Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Musical Memory

Thanks to Mark for the link to this article:

Turns out patients with aphasia, a condition that causes a person to have difficulty recalling words and putting them together in speech (often the result of a stroke or brain damage), can find help regaining the ability to speak through song. Music is a function of the right half of the brain, while plain speech is a function of the left half.

Perhaps by engaging both halves of the brain, singing words (as opposed simply to speaking them) causes you to remember them. Any child who's learned to sing his ABCs (or any adult who has to sing the jingle to himself to figure out what comes next in the alphabet) knows this.

So it's little surprise that a chanted and sung liturgy sticks in your head. Like it or not, when you sing sacred Scriptures, as we do in the Divine Liturgy, you're memorizing scripture. Nearly all the catechumens know the Words of Institution by heart. And they've never even spoken them in the service, just heard them chanted. (For a test, ask junior high kids who only hear the Words of Institution spoken, not chanted, if they know them by heart.)

The unknown hymnwriter said it well:

Lo, the apostles' holy train
Join Thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from heav'ns with set of sun
Through the Church the song goes on. (LSB 940, v.3)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thinking about Catechesis and Confirmation

I've been wrestling with catechesis and admission to the Lord's Supper for a while. Here are my guiding concerns:

I'm troubled at keeping kids away from the Lord's Supper until they're graduation age. Children can confess the faith, repent of their sin, and desire the forgiveness offered in the Lord's Supper well before they're 14 years old. And I think our actions and our teaching are incongruous. We teach how important the Lord's Supper is, but we tell kids that they can go 14 years of life without it. No wonder they attend for a only few weeks after being confirmed before dropping off the face of the planet.

I'm troubled by what confirmation has become: synergistic graduation. A few sources attribute this to pietism, and I'm always game for blaming pietists. What are we "confirming"? We don't make a covenant with God, we don't receive the "rest" or "more complete" Holy Spirit at confirmation (which is why we lay hands on confirmands). We don't fulfill our end of the deal that began at baptism. And yet, there's something to be said for a public profession of faith (just maybe without white robes and Pomp & Circumstance playing in the background).

I'm troubled at using the Lord's Supper as a carrot on a stick to entice kids to get confirmed and go to catechesis. Means of grace should not be rewards like Snickers.

Originally, I thought divorcing confirmation and first communion would help. First communion could be earlier (like the papists), which would eliminate the carrot-and-stick problem. This was buffeted by the Rite for First Communion before Confirmation found in the LSB Agenda. And there's a Rite of Examination Prior to First Communion in the LSB Pastoral Care Companion. And Augsburg Confession, Artivle XXV says those admitted to the Lord's Supper are examined and absolved. I'd have examined kids whose parents thought they were ready using this Rite in the PCC and then they'd have confessed their sins privately and received absolution.

The problem with that is mostly that it makes travel between congregations difficult. While the Commission on Worship indicates that 25% of LCMS congregations have early communion, I'm not sure it solves all my concerns, either.

What seems to have been the practice of the reformers is a catechetical service sometime during the week to which parents could bring their children and servants when they thought they were ready. The majority of catechesis was done at home. Then, when parents and pastor thought the children were ready to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, the pastor would examine and absolve them before admitting them to the Supper. So, for catechesis all year, we've begun in the sanctuary with a 15 minute catechetical service, using Evening Prayer for our liturgy. It's worked pretty well. And I've been observing from afar the catechetical service of a neighboring parish. All his catechesis is done w/in the Service of Prayer and Preaching.

Add to these concerns the fact that we have a Wed morning Men's Bible Study and a (slightly later) Wed morn Women's Bible Study, both of which are sparsely attended (2-4 @ each).

So here's the idea I pitched to the board of elders last week that I plan to beat with a hammer and anvils until it looks like gorgeous autobody work.

On Wednesday evenings, we'll have Private Confession & Absolution (which we've been doing since July), followed by a 45-or-so minute Catechetical service, followed by some forms of Bible Studies for probably another 45 minutes.

The service will be open to anyone in the congregation. Those interested in being instructed toward receiving the Lord's Supper (baptized youth, curious nonmember adults) will be encouraged to attend this service and the following Catechism instruction during the 45 minute Bible Study.

I also anticipate removing age restrictions from catechesis. If parents believe their children are ready for the service and the study, with my permission, they'll begin. For younger kids (4th grade & younger?), I'll require parents to attend with the children.

Here's a schematic of how it might work.
6-6:45 Private Confession
(also at the same time) Luther League (something the Sunday School director has been working on to encourage Catechism memorization for young children_
6:45-7:30 Catechetical service of Prayer and Preaching
7:30-8:15 Catechism instruction
or Topical Bible Study or study of a book of the Bible (geared toward HS-adult)

That's what I've got so far...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What are we selling?

Rick Sullivan is a homebuilder by trade. But the former chairman of McBride & Son developers was appointed by Missouri governor Matt Blunt to serve as the CEO of St. Louis public schools. The appointment of a businessman to oversee a not-for-profit institution like a public school system has some people concerned. Why? Because, they argue, a school is not a business.

What’s less of a business than a school? The Church. Unless, of course, you ask church marketing gurus.

There's a growing trend in Christendom to treat the Church as a business and the Gospel as a sellable commodity. There are marketing firms that cater exclusively to churches, offering advertising campaigns, promotional kits, and church growth guarantees. If you believe all they’re selling, all you need to fill the pews and win more people for Jesus is a catchy tag line, a fancy logo, and an interactive website.

Even businesspeople are realizing the business prowess of church marketers. Rich Karlgaard, writing for names the most successful book on business: Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church.

But the whole notion of using a business model to grow the church is contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, St. Paul says, is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25). How in the world can you sell “foolishness?” You can’t. Well, not without making it seem less foolish.

If you want people to buy your church marketing approach, you’ll have to avoid Jesus’ statements about taking up one’s cross and following Him (St. Luke 9:23-25). And forget even talking about the Christian life being one plagued by suffering, like St Paul says (Romans 5:1-5).

If, on the other hand, we believe that “we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him” (Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed), if we believe that the message of Christ crucified for sinners is foolishness, if we believe that growth in the church comes only from God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7), then it’s not up to us to worry about “growing” the church. And it’s not up to us to make the outlandish message of a God who loved us so much that He was born with human flesh, lived a human life, and died a criminal’s death more palatable or less foolish.

What is up to the Church is that she remains faithful. The Church exists as the place where God grows Christians. She exists as the place where He distributes the means of Grace. And she exists as a “mouth house” to proclaim the message that causes sign seekers to stumble and wisdom hunters to discover only folly, the message of Christ crucified for you. That’s the Gospel.

When the Church is faithful to be a station where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered, any growth that happens is entirely God’s gift.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A bit arrogant, don't you think?

The Exultet, the first proclamation of the Easter Gospel, chanted during the Service of Light in the Easter Vigil service, seems a bit arrogant on our part. "Rejoice now all you heavenly choirs of angels; rejoice now all creation, sound forth, trumpet of salvation, and proclaim the triumph of our King. Rejoice, too, all the earth, in the radiance of the light now poured upon you and made brilliant by the brightness of the everlasting King; know that the ancient darkness has been forever banished. Rejoice, O Church of Christ, clothed in the brightness of this light; let all this house of God ring out with rejoicing, with the praises of all God's faithful people."

Why should the heavenly choirs of angels rejoice? Because Christ died and rose for humanity. Why should the whole creation rejoice? Because the Seed of Eve has crushed the serpent's head. Why should all the earth rejoice? Because all of history has been hoping for this event: the salvation of mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

But that's just it; it's not arrogant. The angels don't need our prompting to rejoice on this night when we begin to celebrate our Lord's resurrection. Even though they don't receive mercy from the Lord through the death and resurrection of Christ, it gives them cause for delight when you receive mercy (Luke 15:7). They rejoice with us!

The move in the Exultet is like moving inward on a target closer to the bull's eye. Each inner ring is closer to the point. The angels rejoice. All the earth rejoices. The whole Mother Church rejoices. And this congregation rejoices. Why? Because Christ died and rose for you.

The Exultet is beautiful and enchanting. Here's a version similar to the one in Lutheran Service Book.

If you missed the Easter Vigil service, kick yourself. Barring the opportunity to join the heavenly choirs in singing the Exultet in the presence of the Lamb who was slain, there's still next year. April 11, 2009: mark your calendars. Meanwhile, you can watch a video of the service from our sister congregation in Worden, IL here:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

So it begins...

I'd been kicking around the idea of having a blog for a while when I stumbled across this article encouraging pastors to blog. There is no shortage of pastors' blogs, nor a lack of Lutheran pastors' blogs. So I intend this blog to serve primarily as an outlet for my thoughts. I'm not narcissistic enough to think that anyone more than my mom and my wife will read this. But if it allows a place for discussion that didn't fit in the 45 minutes of Sunday morning Bible Class, great. If it gives me a forum to recommend (or warn against) a book or journal article to any of my parishioners, cool. If it's just some hollow space in the Internet stratosphere where I can cull ideas from thoughts, still good.