Confessional Lutherans Don’t Try So Hard

This story caught my eye because of a recent speaking engagement — a Reformation Day observance — at an LCMS church in Fort Wayne.  For this ELCA church plant in Orlando, the church is both brewery and church:

The high-pitched sounds of children playing kazoos echoed off the walls of the indoor beer garden at Castle Church Brewing as Pastor Jared Witt began the blessing ceremony for the new 20,000-square-foot establishment in Orlando.

“And that is how you scare the demons out of a brand new brewery church,” Witt told a crowd of about 175 on Sunday including visitors from the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Plans for the nontraditional church have been fermenting for five years. What began with Witt and a few others bonding over a love of home brewing and fellowship in Aaron Schmalzle’s Kissimmee garage has evolved into a church community whose members gather every Sunday at 11:11 a.m. for worship services.

Early on, members of the fledgling church met in small groups in homes, then graduated to outdoor services at the site of the future church-brewery when it was picked about a year ago. Now, with construction complete on the church’s home, members have a roof over their heads while they celebrate Jesus with a frosty cold beverage.

But at the Reformation Day event in Fort Wayne, we heard (and I gave one of the) lectures on the Christian in the public square from both sides of the Tiber, sang hymns from the marvelous Lutheran Service Book (2006), punctuated by Scripture readings, and then adjourned to the fellowship hall where we drank beer (or cider) while eating snacks.

You tell me which is more organic — church as brewery or beer as beverage.

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Goooooooooooooooooalllll!!!!!

When John Fea gets it right, he gets it (mainly). He recently reflected on life in a small town:

Messiah is located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg is not a very cosmopolitan place. Many of my neighbors have lived in the town for multiple generations. Some young people get out of town after graduation and never come back, but many never leave. We have all the usual problems associated with small towns. Race-relations could be better. Drug deals go down in the convenience store parking lots. The wealthy members of our town cloister in their gated communities. But this is where we decided to raise our family.

When we arrived in Mechanicsburg our daughters–Allyson and Caroline– were ages four and one. They attended kindergarten through high school in Mechanicsburg Area School District. We chose to live in the Mechanicsburg School District as opposed to the larger regional Cumberland Valley School District (with more opportunities) because we wanted a smaller, more intimate community for our kids. Both of them have thrived in this district and we have never regretted our choice.

Some folks in town who know me may think it is odd that I am writing about the sense of community I feel in Mechanicsburg. As an introvert, I tend to keep to myself. I would rather watch my kids play sports seated alone than join a crowd of cheering fans. I am not very good at small talk. I coached my girls in basketball when they were in elementary school, but I got disgusted with the politics, the ambitious parents, and the way many of those parents treated the selfless staff of our town’s recreation department, so I stopped. I have not participated as much in the local life of my community largely because of the time I spend investing in the life of Messiah College. But I have tried to serve when asked. I could do better.

Then he mixes in Friday Night Lights for fathers without sons (with apologies to Texans):

I thought about my relationship with this community again as I sat in the cold last night and watched the Mechanicsburg Girls Soccer team play their final home game of the season. It was the second round of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s District 3 playoffs. The girls won 4-0 over a team from Berks County and advanced to the District semifinals on Monday night at Hershey Park Stadium. They are now 20-0 and ranked 21st in the nation. A great story is developing here in small-town Mechanicsburg. My daughter Caroline plays a minimum number of minutes each game, but she has been an intricate part of a team that is making local history. She has been playing soccer with many of the seniors on this team since she was eight-years-old. Some of these girls are her best friends. Mechanicsburg is Caroline’s community. This place has shaped her life in so many good ways.

Caroline had mixed emotions last night. Her team will play again next week and, if things go well, will try to make a run in the state tournament. Yet the sadness of playing her last game on her home field with her friends was palpable as she walked across the field to meet us. Her tears were a mixture of joy for the blessing of an undefeated season (so far) and sadness that it was all nearing an end. I fought them back as well.

From Hillsdale, Mechanicsburg looks like it’s on the grid. It’s a suburb of Harrisburg (the state capital for the geographically challenged) and only 40 minutes from Lancaster, and 90 from Baltimore. In Hillsdale you are 90 minutes from Ann Arbor, 2 hours from Birmingham (there is one in Michigan and it is spectacular!), and 4 hours from Chicago.

The irony is that I started my college career at Messiah. The college was about half the size that it is now. And the name of our dorm floor, for inter-mural athletics, was The American House. That sounded patriotic but was actually the name of a bar in Mechanicsburg where some of the lads went to drink PBR (on tap!!). At the time, 18-year olds could drink (Kavanaugh-like), though that was not exactly how Messiah’s dean of students understood it. But apparently no one in the administration knew the reference or they simply thought our joke was silly and ignored it. Over time I found the college so far removed from urban life that I transferred to Temple in my sophomore year (after doing one semester at Messiah’s center city campus). Now I teach at a college 2/3 the size of Messiah and am even farther from the East Coast than I was in the remote setting of south central Pennsylvania.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

I have no regrets about Hillsdale. It is the best job of my career and a wonderful school. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to teach somewhere like Messiah, where access to the Northeast corridor is much easier.

All of which may explain why Fea and I have different reactions to Americans and evangelicals who voted for Trump. John concedes that he was somewhat sympathetic to anti-elitism in America after hearing graduate students at a recent conference:

There was a sense of confidence in their speech as they talked about their prestigious advisers and the quality of the graduate programs where they earned their Ph.Ds. They did not seem overly worried about landing a job. Rather, their complaints focused more on the fact that so many jobs were located in rural communities in so-called “Red States” where they did not want to live. Their conversation was infused with the kind of cosmopolitan snobbishness that I often hear in academic circles. As I listened to them talk, I thought that maybe all those Trump voters and Fox News watchers are correct about the “coastal elites.”

Yet, that disdain for coastal snobbishness has not stopped Fea from sounding like the Never Trumpers who live and work on the coasts (with the exception of Austin or St. Louis thrown in). If he lived in rural Michigan would he see through Michael Gerson’s coastal elitism?

You Can’t Claim the Reformation and the First Gross (think German) Awakening

While the Gospel Allies put on the mantle of Luther — LUTHER!!! (that antinomian, beer drinking, potty mouth) — they should really be reading Garry Wills on the problem with evangelicalism. As I’ve been trying to say for some time, revivalism is antithetical to reformation. The church (as in reform the church) matters to Luther and Calvin. The parachurch is at the heart of revivals and the Gospel Coalition. To that end, consider the following:

Evangelicalism tends to break out of any single denomination—think of the preachers from various bodies at Cane Ridge. It is fissiparous even in its most favorable environments—think of Methodism branching into the Disciples of Christ, the Holiness Movement, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Whitefield, it should be remembered, was an ordained Anglican.) Evangelicalism is a style—Mark Noll calls it a “value system.” It can affect even some “high church” bodies or members. There are Pentecostalists among Roman Catholics. (Phyllis Schlafly, it should be remembered, was a Catholic, as Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon are. Bannon showed his allegiance in his 2014 Skype address to the Institute for Human Dignity at the Vatican.)

Given this description of evangelical style, two things should be noticed. America is, or likes to think of itself as, a “do-it-yourself democracy.” Many of the traits I have been listing are ones Americans will fancy themselves as embodying (or wanting to). People who hit the sawdust trail are working a kind of do-it-yourself salvation. The credentialing by the people is what all presidents claim. No wonder Noll thinks of evangelical religion (despite its roots in Wesley’s England) as native to America, as giving America its most recognizable God. Calvin said God “elects” his chosen ones. In America we choose to elect our leaders. The crowd credentials the preacher. Historians rightly observe that our national political conventions have borrowed elements from revivals.

The Allies should be especially mindful, as the crowds gather this week that “crowds credential preachers.”

Lenten Attractions

After reading a few posts, the idea of Lent may have some appeal.

First, it might be a time to catch up on films I’ve missed (though these are the sorts of films that the missus and I usually watch on the holy day):

Almsgiving, prayer, fasting. “Into Great Silence” is German filmmaker Philip Gröning’s almost yearlong sojourn with the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. It is a long film that challenges us to be silent and to contemplate the life of these monks who choose to live these qualities of Lent for 364 days a year. While some thought the film had no meaning, for those willing to take the time to stay awhile and watch, the film leaves a lasting impression on how to go into the woods, or the desert, and to live deliberately — alone, yet for others.

Or it could be a chance to drink more beer (didn’t see that one coming):

Seeing as beer has a long history as Lenten fare, I thought I would suggest five Bock style beers to sustain you during the long dark days until Easter.

Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock – Founded in the year 1050, the Weltenburger brewery is one of the oldest monastic breweries in the world. While it is sadly now a corporate operation, the brewery still makes a high quality Bock, which is no surprise when you’ve nearly 1,000 years to practice.

Salvator Doppel Bock – Salvator Doppel Bock is one of the first monastic Doppelbocks, brewed by the Paulaner brewery in Munich. This beer is dangerously good—it was once banned by the government because villagers complained that it was causing drinkers to become too lively.

La Trappe Bockbier – De Koningshoeven Brewery, commonly known as La Trappe, is a world-famous Trappist brewery founded in 1884. The brewery has grown heavily commercialized in recent years, but they still make an excellent Bock.

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel – The Andeschser Doppelbock is considered by many to be one of the best Doppelbocks in the world. Brewed in Andeschs, Germany by the Benedictine Monks of St. Boniface, it is one of the few successful monastic breweries still owned by monks.

Weihenstephaner Korbinian – The Weihenstephan brewery is considered by many to be the oldest breweries in the world. Founded in the year 725 by St. Corbinian, Weihenstephan Abbey began brewing beer in the year 1040. The brewery is now owned by the state of Bavaria, but its Korbinian Doppelbock is one of the finest in the world.

But while cradles find ways to make Lent less restrictive, converts keep Lent real (call it late-winter cleaning):

However busy we are, there are always certain tasks that are more palatable to us than others. They tend to gravitate to the top of the to-do list. (Planting the garden. Yes! Let’s do it!) Meanwhile, the really hated chores keep getting pushed back. I can go a long time without finding time to clean the fridge, sort the closets or make the dental appointments.

The hated chores still need to be done sometime. Make Lent that time. Prepare for Easter by doing all the really unpleasant tasks on your list, in preparation for a season of pleasant (if still frantic) activity.

I get incredibly excited for Paschaltide knowing that that’s when I get to stop sorting closets and turn my attention to the yard instead. (I hate housework and love yard work. That’s just me.) I file insurance forms and eat the nasty stuff from the back of the freezer during Lent. Sometimes I really get crazy and wash the windows. I rarely get through everything I intend, but however far I get, the penitential to-doing is going to stop once Easter comes.

Yes, the basement does need attention, but I’ll stick with one day in seven and leave the chores for Saturday.

Having More Fun than a Visiting Professor Should

I continue to find amusing pieces in H. L. Mencken’s oeuvre as I try to frame a book on the Baltimore journalist and the conventions of American Christianity that conflicted with his own enjoyment of life. The latest comes from a book he co-wrote, Europe after 8:15, a guide to night life in various cities. Mencken took responsibility for Munich and wrote the following:

Let the most important facts come first. The best beer in Munich is Spatenbräu; the best place to get it is at the Hoftheatre Café in the Residenzstrasse; the best time to drink it is after 10 P.M., and the best of all girls to serve it is Fräulein Sophie, that tall and resilient creature, with her appetizing smile, her distinguished bearing and her superbly manicured hands.

I have, in my time, sat under many and many superior kellnerinen, some as regal as grand duchesses, some as demure as shoplifters, some as graceful as prime ballerini, but none reaching so high a general level of merit, none so thoroughly satisfying to eye and soul as Fräulein Sophie. She is a lady, every inch of her, a lady presenting to all gentlemanly clients the ideal blend of cordiality and dignity, and she serves the best beer in Christendom. Take away that beer, and it is possible, of course, that Sophie would lose some minute granule or globule of her charm; but take away Sophie and I fear the beer would lose even more. . . .

In the Hofbräuhaus and in the open air bierkneipen (for instance, the Mathäser joint, of which more anon) one drinks out of earthen cylinders which resemble nothing so much as the gaunt towers of Munich cathedral; and elsewhere the orthodox goblet is a glass edifice following the lines of an old-fashioned silver water pitcher—you know the sort the innocently criminal used to give as wedding presents!—but at the Hoftheatre there is a vessel of special design, hexagonal in cross section and unusually graceful in general aspect. On top, a pewter lid, ground to an optical fit and highly polished—by Sophie, Rosa et al., poor girls! To starboard, a stout handle, apparently of reinforced onyx. Above the handle, and attached to the lid, a metal flange or thumbpiece. Grasp the handle, press your thumb on the thumbpiece—and presto, the lid heaves up. And then, to the tune of a Strauss waltz, played passionately by tone artists in oleaginous dress suits, down goes the Spatenbräu—gurgle, gurgle—burble, burble—down goes the Spatenbräu—exquisite, ineffable!—to drench the heart in its nut brown flood and fill the arteries with its benign alkaloids and antitoxins.

Well, well, maybe I grow too eloquent! Such memories loose and craze the tongue. A man pulls himself up suddenly, to find that he has been vulgar. If so here, so be it! I refuse to plead to the indictment; sentence me and be hanged to you! I am by nature a vulgar fellow. I prefer “Tom Jones” to “The Rosary,” Rabelais to the Elsie books, the Old Testament to the New, the expurgated parts of “Gulliver’s Travels” to those that are left. I delight in beef stews, limericks, burlesque shows, New York City and the music of Haydn, that beery and delightful old rascal! I swear in the presence of ladies and archdeacons. When the mercury is above ninety-five I dine in my shirt sleeves and write poetry naked. I associate habitually with dramatists, bartenders, medical men and musicians. I once, in early youth, kissed a waitress at Dennett’s. So don’t accuse me of vulgarity; I admit it and flout you. Not, of course, that I have no pruderies, no fastidious metes and bounds. Far from it. Babies, for example, are too vulgar for me; I cannot bring myself to touch them. And actors. And evangelists. And the obstetrical anecdotes of ancient dames. But in general, as I have said, I joy in vulgarity, whether it take the form of divorce proceedings or of “Tristan und Isolde,” of an Odd Fellows’ funeral or of Munich beer.

How much did Christianity frame Mencken’s experience of the world? Enough for him to claim that the Old Testament is vulgar compared to the New. What Christian could come up with that astute remark?

Update: Lunch with Cordelia

HexTurns out I went with my carbohydrate friendly and folk heritage – Pennsylvania Dutch – for lunch. (You may breath now.) The turkey salad on Amish sandwich roll was enjoyable as I watched Blood Simple next to the kitten with teeth and claws from hell.

BTW, has anyone noticed how great Carter Burwell’s scores are for the Coens, and that barely no one else in the movie business seems to use him. What’s up with that?

Then I decided to be productive. I purchased a shopping cart for post-automobile urban life en route to purchasing a case of Yards IPA.

In case you thought that was a full day, I am now posting at oldlife.org before Secret Cinema, mind you.

How could Twitter ever do justice to such a day?