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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 The plagues, he writes, are “superseded in the joy of crossing the Red Sea, starting a journey to the promised land and creating the covenant with the divine.”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 »
Content deleted

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 »
Content deleted

Your Turn / Books getting a buzz: And they are about religion!
« on: November 03, 2019, 11:04:18 AM »
Several books about religion are popping up on lists of "books to watch" or getting reviewed in major publications. I often buy books for Christmas presents. Some of these might do. See my list in the next posting.

Your Turn / Can Pastors Remain "Non-partisan"?
« on: October 29, 2019, 05:11:00 AM »
Since lines have been drawn here, I pose a serious question.
  Since ordination 53 years ago, I avoided “partisan politics,” that is, a declared support for a party or a candidate. I occasionally addressed issues, not solutions tied to parties or candidates.
   People may have suspected how I would vote, but I did not talk about it. I hoped that Republicans and Democrats could sit side by side in the pews.
   When I worked as a secular journalist, I did not sign petitions and did not take part in any party activities. Critics would come at reporters anyway, but I would not be giving them ammunition.
   I wonder if I could sustain that view today.
   Ours country is gifted and blessed by God, capable of being a shining light of freedom, charity and even a bit of honorable civic righteousness. We know our flaws and we have not always lived up to our ideals, but in many ways we have been that shining “city on a hill.” Our leaders (flawed human beings all) have nonetheless been able to hold up our flag, defend the ideals it represents and rejoice in our ability to be a good neighbor to the world.
   Until now.
   Our current President began his campaign by spreading lies about the citizenship of our first African-American president. His career before politics was marked by financial fraud, bankruptcies, and exploitation of workers. He lied about his own career as a businessman.
   As impeachment looms, we learn how he urged a foreign government to interfere in our presidential election, and tied our foreign relations to schemes for digging up dirt on his opponents. His campaign workers and lawyers admitted to shady dealings with Russian agents, lying about them as they did so.At one point his personal lawyers did not want him to testify in the investigations because they felt he was incapable of speaking the truth when questioned.
   People in this modest forum know how I believe he has violated much of what has been best about our land, perhaps even to criminal or treasonable extent.
   So I ask? Can a pastor or a journalist remain calmly and "perfectly" non-partisan when faced with a president who, we believe, poses a serious threat to our democracy and our values?
   Journalists can deal with the present situation. They can uncover the lies, expose the dirty deals, dig into the back-room corruptions, keep trying to uncover truth. They will be criticized by those calling these activities partisan, but if the stories present the truth and are balanced in seeking information from various “sides,” they will be doing their job.
   What about pastors? What if the immorality or actions of a president reaches such a level that it must be clearly denounced? What if one feels that the very survival of our nation and its principles is in danger if a president continues in office? Supposing one feels that there is inherent evil and danger to the world through a particular person in office?
   Some preaching traditions allow a “prophetic” style making clear who is being denounced. But I always avoided such specifics. Never have I considered pastorally naming a candidate or party as “bad” or “evil” or unworthy of Christian support.
   Many “evangelicals” do denounce liberal candidates and many embraced the current president.
   And some voters excuse any action, no matter how illegal, unethical or unconstitutional, if they believe a candidate will be good for the one issue that they favor above all.
   The “perfectly pure” candidate does not exist. But every misstep or failing is not equal and what if one feels a candidate is – in his or her very person – a grave danger to our land?
   I wonder what will preaching be like in 2020. Can pastors call for leaders with track records of honesty, personal integrity, women and men with expressed and visible concerns for ethics and honesty? Can there be sermons on respecting science, self-sacrificing concern for one’s neighbor at home and abroad, a call to uphold what is best about our nation and an approach to our Constitution that is neither a rigid fundamentalism nor a destructive liberalism?
   Personally, I do not know how I could do that without naming the incumbent or his opponent. Were I preaching weekly in 2020, I do not know how I could do so without alienating those supporting Mr. Trump. I could have pastoral conversations with those people and even be friendly to them; but given the divisive nature of today’s “politics,” I am not sure that this would be well-received.
   I preached during the social unrest of the late 1960s and the controversies over issues of sexuality, marriage, war and peace and justice in the ensuing decades, and I believed I could always be “non-partisan” politically and with regard to specific candidates.
   Could I do that if I were preaching weekly in 2020? God and the advance of years have led me into retirement, so I do not have to find out.
   What about you?

Your Turn / A New Route to Ordained Ministry-ELCA
« on: October 24, 2019, 09:37:05 AM »
The November issue of Living Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA, has an article by this humble correspondent on a new route to ordained ministry. Three years college, three years seminary/internship (sort of combined) results in a B.A., M.Div, and - if properly followed and certified by candidacy committees - ordination.
I'm not sure non-subscribers can get the online edition of Living Lutheran, (and the online edition does not always contain everything in the print magazine) so I post the article here.

I was reviewing some Lutheran history as preparation for answering some questions about why Lutherans in this country are the way we are.
Some thoughts came to me, prompting these Forum-shareable questions.
Is there a North American Lutheran DNA, in several configurations, something in our doctrinal, pastoral, ecclesial genes that shapes us today?
Are we captives to our history?
Certainly our history has formed us, but just how determinative is it?
I think the discussions in this modest forum and elsewhere indicate very clearly why we are the way we are and why it is so hard for us to change.
Consider the history of the ELCA.
   We trace our north American roots to Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg (1711-1787) who came here to minister to German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, who were asking for formally-trained pastors. In 1748 he organized the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the first Lutheran body here. A formal constitution and a liturgy followed, along with a hymnal in 1786.
   But Muhlenberg did not remain a “German” pastor; he and his churches fully assimilated into the colonial American setting. His eldest son, Peter, became a general in the Continental army. Two other sons entered the ministry and became prominent in other fields as well. Frederick was first Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress, Muhlenberg’s daughter married a future general in the army, a daughter married a future Congressman, another daughter married a future Governor of Pennsylvania.
   The family legacy is thoroughly “American.”
   The General Synod, established in 1820 brought ministeriums together. A few years later, some congregations withdrew to pursue plans for union with Reformed churches (about the same time future Missourians were fleeing the Prussian union effecting that in Germany).
   Then look at our recent centuries.
   Formation of the ULCA in 1918 ended the split dating back to the Civil war. Two strong, distinguished presidents led it; Frederick Hermann Knubel from 1918-1944; and Franklin Clark Fry from 1944-1962. The ELCA had about 2.4 million members, 4,900 pastors and about 4,300 congregations when it merged into the Lutheran Church in America.
   That merger brought the ULCA together the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Swedish background denomination; the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danes, organized in 1872), and the small Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Suomi Synod), which had about 100 pastors and 153 congregations.
   Strong, distinguished presidents led the Lutheran Church in America, formed in 1962, first Dr. Fry, from 1962 to 1968, then Robert Marshall (1978-1987) and James Crumley, Jr. 1978-1987.   
   The American Lutheran Church, more influenced by pietism and conservatism than the LCA, and less “hierarchical” partly because of its Norwegian roots, also had strong presidents, Fredrik A. Schiotz (1960-1970), Kent S. Knutson (1971-1973), and David W. Preus, (1973-1987).
   The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, third party to the ELCA merger, were the 250 congregations, about 700 pastors and about 100,000 members who left the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in the 1970s. It contained those who were theologically “moderate” by LCMS standards. William Kohn was president from 1976-1984; and Will L. Herzfelt from 1984-1987.
   This is a history which includes numerous mergers, a fully “Americanized” church, generally strong central leadership, progressive theology, and while national and ethnic roots were present, emphasis on the “homelands” faded quickly into the background. This part of American Lutheranism was never monolithic, including numerous nationalities and structures. Parts looked for a strong “national” leadership, other parts focused on local and district leadership and were sometimes suspicious of the “national church.” Swedes and Norwegians accommodated each other, Danish pieties that clashed in Europe got along on our soil.
   Theologians were nearly always of the “progressive” and “liberal” camps, with some tension held by conservative pietists. The presence of several seminaries meant that pastors had different types of formation, depending upon where they went to seminary and who was teaching there at the time.
   So, as I have tried to say many times, it should be no surprise that the ELCA is “liberal” and varied. It is in our history and our DNA to be so.
Consider the LCMS.
   Organized in 1847, a century after Muhlenberg’s Ministerium of Pennsylvania, composed largely of Saxon immigrants fleeing the Prussian union, vehemently against “unionism,” self-consciously German and while affiliations were formed with conservative Norwegians, never involved in a merger. The 1971 absorption of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (Slovak) was not a merger, but an acceptance of a Slovak district into the LCMS.
   Internal squabbles began with the Martin Stephan affair, and a rejection of the episcopate for a type of congregationalism. Theological disputes, most of them bitter, were never far beneath the surface of the LCMS. It’s insistence on accepting the whole Book of Concord set it aside from some other North American Lutherans, a distinction it relished. A few prominent theologians, mostly German-American (with the emphasis on German) dominated. It has only tenuous connections with the larger ecumenical movements of the 20th Century and since 1969 has strengthened its already staunch conservatism, both theologically and socially.
    So Missouri Synod Lutherans have a history and an ecclesial DNA quite different from that which flows through the ELCA today.
    Reconciling these two histories and different gene pools has proven most difficult. There have been numerous examples of exchange. Arthur Carl Piepkorn developed a following in the ULCA and ALC. The LCMS/ALC fellowship existed for a time.
   But in the last 75 years, we have generally followed our own paths.
   Those histories? Those genes? Could they blend? Could they breed?

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