“The confident independence of Lutherans”?

(Non-Lutheran readers, you may want to skip this post. I don’t want you to get annoyed, but please bear with me with this reflection on Lutheran identity. Though actually, you could probably help.)

Hey, we Lutherans got a shout-out in Mitt Romney’s Mormon speech! He didn’t mention Baptists or Calvinists, but he mentioned Lutherans! And we almost never get mentioned in surveys of American religion. (OK, according to the Adherents site, there are lots of Lutherans in Mormon-heavy Western states, and Iowa ranks 6th in per-capita Lutheranism.) Here is what Mr. Romney said:

“I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life’s blessings.”

But does he really get Lutheranism right? Do we have “confident independence”? Confidence, yes, but independence? Is he confusing us with the Baptists, after all? Does that mean we are still invisible within American Christendom? Frankly, I think at our best that we exemplify ALL of those traits he hails, though I recognize that we are not always at our best. (See that lack of confidence?)

Paul S, in a comment on an earlier post about Romney, raised this quotation and thought “confident independence” had to do with “stubbornness.” May be. Any other takes on what Romney may have been thinking of?

What would be a more accurate way to characterize Lutherans? “The ______ _______ of the Lutherans.” Billy Graham might say “the sleeping giganticism of the Lutherans.” Bob Jones might say “the doctrinal strength and the moral weakness of the Lutherans.” Garrison Keillor might say, “the gloomy whimsey of the Lutherans.” What would you say?

HT: Bob Hunter

The greatest work of art in the whole cosmos?

Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German advant garde composer of mostly non-melodic music, has died. He became best known to the public when he commented that the September 11 attacks constituted “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.”

“Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn’t even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for 10 years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there,” he elaborated. “You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 [sic] people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment.”

Later, he backtracked a little, saying that the attacks were “Lucifer’s” greatest work of art.

Huckabee, the Front-runner

So Christian conservatives ARE rallying around one of their own, Mike Huckabee, who has now lapped Mitt Romney in Iowa. Polls show him leading in that state with 39%, compared to Romney’s 17%.

Now that he is the frontrunner in Iowa, the tone of his media coverage has changed from appreciative condescension to fear that one of “them” might get into power. Hardcore economic and libertarian conservatives do not like him for having raised taxes, being generous with immigrants, and holding to some nanny-state convictions. But hardcore conservatism may be a political liability now. Might his combination of moral conservatism with “compassionate” moderation become a winning formula? Do you think he could actually win the nomination? Or the election?

Not just for Lutherans anymore

In answer to something that came up in one of the comment threads, I don’t want this to be just a “Lutheran blog.” I want all of our readers, including those from all kinds of church bodies and those from none at all, to feel welcome.

For those of you sick of all this Lutheran talk, please be patient. Actually, within American Christianity as a whole, the Lutheran perspective seldom even comes up. (Notice how all those books giving different positions on eschatology, government, etc., etc., almost never include Lutherans.) Part of that is our fault, since we often just talk with ourselves. This blog intends to be an exception.

I do think even non-Lutherans can benefit from the Lutheran take on things. We have famously been said to have a “different spirit” from other Christians (not as in the Holy Spirit, which we have in common) that can be interesting and even refreshing. Or obnoxious, so–my co-religionists–let’s don’t let it be that.

On the whole, as I keep saying, this is the best community of discourse that I have found anywhere on the internet. So JayfromCleveland, my longtime reader whom I actually met in the flesh–in Cleveland–and WebMonk, who apparently lives in the same small town I do, and the rest of you: Please stay with us!

Form & Meaning in Church Architecture

The Third Church of Christ, Scientist, in Washington, D.C., has been declared a historical landmark because it is such a good example of the architectural style known as “Brutalism.” The building is only 36 years old, it has no windows, it is ugly, it is utterly unfunctional, and the congregation itself hates it. But now it cannot be demolished, as the congregation wants to do, or even substantially remodeled.

“Brutalism” was a radical, in-your-face style of architectural “modernism,” brutally rejecting ornament, meaning, and obsolete pre-modern notions such as beauty. It is characterized by the use of extremely rough, hardly-finished concrete, emphasizing the nitty-gritty materiality that is all there is to existence.

Brutalism for a Church

So why would a church want a building in the “brutalist” style? I mean, Christian Scientists don’t even believe in the true existence of the material world, so that their theology is contradicted by every detail in the building! Well, back in 1971, some of you may recall, churches wanted to be relevant to the modern world, and “brutalism” must have seemed very cutting-edge and impressive, a sure way to draw in denizens of “the secular city.”

Well, the “brutalist” sanctuary was designed to hold 400 worshippers, apparently the size of the congregation in 1971, but now it has only 40 or so. And, despite its designation as a historical relic, the building is mocked and derided as a blight to the neighborhood by the people who live in the city. One lesson to be learned is that committing yourself to a fashion is the surest way to be old-fashioned, since, by definition, fashions are always changing. Notice, by contrast, that the classical architecture of Washington’s national buildings is STILL magnificent and that it never ages in its appeal.

Another lesson is for churches today. A basic principle of aesthetics is that the form must be in harmony with the content. And when they diverge, it is the FORM that is going to communicate more than the content that it is supposed to convey. Today we have church buildings designed like pre-fab industrial buildings (conveying the message that the faith is cheap and temporary), concert halls (conveying the message that faith has to do with entertainment) and shopping malls (conveying the message that faith has to do with consumerism). Pre-modern churches were built in the shape of crosses, conveying the message that in the church people come together in the Cross of Jesus Christ. You can certainly have contemporary church architecture. My first Lutheran church had a contemporary style that communicated powerful Christian messages: a massive concrete altar; a skylight pouring in light from above; steel and brick structures that communicated the solidity and strength of what was taught in that building.)

Of course, the Gospel can be preached in any style of building or in no building. But just remember, the laws of aesthetics and the relation of form and meaning operate whether anybody likes them or not. Beware of unintended messages. And of becoming irrelevant in one’s zeal to be relevant. Remember the “brutalist” church in D.C. Stop by and see for yourself. It’s going to be around for a long time.

A Mormon President

So, are you placated by Mitt Romney’s JFK moment as he addressed concerns about his Mormon faith?

Mormons tend to be strong on civic righteousness, to use a term from the other day, so he’d probably be OK. Michael Gerson has a good analysis of the speech, showing how he was actually differing in a substantial way from what Kennedy said about his Catholicism, insisting that faith does have a role in the public square. But I still have qualms. Mormons are very big on civil religion, and I fear what that could become. What do you think?