Is Good Art Important?

Think about the last movie you saw. Go on, picture it in your head. Did you like it? What did you like about it? More importantly, how did it affect you? And why?

I've spent countless hours praying and thinking about what it looks like to be a Christian and an artist at the same time. I don't like shallow art and I also don't like stories that lead me away from what's good. I want to do excellent artistic work while also being faithful to God. Surprisingly, the more I've learned, the more I've discovered that the two go hand in hand.


We Need Each Other

As we are in the middle of Fall Conference season it seems appropriate to reflect on what was said in Little Rock this past week. In the Mid-South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod we had as our speaker the Rev. Dr. Larry Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He gave a presentation on Southern Lutherans during the 19th and 20th centuries. Probably sounds bland to you I know, but it was anything but bland and actually quite compelling. While Dr. Rast notes that there is no discernable pattern in the past to somehow predict the future we can draw inspiration and hope that “God is always faithful and maintains his Church.”

On Unreal Expectations

In September, I attended the theological symposium at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Christ centered. Great people. Wonderful atmosphere. It’s always pleasant to see old friends. In addition to the enlightening plenary sessions, seminary enrollment was a topic of conversation. A larger emphasis is being placed on recruitment, which is great, but the institution can only do so much. Is it possible that they have unreal expectations

7 Apologetics Fails to Avoid

The need for apologetics in our culture is growing. More and more the public square will provide Christians with the opportunity to give a reason for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). When Christians defend their faith with intelligence, integrity, humility, and love, the practice of apologetics glorifies God and serves our neighbor. However, as with preaching and evangelism, there are some pitfalls we need to avoid so that we don't end up doing more harm than good. Here are what I consider some less than helpful approaches to apologetics, as well as some thoughts about how we can do better.

Self Examination That Actually Involves the Self

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the  bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.”  1 Corinthians 11:27-29 This passage has always carried a lot of weight in our church and practice of the Lord’s Supper. We care very deeply about these words from St. Paul about taking the Lord’s Supper in a way that does not damage or harm us. This is where our practice of Close(d) Communion comes from.[1] It is why we have a laundry list of requirements that welcome or block people from receiving it.

20/20 Vision

‘Hindsight is 20/20. You learn from the past. Those who do not learn from mistakes are doomed to repeat them. In hindsight, everything is much clearer…’ These cliché statements are simply a few of those that describe how we look at the history of our lives and recognize mistakes, good decisions, and how we learn from our experiences in order to inform the way that we live. Though these are often helpful, they also cause us to relive our past, to seek wisdom from times where we might also have experienced shame, frustration, anger, or hurt. For every human being, this is a common occurrence and it is one that has led to the many clichés about our understanding of history and experience.

You Can't Marry the Wrong Person

You can’t marry the wrong person. I know you can probably think of at least a few cases that you would point to that would disprove that point. Maybe you’ve felt like you married the wrong person yourself. Maybe you feel that way now. If so, then please bear with me for a moment while I explain.

Death by Exposure

You may know this story, a classic children’s tale that was originally part of a larger work of fiction by Mary Mapes Dodge entitled Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates.  It takes place in Holland and focuses on a trickster named Jan. There’s a little more to it, but this trickster went to the sea wall, the dyke, and felt trickle of water coming down his neck, there was a hole, a small hole in the sea wall, and that hole could have gotten bigger and bigger. Unsure what to do, he tried packing some dirt in the hole, tried a handkerchief, but finally had to wrap handkerchief around his finger and put his finger in. It was getting darker, and he could smell the sea air. He was cold, he was tired, and this boy’s village just happened to be on the other side of the dyke, below sea level, the ocean threatening to rush in and kill everyone he loves.

Running Towards Yourself

Here in the South we are getting towards the end of the family reunion season and are well into the college football and fall festival time of year. At my congregation there are plenty of family reunions that center themselves in the church building itself rather than at a local relative’s home. While it can be a bit awkward for me since I am not related in any way to these families and I am required to attend, it has caused me to reflect on the nature of reunions themselves.

On Andrew Luck and Philemon

A couple weeks ago Andrew Luck, the oft injured star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and successor to Peyton Manning, abruptly announced his retirement. Andrew was worn out from rehabbing injuries and saw a future for himself beyond football. The announcement caught the sports world off guard: some fans of the Colts in their grief booed Luck off the field at the end of a preseason game, longtime New York sports radio personality Mike Francesa sounded like he was tearing his clothes in bereavement, and another sports personality sent a tweet calling Luck’s refusal to persevere through injury “the most millennial thing ever.” As far as most things go the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck is not a big deal. But this is America and if there is one thing we love to sensationalize it’s sports. And if there is one sport we love to sensationalize above all others it is what we call football. 

I Post Therefore I Am

I remember visiting Oxford a couple of years back and taking a tour of C.S. Lewis’s church. It was said that many people who attended with him were surprised by his more wildly popular writings, because in person he never seemed especially pious. A visit to his home (aka “the Kilns”) certainly confirmed this. It’s almost like reading the words of a person who otherwise never existed. Several hundred years prior, Martin Luther became an overnight sensation, because he actually gave the printers something to print—a publisher’s dream in the early days of a very irrelevant printing press. Like Lewis, Luther was largely known by people who never met him, as is the case today for many writers as well as various other kinds of artists. We know them through their content.

A House Divided

As I spent time with members of the congregation where I serve, I was struck by our conversation. They spoke about struggles they had finding comfort in our community. They mentioned how it sometimes seemed as if smaller groups existed in the church and they had not yet found their niche. They also described how gossip and related conversation was prevalent in every church, even our own. I listened intently, partially shocked by the truth, yet even more shocked by the reality that I was not the only one who noticed.

Don't Worship Work - Make Work Worship

"When I walk out on stage, that's God to me." 

I understood what my friend was saying. The lights and the sets, the larger-than-life stories, the fear and the thrill of flinging your heart out of your chest in public—I get it. I'm an actor, too. 

This same kind of passion that my friend described has taken me to New York City, to grad school, and deep into the minds and hearts of the characters I've portrayed. But, though I share my friend's passion, I worship a different God.

Except when I don't.

David v. Goliath: Sometimes You *Are* David

“In the story of David and Goliath you are not David.” I was in college the first time I heard a statement like that. And I must admit that it was a bit refreshing at first. I had grown up, like so many others, hearing the David and Goliath story in a very particular way. “You are like David,” every lesson began, and if you just trusted God enough then He would use you to defeat the giant-sized problems standing in your way. And so, hearing this story in that new way was refreshing. 

Memory Verses: Good or Bad?

Growing up in the Lutheran Church required the memorization and recitation of bible verses. I can’t really put a number on how many verses I memorized, but it was a lot. As I grew older, I began to reflect on this practice. What was the point? Was this helpful? Furthermore, is it a good idea to artificially break up the writings of biblical authors only to take in bits and pieces leaving the rest by the wayside? After all, modern chapter divisions didn’t even really appear until the thirteenth century followed by versification in the sixteenth century. Before that manuscripts often contained capitula, or “section headings,” denoting larger sections of text (but even those were not written by the authors). It’s true that these things are invaluable for referencing very specific portions of text, but my concern is that with each of these developments, every book of the Bible has become increasingly fragmented. 

Lessons From a Rural Parish

I visited Wyoming in September 2015 with a group of pastors from New York. This visit was the second of a series of meetings between pastors from the Wyoming and Atlantic districts. The week consisted mostly of nitty gritty meetings in small groups with the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and in some cases even the Synod handbook (I recognize the irony of this grouping). We were earnestly trying to listen to each other and come to an understanding regarding our differences. Ministry in Wyoming and New York can be very different and beyond the day-to-day differences there were serious enough theological differences that warranted us getting together to pilot a new program the synod was spearheading. The visit to Wyoming was eye opening in a lot of ways—just as I’m sure the visit the spring 2014 visit to New York for the Wyoming group was eye opening. 

Jesus + Power = Disaster: A Review of The Family on Netflix

Before his fall from grace Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of the late Billy Graham, wrote the book Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. The sort of “Jesus only” approach that became quite popular in the Evangelical circles and flirted with Lutheranism for a bit with its emphasis on rightly understanding law and gospel seems to be the theological foundation described in the new documentary on Netflix The Family. However, quite opposed to Tullian’s struggle with sin and grace in his book Jesus + Nothing=Everything the foundation of “family” as described in the series has more to do with the late twentieth century evangelicalism that I was immersed in for years. Jesus plus nothing to the American Evangelical movement was far more about the moving past denominationalism into an individualistic encounter with Jesus who became a moral figure and told you how to live and make a better world. This confusion of the person of Christ led brilliantly into the foundation of a society that the documentary exposes as one of the most influential powers in Washington D.C. and even throughout the world. 

Wrestling with the 8th Commandment in the LCMS

Over the last several years, the Eighth Commandment has received a lot of attention in conversations throughout the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It has become common in the midst of a controversy for one side or the other to cry foul by suggesting that the other party is not arguing fairly because they’ve broken this particular commandment. 

Complain to God

The last thing most adults want to hear are complaints; especially if those same adults also have young children living in their home. Maybe you’ve seen the images like the one above. I think that pretty well sums up how most of us feel about complaints. “Got a problem? Just take your number.” Often we don’t want to hear about the complaints and problems of others because we’ve got complaints and problems of our own to deal with. If we can “man up” and go to work with fake smiles on our faces then everyone else should be able to as well.