Monday, October 31, 2011

Semper Reformanda

Frequent misunderstandings arise concerning the purpose, meaning and application of the Protestant Reformation. It's such a multifaceted epoch in history that widely varied opinions and interpretations exist regarding whether it was good or bad. The Reformation of the 16th Century is at once both a tragic tale, and a glorious one. It's a tragic one because an unintended consequence of it was the subsequent splintering of the Church of the West. However, it's a marvelous story because the need for the western Church to correct some of its errors was THAT dire. Basically, it's both a fond and painful memory for all of us - not unlike how an adult recalls a particular meaningful spanking they received as a child. For this reason, some may cringe at the prospect of celebrating the Protestant Reformation on October 31st (the traditional date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the front door of his church in Wittenburg), and understandably so. On the other hand, I believe it's deserving of a commemorative party - not unlike how adults recall a younger spanking with stories of childhood discipline that resemble, "Yeah. My father was a loving, but strict man. I remember one time I acted up...and instead of just leaving me to my self-destructive folly, he applied the 'board of education' to the 'seat of learning.' I'm so glad he loved me enough to straighten me up then...but I still couldn't sit down comfortably for days."

To the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote, "For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6; emphasis added). This confident statement by the Apostle can be appropriately interpreted as Divine assurance that God will remain an "engaged Father," disciplining and correcting the Church (semper reformanda - "always reforming") until the return of Jesus Christ. Far from standing aloof, allowing the Bride of Christ to wander aimlessly in error, he set events in motion and supervises them to fix things that are broken. There can be no doubt that the disunity that ensued has left us rubbing our collective backsides, saying "Oooh! That smarts." Nevertheless, the bruised posterior offers both bragging rights for the Herculean endurance and an endearing narrative concerning an attentive Father.

Therefore, while I understand that reluctance to celebrate the Reformation can be born of a legitimate distaste for the division in the Church that has sense ensued, I instead take the position of recalling the episode as a story of God's grace. Imagine the opposite scenario of a disengaged father that leaves his offspring to their own devices, meandering about without corrective intervention. Surely the the healing process continues, and we will one day see a Church re-unified in it's doctrine and mission. In the meantime, celebrating Reformation Day is to celebrate the God that corrects us when we need it. He remains interactive and engaged, bringing us back on track when we wander off it (i.e. indulgences, Transubstantiation, etc.).

Some have exploited this discipline though, using the post-Reformation division to advance their own sect, seemingly reveling in the tragic pain of a splintered church. They exult in the division and assume that efforts to heal from these wounds and seek ecumenical unity are misguided. This is a wrong application of the Reformation "spirit," by seemingly wanting to keep the "spanking" going on longer than is necessary. On the contrary, as any loving Father holds and consoles the very same child they just painfully disciplined, so also would the Father like to see us united as "one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church" again. Until that oneness is again realized (and even when it is), celebrating the God who fixes us is appropriate for any time.

In addition, Reformation Day is a celebration of the Church about the Church. It was the Church's very process of theological reflection and geographic expansion that God used to correct the errors of the medieval era. Scholars such as Martin Luther wrote on the abuses of the Roman church, calling for their correction, desiring reform more than discord. Thomas Cranmer and others advanced Christian worship free of odd innovations to classic Christian teaching that arose from Rome as well. All of these events reinforce that when God wanted his Church back in the right path, he used the Church to do it. So Reformation Day commemorates the triumph of the Church in addition to celebrating the triumph of God and his Word.

All of this suggests the necessity for a grand party, feast, celebration for God's people. It's a legitimate reason to gather the Lord's people together and incite them to revel in God's goodness demonstrated in "fixing" us when needed. When we celebrate our "engaged Father" that has reformed us before, we too can be "sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you [us] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." As a result, his work of semper reformanda ("always reforming") in us is his loving attention to the Church to keep us faithful to him and his mission to the world.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Need to Go Hunting Again

Growing up, my father was much more of a hunting enthusiast than I was. Each year, just prior to deer season, he'd get "the fever," and his mind would begin racing on all the necessary preparations for hunting. On the other hand, I paid it very little attention until the day we left. For the most post, I found it a lot of unnecessary work to simply enjoy the outdoors and have more meat in our freezer. The whole experience seemed almost spoiled by having to lug around a heavy rifle, or having to paint my face camouflage colors for bowhunting season. My heart just wasn't into it. My father, however, was the consummate hunter, and ascribed profound importance to all aspects of it. As I look back to those years, I've come to appreciate what a "conductor of life lessons" it was that I simply didn't value at the time; not unlike how different metals are often shown to be a better conductor of sound or heat than others are.

When the term "hunting" is invoked, it often brings one thing to mind: killing. However, the actually slaying of an animal in the wild is a small minority of the entire process, and frequently is absent from the outing altogether (I went on SO many hunts and came back with nothing). But regarding the killing of big game, I don't begrudge people their aversion to performing this act. It's not for everyone. I do, however, think that those who are "anti-hunting" should also be vegetarians for consistency's sake; for every human carnivore, whether eating a fast food burger or jerky made from a proud Mule deer, is consuming a creature which as once alive, but was slain for their sustenance. Nevertheless, I've come to consider it an important virtue to participate in the ecosystem as a responsible hunter does. Note how the term "responsible" excludes poachers that ignore government regulations concerning management of game populations, or, in my opinion, those that hunt game they have no intention of consuming. I disagree with exotic hunts that seek to "bag" a rare animal for mere trophy's sake. That's not being the "ecological participant" that my father taught me to be.

Having said that, the actual harvest of the animal (i.e. killing), is something that cannot be divorced from the mystique of hunting. The marksmanship necessary to ensure that the animal is, in fact, slain (not merely sent of into the woods wounded, to die providing no benefit to the human "predator") requires preparation that precedes the outing by weeks or months. The hunter must educate themselves on the various regulations specific to the region so that they are compliant with game management and (during rifle season) firearm safety laws in every way. They must outfit themselves with the needed gear and accessories for the safety and comfort of their party. In my case, my father saw to my care and comfort, all the while teaching me to be more self-reliant through the process. I cannot speak for all hunters, but I was imbued with a striking appreciation for nature through this process; it's beauty, artistry and fragility. "Pick up after yourself," "police your brass," "minimal residual impact" were the frequent commands. Woodsmanship and ecological responsibility were the lessons and the wilderness was the classroom... and "class" was ALWAYS in session whether or not we saw any deer.

I remember killing my first buck. I was young. I fired three accurate shots that all contributed to the deer's quick expiration. It appeared to suffer as little as possible - if at all. This was important to me. As we approached the downed animal, my father began giving me instructions on how to "gut" it right then. Thoroughly grossed out, I resisted, hoping my dad would just do it for me. He became indignant that I might even think of slaying an animal this majestic and then seek to escape taking responsibility for the entire process. "No son of MINE is going to cheapen life that way by just killing an animal, but then not cleaning it too." Needless to say, I learned everything about the insides of a Black-tailed deer that morning. It was a messy and sobering ritual that had begun months before at the target range, and would later culminate with the integration of venison into family meals. At dinner, whenever some on my deer was included, the round of thanks for providing it was uniquely mine to receive. It was profound. That connection with not only the animal, but with the entire process, would wash over me anew with each successive morsel. Something primitive and timeless had been handed to me, and the singular pride that came from engaging it remains to this day.

Over the years, as I no longer lived near my father, hunting became less and less a personal pursuit. Eventually I sold my deer rifle to pay for college books, and seemed to lose all interest in perform all that work. I eventually got another buck again 20 years after the first one during another outing, of course, with my father (I've gotten just two in my lifetime). Even then, though, I was more pleased that my dad was pleased with my buck than I was elated for getting it. I'm just not a hunter as a matter of instinct.

Recently though, I've been thinking differently about it. Because the entire process, from sighting in your rifle at the range to enjoying your harvest at the dinner table, is seemingly such a powerful conductor of life lessons... I've felt like I should pursue it for my sons' sake, and for mine. The task is daunting. Re-acquiring the "tools" necessary to undertake this venture are varied and expensive (i.e. firearms, bullets [or bows and arrows], camping gear, licenses, deer tags, etc.). Learning and selecting the places to hunt is no small task either. I don't live in the same region I grew up in. Texas hunting is a very different "animal" (pun intended) from that of northern California. It's intimidating to be so unfamiliar with local customs and access areas for hunting... to say nothing of the expense of actually taking the trip. All of this could be an effective deterrent from attempting it at all, but the lessons conveyed from one generation to the next through hunting were so important as to make all the trouble seem necessary and valuable.

I'll keep learning what I need to and perhaps I may soon be out there with my boys, teaching them some of what my father taught me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coddling the Grouch

There's a particular demographic group in our society that has been coddled, and excused, and accommodated and tolerated for so long that they feel like they can just do and say what they want, wherever they want. I'm talking about grouches: those negative and grumbling people that seem to find a destructive super-cell imbedded inside every silver-lined cloud. You see them all the time, but mainly can hear them nearby. Their voice delivers that raspy, doomsday prophecy concerning the present opportunity while their shoulders hunch over and sink back into their skull. The airborne negativity needs to be resisted if you don't want to contract their strain of pessimism. There's no known vaccine. Vigilance is the only treatment.