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.
  • Recent revelations about abuse in the Duggar family, known for TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, and the ensuing public discourse, has motivated me to write about my experience as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.   With the help of many years of therapy, particularly EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and the tender companionship of a husband who both gave me space and held me close when I tried to run or self-harm, I am where I am. Supportive friends, survivor networks and most certainly the grace of God also have made me strong. I’m a survivor. I haven’t had nightmares or flashbacks in nine years. Still, the Duggar story both triggered a lot of feelings and made me profoundly numb to emotion. Then there are those who cause further emotional and spiritual harm to incest victims by insisting on the need for forgiveness. My story Between the ages of 8 and 16, I was molested frequently by a family member who lived nearby. The setting was rural and remote. There were no neighbors to run to for help. If there had been the opportunity to break the silence, I likely wouldn’t have taken it. He threatened me. I was ashamed. When I finally told a few people, I minimized the abuse and the damage. I had no idea, then, that the impact of the abuse would follow me around like a hungry dog for so many years. Each time my abuser was finished with me, he expressed remorse and told me I needed to forgive him. Coming from a churchgoing family, I felt the burden to forgive. I believed unforgiveness was sinful. So I tried, even praying with the few people I had told, asking that I might more sincerely forgive.   But I eventually realized that forgiveness lifted the burden of responsibility off the man who had molested me. Yet I still carried the nightmares, flashbacks, body image issues, the self-loathing and shame of one who had been abused. Since I couldn’t blame him anymore because of that forgiveness, the only one left to blame for the horrible way I felt was myself. From adolescence through my early 40s, I wanted to commit suicide but thought I would go to hell.    When I discovered I wasn’t his only victim, I finally broke the silence with my hometown family. In doing so, I found that many of the people I was trying to protect already knew. Some told me to “get over it.” I don’t go back home anymore. There are family members there whom I love and who have nothing to do with this. But it’s difficult to tell who sides with my abuser and who just doesn’t know what to say to me. The echoes of his threats have hung over me my whole life and still do. The most difficult decision of my life was to not attend my mother’s funeral. I loved her dearly and miss her still. But I choose to remain in safe supportive places now. Wrestling with theodicy I’ve been an ELCA pastor for more than 20 years. Theodicy (the question of why God allows evil) and I are old wrestling partners. I don’t want my words to unintentionally cause harm to those who are struggling. I no longer believe suicide leads to hell, though part of me is glad I once believed that because I’m still here.  I don’t trust anyone who thinks they are holier than someone else. There are far too many evil things that many Christians keep hidden behind a facade of “moral superiority.” I detest the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.” The reason might just be selfishness, pride, greed, envy, licentiousness, sloth, lust or just stupid choices. God isn’t trying to teach little rape victims a lesson.   The church has to be careful about how it uses words. Forgiveness is a tricky word. Built into the Lord’s Prayer, it’s an unavoidable mandate of Jesus. Yet most Christians, if we are honest, have some definite double standards when it comes to who and what needs to be forgiven (or not).

  • This summer finds The Lutheran and others in Strategic Communications of the churchwide organization working to determine how we might better reach ELCAmembers with news and information that informs faith and unites us as a church. What we’re planning is a robust storytelling website that combines articles from the magazine with those of the blogging microsite Living Lutheran, plus full access to ELCA news releases and material on the denomination’s main site. It would be coupled with a regularly distributed e-news digest highlighting the best stories we have to offer. For those wanting or needing print, the paper version of The Lutheran will continue. In this iteration the magazine would include much of its current content while incorporating material from Living Lutheran. It would also mix in stories and information members tell us they want added or increased, and conversely reduced or eliminated, in both the magazine and online. We’re surveying readers and leaders, as well as those not reached by our current communications efforts. This sampling will be done in a way that the results will be statistically accurate and reliable. And you, dear reader, can help. Consider the following questions, a broad but helpful mix drafted by Forrest Meyer, director for Strategic Communications. Share your thoughts at lutheran@thelutheran.org or via mail to the magazine at the address to the right of this column. How do you currently receive communication from the ELCA? How relevant do you find the content in The Lutheran, Living Lutheran andwww.elca.org? What should be added, dropped? Do you feel well-informed about the ELCA through our current content?  Does the content we offer move you to act in some way, such as volunteer, advocate, share or give? If so, why; if not, why not? Do you feel connected to the ELCA and related organizations? Do you have a sense of belonging to a wider church beyond your congregation? What are your preferences in receiving and consuming our content? This relates to frequency (daily, weekly, monthly) and format (electronic, print). Finally, should we consider a new name/brand for this revamped website, as well as the magazine, in an effort to reach more members, or use one of the existing monikers, Living Lutheran or The Lutheran?  We should be careful what we ask for, yet we need to hear from you. After 27 years as the ELCA, our communications efforts are always being made new.

  • The lectionary is like a liturgical farmer’s market. At its best, it ensures a wider variety of timely sustenance than we might otherwise have if left to our own picking and choosing. At the end of summer, the Revised Common Lectionary is particularly in tune with the agricultural rhythms of North America. John’s Gospel proclaims these words from Jesus: “I am the bread of life” (6:35).  These words come to us as the spring wheat is being harvested and the winter wheat is just being planted. For most of us, myself included, the timeliness of this gospel interruption is likely lost. John’s Gospel is centered on the hope that those who hear it will have life and have it abundantly. Yet modern life is so disconnected from the life cycles of agriculture that it’s hard for us to reap much of a harvest from the gospel imagination John provides. There was a time when wheat created life in community. The benefits of wheat required cooperation among the farmers who grew it, the millers who ground it and the bakers who turned it into bread. But here and now the image sounds to me something like: I am the prepackaged, processed and mass produced cereal of life.  I don’t want to pretend to be an expert on agriculture or metaphors, but something may be lost here. Maybe we should offer a lament for the wheat we do not know.  Creator God,  You gift us with the wheat of the field  and the bread of life. Remind us here at harvesttime that life abundant is life in community. Reacquaint us with our dependency  on farmers, millers and bakers. Refashion our imaginations with a hunger  for our vocation as the created ones. Amen.

  • At a Conference of Bishops meeting a few years after the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, bishops shared some of the most outrageous suspicions they had heard about the churchwide office. One bishop said a woman from his synod was convinced that churchwide staff performed animal sacrifices in the Lutheran Center. This, of course, is untrue. Building management would never allow it. While this might be one of the most outlandish accusations leveled against yourchurchwide staff, it’s not an isolated or infrequent occurrence. After nearly two years as presiding bishop, it still amazes me that members of this church are convinced we are capable of and, in fact, carry out the most Machiavellian schemes. At present three examples come to mind: the conversation about our sacramental practice, our deliberation about unifying the three word and service rosters into one, and the entrance rite into this possible unified roster. I’ve been told that decisions have already been made by churchwide staff about these issues and that any conversation is just a charade. Higgins Road strikes again. Let’s take a look at the conversation around sacramental practice. It began with a memorial from the Northern Illinois Synod to the 2013 Churchwide Assembly. I asked the good people of that synod and their bishop, Gary Wollersheim, what they had in mind. Recognizing that there was a range of practices, particularly with the invitation to receive communion (everyone, the baptized or the confirmed), and being fairly certain that their synod wasn’t alone in this, they wanted to call all of us into a deeper awareness of our sacramental practice and to study together the resource “The Use of the Means of Grace” (at www.elca.org). We were not nor are we going to vote on communion. And the proposal to combine the three word and service rosters (deaconesses, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry) into one unified roster has been a multiyear process involving them as well as pastors, bishops and the laity. Regular updates of a committee’s work have been given to the rostered communities, Church Council and Conference of Bishops. The proposal to unify the three rosters will be before the 2016 Churchwide Assembly. As for the entrance rite for the proposed unified roster, will it be commissioning, consecration or ordination? This conversation and deliberation is so important and so closely bound up in the histories, pieties and church structure that are part of the ELCA. Time and space and a process had to be created so we could talk together, pray together and listen together as this church before we could possibly be ready to make a decision. We need time for discernment.

  • The rummage sale at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa, provides more than an opportunity to buy a 25-cent vase. It supports those in need, makes neighbors aware of the church, and has resulted in more than $37,000 for church renovation and tuition for seminarians from the congregation. The three-day event, which is held every October in the church gymnasium, takes a year to plan (stmark@stmarkcares.org). Throughout the year, donations are stored as they arrive: sporting goods and electronics; clothing and shoes; tools, garden and household items; antiques and collectibles; linens, including handmade quilts and crocheted items; books, DVDs and CDs; baby items; and toys. This year the sale, which raises more than $5,000 each year, is set for Oct. 15-17. Erica Cunningham and Emily Martin have been beneficiaries of the sale’s efforts. They are the 16th and 17th seminarians from the congregation. “The church needs to sponsor our seminary students, but our church doesn’t have money in a general fund to pull out tuition,” said Pat Thode, one of the sale’s coordinators. “Some churches might, but not ours.” Coordinator Sue Nelson added, “Our customers tell us they look forward to coming each year. It’s a ton of work, but we have great fun and fellowship.” A cadre of volunteers works behind the scenes. In a recent year when Nelson paused on the first day of the sale, she counted 30, not all of them members. A steady parade of food keeps the volunteers strong, and baked goods and candy are sold.  Where there is candy, there are also young people. “The teenagers — they’re our muscle,” Thode said. The sale is planned around days off from school so young people can help. Not only is the sale good fellowship for all ages, it serves those who may not be able to afford to buy elsewhere. Additionally, Grace United Methodist Church members, who also donate to the St. Mark sale, get what they need for their Clothing Closet for those in need.