Friday, October 20, 2006

The ELCA's "new energy and commitment"

And then there's this news item on the ELCA News Blog:
Lutherans help set world record by "Standing Up" against poverty

by Annie Lynsen, ELCA Washington Office

More than 1,500 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) were among the 110,332 U.S. citizens and 23.5 million people worldwide who stood up during worship Oct. 15 to fight global poverty. The "STAND UP" event set a national and global record in the Guinness World Records for the largest number of people to stand up for a cause.

Lutherans across the United States participated in the event organized as part of "ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History," in cooperation with the United Nations' Millennium Campaign. People stood together to ask their governments to take action to end poverty and inequality and meet the Millennium Development Goals. "Participation of Lutheran congregations in the STAND UP event reflects the new energy and commitment that the ONE Lutheran Campaign has generated at the local level. Our commitment as Lutherans to fighting poverty and disease in the world is part of a global movement with a common goal to end the scandal of poverty that kills," said Kim C. Stietz, ONE Lutheran Campaign coordinator, ELCA Washington Office.

More than 400 people stood up at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, and 250 stood up at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hinsdale, Ill. Around the world, Lutherans and members of other faith traditions also organized STAND UP events. At Solor Lutheran Church in Webster, Minn., 52 people stood for a moment during worship, 14 of whom participated in a house party later that day. "At the house party, we called our representative, our senators, and our candidates and left messages asking what they've done or what they plan to do about hunger and the Millennium Development Goals," said Carrie Young, a member of Solor Lutheran Church. "We also watched the ELCA World Hunger Video, 'For Such a Time as This,' and we talked about the ONE Campaign." ONE Lutherans across the country joined with other volunteers, students and community members as a part of this movement.
Okay, the ELCA reports 4,850,776 baptized members, 2,256,700 of whom are "communing and contgributing" members of her 10,549 congregations.

In case you're wondering, the ONE Lutheran Campaign is about eradicating poverty in the world, though with this kind of "new energy and commitment," those who make up the campaign will soon be one Lutheran.

Meanwhile, in the 10 ELCA congregations of Peoria County (including Peoria, Bartonville, Chillicothe, Glasford, and Trivoli), more than 1600 people stood up last Sunday to confess the Apostles' Creed. Stop the presses!

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches ... about life"

Rudy Lugo was my PE teacher in 10th Grade at Canoga Park High School. This was general PE, where we played touch football (well, it was supposed to be touch football, but this 105 lb. Center was usually in the mud after "blocking" a couple of Chicanos who probably each carried twice my weight), soccer (I once scored a point for the other team with a shot off my head; I was bit better as a Goalie), basketball (you really don't want to know), track (now running I could do, finishing in the middle of the pack), volleyball (I actually played for the Hunters my senior year, receiving a JV letter!), calisthenics, etc.

Through it all, Coach always encouraged me to do my best and taught me to the best of his and my (meager physical) abilities. Fortunately for him, I was a Math major -- and I didn't wear my glasses when trying out for the Hunters' baseball team. (He was JV baseball and football coach in those days.) But neither did I bail out when Mac (legendary CPHS baseball Coach Doug MacKenzie), pitching at the baseball team's tryout, called for a suicide squeeze -- and fired the next pitch straight at my ear. I'd not gotten much wood on the ball yet, but I could -- and did -- lay down that bunt.

I didn't take any classes from him in 11th or 12 grade. But when I read the front page article about him in yesterday's Los Angeles Daily News, well, that's the same Coach Lugo I first had 32 years ago in the Fall of 1974. And for those who wonder why 14 years after being called to Zion I'm still Pastor at a declining, urban parish that some had given up for dead long before I came here, well, Coach was one of my teachers -- one that I've never forgotten -- who taught me well through his subject.
Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches more than football; he teaches about life
Article Last Updated:10/11/2006 09:50:47 PM PDT

CANOGA PARK - He speaks softly now, barely louder than a whisper.

The booming voice that has ruled the football sidelines at Canoga Park High School for 38 years is now raspy and weak.

Lung cancer and three rounds of chemotherapy have taken their toll on Rudy Lugo. He's lost weight, hair, energy - but never his faith.

"I need football," Lugo said. "Cancer is a terrifying experience. It's a monster. Sometimes, I wake up at night looking at the ceiling in my house, and I just want to break down.

"But I have to fight. And football will give me the positive attitude, the strength and the courage to fight this, to beat this."

Lugo comes to work the days he feels well enough, just to be around the students, the coaches, the game. And while he speaks softly, his words have never carried more weight.

"When he talks, the kids just go dead silent so they can listen to him," said Ivan Moreno, who has taken over as co-head coach along with Kevin Carlsen, an All-City player under Lugo in 1997.

But Lugo is still the man.

For 38 years, his image has been the same as the Hunters: tough, scrappy, making do with what you have, finding a way to overcome any limitation.

If they're bigger than you, be faster. If they're stronger than you, work harder in the weight room. If they've scored three touchdowns against you, score four.

He was never afraid of losing - only of not trying hard enough.

"It's never been all about winning," Carlsen said. "For him, it's about turning the kids into men. That's what he did for me.

"In a lot of ways, he's been like a second father."

Looking in the mirror, Lugo can recall all the pep talks he has given, wondering whether he was right - and whether he's strong enough to live the words himself.

"I guess it's my turn now," said Lugo, 58. "To practice what I've preached."

More than a coach

Word of Lugo's illness spread quickly through the football community after he was diagnosed in August. Since then, his former players have been dropping by the boys' physical-education office at Canoga Park High - one comes just about every day - to check on him.

They don't talk much about cancer, though. They come to ask how the team's doing, to hear about some of the players or to scout next week's opponent.

But mostly, they come to see Lugo.

"He's the kind of teacher you remember 20 years later because he really touched your life," said Jim Smith, who has taught P.E. with Lugo for 15 years. "It's amazing to see the players who come back year after year to thank him.

"He didn't just coach them or teach them football; he teaches them about life and how to be men."
Read it all here.

I don't expect Coach to remember me, but I'm going to drop him an e-mail to thank him and tell him I'm praying for him.

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully hear our prayers and grant to your servant, Rudy, the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jesus' Inspriational T-shirt

Listen to (okay, read) Pastor Karl Johnsen, STS, preaching the first Vespers sermon at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity. The texts that Tuesday evening were Job 12:1; 13:3-17, 21-27 and St. John 8:33-47:
I have been known at times to frequent certain Christian bookstores of the sort with which I am sure most of you are familiar. You know the ones. The place where you can buy everything from "God's Gym" and "This Blood's for You" T-Shirts, to the latest installment in the ubiquitous Prayer of Jabez franchise. And of course, let us not forget, right up there by the checkout, the ever popular "Testa-Mints". The breath freshener with a message to share.

Somewhere in that same store you are bound to find any number of wall plaques, posters, calendars, and coffee mugs, each bearing some inspirational message straight from the mouth of our Lord. You know the ones; "I am the bread of Life", "I am the light of the world", "Behold I stand at the door and knock". But it strikes me that I have never seen an inspirational poster, coffee mug, calendar, or T-shirt quoting our Lord's words in today's gospel text where he says "You are of your Father the Devil, and your will is to do your Father's desires." (John 8:44a) I guess this is not surprising. When looking for something to put on an inspirational poster, we tend to gravitate toward something more, ... well ..., inspirational. Something more comforting than convicting.

At the end of the day however, we ought not to worry overmuch about what brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations do or do not put on inspirational posters and T-shirts. But perhaps we would do well to worry that we might just be tempted downplay or even ignore words such as these in our ministry of preaching and teaching. They are after all, uncomfortable words, and we like to see ourselves as being in the business of comforting people.

Therefore, perhaps we might be tempted to ignore them, or to relegate them to some sort of secondary status on the grounds that they do not "drive Christ" as well as does a passage like Romans chapter 8. But the mental gymnastics required to contend that the words of St. Paul drive Christ more effectively than the words of Jesus himself is just a bit beyond my ability to bear.

Or, we may choose to interpret these words very narrowly, solely within the context of Jesus' conversation with those particular people, in that particular place, at that particular time. But it strikes me that perhaps we are overly quick to do this. Especially when you consider how quick we are to interpret a more comforting passage such as Jesus' gracious words of forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery in the more universal sense, that is, as being true for all of us, and not just for that woman, in that place, and at that time.

Perhaps there is some benefit in letting Jesus' hard words stand and accuse us, in all of their stark and dark simplicity.

So, let me try this T-shirt on for size:
    "I am of my father the devil, and my will is to do my father's desires."
But immediately, I begin to protest. "Am I really all that bad? Doesn't this sound just a bit too judgmental? Surely I do not deserve God's wrath, if indeed such a thing still exists in these enlightened times. Soon I find myself taking the position of Job, protesting my innocence. Soon I, like Job, am desiring to speak to the Almighty, and to argue my case with God.
Read it all here on the Society's web site.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Angels (cont'd)

From the Society of the Holy Trinity's General Retreat

The sermon for Michaelmas proclaimed by Pr. Pari Bailey, STS, at the Society of the Holy Trinity's General Retreat that I mentioned a few days ago is now posted on the Society's website.
We've got angels. Boy, do we. There are angels of the month, birthstone angels, dashboard charms that say, "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." Bumper stickers that proclaim, "Angels on board." There are gardening angels, Mother's Day angels, Hallmark angels holding everything from Thanksgiving turkeys to St. Patrick's Day shamrocks.

Fat blonde babies with wings cavort on every possible item. Chubby cherubs, swathed in Victorian chintz drapery, halos charmingly askew, look more like spun-sugar dumplings than anything that would cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty!" Greeting cards, wallpaper, candy bars, movies like "Angels in America"— feathered wings joined with human fallibilities are just everywhere these days!

But then there's this:
    Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way
    As the Lord of light descending from the realms of endless day
    Comes, the pow'rs of hell to vanquish
    As the darkness clears away.
Set them side by side, the post-modern depiction of angels as a pleasant remnant of myth, made in our image, bent to our will, filling desire for spirituality and a crass marketing niche all at once —and then the Scriptural image of the vanguard of the army of heaven, the praises of God in their throats and a two-edged sword in their hands, a choir in battle formation, with captains and princes, standards and banners arrayed around the throne of the Lord of Light.

Singers with shields, messengers, bringers of the divine Word, some appointed to ceaseless praise, some appointed to help us on earth: these are the angels of the Lord.

The cosmology of the ancient world is not ours—or so we think. We no longer see angels behind every physical force of nature, every unexplained scientific phenomenon. Except for the Left Behind crowd and the devotees of Frank Peretti and those who tend to see the world in terms of Star Wars, anyway—most Christians, and certainly most Lutherans, don't describe our reality with reference to a cosmic battleground between the evenly-matched forces of good and evil. We already know what battle standard the Host of heaven carries, what device is blazoned on every shield and breastplate, in what sign they conquer.

Whether our modern sensibilities accept it or not, the holy angels are not incidental to, or independent from, the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. In the might of the Messiah and under the banner of the cross, the host of heaven continues to do God's will and bring his Word despite the death throes of the dragon. The war is over, Satan is finished. Cast down. But still he fights on, mortally wounded, utterly defeated. His time is short.
For the entire sermon, click on this page or on the STS site the link for the St. Michael's Day Sermon.

And the Catholic Church became "Lutheran"

In his opening address at last week's General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, the Rev. Dr. Frank C. Senn, Senior of the STS and pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, Illinois, first took us back to the Reformation and the 16th Century:
In that confessional hardening, the Western Catholic Church split into competing confessions that were encoded into law. We today are not only the heirs of Martin Luther's reform movement; we are also the heirs of the lex reformandi. When the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg was adopted in cities and lands by vote of city councils and by order of princes, church and society had to be reformed in the light of this Confession. That meant that laws or ordinances had to be drawn up and enacted. There's nothing unusual about this. A reform that fails to attain legal status and to be incarnated in institutions will fail. It will remain just a good idea. But if it is encoded in law, a reform can change people's behavior and even their thinking, no matter how much they may at first begrudge the change. Through law -- church ordinances -- and official teaching on a popular level-catechisms-Lutheranism became the confessional reality of the Catholic Church in some places across central and northern Europe. Church life went on, but with significant changes that were inculcated into the hearts and minds of the people through consistent preaching and teaching and new patterns of worship.

In most places implementing these reforms required a break with the local hierarchy and therefore also a break in communion with the bishop of Rome. But Lutherans did not think they were breaking with the catholic tradition. They asserted twice in their Confession -- once after the twenty-one doctrinal articles and again after the seven pastoral articles -- that their churches had not departed, in their teachings and practices, from the Catholic Church, or even the Church of Rome, insofar as that is known from its ancient writers. Insofar as they were returning to the clear testimonies of Scripture and the church fathers, they implied that the Church under the pope had departed from this tradition. Later on the second Martin, Martin Chemnitz, would examine the Council of Trent and conclude that the Council had proposed a new understanding of tradition that was a novelty in Christian history.
Later in his address, Pr. Senn then brought us into the contemporary era, both throwing down and taking up the ecumenical gauntlet:
If Pope Benedict XVI, who was so instrumental in working out the final details of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, wants to strike a blow for Lutheran-Roman Catholic rapprochement, let him lift the papal bull of Leo X, Exsurge Domine, and declare that Martin Luther is not a heretic. In 1958, Father Joseph Ratzinger addressed a pastoral council in Vienna with these words:
There is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one could say the same of the separated Churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of "heresy" is no longer of any value. Heresy, for scripture and the early church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the church, and heresy's characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of one who persists in his or her own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now-centuries old history, Protestantism had made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive development of the Christian message and, above all, often giving rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian, whose separation from the Catholic affirmation has nothing to do with the pertinacia of heresy.... We must try to think our way forward here in the spirit of the New Testament and to apply this spirit to all the things that did not exist then, but are in our world today.

If this still represents the mind of Pope Benedict XVI, then we are grateful that we cannot be regarded as heretics. But can Martin Luther still be regarded as a heretic? He issued his call for reform as a loyal son of the Church. He had widespread support among the clergy and people. His proposals were never dealt with in a free council bringing all theological parties together. If "Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith," Martin Luther had a lot to do with that. Pope Benedict XVI's admiration for the reformer is well known. Let him advance rapprochement to the next step by rescinding Exsurge Domine.

And on our part, let Lutheran Churches declare that the pope is not the Anti-Christ, turn to him for authoritative teaching in matters of faith and morals, and expect his leadership in the pursuit of Christian unity.

In the meantime, we members of the Society of the Holy Trinity are pastors in Lutheran Churches. According to our Rule, we are committed to the reconciliation of Lutheran Churches with the bishop and Church of Rome. It is not up to us to say what this reconciliation will look like, although we can use our ecumenically-informed imaginations. What we can do is move our Churches closer to the Roman Church by moving them closer to our own confessions, which include the three ecumenical creeds. There are many ways in which our Lutheran Churches have drifted away from their confessional moorings. I need not count them here; our Founding Statement gives such an accounting, and it is worth revisiting that document from time to time. But this Society exists primarily "to work toward the confessional and spiritual renewal of Lutheran churches." It is for that purpose that this ministerium has been formed and convenes in retreats. We will contribute to the renewal of Lutheran Churches by being ourselves renewed in our ordination vows, following the discipline laid out in the Rule of this Society.
There's more and you can read it all here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Parable of the Good Soccer Mom

A the tail end of my Saturday entry I mentioned that I would be on the Peoria Life Chain, missing a big chunk of the final game of my beloved Los Angeles Angels. That enables me to bring to your attention to, if you haven't already read it, last Thursday's First Things: On the Square entry.

For background, it seems that the Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas is joining a growing number of Democrats (including our Junior US Senator from Illinois in (rightly) declaring that a "Christian voice" (or, at least, a "voice of faith") in American politics ought not be the exclusive property of the Republican Party. Congressman Bell invokes Jesus in the national debate over embryonic stem cell research, declaring a clear answer to "What would Jesus do?"

First Things Junior Fellow Ryan Anderson responds by offering this "retelling of a familiar parable."
The Parable of the Good Soccer Mom

“You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Chris Bell, because he wished to be elected governor, asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

Consider the Parable of the Good Soccer Mom: An embryo fell into the hands of ambitious scientists after she was left over in the freezer of an in vitro fertilization lab.

A molecular biologist happened to be journeying through the lab. Seeing that the embryo was very small and didn’t look like other human beings, he decided that it was not a human being. And he passed to the other side of the lab and left the embryo for his colleagues.

Likewise a moral philosopher came to the place and launched into an exposition of human embryology and developmental biology. He concluded that the human embryo was a whole human being at the very beginning of her life. The embryo possessed all of the internal resources necessary to guide herself—by a self-directed process—through further stages of development toward the maturity of organismic life. In doing this, the embryo integrates herself so as to keep her unity, identity, and determinateness all intact. No mere part of some other organism—as the sperm and egg cells whose union brought her into existence were—the embryo is both functionally and genetically distinct from any other organism, a whole and complete (though immature) human being. The term embryo is just a way of classifying the early human being, just as the terms fetus, newborn, infant, child, adolescent, adult, and octogenarian all refer to human beings at other stages. These terms, he concludes, refer to the same self-developing, unitary organism: the human being.

While the molecular biologist got the science wrong, the philosopher got it right. But the embryo could feel no pain or pleasure and exhibited no consciousness of any type, and so the philosopher concluded that the human embryo had no moral status and possessed no rights. And he, too, passed to the other side of the lab and left the embryo to the tender mercies of the scientists.

But a Soccer Mom who came upon the embryo was moved by both scientific fact and right moral reason. Aware of the humanity of the embryo as established by modern embryology, she wondered what was owed to the human being in the embryonic stage of life. She thought that whatever was owed to human beings at other stages of life was owed to them at the embryonic stage. For age and stage of development certainly are not morally significant. Older people do not have greater moral status; neither do the more fully developed. All human beings are of equal moral worth, she reasoned, because they are equally human. So, what is owed to human beings? Why, human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, possessing free will and rational natures that make them entities of intrinsic—and not mere instrumental—worth. They are to be treated as subjects and not as objects. Hence they are owed protection, support, and aid. In a word, they are owed love.

She summed up her findings: A human embryo is a whole member of the human species. Each human being entered life as an embryo. And all human beings are subjects of profound, inherent, intrinsic worth in virtue of what they are, not what they can do. And if they are subjects of worth in virtue of what they are, then they bear this worth from the moment that they first come into existence.

The Soccer Mom then rescued the embryo, transferred her to her womb, and cared for her.

“Mr. Bell, which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the embryo?”
Read the rest here.

I've been a subscriber to First Things since issue #13 and I was an Intern Pastor at Saint John's Lutheran Church, Helena, Montana -- when every penny counted.

"Creator noster"

or One Word Really Does Make a Difference

The Confessing Reader has picked up on my prior entry, calling the prayer suggested for LWF Sunday "a parody of the Our Father." (Creator Noster is his blog-entry title, "because it is neither the Pater noster nor the Lord’s Prayer.")
The Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, has from time to time suffered this sort of parodying, most such parodies directed at removing the offensive “Father” in the prayer’s address. If there be any truth at all in the dictum lex ordandi lex credendi, then it is particularly egregious that the Our Father, given to the Church by the Lord Jesus himself and in liturgical use by Christians probably since the time that the Gospel According to Matthew was written or redacted (given the addition of the concluding doxology that is not present in the Lucan text) and at least since the time that the Didache was written (which enjoins on Christians the thrice-daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of embryonic daily office), has been so subjected.

As for this particular parody, there are elements that are essentially noncontroversial. Who indeed could disagree with praying God to grant us “courage to denounce what is wrong” or to “encourage us by[his] Word”? Who would dispute the assertion that “many needy people are seeking justice, truth and freedom”?

But this parody distorts, both by commission and omission, the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. In the place of Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to share the filial relationship he has with God the Father in prayer, the parody would have us pray to a more distant - if loving - Creator. The parody also asserts the same modalistic heresy that such faux-triniatarian ascriptions as “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” make, in limiting the creative power of God only to the Father, while the holy Scriptures and holy Tradition ascribe creation to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Go ahead, read the whole thing here, as Todd Granger offers critiques that I hadn't thought of -- because I saw no need to go past "Our Creator" in the first place. (Sometimes I can be short-sighted.)

He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."

And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation."

Whereupon that disciple said, "Oh my, this will not do. Is there someone who can teach us better?"

And a scribe called Ishmael replied, "Here is a prayer a group of my students crafted...."

(With apologies to the dear and glorious physician, St. Luke the Evangelist.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Our Father?

This is the prayer included in the materials provided by the Lutheran World Federation for use on LWF Sunday 2006, which was yesterday:

Our Creator in heaven,
        you have created everyone--those dear to us and also our enemies. You are our creator and you love us all, unconditionally.
Hallowed be your name
        in our lives so that your love may change our hearts and fill our lives with what really matters.
Your kingdom come
        through us now--so that the abundance of mercy will give a new perspective to what we do and say, and to the faith we live.
You will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
        for your thoughts are not ours, neither are our ways your ways. You know your plans for us - plans to prosper and not to harm us, plans for hope and future.
Give us today our daily bread
        for body and soul. Many needy people are seeking justice, truth and freedom. Encourage us by your Word.
Forgive us our sins
        when our hearts are filled with anger, sadness and hopelessness. Teach us how to
Forgive those who sin against us.
        Give us love and heal our wounded memories.
Lead us not into temptation
        of being deaf, blind and mute. Give us courage to denounce what is wrong. Make us ambassadors of truth who stand beside the suffering.
Deliver us from evil
        You are holy, God. You lead us and love us above all, for
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Adapted from a prayer by Slavka Danielova, 2005 LWF Youth Pre-Council Workshop, Jerusalem.)

No, we did not use this prayer at Zion.