Friday, December 28, 2007

Martin Luther's Christmas Book

Several weeks ago I checked out this title from our church library and forgot about it. Because of its seasonal topic I was only supposed to keep it one week! Now I'm reading it, and think it is so wonderful, I want to buy a copy. Luther's writing is timeless, and he wrote on every imaginable topic.

If I'm reading the publication data on the verso correctly, the editor, Roland H. Bainton, put it together with selected woodcuts from German artists of the era in 1948. This paperback is by Augsburg Fortress, 1997. Unfortunately, Bainton is a bit vague on where to find the originals, citing "the index to the sermon on the Gospels in the Weimar edition of Luther's works, vol. XXII," and suggests the stories are more beautiful in the original German. The back cover tells us that this little devotional contains 30 excerpts from Luther's Christmas sermons and that Bainton, a renowned Reformation scholar, translated and arranged them into eight topics. A reviewer at says that this represents 1/20th of what Luther preached and wrote about Christmas.

This is from the first chapter, "Annunciation."
    "Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a line of ancestors whom the Evangelist Matthew arranges with artistry into three groups of fourteen patriarchs, fouteen kings, and fourteen princes. Among the latter were a number of disreputable characters, as we learn from the book of Kings, and there were no savory women. God holds before us this mirror of sinners that we may know that he is sent to sinners, and from sinners is willing to be born."
So much of today's emphasis in evangelical churches is on Jesus as a friend and buddy, a close relationship, personal self-worth and happy, clappy, feel-good worship services, and service to God in order to feel good. Many of the songs are "I, me, my, mine" or "we, we, we." Luther never loses the awe and majesty of God come in the flesh, but also he doesn't let us forget why we need a savior. And as with all presentations of the Gospel, if you don't start with sin, you have no climax or ending either.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A note from Charlie

A friend sent the following e-mail. It's probably going around, but looks like a nice idea.
    It's that time of year again. Let's all extend the spirit of Christmas to our good friends at the ACLU by sending them Christmas card. I know it will be an emotional experience for them.

      125 Broad Street
      18th Floor
      New York, NY 10004


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How do you plan to get to heaven?

I don't know how you're doing, but I'm not good enough to go to heaven. Someone else is getting me in for free. Jesus. Jeff Marian, one of our pastors at UALC, noted in the church newsletter,
    A recent study asked church-goers: Can a good person earn his or her way to heaven?
    52% of Presbyterians,
    54% of Lutherans,
    58% of Episcopalians,
    and 82% of Roman Catholics said YES! Are you among them?

    The truth is that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, not by any good deeds that we do. The Bible tells us that salvation is not a program, but a relationship with Jesus! People still need to hear that very basic message of our faith. Are you willing to be a messenger of God’s free gift?
The people in the pew need to hear this every Sunday from the pastors too, because they can be lulled into a works mentality--particularly in our American culture where "bootstrapping" is considered a virtue. They can get so busy and so proud of their accomplishments (or so discouraged by their lack of them) that they forget what the good news is all about. I don't mean the entire message of the sermon has to be on the cross and resurrection followed up with an altar call, but it needs to be the foundation of the sermon. Peter and Paul always laid the ground work when writing to the young Christians in the first century of the church. Then they moved on to the "to do list" of faith.

Accompanying that sermon, it also helps to have a well written liturgy that expresses "and for HIS sake forgives you all your sins," a fabulous, spirit-led choir and director , and some solid hymns that reinforce the good news. That will send us out eager and ready to be a messenger.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Source for church history

I noticed a link to Sketches of Church History, from AD33 to the Reformation over at The Hall of Church History.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A disciplined thought life

A constant struggle, isn't it--and she addresses the problem well, after the deep disappointment in a spiritual leader:
    This came at the heels of my own realization that my thought life was out of order with regards to someone, and frankly I needed to repent. Daydreaming about someone else other than your mate is a sin, just as surely as literally going out on them is and it violates at a lot of levels. Most importantly, by indulging this I fail to do the most important thing I can do which is to focus on the here and now, and live in the moment... Moment by moment taking things as they come. I realized that my harmless little daydream had become a sort of fluffy blanket to wrap myself in against the emotional cold of my marriage, but because it isn't real, it only leads to frustration and discontent, and anger, and like the alcoholic, you think the one drink is only warming you and lightening your heart, but really its leading you into a darkness because that one glass in your hand becomes two..."What will it hurt?" and then its the bottle and it consumes you...
There's more

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said

How to tell a real peacemaker? Check out their beliefs not the posters and marches in front of hospitals or funerals clamoring for media attention. Statement on the War in Iraq by the Mennonites (Mennonite Church USA), at the Global Anabaptist Encyclopedia On-line. Also useful for doing some genealogy searches if you have Mennonites in your family tree.

Using this encyclopedia, I somehow wandered into the archives of Mennonite Life, and in the 1950 issue saw an article about the Mennonites who had immigrated to the Freeman, South Dakota area. In the immediate vicinity of Freeman there were 13 Mennonite churches in 1950 (I haven't checked to see what it is now). General Conference Mennonite, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite Brethren, and United Missionary Church. 13 Mennonite churches to serve 3400 Mennonites. Maybe it's my imagination, but it sounds like they needed a little in-house peace making. To be fair, these 13 churches were the result of different immigrations over a period of about 50 years from three different groups, the Hutterites, the Swiss, and the Low German (Dutch ethnics who were Prussianized who settled in Russia) who spoke different languages and had distinct cultures. There is almost no difference in doctrine--and splits, even within ethnic and language group, have been over leadership, type of clothing (aprons, hats, polka-dot or plain), use of modern technology, etc.

These are not peacemakers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Battle of the Bands

If you don't like the music at the informal/ contemporary/ ear-splitting gen-x led service, you're probably losing the battle, if history is any indicator and if you are Lutheran. An article in Church History (1936) comments
    "Because the Swedish church in America had failed to train an American ministry, and the men sent from Sweden were unable to preach in the language of the younger people, the Swedish churches on the Delaware became Episcopal churches. Thus was solved the language problem by the group which comprised the earliest Lutheran settlers in Pennsylvania.

    When Henry Melchior Muhlenberg came from Germany in 1742, he found the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania in complete confusion. . . he squarely faced the problem of language and influenced his sons and his colleagues to master the language of the country in order that the gospel might be preached to all, regardless of language or nationality. By 1754, when he was pastor at Trappe, he preached regularly in both English and German. . . in New York City, he preached in Dutch in the morning, in German in the afternoon and in English in the evening. It mattered little to him which language was used in a service of worship. The important thing was that it was the language of the people. "The Language Problem in the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania 1742-1820" by Armin George Weng, Church History, Vol. 5, No. 4. (Dec., 1936), pp. 359-375.
As much as I don't like it, this awful music that changes my heart rate and hurts my ears, "preaches the gospel" for some in a language they understand. Although if it sounds like a non-denominational, all-purpose gathering in a movie theater, is it a Lutheran church and have you lost the battle of the bands whichever way you go?

After Muhlenberg died, many Lutherans went back to using German, according to this study. Squabbles about language continued in Pennsylvania. You find First English and Second English Lutheran Churches in some communities.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What brings in the people?

Library staff use gimmicks to bring people to the library where they can refer them to . . . more gimmicks--movies, games, air guitar--to raise the stats (looks good on bond issue requests and money from the state). What happens if you substitute the word "church" in this entry for library? Does it sound familiar? Who's copying who?

"Another reason the parties and stunts matter is that they attract new users to the library church. When librarians church staff sponsor a "gross-out challenge," Ninja tag, giant chess with human pieces, lego contests, teen lock-ins, garage band nights, improv comedy, American Idol style talent shows, and teen competitions for best videos, photos, and art, they're bringing teens - especially boys - to the library church, often for the first time." Marylaine Block

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What's so bad about the Good News?

After last night's "Scenes from his nativity," a musical banquet performed at our church to coincide with The Friends of the Creche fourth biennial convention in Dublin, Ohio, I was floating. Words can't describe how beautifully the program and music led to the manger of Bethlehem. It began with scenes from the crucifixion in "God so loved the world," by John Stainer, which is really the heart of the Christian faith, and then took us back and developed the theme of the coming of the Savior. The spectacular final piece, "Is it really you?" [Words by Carolyn Martin, Music by Michael G. Martin] was commissioned by TFOC and tells the story from the perspective of one of the Wisemen, asking at the end, "Is Jesus Christ born in you?" Yes, this was a program filled with the hope, promise and power of the gospel.

Then this morning I went to check a date on our church's website, and came crashing to the ground. Such a disappointment. You can find the gospel on our website if you first Google "What we believe" + UALC" but it would be a challenge to find even a snippet any other way. Using the website, you'd have to know to first click on the link for visitors, then click on "What we believe" (it isn't there), then on "What worship means," and then from there follow a link to a pdf file, "What we believe." This pdf spreads at 45% to 2 pages, and is comprehensive. Does that mean shorter items about forgiveness, grace, Christ's death, sin, etc. couldn't be sneaked into other links? (The Alpha link doesn't count because that's an international program hosted by our congregation.) The Visual Arts Ministry, which spent weeks hammering out a mission statement that would explain why we are a ministry to reach the community for Christ and not a committee, is lumped with "fellowship groups," and has no spiritual message at all on this site.

Let's not waste my time and yours here quibbling about the God words or whether programs for visiting nursing homes or martial arts for little kids are really forms of "the gospel." Announcing that "we seek to live in and for Jesus" is happy talk, not the gospel. The gospel tells people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gentle, non-threatening phrases filled with chummy, non-threatening God words and wussy verbs declare nothing, believe nothing, and move no one.

The emerging church message is not new--it's a battle in Christendom that returns each generation under different names. I attended liberal, main-line Protestant churches with limp messages for 35 years. I know that no one is saved in a liberal church unless like me, they become so desperate for hope and truth, they are driven to look elsewhere. I was that desperate when I attended UALC for the first time in 1974. There were no websites then, or 8 page newsletters, or multiple campuses or large staff. Just a minister (Luther Strommen) with a 3 point sermon, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Let's prepare the webpage so there is room for Jesus this Christmas!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Interview with a Christian writer for children

Girls will read boys' stories, but not the other way around, he realized, so he writes for boys and gets both. He hated reading when he was growing up, although his father was the author of 70 books, so he writes for kids who hate to read. He acted in films as a child and visualizes with background music as he writes. An interview with Max Eliot Anderson here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How my ancestors may have recited the Lord's Prayer

Cousin James (2nd cousin once removed) on a genealogy listserv for Church of the Brethren reported how my Pennsylvania Dutch great great grandparents may have used a local dialect of German, which differed from High German. The Brethren were the first people in the colonies to have a Bible printed in a European language--German (Christopher Sauer, 1743).
From the Luther translation of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) (High German)

Unser Vater in dem Himmel! Dein Name werde geheiligt. Dein Reich komme. Dein Wille gescheheauf Erden wie im Himmel. Unser täglich Brot gib uns heute. Und vergib uns unsere Schuld, wie wir unseren Schuldigern vergeben. Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung, sondern erlöse uns von dem Übel. Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraftund die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit. Amen.

Low German:

Uns Vader, de is in Himmel. Heiliget is dien Naam. Dien Riek sall komen. Dien Will doch doon,up Welt as dat is in Himmel. Gäv uns dis Daguns dagliks Brod. Un vergäv uns uns Schuld, as wi vergäven uns Schuldners. Un bring uns nich in Versuchung. Aber spaar uns van de Übel. Denn dien is dat Riek un de Kraftun de Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit! Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Easy listening

This morning I checked a CD out of the church library called, "Listening to Luther," published by Concordia Publishing House, $14.99. It is delightful. I recommend it for your public library, church library, or your personal library. I wasn't confirmed in the Lutheran Church, so I didn't have the privilege of using Luther's Small Catechism, until a few years ago when it was used in one of our adult classes. We joined our congregation (formerly ALC, now ELCA) in 1976 and the catechism book we used was a mish-mash, rewrite with trendy 70s illustrations and photos. What a waste when we could have used the real thing!
    Product Description
    A wonderful devotional or personal study aid, this recording includes the Six Chief Parts from Luther's Small Catechism, Daily Prayers, Table of Duties, and the Christian Questions with Their Answers and the six catechetical hymns by Martin Luther. Also included is Luther's hymn, "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word."

    A 12-page booklet explains the history of the Small Catechism and Luther's hymns, and lists complete text for all hymns.

    Written by Martin Luther in 1529 in question and answer format, the Small Catechism explores Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Also included are daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians in their various callings in life, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion. Luther intended the catechism to be a prayer book for individuals and families and a powerful tool for the Christian life because it provides a brief, clear summary of God’s Word on the essentials of the Christian faith.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What you find in the Bible

I love the simplicity of this. Most Christians can get it pretty garbled, but this guy's right on. "What you do find in the Bible is an account of what Christ did. You find His living of a perfect life and a perfectly innocent sacrifice of Himself on the cross. You find Him rising again. These are all works accomplished for you. In reality, your sins are already forgiven and you have the gift of eternal life. You don't need to DO anything for it. It is yours." Buch's blog

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Lutherans and Catholics drink a lot of beer

Organizers of San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair — sponsored by Miller Brewing Co. – have portrayed Christ and his disciples as half-naked homosexual sadomasochists in the event’s promotional advertisement.

I think Miller Brewing Co. should hear from some Lutherans. They shouldn't just pull their logo, either, but all sponsorship money should be returned, all advertising pulled, and Christians should stay home.
    "Miller Brewing Company has decided to pull its logo from a "Last Supper" poster-featuring homosexuals and sex toys-advertising the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, Calif. But a Catholic group is urging the company to cut all ties with the homosexual "leather" street fair." CNS news

Thursday, September 20, 2007


A word about short term missions

Find another term for short term missions this African pastor suggests.

"Besides bringing an agenda, what tends to distinguish the American personality?

Americans have two great things going for them culturally. One is that Americans are problem-solvers. Every time I come to the U.S., I like to spend a couple hours in a Wal-Mart. I find solutions to problems that I never thought of!

The rest of the world, even Europe, isn't so intent on solving inconveniences. We tend to live with our problems. In America you almost never go into a house where the sinks have two taps, a cold water tap and a hot water tap, because that means you have to mix the water in the sink to get it to the right temperature. You have these single faucets that mix the water before it comes out. It makes perfect sense. But that's a problem the rest of the world wouldn't even think to solve.

Americans don't easily live with a problem—they want to solve the problem and move on. The rest of the world is more willing to live with the problems.

The second great thing for Americans is that your educational system teaches people to think and to express themselves. So a child who talks and asserts himself in conversation is actually awarded higher marks than the one who sits quietly.

How are these traits seen, say, in Africa?

Those two things that are such great gifts in the home context become a curse when you go into missions. Americans come to Africa, and they want to solve Africa. But you can't solve Africa. It's much too complex for that. And that really frustrates Americans.

And the assertiveness you are taught in school becomes a curse on the field. I often say to American missionaries, "When the American speaks, the conversation is over." The American is usually the most powerful voice at the table. And when the most powerful voice gives its opinion, the conversation is over.

So what should talkative, problem-solving Americans do?

I tell Americans: "We're going into this meeting. Don't say anything! Sit there and hold your tongue." When you sit around a table, the people speaking always glance at the person they believe is the most powerful figure at the table. They will do that with you when you're the only American. And at some point, they will ask you: "What do you think?"

Don't say anything. If you say anything, reflect back with something like "I have heard such wisdom at this table. I am very impressed." And leave it at that. Affirm them for the contribution they have made. Don't give your own opinion.

Americans find that almost impossible. They do not know how to hold their tongue. They sit there squirming, because they're conditioned to express their opinions. It's a strength at home, but it becomes a curse on the field.

In a sense western missions has been marked by that. But isn't it strange that Jesus not only entered society incarnate at the weakest point, as a defenseless child who needed the care of his host community, but he also told his disciples: "Do not go with money; do not go with a second pair of shoes; go in a stance of vulnerability; be dependent on the communities you visit"? Isn't it interesting that for 30 years he doesn't speak out; doesn't reveal himself; he remains quiet, and only after 30 years of listening and learning the culture does he begin to speak."

Read the whole interview with Oscar Muriu at Christian Bible Studies.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

guitar-driven worship

I cut and pasted this phrase from a description of one of our church services. Oh my goodness. Is that what drives worship?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


As told by a pastor

I grew up and was baptized in Church of the Brethren, a small Anabaptist sect that arrived in the U.S. from Germany via the Netherlands in the early 1700s. The group has split several times, but still cooperate on genealogy. I subscribe to the genealogy listserv, even though I have been a Lutheran for over 30 years (as were many of my ancestors who later married into the Brethren and followed that faith tradition). Most Brethren in the 18th and 19th centuries were called Tunkers or Dunkards (a derivative of the German word) because of their practice of trine immersion baptism of adults. The following story was told this week on the listserv about Rev. Bob Richards, an Olympic athlete who was quite an engaging speaker whom I heard more than once when I was young.
    Rev. Bob Richards, Olympic pole vaulter champion and Brethren minister, to a very large gathering of Brethren College Students: (His story went something like this) I got on a city bus and sat beside a man who asked me what I did for a living. I replied that I was a Dunkard Pastor. He replied, "That's interesting, the bus driver just called me the same thing when I got on the bus."
There is still a group of about 900 called Dunkard Brethren which left Church of the Brethren in the 1920s.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


ELCA and Homosexual pastors

"This month the delegates to its biennial convention approved a resolution that urged all denominational leaders not to discipline (as it has in the past, in accordance with church rules) sexually active homosexual clergy in “faithful committed same-gender relationships.”

Of course, we are seeing a great deal of effort on the part of ELCA officials, who obviously fear the effects of this resolution on church life and funding, to nuance what this means. But a brief visit to the blogsites of Lutheran homosexual activists makes it clear that they understand its significance. Something immensely important has happened; the floodgate is now in fact open. The ELCA joins a number of other mainline Protestant denominations as, as one Catholic observer put it, just another Sodomite sect." S. M. Hutchens at Mere Comments

Our congregation used to have a plan to pull out; but then that pastor (no longer with us) was guilty of infidelity, so I don't know what the current thought is.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Tony Campolo

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to hear a sermon by Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University and an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, at Lakeside Sunday service at Hoover Auditorium (I'd already attended worship on the lakefront). He was the "Chaplain of the Week." Regardless of what you think of his theology or the larger umbrella of "the emergent church" you'll never hear a more entertaining Christian. He even jokes about being a bald guy with a son named Bart and a daughter named Lisa. He's a member of a predominantly African American congregation, and can preach it with patois better than anyone I know. If you were to hear it on a recording, you'd never guess he's an Italian American.

I always listen carefully for the gospel--not the social, feel-good, do-gooder peace and justice gospel, but the real Jesus-died-on-the-cross-for-your-sins, because without that you're just kiddin' around, giving people false hope that they can get into the kingdom with good works. Jesus didn't set aside any of the ethical and moral codes of the Jews developed over hundreds of years--the good news was about him. And Tony did mention it--at the end of the sermon. If you're in a liturgical church that sings traditional hymns and has a lesson from the NT and OT, you can fill in what the preacher misses. But why should you need to?

Thirty some years ago I had the impression that Prof. Campolo and I were on the same page. Of course, I'd been a works-Christian most of my life before 1974, so maybe it was just that with the fresh blush and bloom of the Gospel, I didn't notice that some people who called themselves Evangelicals had become bored with the Good News of Jesus and wanted to "move on." Or maybe he came to the conclusion that there were no unbelievers in the pew. Wrong. If the folks aren't saved, Tony, there's not much point to a stunning sermon about the spirit.

Cross posted from Collecting My Thoughts

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


They buried the N-word

There probably should be a few others. Story. As usual, Christians are followers, not of the King, but the Culture.
    Worse still, many emerging pastors today are embracing the idea that foul language is a great way to engage the culture. A recent church baptism training video (intended to look like an MTV farce) features a pastor in a pool, preparing for a baptism, when someone does a cannon ball right behind him. The church thought it would be funny to bleep out what the pastor says, as though he is cussing. When the church starts becoming like the culture to supposedly win people, nowadays that includes the use of foul language. On the Christian news blog that I publish, I cannot even link to some church sites due to their use of vulgar language and their promotion of Hollywood filth. I frequently have to delete comments from Christian readers who use words like “su***”, and cr**. Christians are joining the great stampede toward Gomorrah, and they justify it every step of the way. Those who oppose this kind of speech by believers are told to get over it. Read the rest at When Vulgarians Seize a culture

Thursday, July 05, 2007


On Beth Moore Bible studies

I've been in a lot of Beth Moore Bible studies--usually Saturday mornings, but occasionally the Thursday morning group. But this one is a hoot.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

398 Grace

Two weeks ago I bought a book at our public library branch (for sale items by Friends of the Library) titled, "My mother's favorite song; tender stories of home to deepen your faith" by John William Smith (Howard Publishing, 1995). It looked brand new; the publisher's statement on the verso of the title page included a statement about Jesus coming again, and the book flap story appeared to be sound. So for $2 it looked worth the price to purchase "one of America's best storytellers." Now after having read several selections during my morning devotions, I'll say, "money well-spent."

Often when I'm told that such-and-so gave a wonderful, moving sermon (our church has 10 services in 3 locations, and sometimes I wouldn't even recognize the speaker if I saw him), I ask, "Did he present the gospel?" And I get a blank stare or a stammer. That's why I like a liturgical service (we have two); it clearly says, "and for his [Jesus] sake, forgives you your sin." Brings me up real smart, that does. Nothing in what I did or will do makes me worthy of forgiveness. It's all grace.

On p. 121 of Smith's book he writes my story:
    "When I was growing up, I never heard much about grace at church--I mean, in sermons or classes. I slowly figured out that it was important and that we needed it, but we were sort of embarrassed by it."
Actually, I'm not sure I heard about grace at all. We didn't even sing "Amazing Grace" in those days.
    "Now that we've discovered it, we're trying to make up for lost time and make the most of it. It has become an issue. Can we have too much grace? Will grace fix anything? Does grace mean that everybody is saved? Does grace mean that we don't have to do anything? . . ."

    "Nothing crucifes the self more than grace. And nothing is more painful than self-crucifixion. Nothing strikes a more savage blow against our basic pride and sense of self-worth than grace. Being able to accept grace is very hard, because it makes such intense demands. On my road to God, nothing I have encountered has baffled and frustrated me more than grace. It is the most nonsensical, illogical, unpredictable, unreasonable thing in all of God's arsenal of weapons that are designed to defeat the enemy within all of us--ourselves."
Our sermons at UALC are grace-lite, or Jesus-lite, I think because if not done right, they can sound legalistic or harsh. I mean, who wants to be told she is sinful? Who wants to know he doesn't measure up? It might turn off the seekers; it might shake up the members. It's far easier to admonish the congregation to do more, be more, adore more. Grace? You can't earn it, but it sure isn't cheap.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Advice from an entertainer

Last week I saw in the Wall Street Journal an interview with Betty White concerning her years on the small screen. Remember, she was on the Mary Tyler Moore show and is still being seen on reruns of Golden Girls. She commented:
    The biggest change [in TV series] is the industry's drastic expansion. . . Anytime something gets so big, the product gets watered down."

Hmmm. Happens to churches too, Betty. We go for the numbers and in so doing, water down our product (message).

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Churchy talk

Today I took that 15 question test in Newsweek on religion and I scored 100%. If I'm so smart, why do I not have a clue what these two paragraphs are about?
    "Emerging Church leaders focus on epistemology, arguing that modernism corrupted the church by limiting its focus to a defense of propositional truth based in an unassailable philosophical foundation. The rejection of foundationalism is a central theme of emergent culture." Albert Mohler "What should we think of the Emerging Church? Pt. 1"
And then there's this obfuscatory telling of how to become a Christian--if I were an unbeliever I would have no idea what they were talking about, and I'd wonder what they had against capital letters.
    ". . . the birthing of christians is a work of the holy spirit, to which the church community is midwife. as you are called by holy spirit into a love relationship with god, we will come alongside you as your journey and discern a calling to christian faith." Apostles Church, Seattle

Saturday, April 28, 2007


The new Lutheran hymnal

In our congregation, I haven't heard anything about the new hymnal for ELCA, although from time to time I read about it on the internet. These things take a long time to work through, and our congregation does very little that other Lutherans would recognize anyway, so we are not the audience. At our Mill Run location, there are no hymnals. I use the hymnal for hymns if it matches what's on the screen just because I hate to totally lose my music reading ability; occasionally it is needed for liturgy, but not often. So what I have here are comments (used with permission) excerpted from an e-mail from another Lutheran, a choir director in another denomination, who does know music and liturgy and attended a regional workshop:

"There were 141 registered; majority was made up of pastors, choir directors and those interested in ELCA worship. The presentation team consisted of 5 pastors and 2 laymen from the Northern Illinois Synod. They went through one complete service setting as well as playing a very fine DVD hosted by Rev. Mark Hanson on the birth and completion of this new hymnal.

From the voices around me, I knew I was in the company of people who love to sing, know how to sing and have little trouble with rhythm or range.

I was impressed with the amount of information contained in this new hymnal. The line drawings, alone, were worth the price of the book.

But I came away feeling that those who put the hymns together did not give much consideration to range: many ran up to Ds, Es and even Fs on the treble clef. Too high for most congregations.

And the number of choices of service settings, prayers and responses was overwhelming. Putting hymns from WOV and the purple Hymnal Supplement into this new ELW was a great idea, but they overdid it on the liturgical variety.

I know it's been over 30 years since the green hymnal publication but I left the meeting wondering if the cost to each congregation was worth the gain in newer, more contemporary hymns and ten Holy Communion settings."

Ten communion settings? Silly me, we're lucky at our church to use one and only the older people know it. I'm almost afraid to see what 10 different settings can do to gender-free pronouns.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Was I the only Christian disappointed?

I thought it was good that the planners of the memorial service for the VA Tech students and faculty represented several faith groups: Sedki Riad, a Muslim, Julie Still, a Buddhist, Sue Kurtz, a Jew, and Bill King, a Lutheran. The campus is obviously very multi-cultural with many first and second generation Americans, and some of the dead were international students. The Muslim, Jew and Buddhist seemed to represent the beliefs of their faith, reading for comfort from their holy books, quoting their leaders even as they expressed their sorrow and disbelief. But the Lutheran pastor . . . well, here's what he said:

"We're gathered this afternoon for many purposes. To weep for lost friends and families, to mourn our lost innocence, to walk forward in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, to embrace hope in the shadow of despair, to join our voices and our longing for peace, healing and understanding which is much greater than any single faith community, to embrace that which unifies, and to reject the seductive temptation to hate."

"We gather together weeping, yes, we weep with an agony too deep for words and sighs that are inexpressible, but also we gather affirming the sovereignty of life over death. At a time such as this the darkness of evil seems powerful indeed. It casts a pall over our simple joys, joys as simple as playing Frisbee on the Drill Field. We struggle to imagine a future beyond this agony. If we ever harbored any illusions that our campus is an idyllic refuge from the violence of the rest the world, they are gone forever. And yet we come to this place to testify that the light of love cannot be defeated. Amid all our pain, we confess that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it," said King.

"We cannot undo yesterday's tragic events, but we can sit in patient silence with those who mourn as they seek for a way forward. As we share light one with another, we reclaim our campus. Let us deny death's power to rob us of all that we have loved about Virginia Tech, our community. Let us cast our lot with hope in defiance of despair," said King, who invited the convocation to a moment of silence. From The Lutheran (ELCA magazine).

Does this represent any particular faith perspective? If you didn't know it was spoken by a Lutheran pastor, would you even have identified the speaker as Christian, especially since he doesn't seem able or willing to identify the light shining in the darkness? Sad, very sad.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


A very sad interview

A young man from a counseling center--Christian or new age or secular, couldn't tell--was interviewed in Blacksburg today by Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts about how to counsel the parents and children in the aftermath of yesterday's shooting. Of course, he had no answers--who would? But he could have offered something positive and hopeful. He was either muzzled, tongue tied, or didn't know the Biblical truth that there is evil and sin in this world and that God has a plan. He stumbled around in some theological quicksand about "free will," but that was about as far as he got, and Robin even had to throw him a few prompts. Some students, however, knew the source of comfort.

Cross posted at Collecting my thoughts

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why is he still a priest?

Rev. Jeffrey John, an Anglican priest, didn't get to be bishop because of his long term homosexual affair, but apparently he can deny the most important belief in the Christian faith and insult millions of Christians living and dead, many who died for the belief he's ridiculing, and remain a priest. Some speculated on one web site that because the announcement was made on April 1, it was an April Fool's joke, but this is really nothing new for liberals. I've heard more "God is love" sermons that leave out human sin and the cross and how God wants to be our best friend no questions asked, than I care to remember.

Here's his Lenten talk on BBC. What drivel.

From Pierced for our transgressions, p. 216-217: These charges are extremely serious. We cannot pretend that critics of penal substitution are raising a minor point of dispute: they are accusing us of propagating a theological novelty, imposing our twisted modern world views on God's holy word, unwittingly encouraging and justifying sadistic acts of violence, and worshipping a malevolent, hypocritical deity who bears no resemblance whatsoever to the loving God of the Bible. Disagreements over penal substitution are fundamental; they cannot be ignored.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Misunderstanding Jesus

On my way to church this morning, I heard a woman on NPR saying that liberal Christians were making a comeback on the political scene (not her words, but the idea) and that Jesus had talked more about "serving the poor" than anything else. Not really. I can't find such a program in the listing, so it must have been a quip quote in the news since we were approaching the hour--I moved on to another station

Often in the New Testament women "get it" when the men, even Jesus' close followers, are clueless. I think that's why the resurrection was revealed first to women. But the woman I heard today is missing the big picture. She probably thinks the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew is about feeding the poor and hungry; that sowing the seed and harvesting is about grain. Jesus did not set aside any of the concerns of Mosaic Law for the poor--don't exploit or oppress them, but have compassion. However, God didn't need to send his only Son to die on the cross for that message--it had been told and retold for thousands of years. But the biggest emphasis of the New Testament is who Jesus said he was. The conservative Christians also major in minors--like homosexuality (most Biblical admonitions and advice on sex are for men who lust after women, not men) or modest dress or homeschooling. But at least the records show they are more generous with their money than the liberals, and they know who they are worshiping.

The primary focus of the Gospels isn't the poor, or poverty, or even misuse of wealth (although all are very important topics) or end times, but the last week of Jesus' life leading to his death and resurrection. When the woman anoints and worships Jesus with the expensive perfume, who is it that expresses concern for what that money could have done for the poor? Why Judas, of course.

Conversation Peace

Our Women of the Word Bible study selection this spring is Conversation Peace; the power of transformed speech by Mary A. Kassian (Lifeway Press, 2001, 2006). The Saturday group runs through May 12 at our UALC Mill Run campus and there is a video and workbook. I believe there are women's groups for WOW that meet Tuesday evenings and Thursday morning at our Lytham Road location. This morning we surprised our leader with a birthday party--a chocolate raspberry ice cream cake from Graeter's. We paused our discussion of the text and video for laughs and jokes. Then she told us that after her husband was released from the hospital after a heart attack (she is now a widow) he had lost a lot of weight, and the only thing that tasted good to him was raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, so every time she eats it she remembers him. The woman who ordered the cake didn't know that. That's how God arranges birthday parties.

Our fearless, faithful leader

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


One of the advantages of blogging is being able to link to the items you want to share, but since I also print and bind mine, I've just got to provide the heart of this one. It's from Pomegranate and Paper.

"Yesterday in church, the priest asked what we had chosen as our Lentan penance. I squirmed a little in the pew because, as I wrote last week, I don't do the "what I gave up for Lent thing". And then he said that he had a suggestion for anyone who hadn't chosen a "penance" yet. He suggested that we chose what he considered the hardest penance of all: listening. Specifically, listening to someone that we don't like to listen to, someone with whom we are not sympatico.

He described listening as a physical and spiritual act. He suggested we listen without words, that is, that we truly listen without forming a reply, without thinking of what to say next, and without chiming in with what was bothering us. He spoke of listening as the act of opening up fully to another and receiving their words without judgment, without reaction, and without an eye on the clock. My mind immediately raced to all the times I've been impatient with listening: to my kids as I'm just home from work, to my mother in law on the phone with her repetitive list of complaints, to my own mother when she wants to tell me about the intrigues around the mah jong table, and to my husband when he just needs to tell me how he feels and have me accept what he says.

I'm working on listening this week. To really hearing what others are telling me. Sometimes that means listening more to the silences than to the words. I find that listening quiets the words in my own head. It takes me out of my self, beyond my needs, and my mind racing from thought to thought."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Living under the law

Our church is having a Sunday preaching series on recovery from addictions, with handouts for personal or group study, with an over arching theme, Pathway to a Life that Matters. Someone, the person who wrote the handouts or suggested the current series, is quite enamored of the 12 step program for addictions. Frankly, I've yet to hear or participate in a Christian 12-step program that is as good as the original "Higher Power" AA program. I attended many meetings in the 1980s, and if I ever needed to seek out accepting, non-judgemental people, that's where I would go, even today. And trust me, I have many other options and resources. When well intentioned people try to take this model and revise it for weight loss, shopping or Christian accountability, it just falls flat.

But when Christian preachers and staff do try to help the disciples of Jesus who are plagued with overeating, codependency, grief, alcohol or drugs, and don't first and last build up the believer with the Good News of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, they are teaching and preaching the law, not the Gospel.

I haven't attended the Sunday School classes, so this past week I just stopped at the front desk and picked up the first five handouts that go along with the sermon series. The format for each week is Pray, Discuss, Read, Reflect, Consider, Pray. All five handouts are legalistic and narcissistic. I got to week 4 before the word "Jesus" even appeared. Not even the prayers are "In the name of Jesus." Almost all the scripture references are to the Old Testament, and one verse in Matthew doesn't mention in the outline that Jesus said it, and it is so out of context it doesn't even say why "the burden is light." (hint: Jesus died for our sins) Twelve step programs are about moral inventories; Christianity is about forgiven sins and living a changed life in Christ.

If this were a two hour class, where the teachers could lead gently and quitely up to the unveiling of the Good News so they wouldn't scare anyone away at potty breaks, I could give the writer a two on a scale of ten. But saved sinners and unsaved seekers (the only two groups in the pew) come and go, float in and out, attend at 3 locations choosing one or more of our 10 services. Please, please, please dear godly, believing pastors (and whoever wrote this pablum), don't let a single opportunity go by that you don't let the people know that Jesus loves them so much he lived a perfect life and died a perfect death on their behalf, and that the solution for their hurts and griefs and addictions is Jesus, not another self-help program that can send them to Hell with good intentions and a pat on the back!

When Paul told Peter to live by faith, not the law (Galatians 2)

Concerning the Jews in Jerusalem
Peter and Paul had a big spat
"You’re putting them under the law, old friend."
Paul told Peter, "Don't preach like that."

Not for a minute did Saint Paul give in,
Even when they were face to face.
At Antioch Paul then told Saint Peter
"Your gospel is such a disgrace."

"We know by law we are not justified
Although by birth we are both Jews,
Our faith is in Christ Jesus, Risen Lord
From whom we have heard the Good News."

Friday, February 09, 2007

What's in your church library?

Joe McKeever, a Baptist pastor in New Orleans, tells of a couple, Rudy and Rose French, who were called by God to NOLA after Katrina. Even in clean up, some people resist change.

"You should have seen the library," he said. "Old stuff that should have been thrown out ages ago. Why would anyone keep telephone directories for ten years? We cleaned it out."

Sometimes it takes a Hurricane.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

386 Hypocrites, what Jesus said

Yesterday I was watching an animated, interesting speaker on Book TV, Walter Benn Michaels on his book, "The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality." He was speaking to a group of students, I think it was Yale or Harvard, but that doesn't really matter. They were good listeners with well-thought out questions. At first I thought he was a conservative because he was outlining the hypocrisy of some liberal causes (like a law suit on behalf of women because a woman was earning $1.2 million and her male colleagues in the same field $1.6 million). But no! He was a liberal challenging his own troops to make a difference where it counts. Finally one young man asked if the fact the author was earning $200,000 a year didn't make him a hypocrite to be speaking out in favor of leveling salaries to make working people more equal.

Great question, he responded (he said this to everyone--I think they teach you this before book signing tours even though you'll hear it 100 times). But I only make $175,000, he replied at which time he went on to justify sending his children to private schools because given the times (or was it the city where he chose to live or the moon spots or classes they needed in basket weaving) it was the only rational thing to do. Meanwhile, his excellent income left him free to criticize inequalities in the public education system (he didn't add that, those are my thoughts) including the NEA.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Matt. 23:13-14

Still, he was less a hypocrite than most (although God doesn't grade on a curve, I do). Also, there was no indication he was a believer or even a Christer (Easter and Christmas Christian), so Jesus was speaking to us, not him.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

385 Lutheran sacraments

"Lutherans recognize only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper, because Luther could find no clear evidence that Christ instituted any other sacraments. Baptism commissions all believers to a common ministry, but for the sake of enduring witness and good order in the church, there is a divinely instituted, special, ordained ministry. Lutherans have not always agreed on the precise differences between the ministry of all the baptized (the "common priesthood of all believers") and the ministry of the ordained, but they have nevertheless rejected any notion of a divinely instituted structure of hierarchical priesthood. An ordained Lutheran pastor is a baptized Christian who is called to the public ministry of word and sacraments after proper training and examination, and the rite of ordination is the solemn commissioning to be faithful to this call." Lutheranism. ERIC GRITSCH. Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 8. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p5538-5540. 15 vols. On-line edition accessed Jan. 21, 2007.

Lutherans, at least none I know, don't rebaptize. If you can't remember your baptism, don't ask for a do-over from a Lutheran because you'll be told God remembers even if you don't. Also, of all the service opportunities I've had since joining UALC in 1974, serving communion is the high point. I can't tell you the beauty and privilege of handing the body of Christ to a dear sweet 85 year old who has struggled to get to the communion rail.

384 Featured church of the week

on U.S. Farm Report today is First Baptist Church of Wayne, NE, which organized in 1882, which means the congregation is celebrating its 125th birthday! I think the reporter said they built their present facility in 1909. Their website is simple and easy to read. It's easy to look at the list of chores and ministries of their members (did one woman really do coffee, communion and clean the downstairs all alone in December or was she just in charge?). Unlike the websites of much larger, wealthier churches. No names of course.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

383 A joke in the Frozen Chosen discussion

I laughed out loud at this one. It was in the blog comments section.

"A young boy was shocked to find that his neighborhood playmates had never been baptized. Thinking quickly, he led them all to the nearest church.

A janitor, the only person there at the time, opened the door and let them in. Upon hearing what they wanted, he led them into the bathroom, where he proceeded to sprinkle each of them with water from a toilet.

Walking home, the boys began to wonder what demonination they had joined.

"Well we can't be baptists," one boy said, "because they dunk you all the way in."

"Well, we can't be Catholics," another boy said. "They pour water over your head and light candles."

After further discussion, another boy finally interrupted in disgust. "Come on, guys, didn't you smell that water? We're 'piscopalians!" "

Friday, January 05, 2007

382 The Frozen Chosen

is not a term with which I'm familiar, but apparently it is a derogatory term for Presbyterians, and a WaPo writer made a serious blunder, showing ignorance of church traditions and Calvinists, when referring to Episcopalians with that term. The hullabaloo was caused when there was a write up about the Falls Church Episcopal church in Fairfax County, VA leaving the denomination and that they might be speaking in tongues and having ecstatic worship experiences. [Shhhh, don't tell--fundies, you know.] Well, a woman who actually worships there wrote them up. Be sure to read the comments.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

381 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, although two I made many years ago I have kept to this day. (To stop biting my fingernails and to always put my keys in the same place in my purse.)

However, on January 1 I was looking for an open coffee shop and went into the Starbucks which opened about 30 minutes earlier than the first store I tried. I was reading, minding my own business, when a gentleman on his way out the door said something to me about finding a coffee shop on a holiday. So we started talking--we knew some of the same people and had a similar health problem.

Eventually (because I made an opening) we got around to church and faith. He started talking about his "The One Year Bible" which he had with him and uses to lead a Bible study group. He said he'd tried reading the Bible through many times, but this method worked for him and kept him from tunnel vision.

When I got home I pulled our copy (NIV) off the shelf. I've made it to January 3, which may be longer than the last time I tried it. In the Matthew passage today (3:7-4:11) the devil is tempting Jesus after his 40 day fast. Each time, Jesus responds to temptation with, "it is written." Eventually the devil gives up and the angels came.

Sounds like a plan. But first you need to know what is written and where.