we are celebrating?  I will try to set aside time to think.  But don’t we need something more to inspire our observance, to give it some meaning?  It turns out that May 5 was chosen simply to counter something else that is on that day, the National Day of Prayer.  The atheists are protesting that by trying to take over the day for themselves.

This demonstrates the weakness of atheism.  It is purely reactive.  Its doctrines are purely negative (there is no God; there is no life after death; there is no meaning in life).  And even when its teachings are put in a positive way–we believe in reason! we believe that material things are all that exist!–there is nothing, really, to celebrate, or even to be happy about.

Actual holidays, on the other hand, commemorate some meaningful event and we celebrate the meaning.  They usually involve some kind of story.  They are deeply, richly, human, evoking family and good memories and inspiration.  And Christian holidays–widely recognized even by devotees of other religions are the best of all–are full of wonder and joy.  The root of “festival” is “feast.”  “Holiday” means “holy day.”   You can’t have a holiday without some sense of holiness.

It’s hard to celebrate an abstraction, such as “reason.”  But, hey, let’s give it a try.  How could we do to make the Day of Reason work as a holiday?  What would be the equivalent of a Christmas tree or Easter basket for the Day of Reason?  What foods should be associated with this day of rationality?  If it ever rates a day off, what should individuals and families do?

National Day of Reason :: About Us.

The Museum of Broken Relationships

Art of our times, from the University of Houston:

For two weeks this May, Blaffer Art Museum presents an exhibition from the permanent collection of the Museum of Broken Relationships. In collaboration with the American Association of Museum’s 2011 Annual Meeting, which is being held in Houston May 22 – 25, 2011, the exhibition will feature detritus from failed relationships – be it a wedding dress, an “I Love You” teddy bear, or a set of fluffy handcuffs – donated to the museum by people from around the world. Objects from the permanent collection will be on view alongside ephemera offered by Houstonians looking to exhibit their own love legacy. Conceptualized in Zagreb, Croatia, by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, after the couple ended their own romantic relationship in 2006, the Museum of Broken Relationships was established by the two to create a space of protected remembrance where the material and nonmaterial heritage of broken relationships can be witnessed, and where these experiences can move beyond the individual into a universal understanding.

via Blaffer Art Museum :: Exhibitions :: Museum of Broken Relationships.

Then follows a description of how people can donate their souvenirs from failed relationships–fluffy handcuffs?–to the museum.  This reminds me of T. S. Eliot and his poems on love in the wasteland.

The vocation of the warrior

Paul McCain quotes Martin Luther’s treatise Can Soldiers Too Be Saved?:

…In the same way, when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish…

…The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1-5]…

…Self-defense is a proper ground for fighting and therefore all laws agree that self-defense shall go unpunished; and he who kills another in self-defense is innocent in the eyes of all men…

…When the battle begins…they [soldiers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude…everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe you first and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.” (American Edition, Vol. 46)

via The Death of Osama Bin Laden: A Teaching Moment on the Doctrine of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

 

Urban Legends pastors tell

As I’ve often complained, a major way that urban legends get spread around is as sermon illustrations.  Some of these are more in the related genre of scholarly legends.  But thanks to Trevin Wax for catching these:

1. The “eye of the needle” refers to a gate outside Jerusalem.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” says Jesus in Mark 10:25. Maybe you’ve heard of the gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle.” The camel could pass through it only after stooping down and having all its baggage taken off.

The illustration is used in many sermons as an example of coming to God on our knees and without our baggage. The only problem is… there is no evidence for such a gate. The story has been around since the 15th century, but there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.

2. The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway.

3. Scribes took baths, discarded their pens, washed their hands, etc. every time they wrote the name of God.

As a way of getting across the reverence of the Jewish and Christian scribes toward God, preachers like to describe the honor given to God’s name. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that scribes did these sorts of rituals every time they came across the name of God.

4. There was this saying among the sages: “May you be covered in your rabbi’s dust.”

This is one of the most pervasive and fast-spreading stories to flood the church in recent years. The idea is that as you walked behind your rabbi, he would kick up dust and you would become caked in it and so following your rabbi closely came to symbolize your commitment and zeal. Joel Willitts explains:

This is powerful stuff isn’t it? Well the only problem is that it just isn’t true… The context in which it is given in Mishnah Aboth 1:4 is expressly not what is assumed by those who promulgate this idea.

5. Voltaire’s house is now owned by a Bible-printing publisher.

Voltaire was famous for saying, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” There is a myth out there that within 50 years of Voltaire’s death, his house was owned by a Bible society that used his own printing press to make Bibles. Sounds like a great story, but it’s not true. Regardless, Voltaire’s prediction of the demise of the Bible was vastly overstated.

6. Gehenna was a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem.

I’ve used this illustration many times. But there isn’tevidence to support this idea. Still, because it seems like a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” commentators and preachers have accepted it. It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right:

“The explanation for the ‘fire of Gehenna’ lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children. Already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing.”

7. NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day” which corresponds to the Joshua account of the sun standing still.

Please don’t repeat this myth. There has been no “missing day” discovered, and the legend has been circulating longer than NASA has been in existence, with different scientists playing the part.

via Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition : Kingdom People.

I would add:  Medieval theologians once debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Although I think this is an excellent question, this was rather a later joke at the scholastics’ expense, rather than something the scholastics actually considered.  See this.


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