Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Legend of Africania-- The Story of My Life

Long time ago in the land of Africa, there was a man named Uhuru who was given the task by the Sun and the Earth to take care of the animals and the land around him. He took this task very seriously for he loved the land and everything it provided. Because of this, the Sun and the Earth decided to reward him by giving him their daughter as a wife. Her name was Africania. She was very graceful, with a beautiful, slender physique. Her skin was as black as ebony, and her hair was curly and spring the because of the rain. She was the not only beautiful in body, but also in mind and spirit. Like Uhuru, she also loved the land and enjoyed caring for. She also enjoyed singing, dancing, and enjoying life. Because of their labors, Africa for rushed with every type of fruit and vegetable, as well as every type of tree and animal.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the East, there lived an evil man called Takata. He had no true enjoyment for life and only cared about himself. When he heard about the beauty and riches to be found in Africa, he decided that he will want all of those for himself. Therefore, he traveled to Africa and was first greeted by Uhuru. Uhuru, who noticed Takata's presence when he felt a sudden cold breeze, asked him what he wanted. Takata lied to him and said that he was a weary traveler and needed to rest for a while. Uhuru, who had a very welcoming attitude, gave them a place to rest and brought him food and drink. When he had rested, Takata thanked Uhuru and gave him a gift of a fruit from his land. He left out one detail about this fruit; it had a powerful drug within it. Uhuru, never being given reason to not trust anyone, accepted for fruit and ate it, and then he fell into a deep sleep. While Uhuru was asleep, Takata then began tearing apart the land, cutting trees, stealing crops, and killing animals for their hides, tusks, their or just for the fun of it as he was completing his destruction, he saw the beautiful maiden Africania watching in horror. Believing her to be the most prized jewel of all Africa, he put shackles and chains on her and forced her to come back with him to his homeland.

When they arrived at his homeland, Takata put Africania into a shack with a large mill and forced her to turn twigs and branches into gold coins. Every night, when he came to collect the coins she had made, she would beg him for her freedom. He told her that he could not free for because everyone would know that she is not from his land because of her black skin. In order to convince him to set her free, she made a paste in order to make her skin look like his. She then asked him again for freedom, only for him to say that he could not free her because her hair was different from everyone else in his land.  in response, she made a chemical to put into her hair to straighten it. The next night, as could be expected, she asked for her freedom again, but Takata said that her enjoyment for dancing and singing, and her love of life, was much more than that of his people, so they would know that different from them. She therefore decided to mimic her master's mannerisms, style, and diet. After a while, she looked and behaved like everyone in Takata's land, to the point where she could no longer recognize herself or remember her origins. So Takata unshackled her and decided that she was ready to be free. As she left the shack, she noticed that her way was blocked by strong vines.  even when she was able to push one way, another one would appear or grab at her. She then realized that no matter how hard she tried and no matter how much she changed yourself, while she was no longer Takata's slave, she still was not free. As a result, she just walked back to the same shack that she was so desperate to get out of.

Meanwhile back in Africa, Uhuru woke up from the powerful drug after hundreds of years to notice that his homeland had been severely ravaged. He also noticed that his beautiful wife had been kidnapped, so in order to rescue her, he followed Takata's footsteps back to his land in the East. When he had learned that his beautiful Africania was trapped in the shack in the forest, he tried to get through the vines that in trapped her, but they lashed at him as well, so he went back to Africa and returned with the rich soil of his land, which he used to fill the sink holes that contributed to keeping Africania imprisoned. He then began to pull up all of the vines by its roots, starting with the largest one. Every time he uprooted a vine, Africania remembered something about herself and was able to rediscover her identity. As a result, she cleaned off for white paste from her skin, she washed the straightening chemical out of her hair, and she was able to recall the purity of her land and  her history. The second she completely rediscovered herself, all of the vines that Uhuru tried to pull out vanished.

Seeing that all of the vines were gone and that her beloved Uhuru had come to rescue her, Africania ran out of the shack and through the forest, not turning back until she was at last free!

This was a story I read in my school library when I was a little boy. I never really knew what the story was about even though I knew about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Being the nerd that I have always been, I would insist that Takata did not sound like a European name a and that he did not come from the east but rather the North and the West. Though I thought the story was inspirational of the child, I forgot completely about this book by Dorothy Robinson until a few years ago, when I realized that, all along, the story was about me; I am Africania.

Ever since I was a young child, I was always told to be proud of my heritage.  I remember one day when I was in third grade, we learned about the Civil Rights Movement, about how we as African-Americans staged a sit in, the freedom rides, and the protests even though we had water hoses sprayed on us and angry dogs set loose on us. Our Euro-American teacher and told the a classroom of us young African-Americans that we should be proud of what we accomplished and the heritage that we share. Then, after school, I was on the bus going home. I looked out the window at what was then my neighborhood, in the heart of Austin of the west side of Chicago. I saw lawn that have not been mowed, with knee-high weeds. I saw mounds of litter on every street corner and in front of every store. I saw people walking around with their hair uncombed, yelling and screaming at each other. I saw young men lounging on Street corners, drinking 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor concealed in paper bags and talking smack while they could've been doing something more constructive. Even at that young age of nine, I thought to myself, "Martin Luther King gave us freedom, and look at we are doing with it."

I guess that is where the Megillah of my life of ethnic confusion and shame began. I began to study my people, and become the opposite of everything I thought was wrong with the people in my community. I would see people slouching, who I would always sit up straight. I would see people wearing sport jerseys and backwards hat, so I would always wear formal but not sure, but not cardigans (which I admit I still like today), and for a while, I would not even wear gym shoes. I would notice my people using inappropriate grammar and calling it a dialect full words like ain't, finna, gon', as well as many double negatives and slurred words. As a result, I would say words like are not, is not, or am not, as well as about to, going to, and I would avoid double negatives like the plague, and I would use complete and proper pronunciation for my words. In fact, I don't think I've ever used the word ax as a verb (You know what I'm talking about!). In my senior year of high school, I had discovered a hair treatment technique called texturizing, which is very similar to old-fashioned processing for me, this was the best thing since frozen pizza, and I had my hair texturized as often as I could, to the dismay of my poor mother. As a result of my efforts to try to single-handedly fix what I thought was wrong with the community, I often would be harassed and ridiculed in high school and sometimes in college by African-American students. They would then call me names like sellout or Uncle Tom. My mother's friends would either respectfully thank me when I corrected their grammar or they would look at me indignantly in the face and repeat the inappropriate term. All of this only compounded the ethnic shame I felt. As a result, I would back away from African-American students and received the friendship of the Euro-American and Latino individuals who accepted me. I did not plan it that way, but that's how it turned out, with the exception of a few African-Americans similar to me.

I remember when I was a junior at North Park University. I had gotten a certificate for an awards ceremony for maintaining a high GPA. As I was unaware of their even being an awards ceremony sense I did not see it advertised, I asked the friends I had made who were all White if they knew of any awards ceremony. When they were marked knowing nothing about it either, I did some research, only to find out that it was a ceremony from the African-American Society of the University, and that awards were only given to African American students I was the so offended by this that I took the certificate and ripped it up. I then marched to the professor who was the faculty advisor of the club with and demanded that my name be removed from the rosters.

And then, after an editorial I wrote in the university's newspaper about an issue going on at the time that caused the African-American and Latino groups to cry discrimination, which I thought was unnecessary whining and race card playing, I was accosted by students who belonged to the same organizations. I was eating lunch, and one man decided to sit down without being invited, and then a group of students literally surrounded me as I was being interrogated about why I wrote what I wrote. They then said that I knew nothing what was going on because I was a commuter student. One Latino student even went as far as to call me a racist. On the other hand, I noticed some White students stopping me in the hall to shake my hand and tell me how much we appreciated my article. Some of these students I had never really talked to before. Again, this experience further reinforced my ethnic confusion and ethnic shame.

The more experiences I had like this, the more I would isolate myself from African-American and even members of my own family, something I have truly regretted. There was a time when I literally became the protagonist in the movie Precious, particularly in the scene where, as she is dressing and doing her hair for school, she looks in the mirror, and instead of seeing herself, she would see a slender White girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes. To take it a step forward, if one were to look at pictures I drew as a child, whenever I drew myself, I never drew myself as Black. When I first learned that I had some Native American in my blood, I'm overjoyed and I told as many people as I could. I did this even more when I found out that I was part Irish and that I even had some German in me. I would eagerly tell everyone how many Native American nations I came from and how much I knew about Irish culture. One time a professor responded, while the class was listening, "now tell me about your African heritage. Do you know what countries in Africa your ancestors are from?" He knew as plain as day that I had no idea at that time where my African ancestors were from. He merely asked me in order to prove a point, that he believes that the worst part about the slave trade was that it took our heritage and identity from us. While I do not think this was the worst thing about it, it certainly comes close. The worst part about the African Slave Trade was how many people died because of it; at least the third of all of the Africans brought on those ships through the middle passage died, and many of those who survived died either by being overworked, tortured, or because they simply gave up once their loved ones were sold away from them.

Returning to my supposed assimilation, I thought that the more I assimilated, the safer I would be from the crooked cops and the supremacists, and the more I would prosper as a patriotic citizen of America. As a result, I always dressed and spoke appropriately, I attended church regularly, and I still do, I became the first in my family to get a bachelors degree, and then the first to get a Masters degree, I tried to befriend people of all different nationalities and cultures, and I did not even think of dating until I had finished school and started my career. I thought that by doing everything right, everything would go my way and that I would be completely accepted by those of equal education and values, as well as in the workforce.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. When I needed to get an internship for my social work degree, I noticed that while the female Euro-American students in my class would get in internship after the second or third interview, it took me up to eight interviews to finally get an internship. Nevermind the fact that I had a perfect GPA and much passion for the field. For some reason, even though I came to every interview professionally dressed and more than prepared, I had the worst time getting an internship within a field that is supposed to be very liberal, and one that is always talking about how they need more male minority social workers. I then noticed that, while there were some female students of European extraction who performed it just as well or less slightly well as I did in grad school, many of them had gotten jobs with then 3 to 5 months after graduating and after only 3 to 4 interviews, while I, a student with the perfect GPA, who always led group projects, who belonged to Phi Theta Kappa national honor society and Golden Key international honor society, and to already had one and a half years of work experience in the field had to go on 14 interviews in one and a half years after graduation in order to get the job I have now.

I also noticed on the bus that I once offered a White woman a seat on a crowded bus, only for her to refuse it even after her boyfriend encouraged her to sit down, only for her to sit down 10 minutes later next to an elderly White woman. I noticed that, when I would politely hold the door to the elevator for a White woman, she would position herself to thank me, only to see what I am and face the front with a cold disposition. I noticed how there would be people staring at me when I go to a restaurant in a Euro-American neighborhood. Finally, I noticed how a pastor of a previous congregation would preach about racial tolerance and equality under God, only for him to allow a Euro-American congregant to verbally abuse me because he came from an influential family and owns a business that the church would do business with.

After all of these incidents, I finally realized that, while the offending parties did not see me as a blog or a hoodrat, they saw me as a child at least and as they passed at most. They did not see me as being equal, but as being either a token, a dancing bear, or an exception to the race. Hence, while I was not a threat to most, I was still unwelcome. At this epiphany, there was no brother or sister I could turn to as I drove them all away.

This was when I had my reawakening. I realized that my desperate attempts to assimilate and be accepted were all for naught. As a result, I knew it was time to return to my roots. Therefore, I bought myself a kufi and a dashiki. I also began studying the history and culture of the West African nations, and I became enlightened by how powerful we once were and much more educated and civilized than we as African-Americans had been led to believe. Contrary to popular belief, we did not all go running around in our birthday suits; we were the originators of tie-dye clothing, and we made it very beautiful and elegant colorful clothing. We even showed the world how to design and color cloth by using fermented clay. We started universities, we had empires, such as the Ashanti Empire, and we've had a rich history surrounding music, dancing, storytelling, and less brutal warfare tactics. Along with Native American cooking, our fruits, vegetables, and even cooking techniques have been of great influence in the United States, especially the Deep South, as well as Europe and even parts of Asia. For example, my best friend, who is from India, once made me a delicious curry dish using okra – an African fruit. (Yes, okra is a fruit; it has seeds after all.)

Even after learning all of these things, something was still missing. I had no idea what nations might African ancestors were from. Therefore, earlier this year, I took a DNA test through After weeks of analysis, I finally knew. 67% of my entire bloodline is from Western and West – Central Africa, with most of my African ancestors coming from Cameroon, the two Congo nations, Senegal, and Ghana, respective in percentage. I also learned that 31% of my bloodline came from Europe, with 3% Irish and 24% from Great Britain (most of this likely coming from Scotland). I did notice to shocks from the test results. First, contrary to what I was taught, the test did not pick up any Native American DNA, which could mean that the DNA traces were far too small to be noticed or that I was never Native American after all. Second, they noticed that 2% of my DNA is from Central Asia. Considering the fact that I was told that someone on my father's side came from Romania, this leads me to believe that that this 2% could be Romani.

Though I was disappointed that I did not have  any signs of Native American blood in me, I felt a certain peace come over me that I never felt before in my life. Alex Haley probably felt the same way when he met his relatives in the village of Juffire in the Gambia. I had finally unlocked a part of my identity, and I felt as if I knew more about myself finally. However, as I am a proud nerd, I have been wanting to know more about my cultures. The first step I took was writing to the Cameroonian Embassy to request information about my heritage, such as food and clothing, but they have yet to write me back after over four months. Next, I found a store in Calumet Heights that sells West African clothing and accessories. The man who owned the store, Kayra Imports, was very welcoming and open to showing me the type of clothing the people of my cultures would wear. He then told me that eventually I would need to visit the motherland myself. Now, I am learning how to make different types of foods from Cameroon and West Central Africa, such as peanut soup and fou-fou, which is the a very thick starch paste from grains, plantain, or cassava. The paste is then rolled into balls and served with peanut soup or any dish with vegetables or meat. It is far too bland to be eaten by itself.

While I am now proud of my African American, Cameroonian, Congolese, and Senegalese cultures, they do not define myself completely. I am not going to pull a Halle Berry and completely reject the other 33% of my bloodline – even though being part European have not gained me any acceptance in America. I am not going to be bitter; after all, I have not too many of the experiences that I often hear about or read about in the news. I have never been denied service at a store or restaurant. I have never been pulled over, frisked, or arrested by police for a DWB. I have never been the victim of a hate crime, and the only Euro-American to call me at nigger listened to too much Hip-Hop, and he genuinely apologized when he saw that I was offended.

No matter how much of my identity I am aware of and how much I am proud of my heritage, not race, I am still myself. While I recognize that there are some big itself there, as well as discrimination in the workforce, and no matter how strongly I believe that African-Americans need to own more businesses, besides hair salons, barbershops, and liquor stores, I still know and appreciate the fact that there are plenty of good White people. After all, a White school teacher gave me the extra attention I needed in grade school. A White principal and an Italian – Armenian high school teacher recognized and encouraged my knack for writing. A White pastor helped me convert to Lutheranism. An Italian supervisor treated me like a son and gave me spiritual guidance. An Italian – Lithuanian – Ashkenazi Jewish Roman Catholic married me, and a White, mostly German congregation has genuinely nourished my talents and interests, and provided me healing from the wounds of my previous congregation.

Hence, no matter what pain one has felt in one's own culture or other cultures, it is wrong the two denigrate the entire group because then you will be closing yourself off from the good people of that same culture you are condemning. It is even more dangerous to isolate yourself from your own people due to your own values and ideals. Otherwise, like Africania, you may think that you have found freedom, only to realize that you are still a slave – a slave in your mind and heart. As for me, I am finally free and at home.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Priest bashes Protestants while our enemies laugh!

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Omnipotent,
the Omnipresent, and the only Redeemer of the world.
To Him do we cling for truth, love, and mercy. Amen.

Before I begin, I wish to say that I have nothing but respect for Roman Catholics (especially since my wife and her family are Catholic). Many Catholics I know are strong, faithful Christians who love Jesus. Therefore, I do not intend to bash their denomination in any way, and if I say anything to offend them, I offer my most heartfelt apology.

 Last year, a Spanish priest by the name of Henry Vargas Holguin wrote an editorial against Catholics holding hands during the Lord's Prayer--a common ritual I have noticed at Catholic churches that  thought always existed. Though the preview of this article admitted that there was nothing in canon law forbidding this and that it is just inappropriate, I was going to just give the article a quick scan to figure out the basis of his dissent. What I saw beginning the editorial was both shocking and saddening. For the full article, click here. 

As soon as I saw what he wrote, I knew that I was going to write a post against his hurtful message. Even so, I wanted to give him a chance to redeem or at least explain himself, so I wrote him the following letter:
Dear Father Holguin,
On July 6, 2015, you wrote an article on whether it is appropriate to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer. You began the article by stating:
The practice of holding hands while praying the Our Father comes from the Protestant world. The reason is that Protestants do not have the Real Presence of Christ; that is to say, they do not have real and valid sacramental Communion that joins them among themselves and with God. Therefore, they turn to the gesture of holding hands as a moment of communion in community prayer.

As a Lutheran (and therefore Protestant), I must put aside my feelings to ask you a few questions about this.
1. During a time when Christians in the Middle East are being murdered and raped for their faith and when Christianity is a subject of ridicule in the Western World, why do you focus on a topic that is not even forbidden by canon law--let alone Scripture? 
2. There are dozens of Protestant churches in the world; which ones hold hands as a part of worship? What is your source of reference for this? We certainly do not have this practice in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, not to mention Anglicanism, Congregationalism, and many others. If you are going to make a blanket statement such as this, it would help to include supporting sources.
3. Where in the Scripture does it say that only the Roman Catholic church has the Real Presence of Christ or a valid sacramental Communion? And by what authority do you make such judgments? Yours is not the only denomination that believes in the Real Presence of Christ in Communion; we believe this as well, and so do Anglicans. So, again, where in Scripture is your proof that all Protestants do not have "real and valid  sacramental Communion?"
I would be most grateful for an answer to my questions. I will wait for the answers until next Friday, January 22, 2016.
God bless,

After over a week, I had not received the slightest response from him or the Spanish portion of the website that published his article, Aleteia. Either they do not respond to readers, or they felt that this "heretic" was not worth writing to. Whatever the reason, I will treat his lack of response as an implication of Holguin's contempt for Protestants and how they believe and worship. Therefore, I must respond for the love of the LCMS and the desire for all of Christendom to be united. 

First, with all of the problems going on with Christians around the world, from rape and beheadings in the Middle East to imprisonment, embarrassment, and bankruptcy in Europe and non-Hispanic North America, why is hand-holding an issue? With Christians, even Catholics, questioning and straying from their faith (hence, the Catholics Come Home initiative), why does he focus on something as trivial as holding hands? Maybe leading a parish in the middle of the Spanish countryside has bereft him of reality. 

When Jesus taught the Disciples and first followers how to pray, his only restriction for physical movement is standing in public and trying to grasp attention. Nothing in the Bible says that we must stand, kneel, or hold hands when saying The Lord's Prayer. In fact, the first to say the Lord's Prayer probably swayed back and forth; after all, this is how Jews pray, and the first believers were Jewish. Therefore, the actions that truly matter in prayer are those that come from the heart and the brain--not the hands.

Second, and more important, Holguin asserts that we Protestants do not have the Real Presence of Christ and no valid form of sacramental Communion, so hand holding is a substitute. Not only is this hurtful and divisive--it is not true. While some Protestant denominations do not have a clear description of sacraments and believe that the Body and Blood of Christ during Eucharist are just "symbols", Lutherans and Anglicans do not. As a Lutheran, I believe that, when the pastor consecrates the bread and wine, the Body of Christ become present in, with, and under the bread, and the Blood of Christ becomes present in, with, and under the wine. Is it the Body and Blood of Christ? Yes. Is it also bread and wine? Yes. 

The Catholic belief in this Holy Sacrament is similar, but they believe in a form of Real Presence that asserts that the consecrated elements are no longer bread and wine, no matter how they look, but are ONLY the Body and Blood of Christ. While I can respectfully disagree with this, I can still see Christ in them. After all, I am not a denomination supremacist as Holguin probably is. Besides, who is he, a mere man, to dare suggest that only Roman Catholics have a valid Communion with God? It is this self-righteous attitude that creates division amongst Christians and make the Holy Bride of Christ, the Church, out to be a laughingstock. 

If you have a Bible concordance, it is time to full it out. Look up the words Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian. They are not in there, correct? This means that these words are not in the Bible, so anyone who tries to say that only their denomination is true is lying and doing the work of Satan--the father of lies. Every time a false prophet leads anyone astray, every time, a church or entire denomination suffers a split, and every time a person, weary from the hypocrisy, abandons the faith, Satan laughs, and our amused enemies gain more ground to stand on. Whether Holguin realizes it or not, he is playing right into their hands. 

The only way the Church is going to survive such trying times is if we stop bashing each other over adiaphora, and if the false prophets, conservative and "progressive," repent of their deeds posthaste. As for Holguin, I would encourage him, before he insults another Protestant, to actually take time to meet with different types of Protestant clergy. More than that, he should put aside his books on canon law and liturgical tradition and dedicate himself to reading the Bible. Perhaps then, he will see that there is more worth to us than he initially thought. 

Pictures taken from and

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lunchroom Lutherans: The die has been cast.

(Dr. Matthew Becker)

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Omnipotent,
the Omnipresent, and the only Redeemer of the world.
To Him do we cling for truth, love, and mercy. Amen.

This is the third and final (?) post about the renegade "pastor" who has been teaching things that contradict Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, mocking our President, Pastor Matt Harrison, and refusing to recant. Because he and his supporters have been quite open with his identity, it is now no longer necessary to keep his identity private. The person I have been referring to in this series of blog posts is Dr. Matthew Becker, a professor at Valparaiso University. Lately, he has been accused of failing to defend the LCMS position, that the first three books of Genesis are a  "historical record."

Because Dr. Becker just can't seem to keep his hands out of the cookie jar, after the latest accusation by the district president of the Montana District, his very own district president of the Northwestern District, Pastor Paul Linnemann, finally worked up the courage to approach Dr. Becker. Because of his refusal to recant his teachings, according to the accusation, Pastor Linnemann asked Dr. Becker to resign as pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Dr. Becker refused because he believes that resigning is an admission of guilt. Because of his insistence on heresy and almost downright blasphemy, as well as openly contradicting the teachings of the LCMS, thereby defiling the beliefs and the faith of many of its members, Pastor Linnemann finally had to force his hand in the name of the of the Synod and of the Christian faith as we teach it. He told Dr. Becker that he was suspended as pastor of the LCMS. This suspension was the proscribed procedure when the leaders of the Synod are in the process of expelling a pastor who has strayed and refuses to repent. He was given 15 days to respond to his suspension, starting 1 July 2015.

These 15 days were a final opportunity for him to recant his heresies and blasphemies, before he is officially expelled from the Synod as a pastor. In response to his suspension and the July 15 deadline, Dr. Becker decided  instead, according to his blog, that he would rather take his family and join a local church within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, a.k.a. ELCA. In doing this, as ELCA is only not in fellowship with LCMS and teaches doctrine contrary to that of LCMS and Scripture, Dr. Becker has in fact excluded himself from the LCMS. In other words, if he indeed joins a church within ELCA, he is automatically expelled as a pastor and but also excommunicated as a member of LCMS by "self-exclusion."

While Dr. Becker's choice to be removed from the LCMS as a pastor and a member is sad and disappointing, it is not at all surprising. I have noticed that so many people contradict LCMS teachings in belief and in practice, only to leave the LCMS for ELCA or ELCA-supported churches. These individuals often are educated and very worldly, with strong beliefs in individualism. While having a fine mind is great and can be a benefit to one's church, one's community, and one's Lord, it becomes a problem when one's brain or one's desire to assimilate into the godless American culture leads them astray from the truth – – the truth that most of them had been taught since childhood by parents, relative, pastors, and teachers. This is exactly what has happened with Dr. Becker. While he is very gifted and educated, he allowed his own scholarship and kowtowing to decadent society to abandon the principles and beliefs that he swore when he was ordained to not only respect but to teach and practice.

Some may say that the LCMS has been losing people. On the one hand, because many people within the LCMS has become very comfortable with their lives, they often neglect their stewardship with their neighbors. This is not just a problem with the LCMS, but with most church denominations lately. Because Christianity has been such a stronghold in American society, we stopped working hard, and we instead try to condemn people to hell or focus on music and mere social activism. Stewardship, fellowship, and charity have taken back seats. This is why Christianity and the morals within our beautiful faith have lost so much ground in this country. While Christians are finally starting to wake up after the latest Supreme Court decision, they need to start getting up and getting back to work. When we are too busy worrying about football games and brunches and so forth, we are basically allowing people like Dr. Becker, to believe that while God does everything, he knows everything better.

On the other hand, I will agree with what one pastor has said about the decline in membership in today's society with churches – – especially evangelical churches. This pastor suggests that while the numbers may say that church attendance and in the percentage of people professing the Christian faith are declining, the number of true Christians has stayed the same. It is only the number of those leaving who were pretending to be Christian that is on the rise. By those who are pretending to be Christians, I mean those who only go to church to make friends, to make business contacts, because of cultural reasons, to listen to music, or because our parents or spouses expect us to. This may sound harsh to many, but if those are the only reasons you are going to church, you are not a Christian; you are a Churchian. A Churchian is someone who goes to church simply as a practice. They don't follow the beliefs of the church, they don't read Scripture, they don't pray, and they don't live out the Christian faith in their lives. Because of this country's increasing persecution of Christians and mockery of the faith and even Jesus Christ, Churchians have less of a reason to attend church. Therefore, they will certainly use Sunday as a day of rest or recreation, but when asked, they will no longer say that they are Christian but that they are "spiritual." Well, guess who is also "spiritual"? Satan! And his demons! And his demons believe in God, and they even know Scripture. But that does not mean they are Christians. All that means is they know what Christians believe in (or say they believe in), and they know ways that they can trap committed Christians. Just look in the book of Matthew chapter 4. Satan tried to tempt Jesus into throwing himself off of a high point because of what Scripture says. May be that is what happened to Dr. Becker. Maybe, Satan put doubts into Dr. Dr. Becker's head so that he could twist and turn Scripture into a way that is more popular with those who believe in cheap grace.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: a church is like a club, and a club has rules. It does not matter if you don't like the rules or disagree with them. You follow them because the rules usually define the club. In other words, remove the rules, and you destroy the club. If you do not like the rules, find another club. Those rules are clearly defined in Scripture, in the Book of Concord, and in the official statements of the LCMS. Dr. Becker was well aware of these rules before he was ordained and especially when he was ordained because he was in a pastoral position, according to his own blog, for 26 years. If he had any doubts, he should have spoken to a pastor, or gone to counseling. Instead, he decided to rebel against the very institution that ordained him and, by our own tithes and offerings, pay his salary when he preaches at a church.

Most people knew that this was going to happen with Dr. Becker. Deep down inside, he knew this was going to happen. He was given many chances to recant and to keep his contrary beliefs to himself, but he openly defied our doctrine. I will say that I am glad that Dr. Becker has the insight to join ELCA as I am certain that there are some pastors still within the LCMS, and I know at least one, that are against LCMS teachings, yet they will not leave the LCMS. On the one hand, Dr. Becker will now be given an opportunity to further lead others astray within ELCA (yet that will not be an arduous task considering that it is ELCA), but on the other hand, he will no longer be able to lead those in the LCMS astray. Truly a blessing in disguise. While we pray for Dr. Becker and for his family as they sadly find themselves departing from an institution they have known most or all of their lives, Scripture clearly demands that there be church discipline when someone openly speaks against Scripture and will not repent. Pastor Linnemann, Pastor Forke of the Montana District, and the President of the Missouri Synod, Pastor Matt Harrison, have served us and our Lord well by calling heresies and blasphemy what they are, giving Becker a chance to change his ways, and finally disciplining him. This sends a strong message: times may change, but God remains the same.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Christmas or Epiphany? Which should Christians celebrate?

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Omnipotent, the Omnipresent, and the only Redeemer of the world. To Him do we cling for truth, love, and mercy. Amen.

It would appear that the world is changing, and not exactly for the best. Take America. This was once a culture that bowed to God and put their trust in the Lord Jesus. Even though we have sinned in many areas, including how our nation was conceived, the Lord provided us with abundant blessings. Just like Israel, however, we have become too comfortable, and with that less insightful, then less discerning and more permissive. Now, many true Christians are looking around and noticing what our society has come to and are asking, "What happened?"

A good example of how far America has sunk is in the holiday of Christmas. This holiday began in the fourth century when it was implemented by  Emperor Constantine when he declared the birth of Christ a holiday. Later in that century, Pope Julius I declared that December 25th would be the day that the birth of Christ would be celebrated. This date was deliberate; it was the same day that European pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice. Hence, Pope Julius I coincided the pagan holiday with the birth of Christ in order to win over new believers.  Before that, however, it was commonly understood that Christmas was a Jewish Christian holiday, as this commemorates how Jesus first manifested himself to the Jews (shepherds). Epiphany, on the other hand, was when Jesus was first made known to the Gentiles (therefore the rest of the world) as a toddler (The Magi or the Three Wise Men).  After a while in Europe, only Epiphany was observed, and the Birth of Christ was made part of the festivities. Later, in many parts of Europe and what was to become The United States of America, this holiday became less popular until there were generations of those who did not celebrate at all. Even the Puritans outlawed the holiday due to charges of paganism, only to have such laws overturned by the British Empire. Even so, celebrating Christmas was considered a cultural taboo. Christmas became popular again in the 19th Century throughout Europe and the USA, and it became an official holiday in our land in 1885. While the cause of the Christmas revival was due in part to many historians and authors who fantasized of celebrations from the days of old, no one provided more influence to revive this holiday than Charles Dickens by his book "A Christmas Carol."

Before you start hailing Dickens as a saint or a prophet, be very clear of one fact: Christmas for him was not meant to be a spiritual/religious festival. Instead, it is meant to be a time for fun, games, and family gathering. To this day on television sitcoms, when discussing the meaning of Christmas, all of the characters point to being with loved ones, charity, and joyfulness. Because of this, atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions see no problem with trying to secularize Christmas to be politically correct. There are even those who profess the Christian faith who fall into this trap to please others.

If this is not bad enough, there is another distraction  to what is supposed to be a holy-day--Santa Claus. While Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, truly existed, he was not a fat, jolly man with a long beard who climbed down people's chimneys on Christmas Eve with presents. He did not ride a sleigh with flying reindeer. He is incapable of knowing who is bad and good. He was not even from the North Pole.  The truth is, he lived in a part of the Roman Empire that is now in Turkey, and he was a bishop in that area--all in the fourth century.  There are many parents who mean well who tell their children about the myth of Santa Claus in order to make their childhoods "magical." This is wrong for two reasons: first, believe it or not, you are introducing your children to idolatry when you tell them about Santa.

This may shock some people, but telling them about a magical man who rewards the good and knows what children are up to makes Santa Claus into a god. Plus, the Bible is very clear that ANYTHING that takes glory away from God is idolatry. After all, the birth of Jesus is the TRUE meaning of Christmas! Second, nearly all parents know that either their children will learn the truth about Santa's existence on their own or they will need to tell them. The first thing that tends to happen is that the child feels hurt that they had been lied to for years. Second, a point exemplified by my pastor, they will become skeptical about the Christian faith that their parents taught them. Think about it. A child is told for years, simultaneously, about Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. Then, their parents tell them that Santa does not exist. It would only be human for a child to then question their faith. To them, maybe that is also untrue. Maybe if  Christian parents would stop telling their children about Santa Claus, there would be fewer apostates. Just maybe.

Then, of course, there is consumerism--the American way. People cannot even enjoy Thanksgiving because of the pre-Black Friday sales. People will trample over and even stab each other for such great deals. And Christmas Eve is not much better.  To play the devil's advocate, how can Christmas be a time of fun, games, and family when recovering from wounds or visiting a grave because Dad died trying to get that 25% down game console for Junior? What about when Junior, who was very good, lost his father on Black Friday, and asked Santa to bring him back only to not get his wish?

Because of all the reasons I mentioned, I regretfully feel that Christmas has been ruined for true believers. It is ruined for me, and it doesn't even seem sacred anymore. While it is very possible that the true Christmas spirit can be revived among all Christians, I am not one to hold his breath. Instead, I feel compelled to consider Epiphany as an alternative as it is a holiday that has been relatively neglected and therefore not corrupted. I may change my mind, and even if I do, I urge all Christians to learn more about the beauty of Epiphany and, at the same time, focus only on Jesus Christ and lean not on your own understandings--and customs.

"Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?"--Galatians 4:16

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

They'll know you're a Christian by your love—A Parody

You treat people like roaches, you treat people like tools
You treat people like roaches, you treat people like tools
And you think you're the Savior to protect the church from “fools”
But they'll know you're a Christian by your love, by your love
Yes, they'll know you're a Christian by your love.

You are cold to the visitors and rude to the flock
You are cold to the visitors and rude to the flock
And to those who will challenge you, you'll reprimand and balk
Yet they'll know you're a Christian by your love, by your love
Yes, they'll know you're a Christian by your love.

You'll berate the parishioners who don't look like you
You'll degrade the parishioners who don't think like you
You're a fraud and a hypocrite, but one day, you'll be through
Still they'll know you're a Christian by your love, by your love
Yes, they'll know you're a Christian by your love.

--Dedicated to all church hypocrites and those who let them run amok. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Five legitimate reasons why people leave churches and how to stop them from leaving

Reason One: Favoritism

Favoritism can come in many ways. It could mean that people are treated better because of an elite status. Perhaps there is a congregant who is rich or donated time, services, or resources to the church more than anyone else. Another reason could be racism. For some reason, a church may have favoritism for one race or culture other over another or may discriminate against one group. Then there is family history. Let's face it: nearly every church is going to have that pair or half dozen families that have been there for generation after generation, and therefore are given much influence. Or, this could be the family of the pastor. For whatever reason, favoritism is wrong! James 2 says this specifically. Favoritism gives the church a bad name and threatens the harmony of the church.

If you see favoritism going on, the best thing to do is to not contribute to it, for starters, but also call it out as it is. If you notice that it's going on then, have the courage to confront the offenders and call them out on it, but in a gentle and loving way. If they still will not budge or will be offended, then take bring along a witness or take it to the rest of the church as outlined in Matthew 18. If after the church, aka the pastor, is involved and still nothing is done about the favoritism, then that person needs to be isolated in one way or the other according to 1 Corinthians 5,  for the sake of harmony sanctity of the church grounds and the church proper. If, for some reason, the church will do nothing about this, then it may be time for you to consider greener pastures. After all, at church is not truly a church unless it includes everyone and notes each person's contributions to be equally important and to value each person equally. This reminds me of an old African American joke: an African American man just moved to a town, and as soon as he settles, he starts looking for churches. He found a church that was huge and very beautiful. It has a spectacular choir which was much disciplined and used the best music, and they had a very educated and gifted pastor. When the man reached the top of the steps at the church and was about to enter the door, a group of ushers stopped him. They said, “You cannot enter.” Perplexed, the man asked, “Why?”  The ushers then said, “This church is for Whites only.” And they told him to leave. The next week, he tried again to enter the church, but different ushers told him to leave again. He tried to enter the church for about 2 more weeks. Finally, the last time he was asked to leave, he asked to speak to the pastor. The pastor then came outside to meet him. And the pastor said to him, “What is the problem?” The man said, “I just don't understand. I am a Christian a very devoted Christian, and all I wanted to do was worship here at your church. I just don't understand why I am not allowed to enter just because I am African American.” The pastor said simply, “Well, maybe you should go home and pray, asking Jesus why.” He then turned and went back to the church. And that was the last time he chose to try to visit that church. A few weeks later, the pastor was in town, and he saw the man leaving the grocery store. He remembered the man, and he was surprised that the man stopped trying to get into his church. So he walked over, and asked the man, “I'm just wondering, why did you stop trying to get into my church?” The man said, “Well, pastor, sir, I did what you said and I went home and prayed to Jesus about it” The pastor was intrigued. “Really?” The man said, “Yes, pastor, and Jesus answered me”. “Is that so? What did Jesus say?” The man smiled at the pastor and said “Well, the Lord told me, I have been having the same problems with you. I have been trying to get into that church since it first opened, and I haven't made it yet!” This story, while humorous, is a sad truth. The church that expects the Lord to enter should be welcoming. If reject a poor man, you are rejecting Jesus. If you reject a newcomer, you are rejecting Jesus. If you reject a person of color or a person of a specific disability, you are rejecting Jesus! 

Reason Two: Lack of Discipline

The second reason why people leave a church is because there is not enough discipline going on. I have seen way too much of this. We see it when the pastor's children are allowed to run wild because, since they are the pastor's children, they can do no wrong. We see it when a rich benefactor is allowed to mistreat people because of his contributions to the church. And, we see it when a pastor is allowed to do or say things that are against Scripture and that go against the body of Christ simply because he is the pastor. And a lot of this leads back to the first reason. Favoritism is a reason why a rich benefactor is allowed to get away with mistreating people is simply because he is used his resources for the betterment of the church building, or to fund certain programs. Also, it is the reason why a person is allowed to do as they please with or in the church--because of their influence because they belong to a specific family. And of course, there is racism, in which wrongs done against congregants of a racial minority are ignored. Just like that favoritism, not enough discipline in the church is wrong. 

Again, when you see this happening, you need to follow Matthew 18 if you see someone doing something wrong. They really need to be rebuked but in a friendly and gentle way. Well, you don't know that person's situation. You know they must be going through something very difficult. The thing is, Jesus called sin by its name when the prostitute was just about to be stoned by temple and synagogue leaders. He did not say that the prostitute had to sell her body because she was poor and had no husband. No, he said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And when she was not stoned, Jesus told her, “Go and sin no more.” He did not say, “Oh, they were being intolerant or maybe they don't really understand you, or maybe they understand that even though you're rough around the edges you are a good person. No! He said to go and sin no more. That means, he was not excusing her sin but was instructing her on how to lead a moral life and to sin no more. Therefore, we should do the same. So, what if someone is rebuked with Christian love, but they refused to repent or make retribution? In that case, it is time to get the witnesses involved so that they could know that their sin has been noticed by more than one person and that there are others in the Christian community who want this person to come to repentance. If there were no witnesses, or if the person will not even listen to the witnesses, then again, it is time to get the church involved as Matthew 18 says. In most cases, in contemporary times, by church we mean the pastor. Meaning, the pastor must meet with this person and say what their sin is and encourage them to make retribution. Now, I know this is not an easy task, but it is the pastor’s job to do this! It is his job to make sure that those who are living in sin come to repentance and that both parties receive resolution and absolution so that there is Christian harmony. Therefore, a pastor's job is with the help of other church leaders, to keep the peace in the church. 

If the person after speaking to the pastor still refuses to repent, then as Matthew 18 says, it is time to treat this person as you would a tax collector. In other words, it is time to isolate the person from the rest of the community. And not in a cruel way but in a way to let them know that they are not living as a Christian should live, and this means they need some time apart to reflect and to realize what it truly means to be a Christian. In most cases, this means they will receive no communion lest they bring condemnation on themselves by defiling the elements. In other cases, it can also mean that this person will not be allowed to worship at the church in order to not disturb the other members. In either case, a person who openly refuses to repent needs to be shown discipline, and if they refuse to accept that discipline, they must be isolated from the community and not even be treated as a Christian. 

If for some reason a person is not by the pastor or the congregation if for some reason a person is not rebuked but the pastor or by the congregation but is allowed to continue to live in sin and to not and to not repent to the person they sinned against, then the pastor and maybe even the congregation shares in the sin that the person committed, and in fact, they are even more even more guilty of the sin because they refused to bring Christian harmony they refused to bring and they refused to fulfill James 2. 

Reason Three: Too Much Discipline

Then, there is too much discipline. Unfortunately, too much discipline can also go back to the first reason: favoritism. You see this when people who are poor,  people who are the racial or ethnic minority at the church, or people who are newcomers are given harsher discipline for smaller issues, yet those who are mainstream are not given get as harsher discipline than the situation warrants. For instance, if a person violates the commitment about bearing false witness against your neighbor, aka gossiping, is African American, poor, or  unconventional in lifestyle or hairstyle in a way that is not catastrophic,  yet the pastor of a congregation throws the proverbial book at them, then that's too much discipline. If a person who is a minority of the church—a political minority, if you will,  if you add class, race, and family history--has confessed and has made retribution, and yet they are still marked, meaning people refuse to forgive them and their sin is always thrown in their face, then that is too much discipline. 

Again, when you see this happening, be aware that this is also a threat to Christian harmony and an affront to the body of Christ. The way to handle this is to remind the offending parties (and when I say offending parties, I do not mean the person who is not being forgiven; I mean the person who will not forgive but judges) of Matthew 18 and which it says its a person repents then you then you are to forgive and you have won the brother over. Therefore, if a Christian confesses, repents, and tries to make resolution, yet you will not grand them true repentance, you are guilty of sinning against your brother (or sister) and Christ Himself.. Shame on those who do this! When you do this, you have to ask yourself, are you truly a Christian? Because a Christian truly understands what forgiveness means. The Scripture says, if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven. Think about that one parable. To apply it to more modern terms, a peasant owed his king $1,000,000. The king brought him before him and said “You owe me a million dollars; pay up now!” The peasant said, “Please forgive me your highness, but I but I don't have the money now. Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. The king then felt pity on this man and decided to forgive the debt,  meaning he would no longer owe the  $1,000,000. Then one day, as the peasant is walking down the street, he ran into a fellow peasant who owed him $100. He then grabbed that fellow peasant by the throat and said, “You still owe me $100; pay me!” That second peasant said, “I don’t have the money now. Please be patient with me, and I'll pay you back.” But the first present would not listen. He had the second peasant arrested and thrown into prison until he could pay back the $100. When the other peasants heard this, they become very distressed, and they reported this to the king. The king summoned the first peasant and said, "You are ungrateful!" If I was so gracious enough to forgive you rather a large debt you owed me, why did didn't you forgive your servant for that he owed you? And then he said to his guards, “Take this worthless servant, and throw him into prison until he can pay back what he owes me!” This, then, is what will happen to those who will not forgive. These are not my words, friends! These are the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ! Therefore, if you have the audacity to throw a person's sins into his face, how can you expect Jesus to accept you as a brother or sister? How can you expect God to welcome you into His kingdom? How can you expect your sins to be forgiven?! Therefore, if you see someone getting too much discipline or is not being forgiven, then it is your duty as a Christian to go to that judgmental condemner, and warn them that it is their duty to forgive and to encourage forgiveness from others. 

However, if that church then becomes an environment of judgmentalism and lack of forgiveness, then you know you're no longer in a church. And then it is time to leave unfortunately. 

Reason Four: Change in Liturgy 

A very common reason why people leave a church would be the change in liturgy. This reason is both legitimate and illegitimate. Here's an example: a group of people goes to a church that has traditional, High-Church liturgy. They enjoy it, they are used to it, and they look forward to it every Sunday. And then, church leaders decide to satisfy the needs and requests of others--to do away with the traditional worship and bring a more contemporary worship such as gospel, heavy metal, or just praise music. They would be affected by this and want to keep traditional worship. They try to get their voice heard, but no one seems to listen. Leaving for this reason is kind of legitimate because it's something that someone is used to, especially if they have used it for the majority of their lives and find it difficult to change all the sudden. This change is even more difficult when they did not ask for it and when their input was not invited or appreciated. Some will leave a church over this. It's sad and sometimes unnecessary. 

To this I would say two things: one, go to those who want to make the changes, and suggest having two services so that both groups of people are satisfied. Usually those who want to make these changes are not trying to hurt anyone. They are doing this to satisfy the changing demographics of the church, or to satisfy the needs of those they're trying to bring into the church. While both of them are good reasons, the latter can be dangerous if not done properly. Yes, it is important to try to get in new people, but it should never be at the expense of those who already there. Therefore many churches thought they would get more members, only to receive fewer members or the same. This is because for every new member they receive they lose one or two old numbers. Therefore, it would be necessary to encourage leaders to have two services: one traditional, and one more contemporary. Another possibility would be to go to the unsatisfied members who are losing their favor their preferred service, and encourage them to be patient yet more vocal. It would also be necessary to encourage them to maybe learn more about the proposed liturgy that’s to take place. However, for something like this, there needs to be some sort of resolution between both parties. 

Reason Five: Unappreciated Talents. 

This reason means that a person feels that their gifts offered to the church are unappreciated. We see this in a few typical ways: one may come up with a gift or a set of ideas that are considered unusual for a small or more traditional church, or  if there's too much red tape for a large church. Let's start with the second one. When you are in a large church, you tend to have a lot of people with professional degrees for everything that they do. For instance, those who are on the board for church planning may  run businesses or are executives. Those who are in charge of music often have music degrees. Regardless we must remember that there is no such thing as a music degree in the Bible. Also, an MBA is not needed to present ideas or suggestions for running the church building or organizing a group. Remember that sometimes the best ideas do not come from formal education but by experience or the desire to learn. Then there are small church ideas. Sometimes the church culture makes it very difficult for change to happen. For instance, it its funny, but one of the most common sayings in the Lutheran Church is “We've always done it that way.” Even though it has always been done that way, as long as ideas that are affordable and the biblical are presented, it's a good idea to allow those to be suggested. Therefore, if you feel that your gifts are unappreciated, the best thing to do would be to continue to campaign your ideas and your heart. Also, if you see that there's someone in the church who is the political minority and has not been getting the attention they need with their ideas, make sure that this gets known. Try to campaign for them. Also, if something seems funny or new, just remember that it may not necessarily be bad. Try it out, and if it doesn't work at least you were open minded enough to try new things. 

But what if you still need to leave?

Even when you follow these techniques and  ideas, there unfortunately are still times when a person must leave the church for reasons other than moving. In my experience, you should follow 4 steps so that you can leave your church with dignity and in the love of God. 

If you have any positions at the church, resign immediately or as soon as you can. 
Start looking for new churches; spend time away from your current church in order to get to know these new churches so that you can find a prospective congregation. By this time, it should probably be at least a month since you stopped going to that stopped attending that original church. By this time, church leaders in a church that's not too large may begin to recognize your absence and become concerned, and they may reach out. If they do not reach out, or if their efforts are unsatisfactory to you, 
Start giving your tithes and offerings to your church of choice. Usually for the large churches, they may not always recognize you resigning your position or that you have not been coming to church, but ironically, they will notice when they're doing the books that you have not been giving money for a while. Unfortunately, as King Solomon once said, “Money answereth all things,” so churches are no exception. 
Finally, after a month or two of not giving any tithes or offerings, and no one seems to notice, or something too severe happened where you cannot stay, or reparations for any offenses against you have not been made, it's time for you to officially transfer your membership and send them a detailed letter. In this letter, you should state what happened, when it happened, who was involved, how it made you feel, what you expected to see, and how nothing satisfactory was done about it. This way you can show that you're not just making a rash decision, but it's been thought out at great length. For this, unless it's hard to find a church that fits your needs, I would say from the time you stopped attending church to the time you try to transfer your membership, it should be about 3 to 4 months. Hopefully, it should not come to this, but if enough people or at least if enough people of a certain demographic should stop coming to church, it send a message out to the community. 

Naturally, it is pointless and dangerous to even try looking for the perfect church, but there are still times when staying in a church is a danger to your soul because it is either lawless or legalistic, and the leadership is often too corrupt or weak to truly lead. Hopefully, before choosing that new church, you will remember the reasons why you left the old one. This will serve as a blueprint for what you need or will not tolerate from wherever you go.