Archive for the ‘Abolitionists’ Tag

The Old and the New   1 comment


Above:  The Copyright Information for “Restless Weaver,” an Excellent 1988 and 1993 Hymn, Number 658 in Chalice Hymnal (1995)


The Collect:

Holy God, our strength and our redeemer,

by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may

worship you and faithfully serve you,

follow you and joyfully find you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 48:12-21

Psalm 40:6-17

Matthew 9:14-17


Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 48:

Matthew 9:


Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;

let those who love your salvation say always, “The Lord is great.”

–Psalm 40:17, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


The words of a dying church, I have heard, are

We’ve never done it that way before.

The Bible speaks again and again of God doing new things and provides examples–the main one being the Incarnation and all that flowed from it.  The tension between the traditional and the innovative is an old story.  One can find both gold and dross among both the old and the new.  Yet how can one distinguish between the dross and the gold?

That is a difficult question, one worth wrestling with over time.  My study of the past tells me that hindsight proves useful.  Traditional interpretations of the Bible in the Antebellum U.S. South affirmed chattel slavery.  Thus, according to that standard, abolitionists were heretics.  Yet the alleged heretics were really the orthodox and the alleged orthodox were really the heretics.  The new was superior to the old.   Yet hindsight does not exist in the moment.  That is a problem.

Here is another example:  I like hymns with theologically deep words.  These hymns might be old or new.  Their value does not depend on their age.  But “seven-eleven songs”–songs with seven words one sings eleven times–are dross.  Thus I despise praise songs and choruses, heaping upon them a great amount of undying contempt for their shallowness.

Striking the proper balance between the old and the new can prove difficult.  I propose a standard from Philip H. Pfatteicher, an expert on Lutheran liturgy.  He wrote:

…the new is not always found in opposition to the old but arises from the old as its natural growth and development.  Stability and continuity are essential elements of catholic Christianity.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990), page 10

It is good to remember that our traditions began as innovations.  They became traditions only with the passage of time.  And neither theology nor liturgy should function as museums.  Yet neither ought the faddish displace the tried-and-true, as my studies of liturgical development have revealed.  (Some 1970-1972 liturgies have not aged well.)

Furthermore, some issues are questions purely of taste, with no right or wrong involved.  One ought to recall that also.

Isaiah 48:12-21 condemns the faithlessness of both Chaldea and Judah yet ends with the promise of the redemption of the latter.

If you had only listened to my commands,

verse 18a reads in The Revised English Bible (1989).  The commands of God are old sometimes and new on other occasions, from our temporal perspectives.  May we, by grace, identify these commands and follow them, separating the new and worthy from the new and faddish and the old and worthy from the old and erroneous.  So, with the worthy old and the worthy new, may we rejoice in the Lord.






Adapted from this post:


Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part III: Violating Social Norms   1 comment


Above:  William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist

Image Source = Library of Congress



Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 6:4-7:5 (May 22)

Song of Songs 7:6-8:14 (May 23)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–May 22)

Psalm 97 (Morning–May 23)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–May 22)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–May 23)

John 6:22-40 (May 22)

John 6:41-59 (May 23)


Some Related Posts:

John 6:


The Song of Songs ends with a note consistent with the rest of the book:  this love violates social norms.  To consumate it is risky, and the lovers must be prepared for a risky parting or a flight together; the Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding whether the lovers will remain in each other’s company.

Speaking of violating social norms, the discourse of eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood violated Jewish social norms.  Such potent language offended sensibilities.  It sounds like cannibalism, does it not?  And more is happening in the narrative.  The Greek text in John 6 echoes the Greek text of the Septuagint in reference to grumbling Israelites in the desert after the Exodus.  So those who complained regarding Jesus received especially negative press.  And Jesus was (and remains) far more than manna.

In my North American context celebrations of the Holy Eucharist are routine, with no legal attention paid to them.  Yet, a few centuries ago, Roman Catholic priests risked their lives to say the Mass in England.  Following Jesus violated social and norms at that time and place.

Sometimes I think that following Jesus has become too respectable, not that I favor religious persecution.  Early Christianity, like the love in the Song of Songs, had an edge an element of risk to it.  And it had value.  As Thomas Paine wrote,

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:  ’Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.

The American Crisis, Number 1, December 23, 1776

And, when religion becomes respected–the establishment even–it loses its prophetic edge.  I think of the uses of Christianity in  U.S. history to justify slavery then segregation and to criticize prostitutes while affirming the sexism and patriarchy which pushed many women into that situation.  Such hypocrisy, in the case of these women, blamed the victims.  Simply put, Jesus did not die because he was respectable and affirmed social injustice.  No, he died because Roman imperial officials considered him a threat to Pax Romana, a desert called peace, as Tacitus referred to it.

Respectability is overrated.






Adapted from this post: