Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yet Another Lutheran Synod (Church?)

Back in the good ole days of the 19th century (where I prefer to spend my time), there was no confusion over what a Lutheran was and we were all happily joined together in one church--er, okay, maybe or maybe not, that ecclesiological thing still haunts us.  But one thing is for sure, American Lutherans sure loved forming their synods.  Somewhere around 60 were formed between 1840 and 1875!  Nowadays there are fewer--but  still a bunch.  And as of last weekend there is one more.  The North American Lutheran Church (find all the info at www.thenalc.org) was formed on August 27, 2010.  The driving force was Lutheran Core, which has published a long news release.  Read it all here.  These two paragraphs from it jumped out at me:

“The future that we envision for confessing Lutherans in North America is one that is centered on the absolute truth of Christ Jesus and committed to making disciples for Him,” said Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C., chair of Lutheran CORE’s Vision and Planning Working Group. “Both Lutheran CORE and the NALC will stand in continuity with the tradition of the Christian Church over the past 2,000 years and will orient their activities primarily for the support of congregations in their ministries.”

“Lutheran CORE and the new NALC are two pathways for faithful, confessing Lutherans in North America to remain connected to each other and to the vast majority of Lutherans and Christians globally who reject the theological innovations of the ELCA and ELCIC,” added Schwarz, who was elected to serve on the NALC’s Executive Council.

What will come of all this is the focus of a piece by Russell Saltzman.  You may read his entire article here.  However, one paragraph of his jumped out at me.  It follows:

"The NALC’s formation brought Tanzanian Bp. Benson Bagonza, Kanagwe Diocese, to  Columbus, who participated in Spring’s installation. Several bishops of the new Anglican Church  in North America attended as observers, along with Fr. James Massa, executive director of the USCCB secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Also present, several pastors of the Ethiopian Lutheran Mekane Yesus Church. African Lutherans might be best described as incensed by ELCA actions. The Lutheran World Federation just completed a recent international assembly where acrimonious debate on human sexuality and the rule of Scripture was barely avoided; Africans see the NALC as someone they can do business with."

Philip Jenkins and others have told us of the importance of the Global South for the future of Christianity. We may be seeing evidence of that here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck

Either you love him or you hate him.  Glenn Beck's rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial may have more deeply polarized American politics--if that were possible.  But what about "the church" and its "revival," to which Beck so often refers?  I mean, can you imagine Rush Limbaugh knowing anything about George Whitefield, much less quoting him on his radio show?  I have to give Beck high marks for that! :)

Still, does he get it right?  Russell Moore has an interesting take in his article "God, the gospel, and Glenn Beck."

Try this quote out: "Too often, and for too long, American "Christianity" has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah."

You may read the entire post here.  It's worth the couple of minutes it will take.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Good Day for the Cadets

The Concordia Lutheran High School Cadets of Fort Wayne won their second soccer match in a row this evening (8-25-2010).  The first goal, and game winner, was scored by none other than Karl Rast.  The video is not all that great, but trust me, it was a great shot!

Monday, August 23, 2010

I like vestments--but not these...

Holy cow, this stuff is amazing!  But, man, is it bad.  Following is a sample; the 2009-2010 Bad Vestments Worst Vestment of the Year is this...

Here is the link to the blog.  Enjoy!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Real Deal

Jumping the Shark

Along with "Bell the Cat," "Jumping the Shark" is one of my favorite sayings.  But many people don't know what it means.  Just think of Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch or Scrappy Doo and you'll be on the right track.    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JumpingTheShark defines it as follows: "Jumping The Shark is the moment when an established show changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realise that the show has finally run out of ideas. It has reached its peak, it will never be the same again, and from now on it's all downhill."

Here are a couple of sites (yeah, I know one is a wiki!) that you might find helpful.


For my symposium paper this coming January I plan to use video scenes from the appropriate "Happy Days" episodes and work forms of the word "jump" and "shark" in at least every 5 minutes.  Should be fun!

For more, read the following:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Five Minute University

A friend reminded me of this classic bit by Father Guido Sarducci.  (You'll need to pause Elvis briefly).


Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Mortality, Thrash Metal, and the Church" by Pastor Greg Alms

The following article was written by Greg Alms and may be found at the Lutheran Forum website here.  It is absolutely wonderful!


Mortality, Thrash Metal, and the Church

by Paul Gregory Alms — August 02, 2010

“The world seems a smaller place and less of it is mine.” I heard that in a song somewhere once. It speaks of growing up and looking back and realizing that as one gets older there are fewer possibilities. This is simply a product of living in a world of time, of the drip, drip, drip of moments come and gone.

From the moment we are born, the possibilities ahead of us contract. Each moment sets one on a path which eliminates all other possible paths. Life is one giant contraction. To decide to go one way means one can never go on the other journeys available at that moment. If one decides, at age eighteen, to go to NC State University, to use an example, one eliminates all the other roads for life and spouses and jobs and experience which would have led through, say, UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke or Clemson. This is true for every single day of our lives.

As one ages, this awareness becomes particularly acute. The contraction becomes palpable. One begins to see in one's sights the pinpoint toward which all our days are converging. The number of decisions one still has to make in the future dwindles. The contraction continues until at the moment of death the self becomes a single point of consciousness. One must at the end let go of all family, friends, and all outside experience itself so that one becomes a solitary self. Finally even that point of light is darkened. The almost infinite possibilities present at birth end at that one dot.  

This awareness of mortality is not simply the awareness that somewhere in the distant future there will be an end. We experience the loss every day.  The contraction is continuous. The passing of time is nothing other than the experience of death. Loss and memory and longing are a form of the grave. We feel it when we look at baby pictures of long grown children or see a snapshot of a movie theatre in our youth that was torn down decades earlier. Nostalgia is mourning. Death is not a moment one encounters at the end of life. It is a condition one lives in. Mortality, the condition of being subject to death, pervades our creaturely existence. It is the sea in which we swim. 

As a pastor of a church, of a congregation full of mortal people, young and old, I have noticed that this truth underlies much human behavior. It pushes us to the bottle, to the jogging track, to the arms of the mistress and the wife. It is also a prime reason we go to church. This is a theological truth to be sure. The law proclaims to us that we are empty, the walking dead.

So we go to church to get eternal life, to be connected to the God who is eternal, who took flesh, who forgives sins, who offers heaven. But it is a practical truth as well. Though it is mostly unconscious, this continual sense of loss we feel pushes us on a search for transcendence, for meaning, for something that lasts and is permanent. As life contracts around us we feel a desperate need for wide open spaces, for possibilities. 

Death chases us to the sanctuary and when we get there, we are looking for something beyond death. Events such as the birth of children or the death of parents often arouse in otherwise indifferent Christians or even pagans a desire to be in worship. This is often a fleeting notion but it is nonetheless real. It is these markers of time passing, rites of passage, which make us feel how temporary we really are. Feeling small, we grab for something larger. 

But here is where things get can get frustrating. So often, church is the very place filled with pastors and leaders anxious to avoid the very subject which drives people to look for the eternal and spiritual. Many churches want to talk about and deal with anything but death. They market to healthy twenty and thirty year olds, many of whom have never attended a funeral or been to a graveyard. Super-happy music, parenting advice, biblical uplift, financial seminars, strategies to ease and improve life, physically and emotionally and spiritually, fill the time spent in church. But in seeking to make us happy and fulfilled at all cost, the churches ignore the gaping monster at the end of the road gobbling us all up, that tiny serpent balled up inside of us scaring us and making us nervous. 

So much of our life is filled with avoiding death or dealing it with indirectly. The church ought to be the place of truth telling but frequently it isn’t. Recently, I attended the funeral of a young man in his early twenties who had died suddenly and tragically. The family, the community, his large circle of young friends were all devastated. They were face to face with death. They carried to his funeral a huge need to face this thing they were feeling, which they could not express or understand. But what they got was a “funeral” in a church that is all too common these days: a behemoth church designed to serve every need we can think of from coffee to aerobics to inspiring music. At the service there was a praise band and many smiles and an “uplifting” message which almost entirely avoided the subject at hand: death in all its awfulness. This church was unable to face that one thing that must be faced. 

A few days after this funeral I received in my email a song in mp3 format from an old friend. It was a recording his teenage son had done. His son was in a rock band. The band played a sort of music known as Norwegian death metal, related to thrash metal and other offshoots. I was unaware of this particular type of music but I chuckled via email with my friend at the musical taste of the young and listened to the song and sampled some other examples of the genre. I was immediately struck by the fact that obscure teenage bands tackled head on the very subject that the praise band and popular preacher at that funeral had avoided: the darkness and reality of the mortal life we lead. The Gothic strangeness and epic noise such bands employ should not obscure the fact that lyrically and musically they are speaking of death, in fact, seem to be obsessed with it. They know the great contraction that is life and are talking about it, really, really loudly. If the happy clappy church in the suburbs will not face death, the death metal thrash bands do.

It is a strange world where heavy metal bands are brave and truthful and churches are escapist and irrelevant. It hasn’t always been so. The liturgical and hymnic inheritance the church has bequeathed to us is full of forthright, strong expressions of what it means to live in the midst of death. But the realistic tones of such hymns is balanced with the hope of faith, vaccinated with a streak of New Testament proclamation. The liturgy of the church both East and West offers a glimpse of life in the midst of death, of heaven on earth. The church does not need to offer a weekend seminar on death next to the ones on parenting and finance. It does not need to put out powerpoint lectures on mortality and its meaning. It only needs to live out its gospel and liturgical and sacramental witness of resurrection that points to and shares the Living One who is in her midst.

Dying people are hungry to live. This is the beauty and the secret of the church’s worship. While death is its ultimate subject, the church’s worship teaches victory over death quietly, subliminally, week after week after week so that a culture of eternity is inculcated in the hearts and minds and, yes, the bodies of those who attend. We are prepared incessantly to die while we live. And though we are dying, everyday in the church, we live in the presence of the eternal God. 

Martin Luther once wrote a hymn that asked the question: In the midst of earthly life, Snares of death surround us; Who shall help us in the strife? It is the eternal question and but it is one that cannot be answered if it is not asked. Churches today must hear this question in the experience of those they seek to serve and answer. It is, finally, the only question worth answering.

Paul Gregory Alms is Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Catawba, North Carolina.

PCUSA Convention

I was so distracted by my own preparations for the LCMS Convention in Houston last month, that I pretty much missed the PCUSA gathering in Minneapolis.  I'm playing catch up now.  Here is a report on the opening worship; following it is a link to some handheld video of the procession that's generating some conversation.  Enjoy!


Outgoing Moderator reminds denomination of need to involve younger members

opening worship infused with color, song, tradition
JULY 4, 2010
Photo of a group of people gathered around a baptismal font as a baby is baptized
During opening worship at the 219th General Assembly Sunday, Alexis Renee Sanders of Kwanzaa Community Church, Minneapolis, MN, was baptized —Photo by Danny Bolin
ll creatures of our God and King … lift up your voice and with us sing … ‘Alleluia! Alleluia!’”
And so thousands of Presbyterians were called to worship Sunday morning at the 219th General Assembly (2010). With bright colors, liturgical dancers and tall Lion King-esque puppets – literally, all creatures worshiped. Kites, streamers and banners waved through the air as missionaries and pastors processed into the large hall.
Music in worship spanned the gamut of styles and cultures: Hispanic, negro spiritual call-and-response, contemporary “praise” songs, and old favorites were all included. Congregants were encouraged to dance as the spirit moved, to sing and shout to the Lord. Hand drums, drum sets, violin, ukulele, organ, vocal soloists, and a 250-plus person choir participated in the joyful noise of the assembly. The diversityin the colorful process was just as vibrant in the variety of music selections.
The leadership of commissioned lay pastor Fern Cloud, as well as a local musical group gave worship a specific Native American context through sight and sound. Flute and drum, colors of the four winds, and traditional dress infused the Reformed order of worship.
Former Moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, preached from Isaiah 64, and, to no one’s surprise, spoke about the absence of young adult members in the denomination. He wondered how God might move “the mountain” of the denomination, and whether members are ready to embrace that movement.
“We say to a generation of people every day, by the ways that we engage in church and community, ‘I don’t care [about your needs or yearnings],’” Reyes-Chow said. “‘I sort of like this mountain I’m living on.’” He challenged the congregation to celebrate the ways that “God is going to surprise us.” His candor about the denomination’s future both engaged and worried the congregation.
“Bruce said in the sermon that God is pissed [at us], and that might be true in general,” said the Rev. Jill Tolbert, campus minister at Emory University, “but surely God is pleased with our worship this morning – beautiful, diverse, intentional and creative, colorful, faithful. My hope and prayer is that we can leave here and live as we have worshipped!”
In response to the Word, the congregation celebrated the Sacrament of Communion, as well as the Sacrament of Baptism, which was a first-time event for a General Assembly. Jason and Melissa Sanders, a couple from a local congregation, Kwanzaa Community Church, presented their daughter, Alexis Renee Sanders, for baptism. Just like a smaller congregation, worshippers leaned forward to see her dress, watch her clap, and eagerly embraced the young toddler into the community. The congregation, many with tear-stained cheeks, joyfully stood and sang to mark Alexis’s identity as a child of God.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Alvin L. Barry (1931-2001)

Though he passed away in 2001, Concordia Historical Institute's "Today in History" notes (http://chi.lcms.org/history/tih0804.htm) that today marks the 79th birthday of The Rev. Alvin Barry, eleventh president of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.  Here are his biographical details from the CHI website (http://chi.lcms.org/presidents/pres_barry.htm).

Alvin L. Barry

Tenth President of the Missouri Synod: 1992-2001

BarryBorn: 4 August 1931, Woodbine, Iowa

Died: 23 March 2001, Orlando, Florida

Alvin Barry attended Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, finished his studies through the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Thiensville, in 1956, and was ordained the same year. He later received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.

Barry first accepted a call to Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1960 he moved to Claremont, Minnesota, to serve at St. John and Peace Lutheran Churches. Two years later, he was called to Trinity Lutheran Church, Trimont, Minnesota, where he served until 1967.

In 1967 Barry became the Mission and Stewardship Executive for the Iowa District West. In 1975 he became the executive secretary for the Synod's Board for Missions and joined the Armed Forces Commission. From 1977 to 1982, Barry was the Missions, Stewardship, and Social Ministry Executive for the Iowa District West. He became the district president in 1982. Barry was elected president of the LCMS in 1992 and re-elected in 1995 and 1998. He died in office on 23 March 2001 and was succeeded by Dr. Robert T. Kuhn, first vice-president of the synod, who served until the end of Barry's third term on 31 August 2001.

Barry is the author of The Master's Prayer : Devotional meditations on the Lord's Prayer (1994), The Unchanging Feast: The Nature and Basis of Lutheran Worship (1995), What Does This Mean? Catechesis in the Lutheran Congregation (1996) and numerous pamphlets in a What About? series. The contents of the web site that contained his writings and statements while he was in office is in the process of being transferred to this site as an archive of his publications.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Clergy Burnout

North American clergy continue to struggle with their health.  Part of the reason is they don't take time for themselves.  This is certainly true of the faculty at our seminary, where many  professors don't take advantage of the sabbaticals they have earned.  The following article from the New York Times explores some of the issues.

The original may be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?_r=2


Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work

Published: August 1, 2010

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke Universitywho directs one of the studies. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

As cellphones and social media expose the clergy to new dimensions of stress, and as health care costs soar, some of the country’s largest religious denominations have begun wellness campaigns that preach the virtues of getting away. It has been described by some health experts as a sort of slow-food movement for the clerical soul.

In the United Methodist Church in recent months, some church administrators have been contacting ministers known to skip vacation to make sure they have scheduled their time, Ms. Proeschold-Bell said.

The church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, led the way with a 2006 directive that strongly urged ministers to take all the vacation they were entitled to — a practice then almost unheard of in some busy congregations.

“Time away can bring renewal,” the directive said, “and help prevent burnout.”
The Episcopal, Baptist and Lutheran churches have all undertaken health initiatives that place special emphasis on the need for pastors to take vacations and observe “Sabbath days,” their weekday time off in place of Sundays.

The Lilly Endowment, a philanthropic foundation based in Indiana, has awarded grants of up to $45,000 each to hundreds of Christian congregations in the past few years, under a project called the National Clergy Renewal Program, for the purpose of giving pastors extended sabbaticals.

And while recent research has focused largely on mainline Protestant churches, some Jewish leaders have begun to encourage rabbis to take sabbaticals.

“We now recommend three or four months every three or four years,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, a past executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis. “There is a deep concern about stress. Rabbis today are expected to be the C.E.O. of the congregation and the spiritual guide, and never be out of town if somebody dies. And reply instantly to every e-mail.”

Some nondenominational evangelical Christian ministers have embraced a similar approach, outlined in two best-selling books by the Rev. Peter Scazzero, pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Elmhurst, Queens.

Mr. Scazzero, 54, is the unofficial leader of a growing counterculture among independent pastors who reject the constant-growth ethic that has contributed to the explosion of so-called mega-churches.

In the books, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” and “The Emotionally Healthy Church,” he advocates more vacation time for members of the clergy, Sabbath-keeping, and a “rhythm of stopping,” or daily praying, that he learned from the silent order of Trappist monks.
Mr. Scazzero said that depression and alienation from his wife and four children prompted him a half-dozen years ago to try living more consciously and less compulsively.
“It’s hard to lead a contemplative life on Queens Boulevard,” Mr. Scazzero said. “But the insight I gained from the Trappists is that being too ‘busy’ is an impediment to one’s relationship with God.”

Clergy health studies say that many clerics have “boundary issues” — defined as being too easily overtaken by the urgency of other people’s needs.

Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, a family physician who is married to a Lutheran minister and who wrote a 2004 book raising the alarm about clergy health (“The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy”), described the problem as a misperception about serving God.

“They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no,” she said.

(Page 2 of 2)
Larger social trends, like the aging and shrinking of congregations, the dwindling availability of volunteers in the era of two-income households, and the likelihood that a male pastor’s wife has a career of her own, also spur some ministers to push themselves past their limits, she said.

The High Mountain Church of the Nazarene in North Haledon, N.J., started with 25 members 10 years ago and grew to 115 before its pastor, the Rev. Steven Creange, noticed strains in his marriage and decided to slow down.

Mr. Creange said he and his wife feel lavishly rested — and much happier — since they began observing Sabbath days on Fridays and making occasional weekend getaways.
“I just don’t go to every graduation and every communion anymore,” he said. “And people accept it.”

In May, the Clergy Health Initiative, a seven-year study that Duke University began in 2007, published the first results of a continuing survey of 1,726 Methodist ministers in North Carolina. Compared with neighbors in their census tracts, the ministers reported significantly higher rates of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. Obesity was 10 percent more prevalent in the clergy group.

The results echoed recent internal surveys by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which found that 69 percent of its ministers reported being overweight, 64 percent having high blood pressure and 13 percent taking antidepressants.

A 2005 survey of clergy by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church also took special note of a quadrupling in the number of people leaving the profession during the first five years of ministry, compared with the 1970s.

Roman Catholic and Muslim clerics said the symptoms sounded familiar.

“We have all of these problems, but imams are reluctant to express it because it will seem like a sign of weakness,” said Imam Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens. “Also, mosques do not pay much and many of them work two jobs.”

Catholic canon law requires priests — “unless there is a grave reason to the contrary” — to take a spiritual retreat each year, and four weeks of vacation.

That vacation regulation has led Msgr. Gus Bennett of Brooklyn to take a camping trip on horseback in the Wyoming wilderness with friends every year for 30 years.

Monsignor Bennett, 87, a canon lawyer, now semi-retired, who spent most of his working years setting up and managing the pension plan for priests and lay employees of the Diocese of Brooklyn, says he has always felt his religious side to be most alive during those nights in Wyoming, “sleeping on the ground, under the whole of creation.”

He does not know how it affected his health. “I just know it made it easier to come back and jump into the books,” he said.