Lutheran Magazine

The Lutheran

The Lutheran magazine belongs to the people of the ELCA in all our diversity. The magazine nurtures awareness of Christ's presence in our lives and the world, shares stories of God's people living their faith, connects us with the global Christian community, provides an open forum for discussion and challenges us to bring God's grace and care to all.
  • Wielding crochet hooks and “plarn,” members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Versailles, Ohio, are helping the homeless and keeping those pesky plastic grocery bags out of landfills. Busy hands cut the bags into strips, tie them together and wrap them in balls. Those who know the art of crocheting work their magic with the “plarn” (plastic yarn) by creating sleeping mats for the homeless. Since this ministry began in 2011, the church has distributed more than 160 mats, mostly to homeless shelters from Lima to Cincinnati. A missionary took one to India. “It’s mainly for the homeless. During really cold weather they go to shelters and they use them inside, but in warmer weather, they’re outside,” said Karen Schultz, a Trinity member who started the ministry after learning how to make mats at her mother’s church. “Bugs don’t like them, and they’re waterproof.” Kristine DeAnthony is volunteer manager of the clothing closet ministry for First Lutheran Church near downtown Cincinnati. Volunteers distribute free clothing and personal care items there monthly.  “We hand out a few mats a month,” she said. “They are valued by folks who sleep outdoors as they can act as a barrier from the damp ground, and they can be easily rolled up and carried. The mats are a great way to recycle an everyday item. Whoever thought a simple plastic grocery bag could be used as a tool to witness?” Members gather the first Saturday of the month to make mats; others do so from their homes. Each mat bears a label saying where it was made and a tag containing a prayer: “May God bless you and keep you in his comfort and care.” Word of the ministry spread quickly. “It takes 500 to 700 bags per mat and we couldn’t keep up with that with our own members,” Schultz said. After she put a notice in the newspaper, “we got an abundance” of bags, she added. For more information, email Trinity at tlcsecretary@msn.com.

  • Miller, a toddler, typically sits two pews in front of me in church. While she frequently plays with a doll or toy during worship, I’m always amazed at how she leaps into the mix when we share the peace. Mom or Dad will lift her up and support her on the pew while she reaches out to everyone around her to shake their hands, enthusiastically calling out, “Peas, peas!” Often she ventures into the aisle to pew hop and shake hands with whomever she can reach. Times sure have changed from the early 1970s when sharing the peace was instituted and some congregations found it uncomfortable to incorporate it into their worship. Now it’s embraced by even toddlers. Miller’s enthusiastic sharing of the peace is a reminder for me of all the many reformations I’ve seen in the church over my 50-plus years. Girls were finally permitted to be ushers and acolytes in my home congregation in the 1970s, no doubt because that’s when the ELCA’s predecessor bodies began to ordain women. The Lutheran Book of Worship, which introduced the passing of the peace for many, also changed the way liturgy was done. Lay leaders were incorporated into worship as lectors and assisting ministers, making the liturgy truly the “work of the people.” The hymnal was also a stepping stone to the formation of the ELCA. Then there’s the more recent decision to recognize and fully accept the service and leadership of partnered gay pastors and lay rostered leaders in the church. The Reformation rocks on and we are part of it. On Reformation Day we aren’t just celebrating the past but the fact that God is at work renewing the church throughout all history — past, present and future. Our God is a reforming god. We need merely to reach out our hands and welcome God’s gifts of renewal and regeneration. They are gifts of the Spirit ever present amongus.

  • After a rereadI’ve reread the article on new approaches to Sunday school (September, page 16) and can find no mention of outdoor ministry or early childhood education as possible replacements. A week of summer camp offers almost 100 hours for Christian education. After I retired, I was asked to study early childhood education for our parish. I quickly saw its potential: Up to 40 hours a week with 3- and 4-year-olds and parents willing to pay. We built a curriculum around the stories of the patriarchs and opened full and now are thinking to expand. You must go first class. It must be a major commitment of the staff and congregation and your finances. The Rev. Roy E. GullifordSarasota, Fla.   Lesson learnedThe article on World War I (September, page 34) was incisive, relevant and inclusive. Here’s an additional thought. The mass slaughter was over unimportant issues. About the only good thing that came out of the war was that two men, a German Lutheran and a British Quaker, shook hands on the day it began and pledged to maintain “a fellowship of reconciliation.” Out of that grew more than 40 such fellowships around the world, including one here that played a pivotal role in the struggle for civil rights. The Rev. Lloyd A. BergStaten Island, N.Y.   Depression an illnessPeter W. Marty’s article on suicide (September, page 3) brought to mind my struggles with depression for which I was hospitalized. The feeling of hopelessness was devastating. It didn’t help when I received a letter from a parishioner informing me that if I had enough faith I would not have to be hospitalized. I have four children. With the exception of our older son, who had a mild bout with depression, one tried suicide on two occasions and two were killed in separate car accidents while they were depressed. Depression is an illness. Just as cancer leads to death, so severe depressions also lead to death. The Rev. William S. CorkishThe Villages, Fla.   Shape upI wasn’t surprised The Lutheran chose not to publish my letter critiquing Marty’s “God language” column (August, page 3). Critical opinions of your progressive agenda evidently aren’t welcome. I get that. What you don’t get is the negativity that you create among faithful members by your revisionist agenda. Longtime members have demanded that their magazine delivery be stopped because of what is published. Apparently you can’t find a way to appeal to your target audience without offending those old “Bible-thumpers.” Or maybe you don’t care? You can do better. Glenn KaijalaNew Bern, N.C.   Happy to be backI recently started subscribing again to The Lutheran and am impressed with how it has improved. I especially appreciate “Challenging conversations” by Marty. I may not agree all the time with him, but the man certainly gives me food for thought with every column. I suggest that his essays be compiled for publication at some point as I would love to have them all. Thanks again for such a high quality magazine. I’m glad I returned. Alma EdgerlyAlexandria, Va.   Think againThe Book of Faith initiative went right past some people. One letter writer (September, page 48) asked, “Is God ever referred to in the Bible as anything but ‘he’?” Yes: Spring of Living Waters, Rock of Ages, Mighty Fortress, Light, Shepherd, Guardian, Physician. Another reader wrote, “I thought the Bible was a staunch critic of envy.” No. Poor people with needs envy. Rich people covet. Covetousness is wanting, and grabbing, whatever anyone else has, even when you don’t need it. Read the story of David and Bathsheba. Maybe if we were closer to speaking the same language we could have fewer silly “factual” arguments.     John McNabbBerkeley, Calif.

  • Editor’s note: This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Tailings: A Memoir(Cascade Books, 2014), Schwehn’s record of a year as a 20-something coming to terms with her floundering faith and emerging sense of vocation while living with 70 other people at Holden Village, a remote, intentional ELCA-affiliated Christian community near Chelan, Wash. In the summer the Village Center (or VC) fills up with bodies and singing and clapping and breath. The Village Center is actually a large gymnasium and was used as such during the mining days. We still use it for the occasional game of soccer or basketball in the winter, but mostly it’s used during the summer as the main worship space.  In 1976, Richard Caemmerer painted the ceiling. This result is not a Sistine Chapel look-alike. There are no typical biblical images, no lions cozied to lambs, no angels with hearkening smiles, no fishermen casting their nets into turbulent seas; instead, the ceiling looks like a liturgical acid trip. Bold swaths of color swirl and divide and sometimes manifest into recognizable images: a trout, a star, a snowflake, an egg. Though I have been staring at that ceiling every summer for 22 years, I can barely describe it. I could never sketch it. It’s shifty and mysterious and jubilant and disturbing. Just below the west side of the ceiling, above the stage (used for mediocre theatrical events for over 80 years) large oak letters spell out: “God Gives Seasons for Gladness of Heart.”   The entire village, regardless of actual religious belief, shows up for Vespers every night. Vespers is one of the monastic hours, the one that comes at evening time, when day is turning to dusk. Sometimes other monastic services are held, like Matins (morning) or Compline (night) but Vespers is the only service celebrated daily. And attending Vespers is a requirement of the Holden Village community. You show up, whether God is your thing or not, because it matters to have everyone present and together for a portion of each day. It matters not because everyone needs to rehearse a particular dogma together, but because when you live this closely to so many others, it is important to be present with them, to be quiet with them, for a few minutes every day. We are together at mealtimes, too, but mealtimes also include conversation, and conversation can be muddled with anger or cloaked with desire. Vespers is about unison, perhaps a feigned or artificial unison, but unison nonetheless. We stand together and sit together, we sing together and speak words together and when a child remarks, “Mama, church is boring” during a moment of quiet prayer, we swing our heads in unison toward the sound and chuckle for the appropriate length of time.    It is right to be suspicious of this kind of unison. It is right to squint one’s eyes and think vaguely about soldiers marching in uniform lines under Hitler’s watchful eye. Unison of any sort requires a giving up of the self, at least for a brief moment in time, and of course it matters to what or whom one is giving oneself. Much of the white, educated, middle-class in America has become very good at this kind of suspicion. Our knee-jerk reaction to organized religion is to mention cults and Kool-Aid and lemmings, to feel satisfied about our own intellectual superiority and to write “those people” off as stupid.

  • Take a look at the “Letters” pages (48-49) in this issue. Things are a little different. As we did in the August issue, we included a “Picture this” photo as well as a “My view,” leaving just one page for letters. There are a couple of factors at work. First, letter writing appears to be a dying art form. For decades The Lutheran received scores of letters (first in hard copy, now overwhelmingly via email). They were, more often than not, quite long and sometimes complex in the subjects addressed. It was a major task to wade through the missives to get the select few suitable for publication and edit them to a readable length. Then the Internet brought about at least two major changes: more venues to discuss topics of concern than just letters to the editor and an increase in angry content that renders a  large number of correspondences unusable in a religious publication. Be it discussion boards, blogs, Facebook, reactions and opinions about topics tackled in the magazine can and are discussed in other ways than letters. Disheartening, however, is the rudeness if not downright hostility found in commentary directed at the magazine and the ELCA via email. Rational arguments increasingly give way to rants. It’s OK to disagree, and to say so. Exchanging ideas and debating the same are signs of a healthy community. What isn’t OK is one-upmanship and angry put-downs that have worked their way from current secular discourse into that of the church. Many have commented on the phenomenon of growing rudeness, even Scientific American magazine. While its article in 2012 on Internet anger focused on virtual anonymity and thus lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing (monologue vs. verbal dialogue), it went after another source of the problem: “Mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other” through programming that stresses confrontation and aggression. “People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about. It isn’t.” The piece concluded that communication is about taking someone’s perspective, understanding it and responding — civilly. That’s not to say The Lutheran is perfect. We do, by inclusion and omission, display our biases. I hope we keep those to a minimum, but no amount of assurances will please those who see our lapses as intentional and lambaste the magazine in no uncertain terms.  My predecessors lamented letter writers’ negativity in their day. It is a part of the job I will not miss when my duty here is done. In the meantime, we’ll keep the letters and other content as encouraging and respectful as possible.