I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be releasing my first book with Concordia Publishing House this autumn: Confessing Jesus: The Heart of Being a Lutheran! I have been working on this book in some form for nearly two years(!!), and am so excited that I can finally share it with all of you. I couldn’t have done it without all of my lovely friends over at CPH, or my incredibly patient and encouraging husband, Jonathan.
I will continue to post updates here (specifically on my page for the book, which you can also access from the menu bar) and on my Facebook author page, which I encourage you to give a ‘like’ and follow. And, if you’re not already, go ahead and ‘like’ the Facebook page for this blog or subscribing for email updates to stay up-to-date, too.
My latest contribution to Concordia Publishing House’s stellar A Simple Explanation tract series comes out in a few short weeks! I’m overjoyed to announce that CPH let me tackle A Simple Explanation of Church History, which was a challenge and a joy to work on.
This pocket-sized tract offers a super-fast survey of nearly 2,000 years of church history, from the Early Church to the current postmodern moment, with a special emphasis on the “genealogy” and development of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. With notes on everything from Benedict to to Bonhoeffer, from Odoacer to the Orthodox Lutheran fathers, this zippy little booklet is a great jumping off point for laypeople interested in an introduction church history from a Lutheran perspective.
You can preview and order in print or ebook on CPH’s website here. At the time of writing, there is a 15% off discount while it’s still in preorder!
I have written elsewhere about the artwork of the Lutheran painter Fritz von Uhde. I find his work absolutely fascinating. He is famous for painting Christ in scenes of everyday life in nineteenth century rural Germany. Some people thought his work was vulgar or ugly for its realistic depictions of poverty and farm life, but he also garnered the interest and respect of the likes of Vincent van Gogh.1 I’m not as big a deal as van Gogh, but I really like his stuff, especially the above painting, “Christ with the Peasants” (Christus mit den Bauern). A plainly-dressed family—perhaps multi-generational, judging by the two couples, the one in the background appearing to be somewhat older—gathers together in prayer around their simple midday meal of soup in their spartan but cozy home. Jesus joins them, facing away from the viewer, a faint halo above His head and His hands gesturing in blessing. The two visible children and one of the women look directly at Him. From the window facing Jesus, it appears to be springtime, though the room is filled with a golden light that does not seem to be coming from the window.
What an image! Maybe this image also stirs something in you, too. What would it be like to have the Savior of the Universe, the eternal Word Who spoke the world into existence, standing in your living room?! As physical creatures with senses, bound in time and space, we crave this literal presence. We crave it with our friends and loved ones, and we also crave it with our God. But for a multitude of reasons, we can sometimes feel impossibly far off, isolated, and unreachable.
But we’re not. And that’s why I like this painting, and lots of others by von Uhde. What the painter depicts here is what we actually experience: Jesus really does continue to dwell with us. He dwells wherever His Word is, in Scripture and in our prayers.
And of course, there is something deeply Eucharistic about this image. I can’t help but see a depiction of Jesus being with people at a meal without going, “Huh, maybe there’s a Communion angle here?” I think there is! Jesus has promised us to be in His Supper, a true participation in His very Body and Blood.2 There, He binds Himself to each of us individually and to one another (hence the communio or fellowship part). There, He forgives us our sin and gives us eternal life—but eternal life that starts now, continues into heaven, and will be brought to its fullness at Jesus’s return to raise all the faithful to everlasting, ever-blessed life.
And because of this gift in the Sacrament, we’re enlivened to see the world a little bit more like Fritz von Uhde did. I find Uhde’s sort of realistic, sort of impressionistic style really complements the concept of the work: we are seeing something that is real but not visible, truly supernatural, and he is inviting us to see our own lives with this same vision. Even in the midst of temporal lack or hardship, Jesus is truly with us. Our normal day-to-day lives are overflowing with divine mercy and love, even if we can’t see it or don’t notice it. Your God hears you, answers you, loves you, redeems you, forgives you, and stays near to you.
We were supposed to drive to St. Louis to tour an apartment we are considering for Jonathan’s fourth year at seminary. There had been some winter weather, but the area around us was clear and the roads looked fine from the Department of Transportation website and local news I checked beforehand.
About twenty miles into our trip, I started to experience some mild drifting while driving (well below the speed limit) on the interstate. It felt like the wind initially, so I didn’t worry about it. However, I must have been hitting black ice.
As I drove over what must have been a particularly bad patch, a semi truck passed me on the side, which I think kicked up a backdraft that caused my car to begin severely fishtailing. I slowed down and attempted to pull off on the side of the interstate, however the momentum from the back end of the car carried us into the soft shoulder. I managed to regain some control over the car and brought us to a stop in the ditch. Neither Jonathan or I was hurt in any way, and my car suffered no damage.
I am someone who is rarely “in the moment”—I’m usually planning what I need to do next or reflecting on something already passed. There is something surreal and nothing less than terrifying to be thrust so completely into the present, millisecond to millisecond passing at a snail’s pace.
It could have been a lot worse, and I am extremely thankful for the help we received from the emergency dispatcher, Illinois State Police Trooper, and tow truck drivers (the one who just stopped to check on us and the one who pulled my car out of the ditch) yesterday. I am also thankful for the many people who prayed for us before, during, and after our anticlimactic trip.
It could have been a lot worse, but I keep feeling the drifting sensation on the icy asphalt and the rattling stop in the snowy grass. I keep snapping back to the moment I thought “I need to pray, now” but the only words that I came out of my throat were “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” I keep remembering a year and a half ago when I had an ovarian cyst rupture, also while driving, and that same-but-different feeling of an interminable present in which I can only pray for mercy and wait.
Needless to say, we didn’t end up going to St. Louis yesterday. We drove home. I made a pizza and we ate it with some ice cream and watched Frasier. I didn’t ever cry until bedtime, when the adrenaline finally wore off and I felt the body ache that comes after pushing down fear to react to an emergency.
Yesterday morning, I was saying my prayers while looking through an older devotional book we have. I happened upon a prayer for the beginning of a journey, so I prayed it. It struck my how serious it was—I usually am not particularly nervous at the outset of a trip, because by now I am accustomed to driving in a variety of settings and weather situations, and I consider myself a cautious, attentive, and defensive driver. I know I certainly take my safety, health, and wellbeing for granted, and yesterday was a stark reminder of that.
But we are okay, my car is okay, everything is okay. The weather was better today, so Jonathan and I went to a new coffee shop and enjoyed time together.
I’m okay. Really. And I feel better now having written this out.
I know that driving your car into a ditch isn’t the end of the world, but it sure did make me thankful for God’s gift of my family, friends, and my life on this earth, even if it sometimes means you drive your car into a ditch. I am thankful for my God who bends His Ear to all our prayers, even when they’re inarticulate.
“For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
Apologies for my long pause in writing—we have had a very hectic winter season, though with the conclusion of a large, long-term project (about which I hope to share more in the near future), I have hope that things will quiet down again and my writings here will become more regular.
It is winter. I miss springtime. I enjoy winter, most especially Christmas, but winter too—though the cold winds and sleeping trees make me miss warm tranquil breezes and soft pink sunsets at seven. I am in a Jane Austen mood, as a result. Jane Austen and her novels seem to me to be in perpetual springtime.
The last year was surprisingly difficult for me. I started 2021 out quite well, but I feel like I lost the plot around this time last year. I hope to be picking it up again. I am far behind on tidying the house—a fact which will necessarily cut short this dispatch—but I feel that as I catch up, things are beginning to feel right again. You may find your own metaphor in that. And 2021 was not unmixed difficulty: there were quite a number of good and pleasant things, too. And for that I am thankful.
I am thankful for the ability to keep this blog and for your desiring to read it this past year (and, by the looks of it, now, too). So, thank you. For someone who feels so strongly a need to share the things that I love with the world, your willingness to oblige and read and receive is quite seriously indispensable. Again, thank you.
I look forward to continuing to make this a place of rest and joy in the upcoming year, and I look especially forward to sharing it with you.
We inhabit a culture of terrible ugliness. Not only metaphorically—though there is plenty of ugly behavior, ugly politics, ugly thoughts and words—but also literal, physical ugliness, ugliness to which we have become desensitized and comfortably numb. I won’t dishearten you by parading out examples or generalizations; if you’re still reading this, you likely already know what I’m talking about. Many of us know, at some level, even if not in a conscious or articulate way, that there is something degrading, dehumanizing, wrong in so much of what surrounds us on a daily basis.
Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I had an unsystematic checkerboard of things that just bugged me. I felt like a lot of things were ugly, even though I couldn’t always articulate why. I was teased (mostly good-naturedly) for being contrarian, and I gained a reputation for being picky about books, music, and art (including visibly rolling my eyes and complaining at most of the stuff in the contemporary wing of art museums). I didn’t have much in the way of an explanation for these opinions, which, really, were more feelings of discomfort, feelings that something was off, than coherent stances at that point.
These feelings of discomfort crescendoed during my first year of graduate school. I disliked almost everything I was reading, especially the stuff that was supposed to be foundational to understanding history or human nature or power. It all just felt ugly, if that were possible. But again, I had no way of articulating my distaste for these things, and no way to explain what I wanted instead. I got frustrated. Finally, I took the advice of a friend (I am forever indebted to you, Moacyr!) and started reading some work by the English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton. Slowly, I felt like I was gaining the words I needed to explain not only my distaste for Foucault and other postmodern theorists, but also all those other, seemingly unrelated things that had been bugging me.
Roger Scruton has written and spoken about beauty and its importance in our lives in a number of places, but if you’ve never read anything by him, this three-minute video, which is a series of quotes from lectures and things strung together against an atmospheric lofi music piece, is probably as good a place to start as any.
Beauty, in contrast to ugliness, tells us that it is good to be physical creatures—persons who exist as mind, soul, and body. The cult of ugliness tries to repudiate our physicality, to belittle it and make it horrible, evil even, in order to isolate ourselves from our own bodies and from one another, an isolation and hatred that will inexorably pull us away from the God who lovingly created our bodies. But there is a reason that most Christian philosophers throughout the centuries have stressed the importance of the Three Transcendentals: truth, goodness, and beauty. God did not create us as formless spirits—no, He created us each as human beings, a human being whose individual soul is miraculously bound together with an individual body, and, although separated at death, to which body the soul will be reunited at the return of Christ at the end of time. A thought or statement is good when it is true; a physical being or object is good when it is beautiful.
“Ah,” you may object, “but standards of beauty are always changing, and they can be so limiting!” Is that actually the case, though? If we step away from our dehumanizing and ugly world of pop culture, if we shut the TV off, put our phone down, and just walk around our block, is that really true? Can you honestly tell me that you don’t agree that the mourning dove tending her nest, the elderly woman waving from her doorstep, the Madonna with Child aren’t beautiful? That all of these beauties of nature, humanity, and redemption aren’t echoing, in some small and imperfect way, the “very good” spoken by the eternal Godhead at the creation of this physical, beautiful world?
Of course, we only see this beauty through a mirror clouded by sin and death, but we nevertheless ought to give thanks to God that we are allowed the peace and transcendence felt when we see newborn animals in the springtime, a mother playing with her baby, or a painting of the Resurrection of Christ. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in some small way, these experiences of beauty can point us to Christ. Christ is the ultimate affirmation of our identity as embodied creatures, as Jesus, true God, absolutely divine, became man—took on our flesh and blood, walked and breathed like any other human being, stepped out from the unfathomable chambers of absolute transcendent divinity in order to bind Himself in time and space to be our Brother, Friend, and Redeemer. What greater blessing could be given, what sweeter word could be said about our bodies than that God Himself would deign to dwell among us, incarnated, embodied, fully human, fully man?
Beauty is good, even when the world ignores it or tries to stamp it out. God has created our physical world, a world of sights and sounds, a world where we can watch, listen, even create, whether that is through art, practical crafts, homemaking, work, or childbearing, and He has called it very good. And though that reality has been damaged, all is not lost. Out of His bountiful mercy, God has given us a world where we can cherish and give thanks for the beauty he pours into our lives—and even better, He has given us His Son, whom we can truly confess as “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ beside me” as a fellow man, not an abstract or anthropomorphic spirit, but the fullness of divinity indwelling in the flesh—our flesh—in order to redeem us forever.
If you are a woman or know any women between the ages of about 18 and 35, odds are you’ve heard about Taylor Swift re-recording and re-releasing her old albums. (I don’t fully understand the legal reasons, but the short version is she didn’t have ownership of the original master tracks of her songs.) Last week, she re-released her 2012 album Red, along with some previously-unreleased songs and a 10-minute (!!!) expansion of the track “All Too Well”.
Like most women my age, I have paid attention to Taylor Swift for about the last ten years (I was late to the “Swiftie” party). Now, don’t get me wrong, I have very strong feelings about the Reputation and Lover eras (in short: they were awful), but I’ve been happily surprised at both her return to her older music and her more recent work in folklore and evermore. But, when a recent business project gave me a couple of hours in the car to spend scanning the pop stations, I realized something else: Taylor Swift seems to be the only well-known female pop artist who still writes songs that are actually stories.
I could spend a lot of time talking about how Taylor Swift still actually writes songs with physical instruments and seems to avoid the excesses of autotune that overload most of the Top 40 songs right now. And this is true. But I was more shocked at how different she is lyrically from the stuff I was hearing on pop radio. I don’t listen much to the radio—I’m not in the car by myself for long stretches of time, and I usually just camp out on the classical station for jaunts about town—and I listen mostly to playlists, audiobooks, or the occasional podcast if I’m listening to anything at home. But with about seven-ish hours total in the car, I decided to just see what they were playing on the radio. Not only is a lot of female pop music shockingly vulgar—if you need an example, you can find them on your own—but it’s also just…dull. It’s not a story, it’s not about characters, there’s no plot or problem or anything.
Here’s an example off the album evermore:
Taylor Swift has a good voice—she’s not doing anything vocally insane, she just performs car-singable songs. And no, the instrumentals aren’t baroque, but it’s so much more interesting that the dull guitar lick or synthesized hook played over claps/snaps equation that dominates everything else on the radio right now. But she paints a really evocative mental image. Her writing has always been really good; she’s got a knack for picking the right word or crafting a great line to capture an emotion, and the “plot” of songs like this one is compelling.
She also captures something uniquely feminine in her music that I think a lot of other female pop singers fail to. Taylor Swift is (in)famous for break-up songs—but they are almost all about fragility, regret, and loss from a distinctly female perspective. She taps into a lot of the same topics that we see treated in literature: the intensity of female emotions, especially in love, and how these can be redemptive or ruinous, productive or destructive, beautiful or tragic. Maybe she doesn’t have the same ability and literary complexity as Austen or Shakespeare when it comes to depicting this, but the themes are still there.
I think this is why Taylor Swift has managed to have more staying power than some of her contemporaries from the late-2000s/early-2010s. I’m no expert on this, but it seems like her more recent endeavours (even the ones I disliked) have been more popular than those of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, who were equally popular a decade ago. The cloying, forced-peppy banality of “Firework” (with my least favorite lyric in all of music: “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”) has more or less disappeared from the popular mind, but you see teenage girls singing “You Belong with Me,” and “Fifteen” still resonates with the excitement, hopes, and tragedies of adolescence today and always.
If you haven’t yet, you should check out Taylor Swift’s more recent work and re-releases, especially if, like me, you’ve felt burned out on pop music for the last several years. There are some really cool tracks, really creative lyrics, and really compelling storytelling on the albums she’s put out in the last year or two.
Jonathan and I watched the classic film Amadeus recently. It definitely took some liberties with the historical reality of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s relationship with fellow-composer, Antonio Salieri. But it was a really good movie. I loved the costumes and the just overall “look” of the movie. And at a stout three hours, it still stays absolutely riveting. The acting is so good! I’d definitely recommend it. And we’ve been listening to a bit of Mozart around the house afterward, as a result (see below).
Listening: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Requiem
Like I said, we watched Amadeus and then went on a Mozart kick. I really like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik—it’s just so cheery! But the Requiem is incredible. I saw it live in college and—just wow. My husband likes to come up with new words to pieces from it, too, which is always entertaining.
Reading: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Perhaps you noticed the global Facebook/Instagram/et al. outage (what a funny way to phrase that!) yesterday (Monday, October 4, 2021). Oddly enough, I just finished reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and have been trying as best I can to do the 30-day no social media thing. (Which is, granted, a little difficult when you are a social media manager!) But I highly recommend the book. I like his realistic and actionable steps for being a “social media minimalist,” especially in his idea that minimizing social media use does not mean being a hermit, but rather making it clear that you value regular, meaningful interaction, like talking on the phone or making coffee dates, etc.
Enjoying: Homemade Marshmallows
A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at homemade marshmallows. I didn’t even know you could make marshmallows at home! Anyway, they’re great. You can find lots of recipes online, but I think I used this one because it didn’t have corn syrup. Don’t forget the powdered sugar (like I did), otherwise you’ll end up more with marshmallow “fluff”, though. They are great with hot cocoa, whatever way you may them. This is part of a recent campaign to make more things at home versus buying them at the store.