Month: December 2015

Merry Christmas from Leviathan!

mangerMay your Christmas bring you back to the manger and the Christ child. We’ll be back online next week after our own celebration. Repeat the sounding joy!

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Just Words.

charlie brownA short thought for your Christmas week…
God became man.
(I should probably say, ‘That’s it.’ But alas, I’ve got a little more to say.)

Dinnertime is sacred time. As a young boy, I knew nothing different than a table of six, chairs always filled, mouths alternating between lively conversation and bites of food. Christmas Eve dinner became a ritual within a ritual. After the evening church service, we would return home to the smells of oxtail soup on the stove. Yes, oxtail soup is exactly what it sounds like. And although Christmas Eve was the one night a year that you could eat dinner whenever and wherever you wanted, the prayer of thanksgiving for the food stayed the same.

Like many old school Lutheran families, my family dinner ritual included what’s known in my circles as the ‘common table prayer,’ spoken aloud by everyone at the table. It goes like this:
Come, Lord Jesus
Be our guest
And let these gifts
To us be blessed, Amen

 Looking back on our mealtime tradition, I now consider myself remarkably fortunate to have shared so many meals with my parents and three other siblings. The television was never on, so the six of us were forced to make conversation over a generous spread of my mom’s wonderful home-cooking. But, dang…that prayer was said so many times that it morphed into a hyper-speed collection of syllables, that, for my grade school mind at the time, was essentially divested of any intended meaning. Every meal, every day, every year. I must have said that prayer 30,000 times in my life by now.  My family says it to this day, and I’ve taught it to Bear, Cakes-Face, and the Booskie (my kids). Are they just reciting a collection of syllables now, too?

The Lord’s Prayer can be the same. When our concentration is on today’s lunch or tomorrow’s presentation, we often drum out the words without the meaning. I don’t even think I understood what ‘hallowed’ meant until a few years ago. Rote repetition…or is it, commonly practiced faith?

repetition2Repetition, in its best form, is the force of history talking to—and through—the individual. It is a performance where we claim our space on a stage full of fellow confessors past and present; where learning becomes memory becomes speech. The creedal life of the Christian is a life grounded in the common refrain of Christianity’s core beliefs: God exists. Jesus is His Son. His crucifixion and resurrection are what save us. The Church is the ongoing Body of Christ. Boom. These creedal statements flowed in the blood of St. Augustine and C. S. Lewis; faithful words that connect the souls of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. …and they connect me to that cloud of witnesses throughout the history of God’s people.

But repetition, without meaning, can devolve into something far worse: a bland cup of yadda yadda yadda. When the creeds and prayers become jibberish to any of us, let the rest of us serve as holy butt-kickers. Part of our journey of the creedal life is to be active, walking reminders to one another:

We are the people who believe this. We are the people who confess this is true. That’s ultimately why creeds are spoken to other people, not to God.

So let’s take a small moment this festive season to reflect on the meaning of the words that so easily roll off of our lips. As a closing thought, I want to draw your attention to only one snippet of the Apostles Creed.

Stuck right in the middle of the text is this beautiful combination punch:
His only Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Maryincarnation

Forget the ‘virgin’ part, although that clause can single-handedly blow your mind. I’m interested in movement from: ‘Hey, this is God’s son’ to ‘born.’ To say this is an odd formulation is to say the obvious. The Docetists, for example, thought that the notion of God becoming actual flesh was offensive to the Trinity’s ‘three-ness.’ If Jesus was really God (as they were fine with proclaiming), there was no way he would stoop to the dirty, fleshy, bloody levels of common humanity. This, they could not tolerate. No, it only looked like Jesus on the cross, but it couldn’t actually be him. God, after all, does not die. Cannot die. George R. R. Martin didn’t write the Bible, so why would the key characters keep dying?!

I’m not sure that thought offends us anymore, particularly to Christians who have been raised from birth to confess that Jesus was the Son of God, even God himself. The problem is now the opposite. We have lost sight of the strangeness of our own claim. God became man. He actually became man and lived on this earth, not as a portion of our pre-historical mythos, but in real history.

Here I am, everyday trying to overcome the limitations imposed upon me and the God of all creation finds it fitting to wrap his Son in fragile skin and bones. While I try to live beyond my means, Jesus lowers himself to wash his disciples’ feet. While I continue to find not-so-new ways of becoming a god, Jesus empties himself and becomes human. May your Christmas be a ever-so-human celebration of an ever-so-human God-child.

 Indeed, Lord Jesus came.
He was our guest.
He gave us the gift of himself.
And we all are blessed. Amen!

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Making a Bloody Mess of Things

December is when we take stock of the year prior. Our successes and failures. New friends, new jobs, even new family members. Things that made us cry, and things that made us laugh. In this vein… Behold, my favorite YouTube viewing of 2015:

I can’t stop laughing, even after the 16th and 17th viewings. I think it’s the combination of physical comedy, fake-British-accented commentary, and the fact that it’s Yale. I showed the video to my 4-year old son, and now, when we play soccer at the local park (or, what I call, “every day of my life”) he insists on playing goalie in the same tragic fashion. I kick the ball his way, he dives for it, then rolls around in the grass moaning and holding his nose, “arghhh…pretend blood everywhere!”

Sweet buttered crumpets… Instead of raising a Lionel Messi, I’ve raised a Scott Sterling.

But notice the cue. My son recognizes how blood is the indicator of something gone terribly wrong. A bruise on Harry’s knee is one thing, but if he has a scratch with but a drop of blood in view, he takes the wailing volume up by a factor of ten.

If he saw blood more often, would he cry so much?

We have meat in our supermarkets under wrap, but very few of us have ever seen the machinery of the meat-packingblood3 industry—nor would many of us want to. Hunters still field-dress their game, I suppose, but fewer and fewer generations are exposed to the bloody work of harvesting meat from a kill. Few jobs remain where the risk to our person is so great that blood might be shed, save our guardians in the military…and even then, our soldiers are spilling blood in Kandahar and not Kentucky. We don’t have to see it. Shoot, we don’t even see it in hospitals.

I wonder if more blood—if seeing more blood—would impact our communities for the better.

It makes sense that blood is red. Like a rose or sunset or lipstick shade, blood red is a color that just screams for attention, as if we innately know that the ordinary world just does not offer many opportunities to see something look like that. Red is the type of color that bursts forth into existence, no longer encumbered by the earth tones of life, as a harbinger of warning, disruption, passion, eroticism, heat, and danger.

In the specific case of blood, its very red-ness is (and should be) alarming. The color warns us that some of the cell inmates (pun intended) have escaped the prison; seeing our insides on our outside demands our undivided attention. Blood signifies both life and death, depending on your context. But dead people do not bleed. Only the living do.

Could you imagine living in Jerusalem during the era of priestly sacrifices? The blood of dozens of animals seeping into the cracks of the Temple pavement, there for everyone to see. I can envision the long robes of a priest sloshing in and out of blood puddles as he performs his daily duties, the red seeping upward from the bottom of his outer garment. Perhaps people knew where the priest was at any one time, simply by looking at the ground. Just follow the red streaks. And what about the blood that ran out of the Temple area, leaking into the sewage systems and drainage areas of the city? The metallic smell of blood must have been everywhere.

“Dead people do not bleed. Only the living do.”

This past Sunday, I worshipped with a congregation not my own, and the pastor spoke about blood in an insightful way. He spoke of giving blood to the Red Cross earlier in the week, and in conversation with their technicians, they mentioned to him that they had sent along several units to San Bernardino for those who were injured in the recent shootings. ‘Our blood is everywhere,’ he noted–in the sense that we regularly give blood to those in need. Who knows if the person you just passed on the freeway has some of your hemoglobin on loan? While a useful thought on its own, I went one step further and a realization stopped me cold. What if the shooters needed blood and received the pint I donated? My O-negative on a Tuesday to save a terrorist’s life on a Friday. What would I think about that?

blood2I couldn’t come up with any answer. In my best moments, I’d say that my blood can be used to save anyone and everyone, simply for the reason that should I ever be in need of blood, I’d be horrified if someone performed a “goodness test” on me to see if I truly deserved the help. Let everyone be saved, then. But in my worst or more honest moments, I’d be angry that my act of selflessness was used to protect the life of someone who obviously didn’t value the lives of others. It’s one thing to jump into a fire to save Mother Teresa, but what about doing it to save Jeffrey Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski or a million other psychopaths?

Blood saves. Deep in my bones, in the very marrow, I know that my sin has made me an enemy of God’s. And yet, in the midst of that enmity, God sent Jesus to save my worst self. Jesus never restricted himself to saving the good boys and girls…he came to save the people that hated him. Jesus’ sacrifice old-growthcovered the multitudes. His blood is, quite literally, everywhere. When you look around, can you see the blood of Jesus in everything around you, clothing the world in the promise of a new creation? That type of imagery should scream for our attention, both as an overarching reality that covers our lives as people awaiting the Final Day and as a weekly reminder of God’s extraordinary grace at the Lord’s Table.

His blood is everywhere, giving life to the community of faith. From Johnny Cash’s ‘Redemption’:

From the hands it came down
From the side it came down
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground
Between heaven and hell
A teardrop fell In the deep crimson dew
The tree of life grew

 And the blood gave life
To the branches of the tree
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood

Blood gives life, indeed. May we recognize that blood is everywhere. His blood continues to cover us from God’s wrath even when we were the ones who demanded it be shed in the first place.

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Married(?) White Male: Reluctantly Seeking Community

last man on earthIs it possible to be a Christian in the absence of other people?

A few months ago, my wife and I decided to try a new show on TV. We were intrigued by a commercial for Last Man on Earth, starring Will Forte, so we gave it a shot. The story revolves around a dude who finds himself utterly alone on the planet—with no accompanying explanation as to why everyone has disappeared. He drives his Winnebago around the country in search of other human life, only to cross off all 50 states on his map, indicating his astonishing lack of success. He finds a house in Tucson and begins to navigate daily life as an earth-bound version of Mark Watney.

…and ever since, I’ve been playing a thought experiment in my head: What would I do if I woke up to find myself completely, utterly alone?

Here’s a cliff notes version of what I came up with:

  • Time-sensitive activities. Once I come to the realization that there’s no one left, I’ve got certain things that can only be done in the first week. For example, grass grows—making golf courses available for about 48 hours, then never again. I can make it up to 17-Mile Drive in Monterrey in about 3 hours. From realization to Newport Imports (25min). 5 minutes to break in, find the keys of a Ferrari 455 Italia, throw the sticks in the trunk and fill up the tank. 380 miles to Pebble Beach, tee box #1 at an average of 165mph (just to be safe). Shoot, the grass on the greens will still be as smooth as my scalp. If only I could get to Pine Valley, NJ, before it overgrows…

17-mile drive

  • Residence. This requires some patience. Since the electrical grid would likely be out, you can’t just choose any place to live, unless you’re cool with the whole Otto Kilcher lifestyle… But you can bend the spoon, so to speak. The trick is finding a house that runs on solar power—solar power that feeds directly into its own battery system, not back into the power grid. These places are rare but they do exist, usually in sunny, wealthy communities. Dana Point seems like a good option, but really, anywhere along the California coast should have one or two nice places to squat in. I’d be able to run a fridge, keep the heat/AC on, and play MLB: The Show to my heart’s content.
  • Transportation. You could really blow it on this one if you’re not careful. After my mad dash with the Ferrari to Monterey—and probably an afternoon drive at Laguna Seca while I’m there—it’s time to be smart. If I want to flourish long-term, I need something that’s durable, has room for tools/weapons/storage, can go on- or off-road, and can tow stuff. My ol’ Chevy Silverado should do the trick for the first 5 years or so…
  • Community. Hmmmm…no people anywhere. Is there a way to create a sense of community that does not involve a bloody hand and a volleyball? To lessen my sense of utter loneliness, I would have to locate the nearest Labrador breeder in Cali and take my pick(s) of the litter. Sure, there’d be a mess or two to deal with, but duck hunting just kicked up to a whole new level. And let’s face it, the world is better because it has chocolate labs.

wilsonAnd now, the worst part: I think I would enjoy it. Sure, there’s the obligatory mourning I’d do for my wife, kids, and close friends. I’d seriously wonder if God forgot about me in his whole Heilsgeschichte (plan to save the world) thing. But then, I’d get to the business above…and, as you can tell, I’m already preparing.

I’m an introvert. Many of you are. I’m not the “I’m-an-outgoing-introvert” type, more the “I’m-pretty-cool-with-not-seeing-anyone-for-a-month” type. And being such, I struggle mightily with the parts of Scripture that speak to our obligations to the broader Christian community—which is Scripture repeatedly talks about in big chunks. Like a splinter in my soul, I have to reckon with the fact that I am born into a community of believers who I am responsible to, responsible for, and associated with.

Bonhoeffer knew the temptations for a guy like me. In Life Together, he articulated two sides of the same coin—first, with a warning to the extroverts; second, a warning to me:
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give account to God … If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.”

Got it. Be cool with being alone. Hear God’s call. Check and check.

“But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.”

(deafening silence)

It’s difficult for introverts like me to participate in the ongoing life of the Christian community. I tend to fall into the trap that Christianity means essentially to think the right things about God. If I have my doctrine straight, that’s all that matters. I lose sight of God’s movement through people: both in the sense that I can/should be moved by others who are being used by God, and in the sense that God wants to use me as his instrument to those around me. Without this perspective, my neighbors recede into the background as just ‘those people across the street,’ not as beloved brothers and sisters who bear the Word of God to me in my darkest need.

“An introvert so naturally begins to believe a satanic deception: You do not need other people. The further I remove myself from the sheepfold, however, the more exposed I am to the Wolf.”

solitary2I’ve known for some time that if I was to experience the most tragic of worldly circumstances—the death of my wife and children—the great threat to my well-being would not be anger or confusion or even depression—it would be isolation. I would retreat into the deepest hole so that I wouldn’t have to confront the community as it confronts me. After all, consolation is a form of graceful confrontation. An introvert so naturally begins to believe a satanic deception: You do not need other people. The further I remove myself from the sheepfold, however, the more exposed I am to the Wolf.

Yes, at times, life with others can be a frustrating, inefficient mess. But God chose it to be that way. Holy communion is received in community. We are baptized into community. Without the people of God proclaiming the Word to one another and the world, we are left in true silence.

Even for an introvert, that is one type of silence I never, ever want to endure.

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© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.