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Topics - Charles Austin

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Your Turn / What the heck is Jan. 1 anyway?
« on: January 02, 2022, 08:53:55 PM »
The Phony “New Year” – Reflections on Jan. 1 and Advent
On Jan. 1, I often think of my mother’s comment on birthdays. “Heck,” she said, using the strongest word she ever used, “every day you are a year older than you were on that day last year.”
   Jan. 1 – supposedly “New Year’s Day” – always seemed fake to me. It did not begin a year.  Neither did the First Sunday of Advent, revered in our liturgical calendars. We think of those days as starting a “new year.” But that never worked for me, not if a new year is supposed to mean a new beginning, a new start.
   For most of my life, the real “new year” began in September, when school opened, that year ending when school got out in June. For the first 28 years of my life, the academic year was more relevant than any date on a calendar. Even as an adult, with Beloved Spouse always involved with public education, something “new” started in September and that start shaped our life until June when it was vacation time. Yes, there was the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, but those days were less important than the March dates of Spring Break.
   Even in the parish the real, functional year began when Sunday School started, that year ending when we did confirmations in the spring. “Happy New Year!” in December? Nope. Doesn’t work, because it is not expressed in any way in our day-to-day lives. And the week following Dec. 25 was usually colored by the relief that Christmas stuff was over, rather than by thoughts that new things were beginning on Midnight Dec. 31.
   Though long retired, I still get flashes in August of what I used to call “August angst,” the worry-malady about whether things are in order for what is to begin in September, that malady having plagued me for decades.
   In secular and non-parish work, the Jan. 1 New Year observance sort of worked. News was usually slow around the December holidays; church corporate offices, like their secular counterparts, did end-of-year things and the week from Dec. 25 to Jan. 2 was often quiet time or days off. But I still did not feel the sense of anything “beginning” as I felt in September.
    These past two years made clear that a pandemic doesn’t go by a calendar and more of our lives are shaped by the activities of the virus than by a calendar date. Then there is the unexpected flow and turmoil in politics and civil society. Does anything we face as a nation “resolve” or “begin anew” on Jan. 1? Nope.
   I never found a satisfying way to deal with this pastorally. So following Christmas, I preached the festivals of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, and as big a whoop for Epiphany as I could muster. Once I was cajoled into a “Watch Night” service on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure there was more life in almost any party going on that night than there was in that service, attended by 9 people.
   Today, my Party-Spirit (now a hard guy to find) doesn’t take me to wild evenings of singing, dancing, drinking and general merriment. Maybe Party-Spirit is out there somewhere doing it in my name. I’m at home, watching television, torn between nostalgia (some of those parties were great) and puzzlement. What the heck is Jan. 1 anyway?

From The New York Times
ROME — The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Biden, a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years.
But despite the remarkably public stop sign from Rome, the American bishops are pressing ahead anyway and are expected to force a debate on the communion issue at a remote meeting that starts on Wednesday.
   Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office.
   The vote threatens to shatter the facade of unity with Rome, highlight the political polarization within the American church and set what church historians consider a dangerous precedent for bishops’ conferences across the globe.
   “The concern in the Vatican,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis “is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.”
   Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”
The result is a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church.
   Opponents of the vote suspect a more naked political motivation, aimed at weakening the president, and a pope many of them disagree with, with a drawn-out debate over a document that is sure to be amplified in the conservative Catholic media and on right-wing cable news programs.
Asked about the communion issue, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said, “As the American people know well, the president is a strong person of faith.”
   Pope Francis, along with the rest of his church’s hierarchy, explicitly opposes abortion, which they consider among the gravest sins, and incessantly speaks out against it. But that is not the same as punishing Catholic lawmakers with the denial of communion, which many here believe would be an intrusion into matters of state.
   That effort is being led by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has been passed over repeatedly by Francis for elevation to the rank of cardinal.
   “The focus of this proposed teaching document,” Archbishop Gomez wrote in a memo, “is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives.”
   The conservative American bishops are largely out of step with Francis and his agenda of putting climate change, migrants and poverty on the church’s front burner. But Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, and a senior analyst with Religion News Service, said conservatives constitute at least half of the American bishops’ conference and could have the votes to begin the process of drafting a teaching document about who can receive communion.
   It is unlikely the conservatives would be able to ultimately ratify such a document, which would require unanimous support from all the country’s bishops, or two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval. But the debate promises to keep the issue alive and present a nagging headache for President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
   A good portion of the bishops want to avoid the question altogether. Already, 67 American bishops, about a third of the conference, and including top cardinals aligned with Francis, signed a letter on May 13 asking Archbishop Gomez to remove the item from the virtual meeting’s agenda.
   One of those signees, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has the ultimate decision on whether to deny communion to President Biden in the archdiocese of Washington. He has made it abundantly clear he will not.
   Cardinal Gregory’s authority in the matter is a result of a compromise in 2004 when he himself led the bishops’ conference.
That year a group of conservative bishops sought to deny communion to then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his support of abortion rights. Conservatives had more support in the Vatican then; the top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that politicians who persistently supported abortion rights were unworthy to receive the sacrament.
But at a meeting in 2004, the American bishops chose instead to let individual bishops decide on a case-by-case basis.
   The whole situation took a political toll on Mr. Kerry, who lost the election and now, as President Biden’s climate envoy, would rather not relive those days.
   On a recent visit to Rome, during which he saw the pope, Mr. Kerry preferred to talk about the Biden administration and Francis’ shared commitment to combat climate change.
   In an interview, Mr. Kerry argued that the political climate in the United States had “matured a lot” since his run-in with the conservative bishops, and that there is tolerance for “people to act on their faith in ways that do not somehow cross a line into politics.” He suggested that it was a misstep for the conservative bishops to try again.
   “It’s been there and done that,” he said. “And it doesn’t always work out well for people.”
   But if anything, America’s church politics have become more polarized in the last 17 years. Some clergy close to Francis in the Vatican say privately that elements within the American church have become political and extremist.
Francis himself has said it is “an honor that the Americans attack me.” But on this issue, he, like Mr. Kerry, would prefer to talk about something else.
   Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert with L’Espresso magazine, said that the issue was uniquely American, and was basically unheard of in Europe. He said, “The pope himself would rather not have this vivid debate.”
   But the conservative American bishops have for weeks made clear they want to do more than talk.
   On May 1, the archconservative bishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, issued a letter arguing that “erring Catholic” politicians who supported abortion rights should be excluded from communion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and staunch supporter of abortion rights, is a parishioner in his San Francisco diocese.
   Soon after, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office informing it that the American bishops’ conference was preparing to tackle “the worthiness to receive Holy Communion” by Catholic politicians who support abortion rights at their June meeting.
The Vatican apparently had seen enough. On May 7, Cardinal Ladaria wrote Archbishop Gomez urging caution. He said it would be “misleading” to present abortion and euthanasia as “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching.”
   If the American bishops were going to crack the door open on the communion issue, Cardinal Ladaria added ominously, they should be prepared to consider extending the policy to all Catholics “rather than only one category of Catholics.”
The matter seemed settled. It wasn’t.
   On May 22, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the American bishops defending the decision to schedule a vote, arguing — critics say with shocking disingenuousness — that doing so “reflects recent guidance from the Holy See.”

Your Turn / The Southern Baptists at it again
« on: June 14, 2021, 05:41:36 AM »
The Southern Baptists are at it again, experiencing the same turmoil of the semi-schism during the 1970s "Battle for the Bible," Baptist style. Same dynamics, same "big" personalities, same politicking, similar pressure groups, another culture/culture war, partisan theological-sociological whingdings, newsletters, and pious presidential posturing. Even furor over ordination for women, which individual congregations have been free to do for years. Thousands of "messengers" voting (sort of) at giant conventions. It's deja vu all over again.
The following is from The New York Times; there is an even fuller account in the Washington Post, but I don't think their articles are available to non-subscribers.
The headlines:
‘Take the Ship’: Conservatives Aim to Commandeer Southern Baptists
The insurgents, some adopting a pirate motif, believe that the denomination has drifted too far to the left on issues of race, gender and the strict authority of the Bible.

Your Turn / Pesach 2021
« on: March 27, 2021, 03:54:50 PM »
Chag Pesach Sameach
Or one says “Gut Yom Tov” to wish someone a Happy Passover feast.
    There are not “sermons” around the Seder table, but there is discussion and teaching about the events of the Exodus and God’s blessings.
    In today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Robert Aronson asks Passover-related questions that make for some good biblical reflections.
    Passover’s narrative, he says calls upon us, the living, to embrace its transcendent themes of freedom, peoplehood, rededication, gratitude and social justice for “we were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” The plagues, he writes, are “superseded in the joy of crossing the Red Sea, starting a journey to the promised land and creating the covenant with the divine.”
    Aronson wonders, and wonders if the people then (or perhaps God) wondered, why the Israelites deserved the love and protection of the deity. “Was there any regret at the sufferings caused by the plagues to the Egyptians. Did the goal of the exodus create an special, ongoing responsibility to justify God’s intervention on behalf of the Israelites?”
    “From the standpoint of the Egyptians, was there ever a sense their own actions merited the plagues? Did they see themselves as innocent victims, or as deserving divine retribution, or simply as unfortunate victims of natural disasters? Did they conclude that perhaps all people have equal worth? Did their belief system change to embrace a single God?”
    Then he asks another good Bible study question for all of us. “Was there ever a moment when God questioned the justification of slaying the Egyptian firstborn or whether this was displaced punishment on guiltless victims?” He asks “Why didn’t God slay Pharaoh (the perpetrator of the Israelites’ enslavement) and his enablers rather than the firstborn?”
    “Or perhaps God, the all-powerful, should have softened Pharaoh’s heart by injecting into it mercy and justice rather than endowing Pharaoh with the free will to deny freedom to the Israelites?”
    Finally, Aronson speculates “Did God ever doubt whether the Israelites were really worthy of the extraordinary intervention provided to achieve their freedom?”
    Like a good preacher (although Aronson is a lawyer), he draws connections to real life. “We have now spent just over the last year embroiled in a plague – actually a series of plagues – encompassing a pandemic, civil unrest, political and social polarization, racism and in this community (he means Minnesota’s Twin Cities), a horrific in-custody death and destructive aftermath. We have constricted our lives and our dreams to navigate our path through this plague.”
    Were I preaching on a Passover theme, I might swipe his final paragraphs.
    “Our challenge,” he says, “is whether in the post-plague era, we will dismiss our experiences as something akin to a bad dream or take it as an imperative to seek its deeper meaning and instructive wisdom.
    “Can we become a more inclusive people and nation, with our ears attuned and our hearts receptive to the diversity of inhabitants in our land?
    “Will we treasure more our family and friends, feeling the sacredness of their touch and presence?
    “Will we have a new and different understanding of the sanctity of our lives now that we have faced more directly the frailty of our existence?
    “Do we have a deeper connectedness with our place within the world and a shared vision of humanity, knowing that we all, ultimately, seek our collective passage to the promised land?”
    Thus far the Aronson reflections. He is an immigration attorney and chair of the board of HIAS, an agency of the American Jewish community globally serving refugees.
    Gut Pesach to all.

Dr. Stewart Herman was president of the Lutheran School of Theology, Maywood Campus, when I arrived in the fall of 1963. He was charming and friendly to students, and we knew of his distinguished career as pastor of the American Lutheran Church in Berlin in the 1930s. We knew that he had been briefly detained by the Nazi government, because he had been a translator for the American embassy in Berlin, and that he was later an international churchman with the World Council of Churches, helping refugee resettlement and war relief efforts. I interviewed him several times for the seminary newsletter about his work back then.
     What we did not know at the time was that Herman had been a spy, recruited (along with a number of other missionaries and overseas churchmen) by “Wild” Bill Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and that during the war he was with the OSS in England, running “ops” managing European “assets” and dropping American spies into occupied France. Stewart’s knowledge of German churches (both the Confessing Church and the “Deutsche Christen”) and his fluency in French and German gave him valuable insights into the situations and people “on the ground” in war-torn Europe and in the post-war years.
     Presbyterians probably did not know that some of their long-term, skilled, multi-lingual missionaries in the Middle East were also spies for the OSS, their payment made through shadowy financial deals with mission boards. The American University in Beirut and other mission enterprises and personnel in the Middle East were often used as “covers” for OSS spies and spies moving through that territory.
    Then there were the Roman Catholic priests and bishops “subsidized” in various ways by the OSS; and – of course known to Americans – John Birch, the Baptist missionary in China who became the chief American spy there during the war.
    Herman and protestants get most of the chapters in Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During World War II, by Matthew Avery Sutton, (Basic Books, 2019). The book is extremely well-documented. Herman died in 2006 and his family allowed Sutton to use his papers; and the author had access to many documents from the others whose lives as spies are told in the book.
    We Lutherans, I think, will be fascinated by this “adventure story” about one of our own on the inside of the OSS during the war and after.
    And we will learn how many other aspects of missionary organizations became part of the intelligence-gathering and “operational” work of the United States during those years. Furthermore, anyone who has been close to international church work during the cold-war years and following will think of people from both sides of the former Iron Curtain whose presence in certain places or travels made them useful “contacts” for those gathering intelligence.
     The book is also available on the Audible recorded-book service.

Your Turn / One step forward, maybe?
« on: January 10, 2021, 02:19:14 PM »
Here's what I would like to see as - perhaps - a step forward.
First, in light of the chatter all around, some of it promising violence, about more demonstrations in Washington on Jan. 17, and on the 20th I would like every Republican, from the Top down, including those who have not yet acknowledged the legitimacy of the election, to go on national and local television and say: "Listen, friends, all you who supported the President and support us: Please stay home and stay away from Washington this week unless you are willing to cheer and applaud our new president and wish him well. If you cannot show respect for the electoral process and for the office, please stay home and curb your protesting energies for this week."
Second, I would like every Democrat to find someone - anyone! - from the Trump side of the political spectrum and say: "I will listen to you. If I disagree, it will not because I do not want to hear you or that I do not hear you. If I agree, or partly agree, I will say so. With you (I hope) I will denounce any action involving violence, destruction of property or use of weapons."
I would like to see that.

Your Turn / Not about the election...
« on: December 03, 2020, 11:20:46 AM »
This is not about the election, but some questions I want to ask those who may have voted for Trump and/or still support him. Moderators have the right to determine whether my questions in this thread are valid for this modest forum. If they disappear from view, moderators have made a determination. If this thread continues, I shall try not to be combative in my further questions.
   (And I think it helpful that two of our most combative and most anonymous posters seem to have left the discussion.)
But the answers, if any, have to be based on these realities. I think we agree on these.
    1.   He lost. He lost the popular vote. He lost the electoral vote.
    2.   There was no significant voter fraud.
    3.   The court cases – more than 30 of them – have run their course and none of his prevailed.
    4.   The transition to the new administration is underway and they will assume office Jan 20.
    5.   It is clear why people voted for Trump, and there are a lot of reasons why they did so.
    6.   It is generally clear what Trump voters believe he has done and what they hoped for.

And a few present realities. Some might disagree with these.
    1.   Since the election, and more recently, he has been speaking utter nonsense about having won the election, about Biden not getting the votes needed to win, about “massive” voter fraud covered up, maybe even by the FBI and the Justice Department.
    2.   The “face” of the Republican party is now Trump, Guiliani, Powell (the lawyer who although cut loose by the legal team because of crazed comments, is still out there speaking on his behalf), McConnell, and a couple of Senators vocal in his defense.
    3.   We have heard almost nothing from Vice President Pence, either on the election or on the work against the impact of the virus.

So here are my questions to people in this modest forum, people who I assume to be active Christians concerned about morality, the blessings God has given our country, a proper church-state relationship, and the integrity of those who lead us.
    -If you supported the incumbent president, do you still do so, given what he has said since the election?
    -Do any of his remarks and viewpoints give you pause, make you wonder about your support?
    -How do you rate the future of the Republican Party under his current leadership?
    -What is your message to the Biden/Harris administration on matters relating to morality, integrity, church-state relations and the “vocation” we have as a world leader?

This is the beginning of a document from the ELCA Website. It says:
This document is for general information purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to constitute, legal advice.
After reviewing this document, you should consult with your local attorney for additional guidance.

But the document, as noted below, suggests that congregations which have chartered a Boy Scout troop might be named in lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America.
I suspect the LC-MS and/or other denominations might have similar advice for their congregations.
The full document is on the ELCA Website.

What is Chapter 11 bankruptcy?
The Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on February 18, 2020. Chapter 11
bankruptcy is also referred to as reorganization. It allows businesses time to restructure or
reorganize their debts while the business continues to operate.
The Boy Scouts of America case was filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.
The case is known as In re Boy Scouts of America and Delaware BSA, LLC, No. 20-10343 (Bankr. D.
Del.). The bankruptcy is largely in response to the large number of sexual abuse claims made
against the organization.
2. Why does this matter to my congregation?
If your congregation has ever hosted a Boy Scout troop, by charter or otherwise, it is possible
that if a claim of sexual abuse is made against the Boy Scouts by a former Scout in that troop,
your congregation may also be named in the lawsuit. Some states have allowed claims to be
filed decades after the time of the abuse.
3. What if my congregation did not have a Boy Scouts of America charter?
If you are certain your congregation does not have a charter, has never had a charter, and has
never had a Boy Scout troop meeting at your congregation, you likely do not need to take any
additional action or file a proof of claim.
4. If we have or have had a charter, what should we do now? Do we need to hire an attorney?
You may have a claim that needs to be filed in the bankruptcy. A claim is very broad and there
are a number of types of claim that can be submitted to the bankruptcy court. You should
consult with an attorney about the type(s) of claim your congregation may have in this
If your congregation has or has had a charter with the Boy Scouts of America, your congregation
might consider filing a General Proof of Claim prior to the November 16, 2020, deadline for filing
with the bankruptcy court. Your congregation should consider past relationships with the Boy
Scouts of America, even from many years ago. A large number of cases have been filed in the
past few years, and many have involved allegations from decades ago.
If your congregation has received notice of a claim or information suggesting that a claim may
be imminent, your congregation should notify its insurance carrier and also file a General Proof
of Claim prior to the November 16, 2020, deadline in the bankruptcy court.
If you have questions about this filing or are uncertain about how to proceed, you should
consult with an attorney.
5. What is a proof of claim?
A proof of claim is a written statement setting forth a creditor’s claim. It may represent a right
to payment or equitable remedy from the entity that filed for bankruptcy.
In this matter, a proof of claim is required to vote on a Chapter 11 reorganization plan for the
Boy Scouts of America. It is also how your congregation might seek payment or contributions
from the Boy Scouts of America should Scouting abuse claims (occurring on or before February
18, 2020) be brought against your congregation.
Survivors of sexual abuse would file a Sexual Abuse Survivor Proof of claim. Others, including
entities that have or have had charters, would file a General Proof of Claim.
There is more on the ELCA website.

Your Turn / Masks
« on: July 15, 2020, 09:34:12 PM »
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We lost our unity. We lost our patriotism. How? Why? Reflections on the 20th Century.
I consider myself reasonably “up” on 20th Century history. I read books, both history books and memoirs. I watch documentaries on the history channel and elsewhere. I attend scholarly workshops on various aspects of 20th Century history. And I lived through the last half of it. Hence these thoughts.

An ELCA pastor and his Philadelphia church get a “makeover” on the first episode of “Queer Eye” on Netflix.
If you have access to Netflix, the episode of Queer Eye is called “preaching out loud.“
Pastor Noah Hepler is openly gay, but is insecure about his pastoral ministry, as the church faces celebrating a 125th anniversary.
The five Queer Eye guys work with him for a week. Bishop Erwin is in one scene, along with Pastor Megan Rohrer of San Francisco.
While the “fab five” have a tendency towards flippancy, which might irritate some, there is much in this episode that, I believe, most ELCAers will find serious and commendable. Others in this modest forum will not.
Here Is the church’s website, which references the episode.

Your Turn / Online, virtual worship: What can we learn?
« on: May 04, 2020, 06:34:26 AM »
A discussion of planning, streaming, social media and technology for worship,
In this thread of discussion: No talk about women pastors, abortion, the president (unless he speaks of online worship), ELCA “errors,“ LCMS structure, Biblical criticism or telenovela plots. No German or Latin quotes older than seven years.

Your Turn / Life in Quarantine: One man's reflections
« on: March 26, 2020, 12:19:47 PM »
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