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.
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). Many words have been used to describe a liberal arts college. I will use only two: memory and hope. A liberal arts college is a community of memory. I’m not going to write about personal memories, though we may have many. Rather, I would like to focus on the memories of a community that identifies itself as a liberal arts college related to the church. In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah wrote: “Communities ... have a history — in an important sense they are constituted by their past — and for this reason we can speak of a ... community of memory.” The primary purpose, the central purpose, the critical purpose of a liberal arts college is to deal with memories. It exists to lift up memories, to preserve memories, to find memories, to interpret memories. The memories and ideas come from philosophers, poets, playwrights, historians, musicians, artists, theologians, scientists. These memories live in books, music, paintings, plays, experiments. These memories span the centuries, transcend cultures and nationalities, cross boundaries between the east and the west, the north and the south. Current memories have deep roots and long tentacles. Our memory roots go back to Athens and Jerusalem, to Mecca and Macedonia, to Rome and Constantinople, to Geneva and Wittenberg, to Cambridge and Copenhagen, to Beijing and St. Petersburg, to Wounded Knee and Auschwitz, to Atlanta and Sharpsville. Memories are also crucial for the life of faith. When the Jewish people celebrate the Passover, they are nourished by the memories of their deliverance from Egypt and recall God’s mighty acts. My wife Ing and I visited Ellis Island, that marvelous museum of immigration. There in the graffiti were scrawled the words of a Jewish man from what was Czechoslovakia: “My mother brought her candles, the ones you use on Friday night. She brought her Bible, the things that were near and dear to us, which were not important to anybody else, but to us they brought back memories.” When the Christian community gathers to celebrate the eucharist and take the bread and the wine, we hear the words: “This do in remembrance of me.” For the Christian, the eucharist is the ultimate reminder of Jesus, his life, his death and his resurrection. Why are memories so important both for an academic community and for a community of faith? It is because we know that our memories have power. They shape us, they nurture us and they enlighten us. Memories give us wisdom, breadth and depth, perspective. Because memories are so important in an academic community, we enter into conversation with them. This is precisely, scholar Martin Marty says, the reason for which the Lutheran colleges and universities were designed. As we converse with these memories we critique them, analyze them, absorb them, discard them. Because the memories are so important, we constantly debate which ones should be taught and emphasized. Shall we limit ourselves to the ancient texts? Or the books of the West? The humanities or science? Which books shall be excluded, since we obviously cannot cover all of them? Avoiding repetition The memories we choose to nourish or discard are crucial for us as individuals, as liberal arts colleges and also for our civilization. Two examples underscore this idea and reveal how remembering is crucial in avoiding repetition of sordid chapters in human history.  My wife and I remember vividly hearing an address by Elie Wiesel at Duke University, Durham, N.C., in which we came to understand his passion to make sure the world does not forget the Holocaust. If we do, he insisted, it will surely occur again. In From the Kingdom of Memory, he wrote: “If there is a single theme that dominates all my writings, all my obsessions, it is that of memory — because I fear forgetfulness as much as hatred and death.” Probably as a result of Wiesel’s work, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is open to the public as a constant reminder of the depths both of human evil and heroism. A second example comes from New Testament theologian Elizabeth Fiorenza, who wrote the important book In Memory of Her. Fiorenza’s scholarly thesis is that Christian theology has failed to remember the role of women in its tradition, and because of this they have suffered a secondary role in civilization. This careful “remembering” by Fiorenza and others has enabled us to reimagine the role of women in church and society.

  • When members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, Pa., think about giving, the possibilities include not only money or time but organs. Extraordinary events put organ donation at the forefront of their thoughts. One of their members, Chris Pollock, is the second person in the U.S. to get a double-hand transplant, and the first to receive one including a forearm and elbow. Another member, Steve Turner, gave a kidney to a stranger, setting off a chain in which four people received transplants. Good Shepherd recently held an event to celebrate the transplant anniversaries and reflect on the possibilities surrounding organ donation. Asked about the “coincidences” that led to it, their pastor, Kathy Baker, offered a simple explanation: “In the church, we call it God’s work.” But back to Pollock Pollock was helping a friend harvest corn the day after Thanksgiving in 2008. He spent the day on a tractor pulling an ancient corn picker that deposited the harvest in a wagon. Near evening he hopped down to check the wagon. Noticing cornstalks caught in a chute, he reached out. A chain caught his sleeve and pulled his hand into the machine. Pollock reflexively reached with the other. It, too, became caught. He knew immediately his hands were lost. Alone for 30 minutes until help arrived, he wanted to die. Pollock was given hooklike prosthetics that enabled him to drive. Eventually he read a magazine story about the first U.S. double-hand transplant, which took place at theUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  In early 2010, Pollock received his transplant at the center during an 11-hour operation involving three teams totaling about 30 people. The transplant landed him on Good Morning America and drew reporters from Europe.  For the first seven months after his transplant, Pollock did therapy six hours a day, five days a week. He went four days a week for several years after that.  Therapy is intense and recovery takes years. Discouragement is a possible side effect — the first man to receive a double-hand transplant in the country eventually asked for his hands to be removed. Just six months ago on a frigid morning, Pollock parked at the medical building he’s been entering for more than four years. There occupational therapist Jana Poole laid warm towels over his hands. Then she began stretching a hand backward at the wrist, continuing the quest for the fullest possible range of motion. Pollock now goes for therapy once a week, for 90 minutes. His strength might be plateauing, but even after his hands stop getting stronger, he continues to gain function through practice and mastering new ways to do things. He drives, signs his name, peels an egg, cooks and cleans, and operates a snowblower. “Some people would stall out and not continue to try new things,” Poole said. “He has never not tried.” A faith-altering accident Pollock had been depressed following the accident. His parents had recently joined Good Shepherd and his father invited him to attend. Baker, their pastor, also had visited him in the hospital. Soon Pollock, who hadn’t gone to church regularly since confirmation, was attending Sunday and Wednesday services at Good Shepherd. As his hands have grown stronger, so has his involvement at church. Now he handles the wine chalice during communion. “There are a lot of special people at our church,” he said. One of those people is Turner, who was eating a Thanksgiving Day meal with his family when he started thinking about the shortage of donor organs. He pictured people who needed kidneys, wondering if they would see another Thanksgiving. It happened to him again at Christmas.

  • Click here to see all the photos from the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering. Photos by Chris Ocken. At a neighborhood park in Detroit, Callan Geier, 17,  and David Philpot, 74, sat side-by-side on top of orange paint buckets, heads bent in conversation as they applied clay to the backs of painted squares and pressed them on the outside of a baseball dugout. The brightly colored fragments would eventually complete one of four mosaics designed for the city by local artist Hubert Massey.  This art installation was one of many service projects planned by ELCA volunteers and Detroit organizations as part of the July 15-19 ELCA Youth Gathering, a triennial event that aims to enrich youth in their faith journeys through worship, music, presentations, recreation and community service. Geier, a member of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Preston, Iowa, was one of 30,000 participants clad in candy-colored shirts who descended on the city of 688,701, a presence that garnered Detroit media coverage and even spawned the hashtag “skittlesexplosion.” Like others, Geier marveled at seeing all the young Lutherans in one place. “We’ve been fundraising ever since the last Youth Gathering just to make sure we had the funds to come,” he said. Philpot, a friend of Massey, said he and his neighbors had been preparing for the mosaic installation for months as well and hoped the visitors would see their city for what it really is: “Most people think that Detroit’s a scary place, but it’s a thriving place.” In total, youth and their leaders worked alongside Detroiters like Philpot to paint 1,847 mural boards for vacant buildings, board up 319 unoccupied homes, clear 3,200 lots of debris, distribute 1,425 backpacks and build 99 picnic tables. With support from their congregations and Women of the ELCA groups, participants also donated 1 million diapers for a Detroit diaper bank.  Youth lent a helping hand and met Detroit’s people through their service projects, but they also experienced its restaurants and culture, spent time learning and playing in the Cobo Center, and danced and worshiped at Ford Field. “I love it here. So far Detroit is bringing better experiences to me and opening up my horizons,” said Daquan Baker, 18, from New Hope Lutheran Church in Jamaica, N.Y. Megan Bird, 18, Trinity Lutheran Church, Boyceville, Wis., said she appreciated the welcoming spirit of Detroiters. On her community service day, “everyone came out of their houses and was waving at us and cheering,” she said. Bearing witness to what God is up to in Detroit was echoed in the teaching materials for this year’s Gathering, which was organized under the theme “Rise Up Together” and shaped by the Gospel of Mark. It’s a message Geier said his pastor (and father) stressed to the youth before they arrived: “Detroit doesn’t really need to be fixed — it needs people to share its story.” Cassie Mattheis, 16, from St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Lenoir, N.C., was so moved by her experience that she composed in her blog a letter to Detroit when she returned home. By late July, the post had gone viral. In it she admitted she’d been expecting the worst, but wrote:  “I saw the opposite of what I expected. I saw bike riders and people reading books and children playing in the fountain. I saw so much life, even after mere minutes of being there. “I sang in your streets and weeded your flower beds. I talked to your citizens. I heard your spoken word and the testimony of those who belong to you. I served and worshiped and learned and laughed in your city. And I fell in love with it.” Emboldening young people like Mattheis to be storytellers who are “called and claimed as characters in and witnesses to God’s divine story” is a goal described in the Gathering’s theological statement. It was also the focus of Proclaim Story programming that brought together youth groups with others in their synod and with their bishop to reflect, discuss and worship. For Jesse Groettum, 18, from First Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Minn., it was a transformative experience: “Over the past year I’ve become very busy and many times it can be easy to put faith on the back burner. [The Gathering] brought it back to the front and has been a reviving experience.”

  • From time to time I am invited to celebrate congregational anniversaries. It’s wonderful to see the church in action and to meet members from all across the country. It is also interesting to see the variety of sizes and architectural styles our buildings come in. Looking at building additions in churches is like studying growth rings in a tree — one can see the periods of rapid growth and contraction. Often the first unit was built one or two centuries ago, the expansion of the sanctuary constructed when the original one was outgrown, and the education wing added in the late 1950s or ’60s. I have seen dozens of churches like this and recall that my last parish had a similar growth pattern.  Very often, however, the membership of these congregations has shrunk. A sanctuary built to seat 400 now only sees 50 on a Sunday. Sunday school rooms and gymnasiums that rang with the sound of children are now empty or, in more enterprising congregations, are rented out to community groups and social service organizations. In these congregations the anniversary celebration is bittersweet — for one glorious Sunday the sanctuary is filled with current and former members and their children and grandchildren, stories of the congregation’s heyday are shared, there is energy and enthusiasm and then everyone goes home. Next Sunday the 50 hearty souls who are the remnant will gather in a now more obviously empty sanctuary. There is the sound of lament in many parts of our church. Populations have shifted and people have drifted away. Attitudes about religion have changed and the status of the church in our culture has diminished. This makes us anxious and, in some cases, desperate. How do we stop the decline? Where is the next generation? What happened? What does this all mean?  I have a theory. We are experiencing God’s judgment. Oh, not in a fire-and-brimstone-plague-of-locusts kind of way, but in the tenacious, fearsome, loving claim that God has on all of us. The church does not belong to us. The church is not a vehicle for our convenience, status, success or even comfort. The church is the living body of Christ, breathed by the Spirit and called into deep communion with God. Everything else is at best supplementary and at worst a distraction. God might be calling God’s people to examine what has a claim on our attention. Where is our energy being drawn? If the answer to our desperate questions is anything else than to the intimate and complete love of God shown in the crucified and risen Christ, then we are being drawn away from the source of our life as a people and as a church. There was a provocative article in the December 2012 Christian Century magazine about the “dark night of the church.” In it the authors suggest that what I am calling a time of judgment is actually God at work freeing us from attachments to our plans, our self-will, our success.

  • One of our youth became sick during closing worship of the Youth Gathering (page 16). Waiting outside the medical area, two women who work at the Ford Center asked if they could pray with me. At the end, one said, “I have worked in this place for over 10 years and I have never felt the presence of God until this week.” Is there anything else that has to be said about why we host these gatherings? It isn’t about us only — it is about all those who surrounded us with their love, care and compassion. All the high fives, smiles, honking horns and thank yous from the people of Detroit will never be forgotten. Our calling is not one of comfort or ease but rather about the church being called out to serve and be the image of Christ in the world. The Rev. Jack R. PalzerApollo Beach, Fla. Breaking power, controlA thousand thanks for Pam Marolla’s “On forgiveness and childhood sex abuse” (August, page 26). The damage done by sexual, physical and emotional abuse is deep and long-lasting. Healing can take decades, happens in many different ways and comes in waves. As a church, we must work to systemically break the power and control that lead to the abuse of people of all ages and life circumstances. The isolation, minimization, intimidation and blaming that is inflicted on survivors is overwhelming. We must not only recognize but combat these factors. The most important words each of us can say to a survivor are: “I believe you, I’m sorry this happened to you, it is not your fault, you are not alone, you are so brave and thank you for sharing your story.” Ann McGlynnDavenport, Iowa   Nature of forgivenessMarolla misunderstands the nature of forgiveness. Christ forgiving his murderers did not legitimize their actions. Instead, forgiveness is an impossibly challenging mandate from God that allows us to seek healing in a fallen world. It does not prevent pursuing charges through the criminal justice system, but it does offer a path toward a better future. Andrew BrezaWashington, D.C.   About timeIt is good to see in “Live together virtually” (August, page 14) that our seminaries are paying attention to the role of media and the Internet in our culture. When I suggested such attention 15 years ago, another (now retired) professor at one of these same seminaries told me such courses would be a waste of time. Ironically, this discussion took place on Ecunet, the ELCA’s Internet presence of the day. Is it a wonder that the very next article is the cover story (page 16) on redefining mission and ministry with fewer members in our congregations? Mark D. JohnsDecorah, Iowa   If the shoe fits …While Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence (R.I.) might be puzzled at how he ended up in The Lutheran, I applaud his “rant” about church attire (August, page 9). We who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ would do well to dress accordingly. The Rev. Dennis D. KieslingCranston, R.I.   Tread carefullyWhy did Bishop Wayne Miller participate in the “Moral Monday” demonstration (August, page 9) at the headquarters of Sam Zell’s investment firm, which had nothing to do with “Moral Monday”? To classify Zell as the rich man as mentioned in Matthew 29 is completely out of order. Since when is it sinful to be rich? Clyde MuskeHouston