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Topics - Russ Saltzman

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Your Turn / Johnson's book
« on: February 16, 2018, 01:55:52 PM »
I am re-posting this from another thread because the other thread wasn't getting any traffic, and I want people to know my regard for Changing World, Changeless Christ by Richard Johnson.

The book in brief is a remarkable history of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, largely because it is also a history of American Lutherans in their denominational manifestations over the past century. The ALPB became a significant part of my life first as a seminarian, then as a pastor, then as an occasional contributor and, ultimately as editor of Forum Letter.

It was also, as I told Richard Johnson, something of a visit to Nostalgia World with a short stop at Melancholic Village.

The latter was due to the names of those now deceased, prominent in ALPB history, people who became guides, mentors, friends to me, even some fine critics, now gone. I do not like reading biographies for that reason – I become friends with the subject and then, damn, he dies. For the ALPB names given to my memory, I shall ever thank God that I knew them and was blessed by their proximity to my life.

There was nothing inevitable about the ALPB and its publications. It was conceived to address a need that wasn’t even acknowledged, something to aid the transition from German language to English language; to explain to American society what was then an invisible collection of congregations. From that the ALPB exposed other equally unacknowledged needs among Lutherans in America: liturgics, church cooperation, confessional renewal, others. The influence of ALPB publications, my estimation, always far exceeded actual readership, and produced more friends than opponents.

There was no reason, Neuhaus once told me, Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter should not have 10,000 subscribers. True. That those publications never reached the Neuhausan vision is merely, I'd guess, an instance of more unacknowledged needs. Making those needs evident, as well as answering critics who do not in the first place even recognize them, is what the ALPB does, and along the way produces remarkable things.

A couple notes about Johnson's the book that caught my attention; well, just one thing, the disbursement of index references. The lines of index references to myself are 5. Lines of index for Neuhaus, also 5. Lines of index for my daughter, Hattie, 1. Lines of index for Paul Hinlicky's daughter, Sarah, 2. I have no idea what any of it means; I just started counting. Richard might care to explain it in a second printing.

I have not posted in this forum since becoming Roman Catholic, but I read it. Maybe you need to know, for the record, I have not heard one Romanist sermon that could not pass my innate Lutheran smell test for gospel grace. I’ve heard some bad sermons badly delivered (a risk we all run wherever) and some very good ones delivered well, but never anything that would send me bolting from the building.

Nowadays, I write regularly for, a Catholic web magazine, as well as, now and again, for the diocesan newspaper. I also teach adult catechism (RCIA) for folks entering the Catholic Church, and distribute communion weekly at a nursing home for resident members of the parish. Minor note: diocesan priests gathered in September for a review of Martin E. Marty's biography of Luther. Contact: You can find me on Facebook as Russ Saltzman. But if you are obviously a young girl and evidently friendless, you won't hear from me.

Peace and God bless, Russ

Colleagues, friends

Before word gets out too far and you hear it not from me, my wife, Dianne, and I are transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church.

I'm told there's a small announcement going in Forum Letter next month and some advance copies have gone out. I had private conversation with Bp. John Bradosky [North American Lutheran Church] morning of our Great Plains Mission District convocation early November and told him. For the record, he wasn't surprised.

To say I am becoming Roman Catholic is about the fifth step with four preceding it, none of which in my mind are necessarily connected. I'll take you through them. I did this about as honestly as I could, given circumstances.

1) I was nominated for the NALC executive council. I decided if I were elected I'd resign as district dean; I was restless in that work and I don't like two-fers, people holding two offices. Then, I saw Pr. Melinda Jones' name on the ballot with 6,000 male pastors (I do exaggerate, slightly) also after the spot. The only question for me was whether I'd come in second or third to Melinda (I still got political instincts). I made second.

2) Having become accustomed to the idea of surrendering the dean's office, I found, maybe mid-August, despite losing to Melinda, the reasons for giving up dean were still all in place. We are a small district numerically. The work should be passed around as much as feasible. I had done it four years; time to let go.

3) My wife. We were in Charleston, SC tending her father's death bed as the NALC convocation was going on. Experiencing the death of her Roman Catholic father on the last day of the NALC convocation in July, my wife sensed a tug back to her childhood faith. She had issues with the RCs for many years, but never really examined them. When she began examining them last summer, most had faded. Her father was raised a Lutheran and became Roman Catholic; Dianne was Roman Catholic and became Lutheran. Life is darn strange.

4) When she mentioned this to me, I had no objection at all. It was something Richard Neuhaus, famously a Lutheran gone Catholic, had urged on me for years. Our last correspondence before he died 2009 was on that subject. You might say his ghost has come 'round to whop me upside my head.

While certainly Neuhaus was - crap, still is - a tremendous influence on me, Dianne's announcement set me to examining my Lutheran life, and in some ways it's not as Lutheran as it once was. I write regularly for a Catholic magazine. Everybody senior on the staff at First Things is Catholic. I know as many priests as I do pastors, people I hang out with on email and the like, and I point out not a few of those priests were once Lutheran pastors. Not to slight you or anyone you know, it has just happened in my life that my intellectual and best theological compatriots these days are largely Roman Catholic.

What I have always sought - since seminary on - is to be in a church that finally gives expression to the catholicity of the Augsburg Confession. There is no Lutheran expression doing that. Most of my 17 years as editor of Forum Letter was spent, so it seems, showing Lutherans how far we have fallen from the practice of parish life described in our own confession.

There are evangelically catholic centers of Lutheran congregational life, and some that are deeply so, And there are evangelically catholic-minded pastors seeking parish renewal by Creed, Catechism, Confession, and praise God for it. The Church must continually struggle "against forces that always strike the Church and gospel: the fashions and fads of Gnosticisms ancient and new . . . the devaluation of the sacraments through neglect, the socially accommodating spirit of Church Growth excitements, and the gross appetite of a politicized bureaucracy." (Forum Letter 19:9, September 1990). It may be, I'll find out, the best field for the contestation in that struggle is with Rome.

5) By the time I reasoned all that out, Step 5 was, like, why the hell not?

Yet, this is not for ease nor is it out of mere unhappiness with the state of Lutheranism. It rises from true conviction that has grown in strength since Richard's death, that the essence - more like fullness - of the Church of Christ is in found communion with churches in communion with the bishop of Rome. It is not safe to deny one's conscience or renege on conviction.

My future as a Roman Catholic may clarify more in the coming year. The possibility of joining Catholic orders has come up. But if nothing comes of it, well, thanks to First Things, I'm already a "catholic" voice here and there. If the Spirit is happy with that, and that only, so am I.

I guess there is a 6th step. I ever thank God that when I was struggling out of the well of agnosticism, and atheism about every third or fourth day, He placed in my path some challenging, passionate, authentic Lutheran pastors, and made a place for me in Lutheran congregational life. It was in a community founded in the Resurrection that I first believed there had even been a resurrection. It was there - St. Mark's, Olathe KS; Our Savior's, Topeka KS - that I found myself practicing what I did not believe and thereby came to believe what I was practicing.

We are each of us companions on the Way, and I will treasure the journey onward regardless of affiliations.

The Lord be with you +
Russ Saltzman

Your Turn / Speaking of the Dead available now from ALPB
« on: July 30, 2014, 11:57:32 AM »
Here's the link to purchase Speaking of the Dead from the ALPB.

Some of you have asked; well, someone must surely be wondering about it and would have asked had they in fact thought of it.

Your Turn / The Death Prayer that is the Lord's Prayer
« on: April 24, 2014, 03:36:02 PM »

On the Lord's Prayer

"Some scholarship asserts that the prayer did not originate with Jesus. He never said it. It is instead the collective work of early Christians who strung together a number of ideas, thoughts, passing remarks and the like that Jesus may have offered at one time or another to anybody listening. I cannot say which is more surprising: rejection of the prayer as Jesus’s own, or the notion that a church committee could have agreed on the wording."

Your Turn / Jenifer Estess, R.I.P
« on: September 12, 2013, 10:26:52 AM »
One of those occasions when you knew something needed to be said personally, but circumstances intervened and it was never said.

Your Turn / We Must Learn to Be a Minority
« on: August 29, 2013, 11:25:54 AM »
Up today at First Things web site.

It starts out as a review of Jody's Bottum's Commonweal piece, "A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage." Turns out, that isn't what Jody is saying at all. But he does want Catholics - and by extension traditional Christians - to back out of the debate.

That's where I've come to as well. However, as long as we're backing out of things, we need to consider other things as well.

I ended up talking about Christians retreating from the public square. (I expect the ghost of Neuhaus to show up and slap me around a bit.)

It does not - as some of the comments seems to think - mean retreating from public life. I do mean to suggest we surrender Caesar's gifts because, in today's climate, Caesar is being urged to take them away in any case.

Your Turn / Forgiveness Therapy
« on: June 06, 2013, 11:36:36 AM »
My small take on forgiveness as a Christian discipline, not a therapy.

Feel free to chop it apart. Everybody in the comments section seems to be doing that.

Your Turn / A Collision at Nain
« on: June 06, 2013, 11:25:58 AM »
There's a best-selling sermon for Sunday going around. Unfortunately, it's not mine. Mine is here:

And, Richard O. Johnson is now one of the contributors at

Your Turn / One Mister Too Many, Portico
« on: April 18, 2013, 12:18:23 PM »
I dropped out of the ELCA pension plan in the late 1980's. The account is so small I shouldn't complain about being "de-ordained." Assign my unhappiness to my cranky and peevish nature. And really I would not have said anything about it except for a recent letter I got, again addressed Mr., announcing yet another whiz-bang record-keeping service Portico has employed to make my investment experience even more thrilling than it is already. Just one "mister" too many, Mr. Thiemann.

April 18, 2013

The Rev. Jeffrey D. Thiemann
President and Chief Executive Officer
Portico Services
800 Marquette Avenue, Suite 1050
Minneapolis, MN 55402-2892

Dear Pr. Thiemann:

I am never one to put much investment in the title “Reverend.” Mostly I prefer “Pastor”; it at least has the warrant of some biblical use. But social convention being, um, conventional I’ve never chafed at it. People use it, fine; they don’t use it, okay too.

But when I note a persistent, deliberate omission of the honorific I do become peeved. Such is the case with Portico correspondence and conversations with service personnel on the phone.

When I transferred ministerial credentials from the ELCA to the NALC in 2011 I received several bits of officially officious information carefully explaining I had been, well, “de-ordained.” My “de-ordination” apparently carries to Portico usage as well.

Had I become, say, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, something other than a member of the NALC clergy roll, could I have expected the omission of “Reverend” in those circumstances? I don’t know.

But to me it is odd that of all the financial outlets I use, Portico alone took the step to remove a title I’ve been privileged to bear since 1980. You know, my credit card company kept it. My local insurance agent hasn’t said anything about it. Certainly my bank never bothered. Portico alone purposely searched for my name and removed the appended title. Of course, these other places ask my occupation and tend to take my word. Understand, I really don’t care about the title. What I complain about is the altogether unnecessary small but studied insult I and numerous pastors like me have received.


Russell E. Saltzman,

Your Turn / Call for Homily Submissions - Christian Leadership Center
« on: April 12, 2013, 10:31:09 AM »
The Christian Leadership Center is an ecumenical initiative of the University of Mary to the common lectionary by preachers and scholars -- found at this website: -- under the leadership of Dr. Leroy Huizenga, theology and philosophy. (Dr. Huizenga is also a featured writer at the First Things website On the Square.)

This is a call for homiletical submissions. A small honoraria of $25 is paid upon publication.

Please submit a previous sermon to Dr. Huizenga for style assessment and whatnot. Email: Or you may contact me:

Keep the word count under 1,000 words; the fewer the better. Your approach may be entirely sermonic, or represent a scholarly treatment of the Scripture text. My own experience, preachers and not a few lay folks search for homiletical insights for the Sunday ahead.

The sermons represented come from Roman Catholics, Lutherans of most stripes, and other contributors.

Your Turn / Naked Peter and 153 Fish, Exactly.
« on: April 12, 2013, 10:03:26 AM »
My latest sermon submission for this coming Sunday at the Christian Leadership Center, University of Mary, Bismark, North Dakota.

Of course, the best thing about blogging for the University of Mary in Bismark, North Dakota is that I am not in fact required to live in North Dakota.

And about the Christian Leadership Center, look for my additional note.

Ora et labora + Russ

Your Turn / Parish Survival Guide for Senior Seminarians
« on: April 12, 2013, 09:57:41 AM »
This is the sort of letter I should have gotten my first year. Of course, I doubt I would have paid much attention to it.

Your Turn / Thomas's Doubt Revealed in "Lost" Gospel I Invented
« on: April 02, 2013, 09:58:44 AM »
You've all heard of the simple country pastor who practiced all his sermons on Saturday in the church cemetery? That's 'cause the people he met there reminded him so much of the ones he saw on Sunday.

Your Turn / Universalism & Another Thing
« on: March 14, 2013, 02:38:15 PM »
Some musings on universalism at First Things, up today.

And something from two weeks ago. The strange things that cling to us.

Your Turn / Divorce on Valentine's Day
« on: February 15, 2013, 03:26:05 PM »
This up yesterday at the First Things magazine website, "On the Square."

Divorce for Catholics and Protestants has become “Nothing to see here, folks; move along, please.”

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