The Case for Quiet

I recently returned to the United States from a long trip across Denmark and Norway. I returned to a lot of noise, both in the news and in life. I won’t rehash the noise in the news, but the life noise involves a new house, starting a PhD program, and an irregular sort of pastoral call.

And in travelling across Denmark and Norway, I realized that I like quiet. I like woodworking and cooking and translating Homer and fly-fishing and all sorts of things that don’t involve being talked at. And yet, here I am talking at people in my own little corner of the internet.

Even more than that, being in Scandinavia and being in distant not only spatially, but temporally from the United States, I realized how much noise there was from everyone else talking at people in their own little corners of the internet. And despite the fact that at times I can be a hyper-competitive person, I realized that I no longer want to compete to be heard (read?). I’m done contributing to the white noise of the unfiltered internet. That’s not quite true. I enjoy instagramming and occasionally saying sardonic things on twitter. But, I’m done devoting time and energy to the process of writing for this blog. And that’s because I realized that I need time and energy to devote to other things: to translating Plutarch and pastoral visitation and hunting ruffed grouse.

And so, with that, I bid adieu to my work here at Trout and Cast Iron. I’ll save some of the things I’ve written, and others, I’ll let go. It’s been a fun two year run, though I’m not sure I’m any nearer to my goal of learning to write “one true sentence.” Tight lines, folks. kdc

Scrubbing a Cast Iron Pan

One of the wonderful things about a cast iron pan is that it doesn’t go bad. It may sit, unused, accumulating rust for months. But all it needs is a good scrub with steel wool, a thick layer of crisco and 4 hours in a 200 degree oven and it’s ready for action again. Likewise, I’ve got the steel wool out, I’ve rolled up my sleeves, and I’ll be getting medium-rare steaks out of this blog in no time.

For those of you who are still chugging along on reading the Bible in one year, fear not. I know that June 29th is the 180th day of the year. The beauty of doing 90 day chunks in a 365 day year, is that I have a five day safety net to roll out the second half. Keep watching, days 181-270 will be here soon. Until then, tight lines!

Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon III

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Though it may come as a surprise to some who know me, the two authors that have made the greatest contribution to my identity as a pastor are not, denomination-wise, Lutherans. They are an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, and a Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson. In this new (infrequently) recurring feature, I will lay out some of the insights that I’ve learned from the two of them, as I endeavor to build the perfect pastor, or at least the perfect job description. You can find the first two installments here and here.

When last we visited the topic of the role of the pastor, we heard about Capon’s first two criteria: pastors are to be faithful and wise. Last, and certainly not least, said pastors must also be stewards. And what does it mean to be a steward? It means that the pastor is in charge of making sure that everybody gets fed their square meal of the gospel.

Instead of calling for celebrity chefs, Jesus sets his stewards up to be “faithful household cooks,” to “provide [the rest of the servants] with food at the proper time.” Pastors are called to serve their congregations the meat, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables of the Law and the Gospel. The world will provide your congregation with all of the sugary indulgences of ego and the cheap liquor of idolatry that they can stomach. As a preacher, you need to make sure that they eat healthy at least once a week.

And so, when you prepare your sermons, throw away the piping bag full of icing. Stash the hip chili sauce of moral exhortation (Sriracha, I’m looking at you). Don’t worry about prepping an appetizer plate full of light and airy jokes. It’s like being an army cook. Get them fed. Fed on the hearty food of the Law and the Gospel. Fed on the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Fed so that they can go out into the world and not faint for lack of nutritional value.

For those interested in reading Capon’s thoughts in their original context, you can find them in: Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, 243-245.

Next time: Thoughts from Eugene Peterson that have nothing to do with the Message.

Remembering Jaroslav Pelikan and his Books

The United States of America is really sort of a backwater in terms of Lutherans. There aren’t very many of us, and, quite frankly, the credentials of all of the “Lutheran” churches look a little dubious, depending on the lighting. Because of that, the famous Lutherans have generally been European. This is the second in a series of posts highlighting both important and improbable characters from the American side of the things.

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Not the right kind of Pelikan.

Bear with me for a short time on this one. On Wednesday, September 28th, the Roman church observes the feast day of St. Wenceslas. For those of you who don’t know, in addition to going out on the feast of St. Stephen, Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any famous Czech-American Lutherans. However, thinking about the Czechs made me remember that they formerly shared the country of Czechoslovakia with the Slovaks. And I do know of a Slovak-American Lutheran that you all should know about: Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan.

And while there’s a lot to know about Dr. Pelikan, I’d like to focus on one thing: his voluminous literary output. He wrote a lot of books, both popular and academic, and I’d like to focus on his books because they represent a facet of Dr. Pelikan’s life and work that the Lutherans in America often sorely miss.

Jaroslav Pelikan represents a Lutheran theology grounded in history and not afraid to do serious academic digging. He knew over a dozen languages and had an interest in subjects as diverse as the music of Bach and the literature of Dostoevsky. And so, in honor of St. Wenceslas, Dr. Pelikan, and my own convoluted chain of thought, here are three books by Jaroslav Pelikan that every pastor ought to read (and every layman could benefit from):

  1. Fools for Christ – In this book, Pelikan weaves together the story of six towering figures in the history of Christian theology: the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Johann Sebastian Bach. In weaving them together, he highlights the three chief temptations of Christian theology, namely the identification of the Holy with the good or the true or the beautiful. In each instance, he redirects the theology back to its true object: Jesus Christ.
  2. Whose Bible is It? A Short History of the Scriptures – In Whose Bible is It?, Pelikan turns his historical interest to the formation of the Bible. Written for a popular audience, this book provides clear answers to common questions about how the Bible came to be.
  3. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine – This last recommendation is actually a five volume set. To put it simply, in these five books, Pelikan does the reading for you. While not light reading by any measure, Pelikan presents an accessible guide to the development of Christian doctrine, all the way from the early church up to the present day. As both a history and a reference, it ought to be in every pastor’s office.

Niebuhr’s Notebook

During my time as an intern pastor, I’ve been reading memoirs written by other pastors, in an effort to learn about what has changed in the pastoral ministry and what hasn’t. The first that I’ve read comes form the pen of Reinhold Niebuhr.

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In 1929, shortly after moving away from Detroit, Reinhold Niebuhr published Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, excerpts from his journal during his time as a pastor in Detroit. As a piece of history, Niebuhr’s writings are well worth the time, though as a reflection of Niebuhr’s views of the ministry, they are more depressing than anything else.

As a history of Christianity in the 1920’s, Niebuhr’s journal deserves to be read by all pastors. For one, reading Leaves will lead the observant pastor to a Ecclesiastes 1:9 moment. If not for his constant references to “industrialists and Henry Ford,” Niebuhr could have written his book within the last ten years. The concerns of Niebuhr for the working poor and societal inequity have not gone away. His criticisms of fundamentalists and the social gospel are repeated by pastors all the time. On a personal level, the concerns that he voices over pastoral visitation, preaching, and his relation to his parishioners continue to resonate with the pastoral life today. A reading of his book should serve as necessary medicine to both the pastor who longs for the “good ol’ days” and the pastor who thinks that they’ve arrived at something revolutionary.

But, today’s echoes of Niebuhr’s concerns also point to the depressing side of his book. Within the pages of his journal, one can trace the beginnings of the slow decline of mainline Protestantism. Niebuhr’s book points to the fact that mainline Protestantism (and its children, the Social Gospel and the Emerging Church) have been beating the same drum for almost one hundred years now. Thoughts of the intrinsic goodness of humanity, societal reform and the “ethics” of Jesus dominate Niebuhr’s writings. His main concern is to change his parishioners into instruments for social change and to give them a greater social consciousness. Niebuhr’s concerns are repeated over and over in pulpits today; the problem is that Niebuhr had demographics on his side. But even as his church grew, in his moments of clarity, when he describes his conversations with Jewish and socialist leaders, Niebuhr wrestles with the realization that his preaching may render his brand of Christianity superfluous.

Almost a century later, pastors should continue to read Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. As a snapshot of mainline Christianity in the 1920’s, it is informative. As a book of pastoral theology, it’s tired, and ought to be put to bed.

 

 

Same Name, Different Subject, New Start

Dec 1When I started Trout and Cast Iron, 3 months or so ago, it was with the hope of sharing profound insights on fly-fishing, cooking, and the meaning of life. But, six posts later (and a whole month since my last post), it’s become obvious that my heart is not in it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to cook; I love to fly fish. But, in the end, they are both hobbies, and being hobbies, they flit in and out of my attention. More to the point, they don’t inspire me to write consistently or to write well. And so, if I’m going to make this blog worth my while and worth my readers’ while, I need to return to what constantly holds my attention. There’s a reason that I’m a pastor-in-training and hoping to do my PhD in Church History. And, while I’m not sure that the world necessarily needs another pastor blog, I am certain it needs more church history. And so, in the next week, Trout and Cast Iron will undergo a conversion. The name will stay the same, as will the design, but the content (and hopefully the frequency of content) will shift quite a bit. With any luck, the switch will help to improve the quality of my writing and to make it more useful. To those of you who visited the original incarnation of Trout and Cast Iron, thank you. And who knows, maybe I’ll keep up with the recipes, church history or not. Stay tuned, stay hyped.

December Daily

My wife, Julie, introduced me to the idea of the December Daily a few years ago, and since then, we’ve tried to make them a part of our winter ritual. December Daily is the creation of Ali Edwards, who envisioned December Daily as scrap-booking way to “capture the spirit of December via one story per day.” Julie has made use of Ali’s kits and liked them quite a bit. Another year, she and I each did a December Daily and then put the photos side by side in a book from Artifact Uprising. For me, I’ve envisioned December Daily a little bit simpler. I’ve put my the December Daily into action as simply as taking one picture a day, every day of December. The pictures can be a random snapshot from the day, or organized around a theme, like landscapes or meals, etc.  It can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like.

This year, I’m returning to my roots with my December Daily. While I’m not all that artistic (I don’t paint or draw or sculpt), I take my photography pretty seriously. Eight years ago, I took a class in black and white film photography, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I still love film best, but with the death of Kodachrome (and the rising cost of slide film), I’ve switched over to DSLR. And with the switch, I’ve realized that I need to take the time to get back to the basics of composition and lighting. The ability to take 100’s of pictures has caused me to get a little lazy with my work. And so, I’m going back to where I first learned my craft. My December Daily this year will be a study in black and white photography. If you’d like to follow along, you can find it on Instagram @rev.doc.trout.