Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Now this if fun!

My long-time friend (and Best Man at my wedding) Nick has a blog called You look stupid because of your FACE which is dedicated to posting pictures of people making strange faces. He and his brother started it off with some classics, and I sent him a photo of my daughter trying to out-do a shark. The only rule: only un-assisted faces - using your fingers to alter your face is cheating.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Cage Stage Lutheran?

The term Cage Stage has been coined to describe people who have recently accepted the tenets of Reformed theology. According to some, it would be better if such individuals were locked in a cage for a time, because they are dangerous otherwise - gallivanting about, arguing TULIP with any poor wretch with little to no moderation or compassion.

Is there such as thing as a Cage Stage Lutheran? I am one? Further, should I ask my supervisor to kindly commit me for the duration of this malady? Surely the teachings of vocation, two kingdoms and the Theology of the Cross are not applicable to all of my counseling cases? That's statistically improbable! Surely, I did not suggest to a client that seeking out the Lord's Supper was a way to actually be close to Jesus, rather than merely feel close to Him.

I've only been a Lutheran for a couple of years, and much of that time was in a congregation that was heavily influenced by pop evangelicalism. Insofar as I am a confessional Lutheran, it has been because of my contact with UAC bloggers who have shown me the power of Lutheran teaching, taught me the practical side of being a Christian, challenged me, and showed me the way to the good life. I am now attending a church that makes the grade.

So, shall I be locked away lest I get a tattoo of Martin on my chest? After all, I'm making trinkets with Latin phrases to give to unsuspecting therapy clients. There's just something unnatural about this.

It's hard to tell if one is annoying from the inside. It helps to have objective corroboration.

You make the call.

UAC - Unexpected Aardie Commendation

Pastor Aardvark hath gratiously bestowed upon thy humble servent, the most coveted AARDIE for Simul Justus et Peccator. And there was much rejoicing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Calling/Vocation Measure

I need some volunteers to take a short measure of calling.
This is for my dissertation research and at this point, I'm just trying to refine the measure by removing items that do not "hang together." The measure is only 13 items long, so it should take less than 5 minutes.
Thanks again to everyone who suggested refinements to the first draft. I welcome additional comments here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Pastor Snyder answers a question about wearing a ring to symbolize your commitment to Christ. He says he wears his seminary ring which features a Chi Rho, I wear this ring. It is a replica of the one that Martin had Cranach make for Katie. My wife and I got them for our fourth anniversary, which was a sacrifice on my wife's part, because she thought it ugly at first. I don't know if the jeweler himself is Lutheran, but he operates out of a heavily Germanic part of Texas (think Shiner Bock). I don't think Martin wore it himself. I don't know if men wore wedding rings at all in that culture. It has a sword on it, so I don't feel effeminate wearing Katie's ring.

mea maxima culpa

I've been a crappy fellow blogger. I hereby anounce my intent to update my links as soon as life allows. Thank you for your patronage, despite my unacceptable behavior.
- K.S.

Mind/Body and the Resurrection II

The more I think about it and meditate on the responses to my last post, the mind/body problem and the issue of soul-sleep versus disembodied spirits are not perfectly parallel. I guess I'm attempting to remain orthodox while entertaining the idea that there is no soul, but that soul and body are inexorably intertwined. I had a Christian professor of psychology who have espoused a unitary hypothesis for the nature of human beings. The first time I heard him talk about it I thought something like, "How is he still a professor at Grove City? He must be a liberal or some sort..."I think the resurrection is a real linchpin for that argument, lest you do turn into a naturalist. God is spirit, this I will affirm and not deny in any way. He needs not have brain to have spirit/mind. But perhaps he created us to be body/mind unity.

CPA asks: I've heard that in those "jab you brain and produce movement, emotions, etc." sorts of experiences, the person being experimented on can always tell that this is externally induced and not "me" doing it. Is that the case? And does it have significance for the body-soul debate?

My reply: Reports of people in psychosurgery are very interesting. Sometimes there is a sense that a body part moved without the person's volition (like a spasm that is uncontrollable) such as when you stimulate the motor cortex. Other times, the person will "create" a reason for the movement that was actually caused by the stimulation. An example: stimulate a particular place in the brain and the person moves. Ask the person why they moved and they will tell you something like, "I had an itch and I needed to move my hand to relieve it." Thus people intuit reasons for their own externally caused behavior. Dreaming is similar. The brain actively tries to formulate a story line that makes sense (in some way) out of the randomly stimulated areas of the brain (a part of the hindbrain known as the Pons is thought to send random activation through the Cerebral Cortex, where all the higher-order thinking goes on). Another thing happens with people with certain brain problems such as hemineglect - they will actually forget that anything to the left exists. Thus they will draw a picture of half of a clock (shaped like a half moon) when shown a round clock and think it normal. Things presented to the patient on the side that is neglected will not enter into conscious awareness, but can still be "remembered." If you were to show someone a picture of a rabbit on that neglected side and then ask them to spell "hair" they would very likely spell it "hare" but without knowing why they chose that spelling over the more usual spelling. In fact, if you asked, they might say something like, "Well I was watching the discovery channel about a month ago..." which would be true, but have no bearing on why they chose to spell it that way right now.

So, short answer: not always does the person whose brain is being manipulated feel that the behavior (or movement) is out of his or her control. Rather, they may believe that they wanted to move and had some reason for doing so, despite the manipulation. Much of our behavior that we assume to be willed is actually automatic. There is a whole line of research on this phenomenon, dubbed automaticity. I heard a great sermon from John Piper (Desiring God ministries) that made the case that this is why we ought to steep ourselves in scripture. He didn't use the psychological vocabulary, but his point was that we behave largely without conscious intent (decision) from experiences we have absorbed, so it behooves us to absorb whatever is good, noble, etc.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mind/Body and the Resurrection

I know that it may fall in the realm of adiaphora, but...

We have been discussing a tape series at work which gives a theological background of the counseling endeavor and we are talking about the interface between the concepts of mind, body, spirit and soul. This person contends that the brain is the interpreter of consciousness (after Hippocrates) but not that the mind is an emergent property of the functioning of the brain (after modern philosophy of science). To him the mind is not the organ of the brain but an "element closely related to but distinctly separate from the brain" that thinks, wills and reasons. Essentially what this person would have is a body/mind dichotomy with spirit being equivalent to mind.

Now, I can poke your brain and make you forget how to talk. I can poke your brain and make your arm move (without your willing it). I can apply a magnetic field to your brain and give you a mystical experience of God. I can easily manipulate your memory and even manipulate your behavior (albeit in small ways) simply by presenting information to you that will prime particular pathways in your brain. I can manipulate your emotions, through music for example. This does imply that I can manipulate your will to an extent.*

In my mind (or maybe just in my brain), the mind/body problem has everything to do with the resurrection. A dualism of body and spirit has become the cultural standard (albeit without much conscious reflection). I think that it has also become a standard in the American Church, with a Gnostic flavor. I recall a pastor who said that we don't need our brains to think and that the moment after our deaths, we will be thinking more clearly than ever. Doesn't this sound like some of the Gnostic thought, which said that the body was a cage to the soul? But as earthy Lutherans, we believe that the physical is fallen and in need of redemption, but also that it matters.

If the spirits of the dead go immediately to be with God, what need is there of a resurrection?

I think that Christianity in America today has forgotten the resurrection as anything but a topic for Easter services (and then primarily to illustrate what God can do in your life/marriage/etc.) Now, I've not done a thorough study of the section, but the religious sympathy cards that I have seen do not point us to the hope of the resurrection, rather they point us to some other hope, generally God's goodness.

What if there were no spirit/body distinction? What if the mind was an emergent property of the functioning of a couple of pounds of fascinating matter in my skull. What if the part of me that believes in Christ as King of all creation and that thankfully receives the merit of his holy, innocent suffering and death is physically located behind my eyes? If we are each unity instead of duality, does this affect our theology?

I have read that Luther believed in soul sleep. This sounds quite a bit like a monism of mind/body and it has a great deal of intuitive appeal to me because I think that the resurrection is important. "This body in the grave we lay, there to await that solemn day, when Christ himself shall bid it rise, and mount triumphant to the skys."**

Perhaps I'm overreacting to a general Gnostic whiff in the air and a sense that no one cares about the resurrection. Perhaps I am trying to harmonize science and theology without being fully conversant in the latter (or the former half the time, especially before coffee). I would love recommendations for resources, thoughts, gentle reproval/correction, as you "feel led".

* This is hyperbole. Each of these things CAN be done, but not in my office and you would probably want me to read up a bit before attempting the brain-poking tricks I mention.

** I want my tombstone to read, "Awaiting the resurrection of the dead in Christ since Day Month Year."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Vocation and Giving Up (Already)

Within the doctrine of vocation must be a sense of when to call it quits. Case in point, the Rolling Stones Superbowl half-time show. The Stones are in no way loving and serving their neighbor by continuing to do THAT. Mick winded himself in the first 10 seconds. Somehow, no one bothered to do a soundcheck. Keith & Ronnie, incredibly sloppy playing. People make snide remarks about their age. I don't think that's the issue. Clapton is old but he cares about his craft. The Stones clearly do not.