22 June 2007

Beer, Brothers and Blogs

I had the pleasure of drinking beer and sharing conversation with a couple of brothers in Christ last night, and it was a reminder of how much I enjoy and appreciate such opportunities. One of the main things that I like about blogging is the chance to "think out loud" about various and sundry matters, as that really is the way that I typically process things and sort them out. But as helpful and beneficial as a blog can be — and really, I do thank God for this new mode of communication, which is surely among His good gifts of creation — nevertheless, it is no substitute for the chance to sit down together and chat. There is something that happens in a face-to-face discussion that isn’t possible otherwise. No need to despise or dismiss phone calls, letters or e-mails, but being in the bodily presence of another person is significant and should not be allowed to go by the wayside.

In a recent conversation with another brother about the significance of the Lord’s Supper, I was trying to make the point that it does make a difference whether or not the Holy Communion is celebrated. It ought to be obvious that it makes a difference, but his argument was that the Word of God does all that is necessary, and that the people can still believe in Jesus and pray to Him without the Sacrament. To speak of what is "necessary" is already to be thinking in terms of the Law instead of the Gospel. It is also a kind of minimalism that seems to have more regard for our own works and efforts than those of Christ Jesus. Aside from that, it seems naive to me. Having my older children away from home has made me more aware of what a difference it makes, whether someone you love is with you in person or not. They’re still my children, and I’m still their father, no matter how far apart we may be. And believe me, I’m thankful for phone calls and e-mail messages, which enable us to communicate more readily than earlier generations could ever have imagined. But it’s not the same as living together in the same house and sharing space in the same room. I believe, teach and confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is omnipresent as the Son of God, also in and with His human nature as true Man, and that He truly reveals and gives Himself to His disciples in the preaching of His Word of the Gospel. Yet, I also believe that when He puts His holy body and precious blood into my mouth, into my body, He is laying hold of me and relating to me in a way that is uniquely and profoundly personal. He is infinite, but I am not. I am not able to comprehend Him apart from the ways and means by which He comprehends me. I am grateful that He does so, not only with His Word in my ears, in my head and in my heart, but also with His flesh and blood in my mouth and in my body.

Anyway, I think it is a similar sort of blessing and benefit to engage in the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, not only over the phone or via the computer, but in person. God’s good gift of beer isn’t necessary to such conversations, but it contributes another kind of blessing and benefit, and it is good to share such joys in the company of brothers. There is a freedom of expression, a sense of relaxed comfort, a safety and confidence, all of which encourage the sort of discussion and debate that challenge and sharpen our thinking, correct and clarify our understanding, expand and refine our perspectives. I think there are insights to be gained from these face-to-face fraternal "symposia" that are not possible in any other way. I know that I am helped to be a better pastor as a result.

I relate to the people of God under my pastoral care with more sensitivity and sympathy when I have the opportunity to converse with my brothers in Christ. Because, along with the freedom, the comfort and safety of the brethren, there is also an accountability in place, a consideration and compassion for one another, which give us pause for more careful thought and temper our speech. It’s far too easy in communicating via computer to fire off words without stopping to consider the people they will affect, or to misinterpret words that have been written to or about us. To speak in the presence of another person, especially in one-on-one or small group conversation, requires and enables a far more sophisticated and responsible kind of communication. It can be very relaxed and jovial, and yet there is a give-and-take, an adjustment of both thinking and expression, that curbs our sinful self-centeredness and allows us to be corrected and instructed, so that we grow in knowledge, wisdom and maturity.


Zaripest said...

As my generation seems to gravitate more and more toward forms of communication such as e-mail and text-messaging, I am at once grateful for these wonderful utilities, and regretful because they seem to replace the kind of face-to-face conversation that you are talking about. I whole-heartedly agree with you that talking to someone in person is the best way to communicate, when it is possible. I think that so many aspects of communication, and so many communicative opportunities, are lost when that physical presence is removed.

It really baffles me when people talk about the importance of having a personal relationship with God, and yet deny the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and minimize it's importance. I can't imagine anything more personal than that...

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your insightful comments, Zach. I really do appreciate the opportunities for communication that today's advanced technology provides. But I agree with you that one needs to guard against the replacing of human contact and conversation with electronic substitutions.

As far as the Lord's Supper is concerned, I fear that too many people, including some Lutherans, fail to recognize or appreciate the bodily-ness of the Sacrament. They may affirm the "real presence," intellectually and verbally, but not take to heart the significance of the fact that this is really Jesus, up close and personal, in and with His own flesh and blood. Not taking the body seriously, whether it be the body of Christ or one's own body, leads to a false faith and piety.

We believe in the goodness of God's creation; in the Incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; in His bodily resurrection from the dead; and in the external means of grace. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, noted that God does not deal with the soul apart from the body. That was well said, and something that ought to be taken to heart.

Aaron.D.Nemoyer said...

Thank for this post, Pastor Stuckwisch (not that I don't enjoy reading all of your "thinking out loud"). I definitely agree with your thoughts about the benefits of face-to-face discussion. With each step further modern communications take, we get another blessing. But as often happens, the Devil likes twisting those blessings so we lose something with each step too.

I am big on trying to keep up face-to-face conversation when I can along with other 'old fashioned' means of communicating. Out here in PA, I miss a lot of face-to-face with my HT peers, but I try to keep up occasional letter and phone calls. I think even things like that require a little more time, and therefore a little more caring, and therefore are more meaningful and can be very beneficial in ways which the internet seldom is.

Sorry if my comment rambled on incoherently and a little much, but thus is the way of the Aaron.

--Aaron Nemoyer

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments, Aaron. I don't have a lot to add, but did want to say that I appreciate your response and your thoughts on this.

It is very encouraging to me that there are so many young people, like yourself, who are concerned about matters of substance, and that you do what you can to make a difference and contribute.

Surely it is not necessary to dismiss the blessings and benefits of modern means of communication. But such things can become a temptation to avoid more personal relationships with other people, and that presents a challenge.

I have found that e-mail and other internet conversations are most helpful and constructive when they are engaged with people I know and relate to in other contexts, as well.

Anyway, I'd be the last person to fault someone for rambling on ;-) So thanks for your input, Aaron.