Monday, October 23, 2017

Rendering to God

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  St. Matthew 22:21

It was quietly noted a few weeks ago that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has declined to endorse an Obama administration plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.  His predecessor, Jacob Lew, saw honoring the great antislavery hero as the first step in redressing a historic imbalance in the way we have honored national heroes.  The $20 bill was a convenient place to start, as Andrew Jackson has come under fire in recent years for his slaveholding and for his decision to forcibly remove Indians to the West along the infamous Trail of Tears.   

But Andrew Jackson also happens to be one of President Trump’s personal heroes.  The President honors Jackson as a brave soldier, and a symbol of democracy, the first true man of the people to be elected to our nation’s highest office.  The president laid a wreath at Jackson’s tomb as part of the 250th anniversary celebration of his birth and has hung a painting of him in the Oval Office.[1]  You can be sure that Old Hickory won’t be leaving the currency on his watch. 

The debate over the $20 bill has caused some impassioned repartee, at least among the sort of people who frequent the Facebook page of this former history major. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: "Uncertain Times: Martin Luther's Remedies for the Soul"

From the October 20 Sounds of St. Francis

Designing an exhibition to commemorate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary is a fairly heroic task for any gallery.  Far more art was destroyed than created in the sixteenth century in those European lands that embraced the teachings of Luther, Calvin and Cranmer.  But the Walters Art Gallery has made a humble but probing attempt in its single-room exhibition, “Uncertain Times: Martin Luther’s Remedies for the Soul,” on display until October 29 at the museum in downtown Baltimore.

Fittingly, many of the most significant pieces on display are not paintings, but books.  The personal prayer book of Luther’s close associate Philip Melanchthon is there, worn from heavy use, annotated in the margins.  There’s a handsome early edition of Luther’s Tabletalk, the collection of theological rejoinders and moral advice dispensed by the aged master in his later years over the daily bread and beer, carefully recorded by his students.

Words are also the medium of a mesmerizing eighteenth century German folk art piece featured centrally in the exhibition.  The anonymous artist has scripted the many lines of Luther’s Small Catechism as a globe around the rose and cross of Luther’s coat of arms, a loyal tribute to the way in which the theologian has most often been encountered across the centuries—in this careful summary of Reformation teaching, written to be memorized by children as they prepared for their confirmations.

Monday, October 16, 2017

He Remembers We Are But Dust

Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves;
they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.  Exodus 34:7-8

Last week, the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.  Thaler will go down in history as the man who slew homo economicus

If it’s been awhile since Econ.101, you might not remember that homo economicus was that mysterious creature that sprung fully formed from the brain of classical economists: the person who made all his decisions based on careful calculation and enlightened self-interest.  Homo economicus would plan carefully for retirement by setting aside savings early to benefit from compound interest.  If the price of gasoline dropped, he would use the discount in other areas of life instead of buying more expensive gasoline. He will value his own possessions accurately and sell them if there is an opportunity for gains. 

Richard Thaler suspected that many people were not quite so logical.  So he started asking them, conducting studies.  What he found is that people are predictably irrational about their economic decisions.  They make different choices when they are afraid, or when they have developed attachments.  They maintain habits even when they are destructive. They spring for the quick pleasure and ignore the long term need.

Human beings are not as strong, wise or noble as economists had expected they were.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Abundance and Want

From the Sounds of St. Francis, 12 October, 2017
We are now into the third week of Stewardship-Tide at Saint Francis, when we are asking you to consider your financial support for the ministry of our parish in 2018.  Our vestry will also need to decide on a pledge in the next few months, how much we plan to contribute to the ministry of our diocese in the coming year. With God’s help, both pledges will increase, so that together we may all be more faithful and effective in serving Christ and sharing His Gospel.  

The pledge we make to the diocese, like the gift you make to Saint Francis, testifies to the fact that our faith is communal, that a relationship with Jesus draws us into mutual dependence on other brothers and sisters.  Because we follow the apostolic model of church governance, we must have a bishop, our chief teacher and minister of those sacraments that connect us with the universal body of believers.  Our gift to the diocese first supports her ministry.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Strip his sleeve and show his scars

“I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”  Galatians 6:17

Like a number of you, Allison and I have been watching the recent Ken Burns series about the Vietnam War.  Like so many of his other documentaries, it carefully weaves together the story of that troubled era, placing each major leader and event in its proper place.  It also has that human touch that marks Burns’ storytelling, breaking the wide narrative to focus on the experiences of ordinary people who patrolled the jungles, marched in protest and captured it all behind the lens of a camera.  

In his Civil War epic, Burns was restricted to diaries and letters, but for this series, he and his crew interviewed dozens of people, American and Vietnamese, about what they had seen and felt.   It was striking how vividly these men and women could recall the events of a half century ago: the sounds of exploding shells, the feel of boots sloughing through the rice paddies.  Several of them pulled up a pantleg or unbuttoned a shirt to reveal the traces of old wounds.  I can remember that day because I see it every day. I am marked forever.  

My mind goes immediately to King Henry’s words in the English camp before the Battle of Agincourt:
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'