Sociopathic?

Monday, 30 May 2005

That’s the question. Are we, LCMS Lutherans, to some degree sociopathic? In my personal quest to understand all sides of an issue, namely here the issues that are eating at the Synod, it is hard for me to avoid at least asking the question.

I seriously feel nauseous at times when I engage in conversation with some. But it’s more than nausea. It’s a rock-like knot in my gut. In these conversations I find myself seeking either to turn around and run or challenge the living daylights out of the guy. It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe. The conversation feels less like conversation and more like a verbal pat-down–and I’m the one who’s been pushed up against the squad car and searched. Then it’s like I’m being courted or recruited. Like I said, it’s hard to explain.

I do my best to keep my cards pretty tight in those situations. I played a little game the last couple times I was in such a situation. I made a mental categorization of the topics of conversation, dividing them into two groups: talk about others not present and all other topics. It came as no surprise that about the only two topics filed under the latter category were 1) the weather and 2) where to eat.

The former category was lousy with talk about what’s wrong in other congregations, what Rev. So-and-so is up to that stinks, how Rev. Thus-and-such had really done a great job, unlike Rev. Whosit who couldn’t figure out which way was up. Then of course came the inevitable “what’s wrong in St. Louis” suite. These always put me in an awkward bind. Always. The easy way out is to simply go along with the conversation, as dirty as it feels. Or perhaps to simply tolerate the conversation in a non-committal way. I don’t know which feels dirtier–they’re both pretty bad. The hard road is simply to end the conversation. And it’s rarely simple. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve only managed to do this well only once lately. And you’d have thought I slapped the guy in the face. It didn’t go well, but I retained my integrity and avoided a slippery 8th Commandment slope.

Part of what I noticed, though, was that no doesn’t seem to mean no in these situations. That is, after the “no” came another statement behind someone’s back. After another “no” a little while later came another such topic. It’s such a normal thing to rant about others to anyone-but-them that we simply do it. And probably the thing that has me asking the sociopathic question is that I don’t hear in the rant a concern for a brother. And that troubles me. I think we’re really good at paying lip service to Christian concern while actually seeking the elimination of the brother perceived to be in error. Maybe it’s just denial. Or maybe it’s sociopathic to a degree.

Or maybe I’m full of hot air. I could be. I’ve been that before. I’m afraid that I’m not, though, and it’s really alarming.

See, there’s so much anxiety in the Synod right now. It’s so thick it’s like you can’t move without upsetting the balance somehow. There are those who seem to be bitter about the latest elections, still trying to get it thrown out and redo what they disagree with from the last convention. The Yankee Stadium event is still alive and festering in some parts. Seminex looms like a shadow over others. PLI. Ablaze. Contemporary worship. Dead Orthodoxy. Us. Them. Liberals. Conservatives. We’ve factionalized and labeled ourselves to death. And some seem to view this as something of a good thing. I don’t understand how. The whole thing just wears me out.

What prevents our talking to each other–talking through difficulty (doctrinal disagreement, personal concerns, etc.) as brothers? Talking to the ones with whom we have issues? Honestly, what? I guess I know what the answers to that question have been, and frankly they’re not good enough. They’re bred either from laziness or from a contempt for one’s fellows and by extension the Church and the Lord of the Church. We’re called to be better than that.


Demanding Satisfaction

Monday, 16 May 2005

I refuse to link to descriptions of the class-action lawsuit that is being launched, naming LCMS Synodical President Gerald Kieschnick as a defendant. This is bush league.

This is not to say that some impropriety may not have occured. Yet those who support the lawsuit firmly believe that a wrong has been enacted against the Synod…and that two wrongs make a right.

What happened? Honestly, what happened to make it impossible for one man, one Lutheran man, to go to a brother pastor and have a conversation? What threw this train off the track so far that he can’t simply say, “Look, I’m concerned for what you’re doing. It looks like you’ve sinned. Can we talk about this?”

This public airing of all the dirty laundry is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing because, regardless of what the situation may in fact be, it proclaims to the world that the LCMS is nothing more than a bunch of dysfunctional pricks who don’t know how to sit in the same room together without drawing up resolutions against each other–and now worse, bringing about civil lawsuits.

I read an article a few months ago about the Pharisees. Anytime the word Pharisee is mentioned the first place people tend to go is legalism. But the author of this article had an interesting and compelling take on the Pharisees. His contention was that Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that they kept the Law too strictly but rather not strictly enough. The carefully constructed hedge around the Decalogue, he wrote, enabled them to justify themselves by saying, “Yes, I did this. But it’s ok because it wasn’t that, that, or that.”

Current trends within the LCMS come off just like this attitude. Bringing a civil lawsuit against a brother pastor ignores a significant part of the Scriptures in order to address a perceived sin. Bringing official charges against another without significant work to address his perceived sin in private and in confidence ignores yet another significant part of the Scriptures in favor of another. I suppose it doesn’t directly effect me at this point, but I can’t begin to describe the personal pain it causes me. In fact, I would maintain that there is not one person in the Synod for whom any of this is a good thing. All it does is serve to hurt and destroy.

The title of this entry comes from a Simpsons episode. Homer learned that he could walk around with a glove in his pocket and challenge anyone who crossed him to a duel. The image breaks down after this point, but it seems to me a fitting picture of life in the LCMS these days. Don’t talk. Just threaten and fight.

Those I’ve just offended should know that I’m not advocating the tolerance of sin. Sin must be confronted. But the process is important. And we’re not doing it right.

Here’s a thought: stop posting about a person on the internet and instead call him up or email him. Express a concern personally to a person instead of about a person to the whole world.


Theological Blogging

Monday, 02 May 2005

I entered into this little project with serious concerns for it. I experienced no delusions of grandeur. To be quite blunt, I’ve been reading these blogs for around two years–back when Strodtbeck was still a fearsome pirate and Dan was still young–and simply wondered if I might be able to contribute something positive to the medium. I’m not convinced that I have. I am interested in what is lately being suggested for the Lutheran blogsphere–that it somehow might evolve into a force to be reckoned with within the Missouri Synod, to call her back from apostasy and set her on the doctrinal straight and narrow.

The power of the blog has certainly been demonstrated in the political realm. Bloggers sometimes prove themselves to be meticulous creatures with a nose for news. They have certainly unearthed a good deal of dirt and caused some serious actions to be taken.

The problem with theological blogging is that the dirt-publishing that keeps people honest in the secular world is absolutely inappropriate within the church. More bandwidth is used to drag names like Kieschnick and Benke through the mud than you could shake a stick at. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone made a pithy little Ablaze joke. I’d probably, and most unfortunately be a rich man. Or how about a scathing retort to a weaker Christian?

My concern with the direction it seems Lutheran blogs tend to want to take is twofold: the first concerns the 8th Commandment. I wonder how many of those have actually taken the time and the courage to actually contact those with whom they have concerns. It’s in part what Jesus Christ himself says in Matthew 18. With all these amazing forms of communication and expression, it seems a simple thing to fire off a private email to someone instead of posting an article on the internet for anyone to read. It’s a much more evangelical–in the strict sense–thing to do. And honestly, is it impossible to put the best construction on Ablaze? If it’s the quantifying of the witness that you’ve got a problem with, that seems an easy one to get over. Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to those who have not heard is certainly a big part of what we the church are about.

The second concern is along the lines of AC XIV. The idea that bloggers might provide an undercurrent to overhaul the Synod flies in the face of this Article of the Augustana. The issue is public teaching in the name of the Church without a regular call. To start such a movement undermines the ministries of those who are indeed rightly called to function as God’s mouthpiece in that place.

I was going to write about family systems theory psychology, but that may have to wait for now. I’m out of steam and out of time for the moment.