Friday, October 26, 2007

The Wonder of It All

All alone in the movie theater, I sat on the edge of my seat transfixed for much of the nearly 2-hour film. Documentaries rarely do that, but In the Shadow of the Moon easily brought me back into that sense of awe and wonder and optimism I had as a boy watching the Apollo astronauts go to the Moon, land there, explore a bit, and come back. I was 10 years old again, except this time it was in color and on the big screen, rather than the black-and-white TV we had in the den.

For a couple of reviews of this film that give a good flavor of my own experience, see the Hollywood Reporter:
"In the Shadow of the Moon" unites 10 of the 12 astronauts who flew on nine Apollo missions and descended to the moon between 1968 and 1972 along with remastered archival footage from NASA, much never seen before. The value of this film, not just to moviegoers today but to future generations, is simply enormous.

Documentaries these days tend toward doom and gloom, so "Moon" is a welcome relief. The movie is about an uncontrovertibly glorious moment in U.S. history. ThinkFilm should see a nice run in art houses and perhaps beyond. The Discovery Films and Film 4 production is sure-fire TV and a collector's item on DVD for any space and history buff. If anything, when the film ends, you feel a bit like Olivier Twist, the boy who cried out for "more."
and Ad Astra at
Not only do we get to see this Apollo footage as it has never been seen, and get to hear the astronauts express themselves as never before, but they have gone one step further by marrying the sound and film from Mission Control. We are all so familiar with the words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the dusty lunar surface, and the voice from Mission Control that answers him (Charlie Duke), so it may come as a surprise that all film footage inside Mission Control was silent. The producers found the audio loops and painstakingly matched the voices to film for the first time ever. This is a memorable feat that may go unnoticed by many viewers, but from a historical perspective, it is a welcome show of the diligence of the filmmakers of "In the Shadow of the Moon."
"It was a time when we made bold moves," observes JIm Lovell of Apollo 8 and 13, the only man to go to the Moon twice, neither time able to land. Indeed, as one of the astronauts described feeling the dance of the engines keeping the mighty Saturn V rocket pointed up during the launch it struck me just how bold the whole enterprise was. Especially compared to how risk-averse a society we have become today.

Look here to find out if In the Shadow of the Moon is showing on a Big Screen near you. Listen to astronauts reflect upon having gone to another world, re-live (or, for you young whippersnappers, see for the first time) the excitement of a great excitement, and get a good look at the American spirit at its best.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Unity of the Church

When the ELCA formed in 1988, it established a medical plan for seminarians that was separate from the larger one "rostered leaders" (that's ELCA-speak for Pastors, Diaconal Ministers, Associates in Ministry, and Deaconesses--the latter 3 categories being laity). The rules were that all seminarians were required to enroll, unless they had alternate coverage through family or employment. It was to be self-supporting from the premiums seminarians paid. The exceptions weren't monitored by the seminaries very closely, for actual enrollment was lower than anticipated and, due to two mental health claims, the plan was bankrupted within a couple of years.

So the ELCA's Division for Ministry and Board of Pensions (which maintains the ELCA's health plans) went back to the drawing board and created a new plan, one chief difference being that if a seminarian had other medical coverage, s/he had to pay a waiver fee. And then they went on the road to all 8 seminaries for us to vote on whether to accept this plan or to be on our own. Meanwhile, the Graduate Theological Union (of which PLTS is a constituent) had worked out an arrangement that its students would be included in the much better, and much less expensive, health plan for University of California graduate students, and that opportunity was being extended to the students of its constituent schools.

For us at PLTS, it was a no brainer--the GTU/Cal plan was by far the better one. But the folks from Higgins Road pulled out all the stops to encourage us to vote for the ELCA's plan. And in Berkeley, we asked 2 key questions: 1) Why must the seminarian plan be separate from the main ELCA plan and 2) Why should we vote for the ELCA plan?

The first question was answered, "Because it has to be separate." The second was answered,

"For the unity of the church."

Appalled, I turned to my classmate next to me and whispered, "I thought unity of the Church had something to do with a common theology." Nothing about whether the plan was a good one. Nothing about the health needs of seminarians or rostered leaders. Nothing about good stewardship. Here we were, candidates for the ministry in a church that before its inception was divided over such matters as the ministry, biblical interpretation, and a social/political emphasis by the highest levels, and that as soon as it was born was engulfed in a dispute over homosexualty. It was right then that I realized that the heart of our divisions in the ELCA was a very basic disagreement on the nature of the church itself. And we may not be able to agree on any of those things, I disgustedly mused, but the medical and pension plan can keep us together. (Alas, my diagnosis of the ELCA hasn't changed a bit over the years--time and time again, I speak my variation on then-Governor Clinton's chief weapon against the first President Bush: "It's the ecclesiology, stupid.")

All this came to mind this afternoon as I sat near the back of the room during this afternoon's session of the Diocese of Quincy's Annual Synod (what we'd call a convention or assembly). Quincy is one of the Dioceses that is fundamentally opposed to the direction the Episcopal Church (now abbreviated TEC) has been going and the general tenor (though there are a few exceptions) has been that they can't get out fast enough. Since the General Convention accepted Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, most of the parishes have described themselves as "Anglican," rather than "Episcopal." And last year, the Synod began taking a series of steps to disassociate the Diocese from TEC while more strongly emphasizing its tie to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the "Global South" Anglicans. Recent news reports have included Quincy as among those receiving "threats" of lawsuits by TEC to keep the property of those determined to leave.

And during the financial report, the chair of the Finance Committee delivered news he clearly didn't want to. If they leave, liability insurance for congregations and their officials, which is done throught a trust of TEC, will not be able to be renewed at the end of that policy's year (next summer), and it has proved much harder than anticipated to get such coverage. Worse, the medical plan for priests will only last until the end of the month they disassociate from TEC. And that has proved even harder than liability insurance to find a suitable, affordable replacement.

Where's the unity of the Episcopal Church? You guessed it. Nothing to do with common theology, worship, understandings of the Word of God. It's insurance and pensions.

Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Classy Guy Departs

He was a very good player when I was a young baseball fan and had had an honorable career playing and managing in the Big Leagues. But at the beginning of the 1985 baseball season, his new job was as the analyst for KTLA's broadcasts of the California Angels, and the new guy (replacing, if memory serves, Harmon Killebrew) just wasn't very good. Except that as the season went on, he got better. And better. In fact, by mid-summer, there were 2 new reasons for watching the Angels on TV -- it was a good year (the Haloes would end the season with 90 victories and only 1 game behind the American League's Western Division Champs) and listening to this analyst was just fascinating. And that's when I became a Joe Torre fan.

10 years later after 2 baseball seasons in Peoria and being frustrated listening to the Cubs, I thought I'd try being a Cardinal fan largely because Torre was their manager. Naturally, he was fired mid-way through the season. By season's end, I'd given up on the Cards, too. But I followed Joe to his next position as he turned Steinbrenner's Evil Yankees into a special team worth rooting for -- behind the Angels, of course. As a subscriber to XM Radio the last couple of years, I've probably listened as intently to Yankees' games as the Angels' -- this despite the Yanks' truly awful play-by-play announcer.

Well, after 12 seasons, 12 consecutive post-season appearances, 10 1st place finishes, 6 World Series, 4 World Championships, and a soap opera's fill of off-the-field highs and lows, it seems that Joe's finally had enough of managing the Yankees. Thanks, Mr. Torre (as shortstop Derek Jeter always called him) for giving the Yankees a human face.

Now we can go back to hating those Damn Yankees.

Friday, October 12, 2007

ELCA News Release on Sexuality Study

Today from the ELCA News Service:

Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality Work on Draft of Social Statement

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Task Force for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Studies on Sexuality surveyed biblical, ethical and theological material that may be included in a draft of a social statement on human sexuality, and offered further instructions for its writing team when it met here Oct. 5-6. A proposed social statement on human sexuality is due in early 2009.

The Rev. Peter Strommen, bishop, ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Duluth, and task force chair, said a primary objective of the meeting was for the task force "to continue work on the development of a first draft" of a social statement. The draft is scheduled to be made available to the church in early 2008.

"The church has given us the responsibility of writing a social statement, and we are working hard to do our best. We want it to be helpful to the church and faithful to its core convictions. Our task force, like the whole church, represents diverse backgrounds. There is genuine respect for one another, reflective of our unity in Christ, but we do not see all things in the same way," he said.

The task force's discussions on the draft material were conducted in closed, off-the-record sessions. "When social statements are in the actual process of being written, things are very fluid," said Strommen. "We are determining the statement design and structure and whether we have something that will do a good job," he said.

The task force is approaching its work from a biblical, ethical and theological perspective, said Strommen. "We ask ourselves, 'Will our approach be effective and fresh? Will it help us to explore the interconnection of individual, family and society on these important matters?'" he asked.

The draft of the social statement will be distributed across the church for feedback, said Strommen. On the basis of that feedback the task force will reshape the document, he said. The task force will present a proposed document to the ELCA through the ELCA Church in Society program unit. The final proposed statement goes to the ELCA Church Council with a request to place the document on the agenda of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly for action.

In an open session, the task force discussed the actions of the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly with David D. Swartling, Seattle, secretary-elect of the ELCA.

In a separate open session, the task force received a preliminary report on the church's response to "Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor: Lutherans Talk about Human Sexuality" -- a study guide designed to engage members of the ELCA in thoughtful discussion and theological discernment on topics that may be addressed in an ELCA social statement on human sexuality. Responses are due Nov. 1.

In September the task force released an adaptation of the study called, "Free in Christ to Care for the Neighbor: Lutheran Youth Talk about Human Sexuality" -- a study designed for senior high-school-age members of the ELCA. Responses from youth are due Dec. 15.

The task force met with the ELCA Conference of Bishops in small groups on Oct. 6. Members of the conference commented on what they would like to see included in a draft of a social statement on human sexuality and discussed their hopes for the ELCA following the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary.

Among the bishops' comments were suggestions that the statement seek agreement on "core" teachings, that biblical interpretation and authority guide the statement, that it express a spirit of "humility," that the statement enhance mission, and that it engage ELCA members to discuss the topics in dialogue. Others expressed concern that the church somehow acknowledge that many members and leaders are "fatigued" by the continuing sexuality studies and process, and that they hoped that the conference could lead in a way that promotes unity, not division, in the church.

The Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society, told the bishops that the social statement cannot directly address a 2007 Churchwide Assembly directive that the task force "specifically address and make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church." She said social statements are not intended to specifically address ministry policy. Instead, the task force response to the directive will be reported separately to the churchwide assembly and will not be embedded in the social statement, said Larson.

The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary, agreed, saying the assembly action does not bind the task force to embed its response to the directive in the social statement.

After the draft of the social statement is made public in March 2008, a series of hearings will follow from March through October 2008, which is standard procedure for preparing social statements, said Larson. The proposed social statement itself will be made public in early 2009 and undergo review before it is transmitted to the churchwide assembly, she added.

- - -

Information about the ELCA Studies on Sexuality is at on the ELCA Web site. Information about "Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor: Lutherans Talk about Human Sexuality" is at and "Free in Christ to Care for the Neighbor: Lutheran Youth Talk about Human Sexuality" is at on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:
The question remains, of course, just what is meant when an ELCA official refers to "core convictions." Does it mean, "Marriage is the context for expressions of sexuality." Or does it mean, "Diversity is a core conviction of the ELCA."

Meanwhile, note Pastor Larson's response to the Churchwide Assembly's directive:
The Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society, told the bishops that the social statement cannot directly address a 2007 Churchwide Assembly directive that the task force "specifically address and make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church." She said social statements are not intended to specifically address ministry policy. Instead, the task force response to the directive will be reported separately to the churchwide assembly and will not be embedded in the social statement, said Larson.
ELCA Social Statements are not intended to address ELCA policies? Incredible. (Then again, that's what happened with the Social Statement on Abortion when there were attempts to bring the ELCA Medical Plan in line with the Statement.) The Assembly directs the Task Force to do something? No can do.

My, my, my.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Leif Erikson Day

Yesterday, a Monday, was the Columbus Day holiday. Columbus Day used to fall on October 12, recalling the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World.

October 9 is Leif Erikson Day, commemorating the Viking pioneer who landed in North America some 500 years earlier. Here is President Bush's proclamation:
Leif Erikson Day, 2007

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

On Leif Erikson Day, we commemorate the enduring legacy of a brave explorer and honor the significant contributions of Nordic Americans who continue to enrich our culture and our way of life.

Leif Erikson, a son of Iceland and grandson of Norway, led a determined crew across the Atlantic more than 1,000 years ago and became one of the first Europeans known to reach North America. The courage of these pioneers helped open the world to new exploration and important discoveries. Today, Nordic Americans help strengthen our country, and their determination and optimism make America a more hopeful land. Our Nation continues to benefit from strong ties with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, and we are grateful for their continued friendship.

To honor Leif Erikson and to celebrate our citizens of Nordic American heritage, the Congress, by joint resolution (Public Law 88-566) approved on September 2, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2007, as Leif Erikson Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs to honor our rich Nordic-American heritage.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

For Leif the Lucky's discovery of North America, you can read this portion of The Saga of Eric the Red from 1387 (translated, of course). Or there is this more modern telling the life of Leif Erikson. While Leif himself only visited in the year AD 1000, Vikings from Iceland and Greenland soon settled in North America, as proven by the archaeological discoveries at L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, beginning only in the 1960s. But it seems that it was then a period of what we would currently call "global warming" (think farms in Greenland), and the outpost was abandoned as the pioneers went back to Iceland.

Oh, why October 9? According to the Leif Ericson Viking Ship organization, October 9, 1825 was the arrival date of the first Norwegian immigrant ship, the Restauration, in New York.

So Columbus only re-discovered America. I'll go see the replica of the Nina anyway, since it is still in Peoria.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dodgers: 50 years in Los Angeles!

50 years ago today, the Dodgers announced they were moving to Los Angeles.

I know: I've not even been alive that long. I was 6 1/2 months old when the Dodgers defeated the White Sox in the '59 World Series. It was their second season in LA, and the Brooklyn crew Roger Kahn would later dub The Boys of Summer had passed their prime. I've never even been a big Dodger fan, though I always enjoyed going to Dodger Stadium, and no one announces a game like Vin Scully (who a few weeks ago kept me entranced listening on the radio as a batter fouled off some 15 pitches in a row).

But I'm an Angeleno, and even to Angels fans, the Dodgers are a part of the background of life. And the background really is important. And yesterday and today, the Los Angeles Times published a nice 2-part series, "50 YEARS AGO: FROM BROOKLYN TO LOS ANGELES." Part 1 is, at least on the web site, found in "business news":
L.A.'s major league play: Dodgers' 50 years in Los Angeles

Fifty years ago, L.A. City Council voted to provide Walter O'Malley with 300-plus acres in Chavez Ravine. The rest is baseball history.

All of 22 years old and fresh out of USC, Rosalind Wiener was looking for ways to attract voters in her bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

She had 35,000 cards printed up enumerating the standard election promises: strengthen drug laws, improve the economy, eliminate government waste and provide adequate public transportation.

But she needed one more item. Something different. Something original.

Well, her family had always been huge baseball fans, so why not?

Wiener's final item: Bring major league baseball to Los Angeles.

The year was 1953.

"I didn't know about minor league rights," she said. "I didn't know you had to get a vote of the owners. I thought, you just said to somebody, 'Come visit. Come to L.A.' I didn't know how complicated it would be to bring a team here."

Complicated, but not impossible, as Wiener, who married and became Rosalind Wyman, discovered after winning a council seat.

Professional baseball in Los Angeles in those days consisted of two Pacific Coast League teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.

On the other side of the continent, the Dodgers seemed entrenched in Brooklyn, where they had been since their inception in 1890 as the Bridegrooms.

As the Trolley Dodgers and then, simply, the Dodgers, they became the soul of their community and "America's Team" long before the Dallas Cowboys were tabbed with that distinction.

But by 1953, Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley had been exploring alternatives for aging Ebbets Field for seven years. Back in 1946, as a minority owner, O'Malley sent a letter to engineer Emil Prager in which O'Malley said, "Your fertile imagination should have some ideas about enlarging or replacing our present stadium."

O'Malley's imagination was running wild by the 1950s. Having taken over majority ownership of the team, he envisioned building a domed stadium, a concept that seemed inconceivable for baseball at the time, more than a decade before the Astrodome was constructed in Houston.

O'Malley had selected a site at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, a couple of long fly balls from Ebbets Field. The property contained a soon-to-be-abandoned meat market and was located at a hub of the New York transportation system that would bring in the Manhattan crowds via subway and those living in the suburbs via the Long Island Rail Road.

There was no question Ebbets Field, built in 1913, its foundation decaying, its opportunities for expansion nonexistent because of the surrounding neighborhood, had to be replaced.

Also in 1953, a seemingly unrelated event back in L.A. would push Wyman's dream one step closer to reality.

Three years earlier, a letter had gone out from the Los Angeles Housing Authority to residents living on more than 300 acres of steep rolling hills near downtown known as Chavez Ravine. It informed them a public housing development for low-income families was to be built on their property, which they would be forced to sell at fair market value under eminent domain. The residents would be given the first opportunity to buy into the new project, to be known as Elysian Park Heights, or would be given public assistance in finding other homes.

"The Dodgers had nothing whatsoever to do with the moving of people out of Chavez Ravine," Wyman said.

With the process underway and families being bought out, the project came to a screeching halt in 1953 with the election of Norris Poulson as Los Angeles mayor. A vehement opponent of public housing, he was the key figure in the killing of the project.
Read it all here. Part 2 is in "sports":
Dodgers' fans were Flatbush-whacked

Losing their beloved 'Bums' seemed inconceivable to Brooklynites. When the team left, a borough's collective heart was broken, and those who were there can still recall the pain.

The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?

It was as inconceivable as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish leaving South Bend, Ind., the Packers leaving Green Bay or the Statue of Liberty being moved to Lake Michigan.

Yes, Brooklynites understood Ebbets Field was decaying and knew owner Walter O'Malley was frustrated by his inability to get New York city commissioner Robert Moses to approve O'Malley's plan for a new stadium. They had heard the rumors about Los Angeles.

And yet when conjecture became reality, it hit everyone hard, from fans on the street and in the seats to team personnel on the field and in the front office.

The resulting emotion is expressed in the memories that follow of those tumultuous times for a borough and its team:

Buzzie Bavasi, former Dodgers general manager: "Walter's attitude was, 'If it's 30 miles from Brooklyn, it might as well be 3,000 miles.' Flushing Meadows was not Brooklyn."

Billy DeLury, who has served in the Dodgers organization for over half a century: "It just wasn't fair. If I want to build a house and this is where I want to build it and someone says, 'You don't build a house unless I tell you where to build it,' I don't think that's right. And that's what happened with the ballpark.

"Would you have to change the name to the Flushing Dodgers? I really, truly think Moses thought we would never leave."

Bavasi: "None of us blame Walter because we realized Ebbets Field needed a lot of work. My sister's father-in-law was the fire commissioner for Brooklyn. He could have condemned Ebbets Field, but because of his relationship with me, he told me to just do a few maintenance things and it would be all right. But even with that, it cost us plenty of money because we had to do a lot of work. To get it into condition where it would have been approved by the city would have cost us millions and we didn't have the millions at that time."

Financial details, however, were not the main concern of Brooklyn fans.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum, who grew up in that borough: "When I think of Brooklyn, the only thing that really mattered was baseball. Ebbets Field was less than a mile from where I lived. It was 25 cents for the bleachers. They used to play a lot of doubleheaders, so our mothers packed lunches because we would be there for eight hours.

"The players lived in the area you lived. [Manager] Charlie Dressen lived a few blocks away. You'd see the players in restaurants. There was a pitcher, Freddie Fitzsimmons, who had a bowling alley. It was really more than just a team."

TV host Larry King, another Brooklyn native: "I still remember the aroma of Ebbets Field. I was at Jackie Robinson's first game. Sat in the bleachers. It was a scene I'll never forget. The bleachers were the best because they were so close.

"The Dodgers were the symbol of Brooklyn. They gave us an identity, set us apart from Manhattan and Queens. When you lived in Brooklyn, everything else was Tokyo."

Joan Hodges, the 81-year-old widow of Gil, the Dodgers first baseman: "My parents came from Italy and didn't know a baseball from an onion. But by the time Gil was managing the Mets, my mother would ask him: 'How come you take so long to take the pitcher out?' "

Current Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner, another native New Yorker: "Brooklyn was a conclave of immigrants of every nationality and religion: German, Polish, Russian, Irish, Italian, Catholic, Jewish. Our grandparents had a funny accent because they were from the old country, but the one thing they all had in common was the Dodgers. That was Brooklyn."

But as the 1950s wore on, that was changing.

Arum: "Many families were moving to the Long Island suburbs like my folks did because they could afford it and it offered a better quality of life. It had nothing to do with racism. It was less cramped and you could own your own home out there.

"Unlike Californians, those people were not acclimated to vehicles. They had no desire to drive back into the city, so O'Malley needed a stadium that was close to public transportation."

When he couldn't convince Moses to sign off on his dream stadium, O'Malley pushed ahead in negotiations with L.A. officials.
Read it all here. And the sidebars, of both articles, too. Kudos to writer Steve Springer. And the Times.

Oh, and this is interesting. The tired and beat-up Ebbets Field was 45-years-old when O'Malley moved out of it. Now, apart from Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and the (largely rebuilt) Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium is the oldest park in the Major Leagues. 45-years-old. And still a jewell.

A Constitutional, not Confessional, Church?

My friend, colleague, and brother in the Society of the Holy Trinity Pr. Ken Kimball, who is also a member of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee, writes here on ALPB Online of part of our difficulty in the ELCA
The difficulty is that the ELCA is a constitutional church, not a confessional one. The constitution is the primary source of authority; power is obtained and exercised by those who control the constitutional process and structure. In a constitutional church, everything, including the confessions and core doctrines as well as traditional praxis can be put to a vote. The voice of the people is the voice of God. The progressive-revisionists understand that. The orthodox-traditional have been slow to realize that is the ecclesial reality in which we find ourselves. The orthodox-traditional, thinking we are a confessional church, have assumed that some things have simply been decided by Scripture and the Confessions and are not up for vote. That assumption is wrong and accounts for a great deal of the surprise and outrage on our part while the progressive-revisionists have straight-forwardly and methodically grasped the reins of power and control through effective political networking and organization. Lutheran CORE and Lindenhurst certainly represent steps forward for the orthodox-traditional but we are still considerably behind on the learning curve.

One challenge for the orthodox-traditional folks is how to organize and work politically as a faithful and necessary form of ecclesiastical stewardship without losing our confessional soul, i.e. that the Word of God through and from the Scriptures and witnessed by the Confessions trumps the voice of the people and the princes. While we exercise the ministry of witness by our involvement in reform and working through the constitutional processes and structures of the ELCA, in the end, truth is not established or made by church votes. The Church can only either recognize the truth of God's Word or deny/reject that truth. The Church cannot make or create or uncreate truth. If we lose sight of that, we reduce the Word of God to an ideology and we ourselves to an ideological lobby. That means there are some compromises we cannot make even if we lose votes and it also means that ultimately, it is not the winning or losing of votes that matters most but confessing and witnessing. It is not about getting power or about replacing the progressive-revisionist elite with an orthodox-traditional elite.
There is nothing new, of course, to Pr. Kimball's observation -- though when he said, "the ELCA is a constitutional church, not a confessional one," at the Lutheran CORE gathering that particular succinct phrasing was not one I'd recalled.

No, the matter goes back to the earliest days of the ELCA -- established firmly in the disciplinary hearings that eventually led to the the expulsion of St. Francis and First United churches in San Francisco from the ELCA: the charges against them were that they had called and installed as pastors persons who were not eligible to be called as pastors of ELCA congregations. It "just happened," I suppose, that their ineligibility occured by being 1) a lesbian couple or 2) or fully desiring and intending to have a gay partner once he found the right guy. It was the Constitutions of the ELCA (and the congregations themselves) and the policies of the Church (by then as described in Vision and Expectations and, more particularly, Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline that the congregations had violated, but efforts by the pro-gay accused to engage in theological debate were ignored by the "prosecuting" officials -- for whom breaking the rule, and not the behavior described in the rule, was the offense -- before that ELCA Discipline Hearing Committee.

Or, as I observed here with this year's discipline of Pr. Bradley Schmeling
the ELCA's advocates bring no theological testimony to defend the rules (which would, at the very least, note that Pastor Schmeling's public "partnership" would never have been deemed compatible with the Office of the Ministry until a generation ago), but merely speak to the violation of the rules themselves.
Yet the the seeds for "constitutionalism, not confessionalism" were sown even earlier, when the PLTS Three in January 1988 (Joel Workin and Jeff Johnson, who had been approved for ordination the previous autumn by the PLTS Faculty in accordance with ALC practice, and Jim Lancaster, who been approved at the same time by the Pacific Southwest Synod's Professional Preparation Committee -- the same committee I was registered with! -- in accordance with LCA practice) announced that they had been open about their sexuality with those who'd approved them for ordination and that they intended to be out and proud about it throughout their ministry. And the brand new ELCA responded with guidelines, rules, and regulations while steadfastly avoiding the theological discussion.

I recall standing on the floor as a volunteer of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis, as the resolution committing the ELCA to recognizing the ordination of Anita Hill and other non-rostered, gay pastors serving ELCA congregations, wanting to scream to Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, "Rule it out of order!" The theology of the Church was clear, and wasn't up for a vote. Except in the ELCA. Where we just don't want to talk much, at least formally, about theology when it comes to matters of sexuality. Or, really, much of anything else.

So, when anything can be up for a vote, how do the Confessions of the Lutheran Church fit in?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wait 'til next year!

Oh my, what an ugly way to end what had been a wonderful season. Yes, I listened to the whole thing on XM radio with the hometown announcers. Boston 9, Los Angeles Angels 1.

After the Cubs lose to the Diamondbacks, ending their season. (Theological content here on TitusOneNine. And Canon Harmon lives in South Carolina!)

The worst Notre Dame football team in anybody's memory beats UCLA, 20-6. Ugh!
Out of the depths I cry to you:
O Father, hear me calling.
Incline you ear to my distress
In spite of my rebelling.
Do not regard myh sinful deeds.
Send me the grace my spirit needs;
Without it I am nothing.
      (stanza 1, Out of the Depths I Cry to You,
      Martin Luther, tr. Gracia Grindal,
      paraphrase of Psalm 130, LBW hymn #295)
But then there's this: the 41-point underdog Stanford Indians, er, Cardinal upset the USC Brain Surgeons: 24-23!!

My soul is waiting for the Lord
As one who longs for morning;
No watcher waits with greater hope
Than I for his returning.
I hope as Israel in the Lord;
He sends redemption through his Word.
We praise him for his mercy.
      (stanza 4)
Wait 'til next year!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lutheran CORE's Report on the Lindenhurst Gathering

From Lutheran CORE:
When 250 people gather from around the country, mostly at their own expense, to consider a topic such as "'This Church' and God's Church," one might assume that they see a difference between those two. Hence, participants at Lutheran CORE's national gathering at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Lindenhurst, Ill., on Sept. 28, reflected on ways they believe the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not being faithful as God's Church, and how they can testify about God's call to the ELCA to practice obedient discipleship.

Meet the Leaders
Pastor Erma Wolf, vice-chair of Lutheran CORE, the coalition for reform, began her role as leader of the sessions by asking, "What are we here to do?" She noted that participants had come to meet the leaders of the reform effort and then said, "Turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself. You're it! You're the leaders! The Spirit is working in you and has raised you up."

Bible Study
James Nestingen, professor emeritus from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., led a Bible study on 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 7-8 on being Christ's servants, stewards of divine mysteries and worthy of his trust, while not boasting but remembering that everything was given to them. He noted that there are two possible errors in church institutions, legalism and enthusiasm.

"Legalism is not our problem in the ELCA," he noted.

Nestingen continued, "Grace is not tolerance [of all behavior]. God has called us to this ministry; God who speaks by His Word has said, 'I want you to stand up.'"

He added, "Ninety-eight percent of the world's Christians hear the same Word you do."

A ministry is different from a lobby he reminded the group and explained that Lutheran CORE's call is a ministry to the ELCA, not a political movement. He said, "We are not gathered here to triumph over anybody. We hear God's voice speaking clearly to us on these issues."

"The Word always engenders attacks," Nestingen said. "If you are called to this ministry, you will look a little like Jesus." He said that Christian ministry always takes the shape of the cross.

What Happened in Chicago?
Rev. Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran CORE, reflected on the recent churchwide assembly in Chicago. He said, "Chicago did not resolve most of the issues facing our church."

He said that he saw both positive indications and troubling results.

The first positive was that many synodical bishops participated in the debate unlike the 2005 assembly when most did not speak. He said he was pleased with the competence and commitment of Lutheran CORE supporters and noted, "People we didn't even know spoke on our side."

There is hidden support for us if we remain churchly, moderate and focused on the issues, he told the crowd.

Other positives were the resolution asking for a definition of the accountability of bishops to ELCA official policies, and the adoption of a motion referring all synodical memorials on sexuality to the ELCA sexuality task force, which is to prepare a social statement for the 2009 churchwide assembly.

Spring called the task force referral a "tactical victory -- we bought time."

He saw as troubling the defeat of an amendment regarding the study of the Bible, so that the adopted resolution speaks of Lutheran "approaches" to the Bible instead of "approach" as the amendment proposed. Spring called that a "weakening of biblical authority and our confessional witness."

Also troubling, Spring said, were more supportive members to Lutheran CORE's goals were not elected to the ELCA Church Council and the adoption of a resolution calling for "restraint" on discipline of pastors in same-sex relationships. The latter, he reminded people, did not change the policies of the church and "may be a much-needed wake up call."

Spring outlined what Lutheran CORE will do in preparation for the churchwide assembly in 2009. The participation of bishops will be solicited, particularly since the issues coming up need to be addressed theologically and biblically, instead of merely dealing with process and order, he said. Specifically, Lutheran CORE will zero in on the social statement on sexuality and on elections to the churchwide assembly and church council.

Lutheran CORE will be more than merely a presence at Minneapolis; it will be organized with a clear plan, said Spring. He told the gathering that the steering committee of Lutheran CORE would be meeting after the event and that he expected a series of proposed actions to be adopted to further these ends.

Spring emphasized that during 2008 Lutheran CORE's action will center on synods and synod assemblies, especially as voting members are chosen for the 2009 churchwide assembly. He said in 2009 Lutheran CORE will be drawing up memorials. Effective synod coordinators will be recruited for these tasks. He said that the steering committee hopes to recruit a team of a pastor and a layperson in each synod.

Spring reported that a lay voting member called him after the assembly in Chicago to remind him of the power of prayer in the face of spiritual warfare such as occurred at the assembly.

He concluded, "The last, first and most important thing is to undergird our efforts in prayer."

Other Comments on Strategy
Pastor Paul Ulring, a member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee, noted, "this is an unusual group gathered here. We don't agree on lots of stuff, but we agree about what is important."

Particularly, Ulring said that he has been convicted about the lack of prayer.

Rev. George Mocko noted that a restraint on discipline "is one of the things that got us in so much trouble in Texas [a reference to the lawsuit against the ELCA and a Texas synod a few years ago involving an ELCA pastor convicted of sexual misconduct]." He said he feared that restraint in discipline would open the way to more such problems.

Spring wondered what would happen to "restraint" if the 2009 churchwide assembly were not able to adopt a social statement on sexuality, in which case restraint could continue indefinitely or be rescinded. He also said he was unhappy when he learned at the Church Council meeting in April that the task force is already drafting the statement before hearing from the church.

Benne: The Real Problem
Robert Benne, director of the Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, began by noting the "marginalization of dissent" in the ELCA.

"Almost all of us are on the outside looking in," he said.

Benne mentioned 18th century English poet Alexander Pope's insight that "when we see an abhorrent vice too much, we first endure it, then tolerate it and finally embrace it." Benne expressed that in our society the process is "pretty well complete," and "the change has been breathtakingly swift. Homosexual conduct has been embraced."

Benne also cited former ELCA pastor Richard John Neuhaus' law: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed."

Benne said that already is pretty much the case in the ELCA and its institutions: "People pay dearly if they publicly affirm orthodoxy on these matters in elite circles."

Then Benne declared, "It is a great shame that the struggle over the soul of the church has had to focus on homosexuality issues, because they are not the essence of the problem, but rather a glaring symptom."

The real problem, he said, is "the movement of the ELCA toward the liberal Protestant temptation to substitute a debatable social gospel for the Gospel itself. The liberal Protestant temptation is to be unexcited, lethargic, unclear and squishy about the core claims of the Gospel (taken as the whole Trinitarian faith), while zealous, dogmatic and utterly confident about the social and political ethics that presumably follow from those core claims."

He said: "One can detect these firm commitments by how non-negotiable they are. Is there any chance of a snowball in hell that the ELCA will give up quotas, the guarantee of access to abortion whatever the reason, the relentless drive to prune all male references to God from our worship and literature, the persisting self-hatred that we are basically white people of Northern European heritage coupled with a forced posturing about our diversity, liberal politics in our advocacy centers and 'anti-imperialist' agitation with regard to Israel and Iraq?"

As a prescription for our response, Benne said that we probably must focus on sexuality issues for the next two to four years, "hoping that will awaken clergy and lay people to the transition to liberal Protestantism that is going on."

So we need to concentrate on getting orthodox people to synod assemblies and educating them about what is at stake Benne told the gathering. Then we need to concentrate on electing "with-it" orthodox people to the churchwide assembly of 2009.

He urged responses to the sexuality studies and proposed social statement, which if carefully critiqued will awaken many orthodox people to what may be happening. Enough such responses may inhibit the leadership from pushing to change our teachings.

"But more than 'winning' what will be a prolonged struggle, at best, I would hope that we would be able to get the ELCA to come clean on its public teachings. I want to head off more fudging and obfuscation, more phony 'journeying together faithfully.' I want to see a clear line drawn soon so that people know where we are going," said Benne.

Expressing some envy for the Episcopalians on this because of the clear lines drawn [alluding to the confirmation of the election of a practicing homosexual as bishop in 2003], he said, "If we don't get some lines drawn soon, we will lose by default."

Benne said that even more important is nurturing, strengthening and starting more regional and local groups "intent on focusing on the main thing and who wish to de-sacralize the sacred social ethics -- the non-negotiables -- of the ELCA."

He said, "In 10 or 20 years we may find that the associations will become more important than the ELCA. But we can't predict that now. We can only build for the future as we see best, and pray that the Spirit bless our efforts."

Planning for Action
Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, offered a general outline of plans to organize in synods. Participants divided into three working groups, depending on whether they perceived their synods as being strongly orthodox, moderate (inconsistent in positions and practice) or strongly revisionist.

Ryan Schwarz, a layperson from the Metro Washington, D.C., synod and a member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee, asked the participants this question: "If this isn't the time God is calling you to take a stand, what would that time look like?"

For more information
Three DVD's are available, which include all the main presentations and the "moderate" working session, for $10 each from the Lutheran CORE office, administered by the WordAlone Network. MasterCard and VISA are accepted. To order, please call 888-551-7254 or 651-633-6004, or email

Also, please contact Mark Chavez at if you are willing to help with efforts in your synod.

We are most thankful for your prayers and welcome your financial contributions. We are grateful that the WordAlone Network, a member group of Lutheran CORE, provides administrative support. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Lutheran CORE, c/o WordAlone Network, 2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220, New Brighton, MN 55112. Please make checks payable to WordAlone Network, and write "Lutheran CORE" on the memo line.

Pastor W. Stevens Shipman, Lutheran CORE steering committee and communications committee

Betsy Carlson, editor

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Something to really get excited about

I've not written yet about the Lutheran CORE gathering because I didn't want to scoop myself. Yes, I have a full report in the November issue of Forum Letter, which is shortly going to press. Those who subscribe to the e-mail edition will probably receive it in a week or so. Those of us who prefer to have the hard copy delivered by the Snail (note: that refers to the USPS as an institution; Don the Postman is a fine letter carrier, as one ought to expect from a faithful Christian) will need to wait -- unless the good editors decide to post it as a special on ALPB Online. Alas, it seems no one else has written about it either, so I guess I'll try writing something from a different perspective. Watch here for a report of an encouraging gathering.

50 years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit. For a couple of really cool retrospectives, check this video snip from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or this report from the New York Times. Oh, check out The Space Review this week, too. All these will help give you an inkling of why I have a web page entitled I Want to Go! I shouldn't be playing in Peoria; I should be walking on the Moon!

How hugely disappointing that 38 years after first landing on the Moon, NASA can barely get a manned ship into orbit. If someone had told me when I was 12 that I'd be in my 60s by the time we were building the first American Moon base, I would have laughed and laughed at such a crazy idea. Yet, here we are, hoping the Space Shuttles will last long enough so that we are earth bound for only a few years before the latest NASA plan begins to bear fruit. ("Dear Ann Landers, if we can put a man on the Moon, how come we can't put a man on the Moon?") Fortunately, there are private companies like XCOR and Virgin Galactic private-sector initiatives like the X PRIZE. But, my, how short-sighted this nation has been...