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.
  • When the sun comes out, thousands of Seattle folks wander down from their hillside apartments to trendy Alki Beach to sunbathe, picnic on Spud’s fish and chips, jog or let their dogs run.  That doesn’t leave much space for the harbor seal pups that must haul out of the frigid Puget Sound on this crowded beach to warm up, rest and wait while their mothers chase down dinner.  While harbor seals are a common site and are by no means endangered, infant mortality rates in heavily urbanized areas can hit 50 percent, said Brenda Peterson, environmental author and co-founder of Seal Sitters (www.sealsitters.org), a protection group whose work is sanctioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In part the alarming rate is due to roaming dogs that attack the defenseless and vulnerable marine creatures, or curious humans who poke and feed them, scaring the shy mothers away for good.  When they spot or get word that a vulnerable harbor seal pup has hauled out on Alki Beach, Seal Sitter members race to the scene and string yellow caution tape around the resting pup. They stick around, offering friendly advice to beachgoers to leave the seals alone. Nothing is wrong and they don’t need help, they tell them.  But the small group has more work than it can handle. Peace raft Seal Sitters enlisted Peace Lutheran Church, Seattle, to help. Late last summer at Peterson’s suggestion, members of the small congregation built a raft, towed it offshore 150 yards, anchored it, prayed over it and then returned to shore. A week later Erik Kindem, pastor of Peace, and his son, Kai, squinted out at the bobbing, low-floating platform. “We looked out and we could see what seemed to us to be two seals on the raft,” Kindem said. “One was smaller and one was larger. ‘What?’ I thought, ‘Darn it, it’s working.’ ” They included the seals in their prayers that evening. With her binoculars, Peterson, who lives nearby, has seen seals on the Peace raft, too, striking their characteristic banana pose with raised head and flippers. Cormorants (aquatic birds) use it too. “I think of it as building an ark,” Peterson said. The first step in building the raft was to form a couple of work parties. Four families pitched in, including the children.

  • Our cover story profiles Lutherans working to care for creation (page 16). These are interesting and different tales all joined by “an activism that has been shaped by faith.” Following is a story that illustrates why some of these folks do what they do. Marvin R. Jonasen is pastor of Shishmaref Lutheran Church on Sarichef Island in Alaska. The barrier island near the Bering Strait, about 120 miles due north of Nome, has been washing away for the last 20 years.  By some estimates 40 percent of the island has eroded into the sea over recent years as the waters off Sarichef Island freeze later and later in winter, allowing storms to rip away at the land. Dramatic photos of buildings collapsing into the sea moved one journalist to title a book The Last Days of Shishmaref. “This is a reality that cannot be denied, or simply brushed off as a passing variation in weather patterns. Sarichef Island is slowly washing away and with it — unless the global climate realities change significantly and soon — the ground upon which the village of Shishmaref sits will cease to exist,” Jonasen wrote to the magazine. Articles highlighting this situation appeared in December 2004 and March 2009 issues of The Lutheran. What’s at stake is more than a piece of land vanishing due to climate change and the relocation of the local population. “Last Christmas Eve, what we had was a living photograph of 164 children and 10 teachers/helpers gathered in the front of the sanctuary … that brought together the community in a moment of faith, hope and love that truly reflected a culture that has faced tremendous challenges throughout its history …,” Jonasen said. Assumptions about what’s best for the indigenous Inupiaq people generally do not take into account “deeply rooted cultural understandings steeped in the traditional subsistence hunting way of life,” Jonasen said. 

  • The meaning of prayerThe answer to the often-asked questions about prayers for the sick (March, page 14) has to do with the meaning of prayer in the first place. Our prayers are not a request for God to intervene and miraculously heal a certain person (out of the millions who may be sick). When the disciples asked Jesus to feed the 5,000, he replied, “You feed them!” When we ask God to heal the sick, the answer is quite similar, “You heal them” (or make it possible for others to do so). This is what Courtney Wilder was suggesting when she wrote: “What is the purpose of our prayers for healing? Not to expect miracles. God doesn’t usually intervene in human lives and transform us from the creatures that we are ....” Thanks for this practical discussion that leads to “Deeper understandings.” The Rev. M. Laurel GrayEl Cajon, Calif.   Learn from historyAs usual, the March 2015 issue was very interesting. I especially appreciated the article about the Holocaust (page 12). I read Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic comments a couple of years ago and was disgusted by them. It was disturbing to learn in the magazine’s article that the Nazis quoted Luther when initiating the Holocaust. I have always wondered why most German Christians did not confront Adolf Hitler, except for a few like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is reassuring to know that the ELCA condemned Luther’s comments in 1994. Kimber A. WaldWoodbine, Md.   Jesus was different tooPresbyterian Church (U.S.A.) personnel bowed to the accusation that those who produced the campaign for “One Great Hour of Sharing” were culturally and socially insensitive (March, page 8). The campaign’s creators acted more like folks who put words to the Spirit’s inspiration. Recognition should be given to those who produced reports that first made readers laugh, and then made them think. Many folks in Jerusalem complained that Jesus was acting in culturally and socially insensitive ways  too.  Arthur KapplerRohnert Park, Calif.   Faith, not worksOh that some of our do-good pastors would set aside their programs-programs zeal and read our presiding bishop’s “Subtle shift to works righteousness” column (March, page 50). It seems we have selected a solid theologian to instruct and guide the leaders (and followers) of our beloved church, here with her finely written message of the just shall live by faith. The Rev. D.W. VriesmanWestminster, Colo.   Church, not partyPresiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton’s March column well describes the problem for Lutherans and many North American Christians. Michael Horton in his book Christless Christianity calls the problem moral therapeutic deism. I appreciate deeply the prophetic warning issued in the column and applaud our bishop for her courage to name the dangers of the cultural right and left. I pray that we heed her challenge and be the church and not a political party with prayers.  The Rev. Tony A. MetzeColumbia, S.C.

  • Wartburg Seminary senior Joshua Johnson jokes, a bit seriously, that only a year ago you could stand in the middle of his living room to figure out the wind’s direction. Likewise, senior Hannah Benedict said that she, her husband Josiah and their daughter Eve used to “pile on blankets and crank up the heat.”   Until October 2014 drafty windows and doors were a given with the seminary’s family housing, made up of 10 units built in 1968. “While the houses had been kept up very well by our maintenance staff, time was beginning to take its toll,” Johnson said.  Enter “Mission Possible-Wartburg Theological Seminary,” a joint renovation effort of the Dubuque, Iowa, seminary; the Northeastern Iowa Synod; and several congregations, including Nazareth Lutheran, Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Thanks to synod volunteers, this past winter students and their families were not only more comfortable in energy-efficient homes, but they and the seminary saved money. Johnson said his portion of the costs for electricity, after a subsidy from the seminary, dropped from $40 to $73 a month to $0 to $12 a month. An added bonus: they no longer hear the train go by in the middle of the night.   Benedict agreed: “Everyone’s been blown away by how comfortable the homes are, how beautiful they look … and how much light and warmth there is.”  Meeting the need Nazareth and its pastor, Brian King, a Wartburg alumnus, played a major role in the project. As soon as they heard of the need for renovations, the congregation and its all-volunteer “Naz Builders” were on board. Nazareth also made an initial gift of $20,000 toward materials.  Knowing more funds were needed for supplies, project coordinator Hank Wellnitz, who co-chairs the Naz Builders with Del Carpenter, spoke at the 2014 synod assembly, asking congregations to help. Mark A. Anderson, assistant to the synod bishop, followed up afterward with many calls to pastors.  And people responded. Nazareth’s gift was more than matched by individuals and congregations, as well as by seminary alumni. From January to October 2014, 26 volunteers from the Naz Builders and other congregations gave a total of 2,680 hours of labor.  “We’d take one house at a time,” Wellnitz said. “We’d replace all of the windows and [exterior] doors, apply sheet insulation to the outside of the house, put on new vinyl siding, and [install] soffits and fascia.”

  • Most people spend precious little energy thinking about miracles — that is, until they need one. When the desire for a miracle becomes urgent and personal, one’s imagination begins dreaming of an eye-popping display from God. This is how we tend to define miracles — as eye-popping activities that create astonishment. Whenever there is a disruption in the created order, or nature gets invaded, or seemingly impossible things begin to occur, a stupendous response becomes our measure of a miracle. The problem with miracles being hinged to our reaction is that we all react differently. This makes the very idea of a miracle a floating target. What astonishes or amazes you on a given day may not astonish or amaze me. A person with precarious health may consider her inhalation and exhalation of air at 16 times a minute to be nothing short of a miracle. You, in contrast, may be busy living out the fullness of your day so vigorously that the behavior of your lungs hardly strikes you as activity in the realm of the miraculous.  Our varied responses to events may be what prompted Albert Einstein to leave us words that have found recent popularity below email signatures: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” How we view the world and appreciate God — or not — frames our perspective on miracles. Thousands of miracles happen in hospitals every day. We just spend a lot of money and call them wonders of modern medicine.  As tempting as it is to make miracles the ground of faith, there are problems with this approach. For one thing, if you hang your life on miracles, you will always need a fresh one to prove that the last one wasn’t all there is. This is not only an exhausting way to live, but it also fosters an addiction to miracles, which is not the same thing as centering one’s life in God.  The other problem with expecting God to perform regular miracles for our personal lives — “Grab me, Lord, if I should trip over that step I didn’t see” — is the implicit narcissism that goes with placing ourselves at the center of the universe. The God of Scripture is hardly a magician waiting for the phone to ring with our latest request. If I should hurt your feelings, is it really God’s job to swoop in miraculously and make you feel better? For his part, Jesus never healed people for the sake of some response that this might elicit. He performed miracles to address human need. Sometimes I think of all the miracles Jesus did not perform, all of the ailing bodies he passed by, all of the diseases he never cured. Those numbers are staggering. The Gospels attribute no more than 35 miracles to Jesus. That’s a small number on the map of human distress. So what do we make of this?