Aug 15, 2018

St. Mary, Icon of Vocation

By Katy Cloninger




Martin Luther famously wrote that faith “is a living, busy, active thing. . . . It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.” This is not to say that we never struggle against our Old Adam to perform good works—Romans 7 and experience tell us otherwise—but we have this struggle only because, in our fallenness, we do not possess perfect faith. Nevertheless, as baptized Christians who, according to the New Man, delight to do good works, we indeed rejoice in and seek out opportunities to love and serve our neighbors. There is perhaps no finer example of this “faith active in love” than Mary the Mother of Our Lord.

For all the ink spilled over Mary, there are precious few words written about her in the New Testament. Yet where she is mentioned, Mary is usually depicted either as receiving from God or serving the people around her. In her receiving role, for instance, she hears the message of the angel Gabriel and accepts it (Luke 1:26–38), and she is commended to John, whom Jesus appoints to care for her in her old age (John 19:26–27). Examples of her serving include her going to help Elizabeth (Luke 1:39–56) and seeing that plenty of wine is provided for the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–5). In response to the woman who praises His mother merely for her biological connection to Him, Jesus doesn’t disparage His mother, but He praises that which is most praiseworthy about her and all who emulate her faith: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28; cf. Matthew 12:50, Mark 3:35, and Luke 8:21). Scripture shows us, in Mary, someone who receives God’s Word,  meditates upon it (Luke 2:19, 51), and acts upon it in a way that is simultaneously submissive and bold.

Aug 13, 2018

Finding Good Books for You and Your Kids: Sources and Lists

By Anna Mussmann



Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that it’s been slow lately. As in, for the last five months. I am still finding it difficult to juggle three kids and my writing time. However, the baby has recently started napping at the same time as the big kids’ quiet hour, which is amazing. And promising!

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading more than usual. The children and I have also been getting to the library fairly regularly. I have fond memories of browsing the local library shelves when I was a kid. Usually I gravitated to my favorite authors--Bill Peet and Beatrix Potter in the early days, then Louisa May Alcott or Eloise Jarvis McGraw, among others. Now that I’m a parent, I’m a bit more leery of browsing.

So many of the picture books are just. . . meh. Many are filled with badly-behaved children trying to figure out how to get their way. There’s a lot of B-level writing and mediocre illustrations. There are weird, well-intentioned allegories obviously intended to help kids process various tragedies.

For us, it works best to find most of our new reads by consulting book lists and then putting those titles on holds. We have been able to enjoy a wealth of wonderful stories this way.

Here is a compendium of sources I find helpful as I select books for my children (and, later in the post, you'll find sources I use for my own reading life too). I thought it might be useful to you as well.

Jul 4, 2018

Male, Female, and Complementarianism’s Missing Song

By Rebekah Theilen



A pastor once taught me that the story of the world could be told in six words: “Adam messed up.  Jesus mopped up.” It’s been more famously said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I recently read a book that combines both ideas. Man Up! The Quest for Masculinity by Pastor Jeff Hemmer is a noteworthy effort from a man who is tired of sitting around.

Yet no amount of human work can save us from this troubled hour. From chapter one all the way to the singing end, Pastor Hemmer makes it clear this is not a book about being the man with the fastest truck or the biggest muscles, but about being a man of the one and only God. A man is not doomed to forever fall short, nor is toxic masculinity the will of God for His sons. The first man, Adam, was made in God’s image, and contrary to all who would point you to a mirror, manhood is all about the image of God. You’re not going to find Him in pornography’s latest short film. Look to the Man on the cross, Jesus Christ, for “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

The author minces no words, be it on “niceness,” selfishness, or sexual sin. But there is also much encouragement and hope to be found. Over and over, Pastor Hemmer points to Jesus as the epitome of manhood. Christ does not blame-shift; He takes on the blame. Christ is not cruel; He is righteous and just. Christ is not passive, but picks up His Cross.  The Son of Man was given as a Prophet, Priest, and King that He might bring light to the children of men. Man’s purposes in Genesis to protect, provide, and fill the earth are not God’s condemnation to a vain and meaningless life, but finely coincide with the real and core desires God has etched upon man’s soul.

Man Up is obviously written for men. Yet women and men are intrinsically linked. As a female, something I listen for when reading about masculinity and manhood is how the author speaks about women. Is he clear about the value God places on women? Does the author, as a man, seem to reasonably like women? Does he possess specific insight into male and female relationships? In other words, does he demonstrate the gentleness and hands-on humility required to effectively love and understand a woman? I would answer yes to all of these questions. Pastor Hemmer tells the truth, often reiterating that he is far from the ideal man, and far from being a masculinity expert. I take him at his word.

One thing caught me off guard while reading. In these days of #MeToo and ongoing discussions of how churches handle or fail to handle variants of abuse, I believe it is worth bringing up because of its relevance and potential impact on the entire Christian conversation about men and women and the way we think about, speak about, and act toward one another. The book contained an unfamiliar (to me) translation of a Genesis passage I have many times puzzled over. I have typically seen Genesis 3:16 read something like “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” In at least two places in Man Up (pages 56 & 70), while describing the consequences of the woman’s fall into sin, the author quotes Genesis 3:16 as saying, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Something about this translation feels very wrong to me. I’ve seen tiny footnotes before with words like “against” to explain the word “for,” but nothing like this where the translation itself connotes inherent hostility on the part of the woman and her mysterious desire. 


Jun 27, 2018

Losing Everything, Losing Nothing

By Katy Cloninger


The evening my husband came home and told me he was leaving me, my whole world crashed down around me. It seemed that in less than an hour, everything was stripped away from me—the man I loved; my marriage; stability for our new son and the additional children I had prayed would follow; my dream of staying home and homeschooling our children. . . . Now all my hopes for the future were ripped out from under me like a rug. But the biggest thing that was wrenched from me that night, and again and again during the long, painful process of divorce, was my pride, my self-righteousness.

Marriage and family are gifts from God. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther lists “a devout husband or wife” and “devout children” in defining what is meant by daily bread, which we ask God to give us every day in the Lord’s Prayer. We are right to give marriage the highest possible honor, for it is the bedrock of a stable society, and even more importantly, it was instituted by God Himself in the yet-unfallen Garden of Eden. Marriage is where God performs the miracle of bringing forth children as the two become one flesh, and those children flourish best in a household shared by their married biological parents. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5, marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church, His holy Bride. Through marriage, Christian husbands and wives grow in their sanctification, learning to live together in harmony, giving of themselves, forgiving one another when they sin, and sacrificing for each other and for any children their union produces.

Yet marriage and family can become idols when we regard them as a measure of our godliness or as feathers in our caps, or simply as evidence that we are not as bad as our neighbors. Those who have an intact and fruitful marriage can be tempted to look down on others, even fellow Christians, whose family structures are not so ideal—whether through divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, barrenness, or some other consequence of the fall. We can grow complacent in our outwardly ordered family structure, often failing to see our own need to work on our marriage alongside our husbands. Even if we see some signs of trouble, we may not be doing all we can to address them, because we are sure that everything is going to work out and that the unthinkable could never happen to us and our family. Pride goeth before a fall, and it’s just when we start to think we are doing pretty well that we are most at risk of losing it all. At least, that was the case for me.

Jun 8, 2018

Fugue

By Rebekah Curtis


"A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been a regular in my car for years. Our recording is of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. I don't pay close attention to the variations after this many hundreds of grocery trip concerts, but I always find myself listening again at the end. Benjamin Britten's Fugue is almost more than I can handle.

The piccolo starts, pipey and frantic, desperate to get in her say while she can.

The other woodwinds follow, just as panicked, trampling their little sister. Her fears were the same, and are now realized.

The violins swoop in, snooty and self-important as always. They are so sure of their superiority as to barely allow a fair entrance to the steadfast, modest, and (let's be honest) more personable cellos.

Basses . . . um, yes, I can hear somebody down there now . . . oh, no--the violas! Well, I guess they made it on their own again. Next time I am for sure going to cue the violas!

HARP. You are so weird, harp. Say your piece.

And, OK, the whole brass family is terrible. But surely the French horns ought to know better than to blast their way in like this!

Of course the squirrelly trumpets are even worse,

and the trombones are as close as they can get to outright honking without Leonard having to stop the whole thing . . . 

the tuba's probably doing it too but it's become such a blaring jumble we can't even tell if we should be scowling at him. Seriously, is there a score here or is everybody playing whatever fool thing comes into their heads? 

And now, just what we need: percussion. I might have to stop the car.

Jun 1, 2018

Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (Review)

Review by Alison Andreasen

Marie MacPherson’s recent devotional book for mothers, Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood, provides readers with approximately 140 devotions based on Old Testament texts, each of which is accompanied by a familiar hymn verse. The devotions are short, easy to read, and filled with Law and Gospel. Many connect the liturgy we hear on Sunday to our lives during the other days of the week. Marie also includes several appendices. Among them are Luther’s Small Catechism, a hymnal conversion chart, recommended resources, and several personal writings by the author on topics she has experienced (including the death of a young friend with small children, watching her own mother battle dementia, and suffering miscarriage).

I appreciate this devotional book for several reasons. First, difficult texts and topics are not avoided. Marie deals with very real, messy, dirty truths of life in a broken world. Yet she also embraces the truth that we live in the midst of a world being redeemed--a world in which beauty, joy, and the promises of God are real. Several pages of my own copy are dog-eared so that I may return often to Marie’s words regarding specific battles I face in my vocation as mother.  Her devotions featuring several psalms were especially good.

I also enjoyed the depth of content, both Law and Gospel, that the author was able to achieve. Each devotion is only a page long, yet there is much packed into that space! It is truly satisfying to read one devotion in the morning and spend the day contemplating and meditating on God’s Word. She wastes no time in long stories or illustrations. For a person likes me who appreciates substance without too much fluff, it was just right!  

The book does assume that mothers want to provide for their families by cooking for them, shopping, possibly but not necessarily homeschooling, etc. Marie is not trying to convince women to live out traditional gender roles, but her writing is most applicable to those who find their days filled with “traditional” tasks.

Confessional Christian mothers know the difficulty of finding devotions that provide the balm of Christ’s healing to us battle-weary mothers. We long for the Law and the Gospel and this devotional reminds us that Christ lived and died for us. The reminder is good for our entire families. When we feel the rest God’s grace provides, we can better share it with our children and husbands. Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood serves to remind us of that grace and point us to our Lord’s words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) I will be pointing many friends to this great resource and I encourage you to check it out, too.  



***

Alison lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife and mother of four. She loves locally grown food, foraging with her family, reading classic literature she's never read before, and day dreaming. Her passions for theology and children have led her to create resources for families that can be seen at Good News for Olive Shoots


May 22, 2018

A Lutheran Ladies' Summer Reading Challenge

By Deac. Mary J. Moerbe


Summer reading challenges first caught my eye once my children started to read. Suddenly a challenge for them could mean an easier time for me. But now I’ve grown very fond of the summer reading challenge precisely because it is something I can do for myself.

As a young mother, I hear the phrase “take care of yourself” frequently. Frankly, it reminds me of a joke: “Out of all my body parts I feel like my eyes are in the best shape. I do at least a thousand eye-rolls a day.” If I always knew how to take care of myself, I wouldn’t be in such need for self-care. And if I had time to pursue what I wanted to, I wouldn’t need to be reminded to do so.

Reading, however, is both outlet and inlet. Out flow the noise and frustrations of the moment. Out flow the multitasking, decision-making, and multi-relational aspects of the day. In flows a renewed awareness of detail, relationship, character development, and the passage of time.

A reading challenge need not hinge on the prescription of others that one ought to read such-and-so-many books. It can be both extremely personal and entirely open, tailorable to one’s own needs and situations.

Here’s a set of summer reading challenges that I made up for you to consider this year. There are neither prizes nor pressure, just the promise that the house will be ok if you read a while today. The people in your house may seem a little less demanding if you can find a little space in a book and a little time for yourself. And you may really benefit from just having your feet up and your eyes off a screen.

Ultimately, the challenge in a summer reading challenge isn’t finding and reading books. The challenge is choosing to seek personal time, personal  development, and emotional catharsis. It’s a reason to get out of the house to go to the library or to pursue a little literary retail therapy.

Reading friends, I can’t raise a glass to you all. That would have disastrous consequences! I can, however, raise a page, a paragraph, and the footrest of our recliner, wishing you all the very best this summer and always. May all the blessings of Christ be yours, as well as a girls’ summer reading challenge, if you are up for it.


***

Mary J. Moerbe is an LCMS deaconess and writer. She blogs to encourage Lutherans to write at “Meet, Write, and Salutary,” and her books can be found on the website of Concordia Publishing House.

Apr 6, 2018

A Little Update

Dear Readers,

The blog has been quiet lately, but things are busy at my house. Mussmann Baby #3 is charming us all with his cuteness. He's not exactly sold yet on the idea of sleeping at predictable times or letting mom write much, but I have hope for the future. This post is a start!


The cutest writers' block ever (in his baptismal gown).

Meanwhile, I am learning how to parent three kids at once. It helps that the older two love their baby brother.

Mar 30, 2018

The Impossible Existence of Good Men


By Rebekah Theilen



Love, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. When I was a growing up, being raised in a family with Baptist roots, Billy Graham was Billy Graham. There were no others. But if you watched his funeral, held beneath a tent in humble North Carolina, you saw that there were many others. He was the trusted confidant of American presidents. He was friend to Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, and George Beverly Shea. He was grandfather to 19, great-grandfather to 44, and on and on he goes into the coming generations. He was “Daddy” to five—Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin, and Ned. He was husband to wife, Ruth, for over sixty years.

In death and in life, we delight in true stories of family and friends. In these weeks since Billy Graham has met his Lord, I’ve found myself watching his old crusade videos, and listening to interviews with people from his life. Interview after interview, one begins to notice a commonly-asked question: “What was it like?” People want to know what it was like to be the friend, the child, or the wife of Billy Graham. Not only was this man deeply loved, but he was highly revered throughout the world, and—though it feels cheapening to mention his name in relation to such minor statistics—was even named on Gallup’s Most Admired Man list more times than any other man since the 1940’s when the listing began.

In an age where heroes have gone extinct, we as a people are hungry for goodness. Billy Graham’s life, changed by the Gospel, was focused on showing us the only place to look. Investigating skeptics might examine Graham’s life, hoping to uncover a secret or scandal. But I think they’re looking for something more. When it comes to the people of pulpits and pedestals, the ones who would seem to us larger than life, we are wanting to know that we aren't alone. We are watching to see if these people are human. And while we’re comforted knowing these humans have faults, we don’t want our leaders to ever let us down. We want to believe in not only the unlikely, but even the impossible—that good men still exist in the world.

Feb 23, 2018

Why Lutherans Are Like Two-year-olds

By Heather Smith

Why is truly the basic human question. Only beings with reason can ask it. Animals don’t care. In fact, we might say the curiosity to know why is the defining characteristic between animals and humans. Animals act upon instinct. Humans act upon reason. Thus, when we as humans do not care to understand the whys of life, we make ourselves, in a way, more like animals than proper human beings. The person who ceases to wonder why limits life to the shallow pleasures and pains of the moment, lapping up the fun when times are good and whining with discontent when things get unpleasant.

We needn’t look far to see such painfully limited lives. The world is full of them. So is the Church. Individualism has taught us to follow our desires rather than our reason. Secularism has instructed us that there is no meaning beyond this life. Pragmatism has indoctrinated us to do whatever works—never mind why. The innate human impulse to ask why (which we all possessed in abundance as two-year-olds) has been trained out of us by the idols of our age. We no longer trust that the world is a rational place worth trying to understand. Our culture is in a crisis of apathy and ignorance, and we must not imagine that we are completely immune to this epidemic.

The good news is that the cure is quite simple: Ask why. Look at the world and wonder about anything and everything, as many times a day as possible. Why is this potluck dish made of marshmallows, pudding, and fruit considered a salad? Why does the word salad look so much like salary? Why do my children study social studies but not history in school? Why do I want my children to be educated, anyway? Why is this television show so popular? Why does it not bother anyone that it contains so many openly immoral characters? Why is the sunset especially vibrant this evening? Why have I not noticed the sunset in so long? Why is the world filled with so much fury and so little contentment? Why do I believe my life can be different?

Keep asking enough whys and you are certain to discover that all questions ultimately lead to God. It could not be any other way. Since why is a quest for meaning, it must lead us to God, who is the source of all meaning. Hence the quintessential Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”
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