Friday, December 30, 2011

Why I Would Not Accept an Invitation to Pray at a Legislative Assembly

"It has fallen out sometimes that both Papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked on one ship... All the liberty of conscience that ever I pleaded for turns upon these two hinges: that none of these Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ship's private prayers or worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any." (Roger Williams, 1654)

In addition to the fact, not noted by Williams, that by offering prayer in public contexts like legislative assemblies, governments or other organizations attempt to put a religious patina upon their work, I find this quote, and the general drift of Williams' thought (who believed in the separation of Church and State for religious reason), amenable.

Prayers in such contexts tend to be generally deistic in nature. Now, if you happen to be a deist, such prayers work well for you. Additionally, if you are of a religious faith for which deistic prayers can be, by mental agility, conformable to your own prayer practices, then it can also work for you.

However, if you are an atheist, or adhere to a non-deistic faith tradition (of which there are many), then such invocations prior to public assemblies force your participation, or at least your presence (and so implicit participation). So, as a Christian, I advocate for an end to such prayers.

We definitely pray for our government and elected leaders, vigorously, and often, in the context in which such prayers are appropriately lifted--Christian worship, or the worship tradition of which you, dear reader, are a part.

Finally, it is not clear to me, outside of the worship life of a specific community, what such prayers at a legislative assembly or other public event (such as the inauguration of a president) might mean. If they are not prayers in the name of a specific deity, to whom are they addressed. It is a dangerous practice to invoke a deity in which you do not believe or trust. They very well may show up. Religious communities typically take great care to identify which god to which they are praying, and include in such prayers specifications as to what this god is like. Again, this makes the most sense within the worship life of specific communities, not generalized and supposedly secular contexts.

Litany of confession

"The church has withheld the compassion it owes to the despised and rejected; the church has not resisted strongly enough the misuse of Christ for political ends; the church has coveted security, tranquility, prosperity to which it has no claim."

(Jennifer McBride, in her recent The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness, adapting Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a model for the church as a public witness leading through confession unto repentance).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lutheran Confessions Best Reads of 2011

Of the books I have read in 2011, these are the twenty that stand out for having significantly shifted my thought and imagination, and I commend them. Many are reviewed in past months on this blog or at Amazon.

1. The Poets Laureate Anthology

2. Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 16)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, et al

3. In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon
Ivan Illich

4. The Practice of Everyday Life
Michel de Certeau

5. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
Alan Jacobs

6. Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America
Jeffrey Stout
7. Democracy and Tradition, Jeffrey Stout

8. Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders
Francis X. Clooney

9. Transformative Lutheran Theologies: Feminist, Womanist, and Mujerista Perspectives [Kindle Edition]

10. A Multi-Site Church Roadtrip: Exploring the New Normal (Leadership Network Innovation Series) [Kindle Edition]

11. Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

12. Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in theVirtual World.

13. T.F. Torrance's Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ

14. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

15. Not Your Grandparents Offering Plate, 

16. Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, John Zizioulas

17. Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal

18. Canon and Creed, Robert Jenson

19. The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness, Jennifer McBride

20. The Ecstasy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On New Year's Resolutions...

New Isn't So Shiny

Eccl. 1.9  What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun. 

Although you might not know it, what with all the religious boosterism on the American religious market these days, but actually most religious traditions, including my own, include an incredibly healthy dose of skepticism. Nowhere is that more apparent in the scriptures Christians and other traditions hold sacred, than in the writings of Qoheleth, the main speaker in that beautiful book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. 

In fact, if you are struggling today to wrestle your out of control list of New Year's resolutions to the ground, let me suggest this ancient text above all others as sweet antidote to the poisonous notion that really, this year, you are finally going to "become a better you." No need to spend a ton of money on self-help manuals. Translations of Ecclesiastes are readily available for free on-line.


Hoping to write a book in 2012? Here's Qoheleth: Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Eccl. 12.12)

Plan to take a class, and grow in wisdom and knowledge? Qoheleth reminds us:  I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”  And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow 
(Eccl. 1:16-18). 

Planning home improvements and more entertainment in the new year? Consider: Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Eccl. 2:10-11).

Are you hoping to get along better with your co-workers. Just remember: Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another (Eccl. 4:4).

Hoping God will make you rich and prosperous? Ecclesiastes reminds us:  The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? (Eccl. 5:10-11)

Planning to diet and lose weight? Once again Qoheleth offers countervailing wisdom: Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do (Eccl. 9:7). 


Students of the bible will probably want to argue with these selective quotations, given that Ecclesiastes is actually more theologically rich and complicated than these few quotes indicate. It's a book that is as faithful as it is realistic about the human condition. I pull these quotes, however, to indicate that people of faith do well to begin the year not with overly ambitious aspirations for how this year, against all odds, will be a break-out year, but instead remember that true wisdom comes in looking reality straight in the face, and then remaining faithful, resolute, and hopeful even, and especially, in the face of the truth.

I prefer this approach to the new year because I think it is more honest, and honestly, is less likely to result in despair over failed resolutions. I think it also evokes the spirit of another honest preacher, who wrote, " We aren't like so many people who hustle the word of God to make a profit. We are speaking through Christ in the presence of God, as those who are sincere and as those who are sent from God" (2 Corinthians 2:17, Common English Bible translation).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Featured Article at Living Lutheran Today

Featured article at Living Lutheran today, "My Neighbor's Religion." Enjoy, and blessings on this third day of Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Sermons

Sermons from Christmas Eve and Day will be live here on December 26th, 2011. Blessed Nativity of the Christ to you and yours, and God's blessings to you in the New Year of our Lord, 2012.

It's helpful to note that I do a sermon tie-in at the communion that connects the sacrament to the word proclaimed in the message. One in particular I'll highlight here, that during the communion for Christmas Day I mentioned that the John 1 and Hebrew 1 texts challenge us to do more than speak of Christ as the one who is our Savior. He is also the one through whom all things were made, and the one who restores the image and "very being" of God (Hebrews 1) in us.

So if asked, we could say that Christ restores the image of God in us, or is the one who as the promised one of Israel's God continues to create all things. Try it out. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Meaning of Christmas

This is perhaps the holiday that elicits in us (or at least many of us) epistemological questions about the "reason for the season."

As a brief meditation prior to Christmas Eve worship, I have just a few theses concerning this:

1) What appears to be crass and materialistic by certain religious and ethical standards may, in point of fact, be in its very hiddenness, God-inspired and faithful. Our knee jerk reaction to the very shopping and gift-giving habits we engage in this season should give us pause.

2) Similarly, although the many charities we donate to this season deserve and need our financial support, our motivations for giving in order to get into the spirit of the season should be and are suspect. When we feel particularly good about our goodness, we need to apply suspicion quickly and closely.

3) Yes, it's a secular holiday. Yes, it's a religious holiday. And often what we think is secular is religious, and what we think religious is secular.

4) Recovery of certain kinds of secondary discourse around Christmas can't recover the faith of Christians all by itself. It is a lot of hot air.

5) Christmas is Christmas for no other reason than Christ (although even this point is sometimes abused by being used as a hammer of self-righteousness, like the placards in yards reading "Keep Christ in Christmas").

6) Because Christmas is about Christ, the sign I would prefer to put in my yard would read, "Keep the mass in Christ-mass." Although that will sound funny to Lutheran ears, welcome to other ears, and just plain confusing to most, nevertheless, it reminds us of what is central. On Christmas we worship.

7) That being said, we worship in the hope of--but not the guarantee that--our spirits will be lifted. These holidays are holy-days, and all kinds of emotions can come alongside them. Grief, acedia, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, frustration, hope. Our constant seeking to drum up a feeling of the "Christmas spirit" somewhat disregards the fact that the Spirit promises to show up wherever Christ is proclaimed and worshipped, and in ways often wider and deeper and more life-giving than even we can expect in our good-natured attempts to get in the Spirit.

All of which is posted, at least in part, to set out some things that are more worthy of a blog than a sermon. Now on to the worship and preaching itself. Jesus Christ is being born, Christ is always being born. Alleluia.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What is a Lutheran pastor called to do?

I try to annually review my letter of call, and evaluate how focused I have been on living into that letter of call. Here is what ELCA clergy are called to do in their congregations:
We call you to exercise among us the ministry of Word and Sacrament which God has established and which the Holy Spirit empowers: To preach and teach the Word of God in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; to lead us in worship; to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; to provide pastoral care; to speak for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed; to encourage persons to prepare for the ministry of the Gospel; to impart knowledge of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its wider ministry; to endeavor to increase support given by our congregation to the work of our whole church; to equip us for witness and service; and guide us in proclaiming God's love through word and deed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A post-secular theological inquiry into the phenomenon known as "elf on the shelf"

Perhaps Elf on the Shelf has been around for a while, but I only noticed it this year because parents started posting their Elf on the Shelf (hereafter EotS) experiences on Facebook, often with photos of signed certificates attached. I was at that time intrigued by the procedural rhetoric at play in the formative practices of the genre.

Today I had my first close encounter with the story, in the form of a picture book recited at a preschool Christmas party. In a brief survey of the class, approximately 3/4ths of the students now have EotS in their homes.

It's a cute story, and inasmuch as it expands the toddler imaginative horizon to develop and deepen the Santa Claus mythos, I'm in favor of it.

Anyone adopting the practice should be aware, however, that you are, in a very direct sense, being "sold." It's a marketing strategy that is also an invitation into a distinct narrative. Like so much of our culture, marketing and story-telling go hand in hand. This should come as no surprise, but is worth remembering.

In our house, we still do the traditional (though apparently waning) Advent calendar gig. We also have been sold a product to walk us through this journey. We love our LEGO Advent calendars. I recommend them. There is joy in the daily opening of mini-gifts, marking the days of the Advent season. It's a counting game, and a waiting game, and frankly, we're getting mini-figures each day that our children will throw into the Lego mix for years to come.

However, what I want to analyze briefly here is the extent to which the EotS phenomenon is a post-secular Advent practice. Clearly, there are no elves in the bible (well, maybe in the Apocrypha, but I haven't read that for a while, so I don't remember for sure). But the elf in EotS is a waiting and watching elf. In fact, this elf is a cute, but nevertheless Orwellian, Big Brother. The EotS sits on the shelf and watches children during the holiday season to ascertain whether they are naughty or nice. Santa makes decisions on gift-giving based on the behavioral performance of said children.

So, EotS evokes the themes of Advent (waiting, watching, anticipation of a coming one--Santa), but does so in completely secular terms. It is just Santa's elf, after all. But then the moral tenor of the elf's presence takes on a cast, but not the constituent theological elements, of the actual practices of Advent.

In fact, EotS precisely inverts the eschatological dimensions of the pre-secularized Advent tradition. Advent is waiting for the righteous one who imputes righteousness to us as a gift rather than overseeing our righteousness and then gifting us based on merits. These are very different soteriologies. No Hegelian synthesis is on offer. These are, instead, social imaginaries that lack a Horizontverschmelzung.

Which is not to say that they cannot co-exist in the same house. It is only that if they do, they will need to do so knowingly under the form of the Mievillean motif exemplified in his bicameral post-novel, The City and the City.

Merry Christmas. You are being watched.

A Christmas Letter

December 20th, 2011; Katharina von Bora Luther, renewer of the church, 1552

Dear <>,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! At this time last year, our family had the pleasure of taking the month to move into our home, and visit worship each Sunday at area congregations. The freedom of that month planted many seeds for ecumenical and interfaith engagement, and allowed us to see how other Christian communities in Fayetteville prepared for the birth of their Savior. It was an expectant time—waiting for Christmas, waiting to begin work and life at Good Shepherd, waiting for the birth of our third child.

Thank you to each of you for the warm and wonderful reception we have had into this community and congregation. We are so blessed to be here. It is hard to believe an entire year has passed, and we are preparing to celebrate our first Christmas together. It has been an eventful, and Spirit-filled year.

I still remember the congregational interview we conducted last summer. It was the feast of Mary, so the text for the day was Mary’s Magnificat. I have been mindful ever since of that text as a guiding text for us. We, like Mary, in this holiday season, are invited to respond with an unqualified “Yes!” to God’s announcement that Christ will be born in us.
One of the ways we do this is in our singing. We are a congregation that knows how to sing. We have so many great musicians in our congregation. And I truly believe that we focus on Christmas carols and singing during this holiday season because of their importance in helping us connect to God through the gospel of Christ.
Hymns mean something. Often, they mean much more than we can put into words, which is why they are set to music, and sung, not simply discussed. St. Augustine of Hippo is credited with saying, “Those who sing, pray twice.” Why twice? First, because when a prayer is set to music, it is more easily memorized, and so the prayer lives on in the voice and mind of the prayer. But even more, the music itself, especially if matched well with the text, does something in the brain and heart that does not come about through reading the text alone. Music, like math, is its own language, and close to the heart of God.
Many of us cannot articulate precisely why certain songs and music mean so much to us, or why we desire to sing them at special occasions and times. Instead, we simply break into song. In fact, to talk too much about it is, like explaining a joke, to ruin the effect. So as you prepare to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ singing Christmas carols in praise of our Savior Jesus Christ this coming Christmas Eve and Day, spend the last moments of this week doing that which those who wait in faith find themselves doing gustily and freely: sing!

Singing together in Christ,

Pastor Clint +

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary's Yes to God's Word: A Sermon

A message and sermon on some of the most wonderful texts read during the 4th Sunday of Advent, including Paul's doxology at the conclusion of Romans, and the Annunciation to Mary.

There was one "visual joke" in the sermon that might not be easy to catch for listeners on-line. When I asked what angels were, I posed like a flying angel with a harp. With an alb and stole on, it looks fairly authentic. :)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Concerning Christopher Hitchen's Atheism

I like atheists. Well, that's not quite accurate, but it is an easy and short way to begin this post. I can't really say I like all atheists, anymore than I like all humans, so perhaps what I should say is that I know many atheists and like them.

In point of fact, oftentimes as a Lutheran Christian I identify as much or more with the atheists I know than with other Christians. This is likely due to being a "beleaguered" minority religious tradition in the U.S. context. Being an atheist in our culture is like being a vegetarian. It is bound to eventuate many somewhat uncomfortable conversations.

Specifically regarding Hitchen's atheism, I must admit I have often chafed under the stridency of it. It's not  easy when the world's "fifth top public intellectual" goes after your bread and butter and publishes a book titled God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  [although I can't help but note here that it makes things immensely easier that Lutherans tend towards a "religionless Christianity," at least theologically speaking, that offers an end run around Hitchen's complaint; in other words, we have much to learn from, and we share much with, his form of religious skepticism]

Remember 2008, when Hitchen's book went to the bestseller list, as did Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion? Any pastor or theologian I knew with an an ounce of intellectual passion and fierceness wanted to write a screed in response. Many of us were pleased when such responses were forthcoming. I read two, David Bentley Hart's empassioned Atheist Delusions, and Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, a unique attack on the duo (he humorously called the two of them together "Ditchkins"), unique because Eagleton himself is also a kind of atheist (of the neo-Marxist variety), so was criticizing the form of argumentation itself from within the tradition.

Essentially, you could boil the critique down to this. That Hitchens and Dawkins, though thoughtful and provocative, do not match the rigor and power of Nietzsche, so we ought to read Nietzsche instead, since he does not stand to benefit monetarily from our reading him. Eagleton added something about the essentially conservative nature of the new atheism. Hart criticized their lack of knowledge of the engagement with atheism intrinsic to the Christian tradition itself. At least, those were my take-away lessons. They both said much more, and comported themselves wonderfully.

If you have the time, reading these four books (Hitchens, then Dawkins, then Hart, then Eagleton) would pretty much get you up to speed on the new atheist conversation, and much more.

So generally speaking, I find myself critical of "evangelical" atheists. However, I realize how hypocritical my stance is, since I myself am "evangelical" in the sense of wishing to share the good news of the tradition I hold to--the way of Christ.

Why should I prematurely judge Hitchens for wanting to share his "good news"? That's a good question.

I find myself warmly sympathetic to your average work-a-day atheist, those folks who have come to the conclusion that there simply is no god, and in our religious context, spend much of their lives either having to hide their position or defend it against highly vocal religious critics. Some atheists I know personally are among the best humans I know personally. The fact that atheism is often associated with lack of moral character is a travesty, and obviously contrary to fact.

I'm reminded of a quote I read recently in a lecture on the importance of the religious faith of the other for my own. The quote, "I don't want to be a part of your eschatology." I can imagine Hitchens empathizing with that quote, even as he might find something witty and acerbic to say about it. The issue is that so many Christians, hearing of his death, are inclined to say something like, "Too bad he never learned the ultimate truth." However, that is to not respect the internal integrity of what Hitchens was about, and who he was.

Much better, even if you are a Christian, is to honor who he was in this world, as the man he was himself. The dude could write. He was hilarious. He was incredibly honest. In fact, although I chafed under the stridency of his atheism, I benefited from the honesty of it. It forced me to learn how to engage that position forthrightly and boldly.

He "burned the candle and both ends, and it gave a lovely light." This, a quote from his most recent (and perhaps magnum opus) Arguably: Essays, might be a better and more faithful approach to commenting on him.

I think it is fair to offer this blog memorial to Hitchens on the topic of his atheism, since he made his own atheism a topic. But to actually honor him, it also requires we read the breadth of what he thought about, and how he wrote. If anyone wants to send this blogger a Christmas present, his recent doorstop of a book would be welcome.

And in these days, our thoughts go out to Christopher Hitchen's family and friends as they mourn his loss, and we give thanks for his life and thought.

Advent unto repentance: Faith in the real world

Jennifer McBride of Wartburg College has written an absolutely outstanding book inspired by the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness.

It is very pricy, currently $65 on Amazon. I got mine as a review copy (why do these theological publishers lock away young theological voices in incredibly expensive hardback volumes? It's a tragedy).

So I'm posting some of her wisdom for those of you who won't want to buy the book at that price point, and don't live close enough to me to borrow the book when I'm done with it.


"Interpreting repentance through the person of Christ directly challenges the common understanding that repentance primarily concerns one's individual standing before God; instead, as participation in Christ, repentance constitutes existence before others... the church witnesses to Christ in a nontriumphal manner and demonstrates Christ's being for the world when it takes the form of the humiliated, crucified God by accepting guilt or confessing sin unto repentance." (19)

"The person and work of Christ lay the foundation for an ecclesial witness that is free to belong wholly to a world already reconciled to God and to enact concrete redemption from that place." (19)

"An ethic of confession unto repentance manifests that God alone is righteous and thereby signals a totally new mode of being and doing good, which disrupts the prevalent presumption among North American Protestants that the church is called to be the standard-bearer of morality in public life. Such a witness has transformative power because it prepares the way for Christ's unfolding redemption as it takes responsibility for sin, suffering, and injustice through repentance." (20)

"It is God's glory to accept guilt."

"The church takes the form of Christ and witnesses to the work of Christ by affirming humanity and being in solidarity with humanity instead of setting itself apart as dispenser of truth, moral exemplar, and judge; by receiving and accepting God's judgment on itself; and by demonstrating God's reconciliation with the world through acts of concrete redemption rooted in responsible repentance" (206-207).

"As a community that counts itself among current transgressors, the church cannot dissociate from the sinful world. The church demonstrates Christ's affirmation of the world when it refuses to take a defensive stance against it" (208).

And two awesome Bonhoeffer quotes:

"It is only when one loves life and the earth so much that without them everything seems to be over that one may believe in the resurrection and the new world" (209).

"This is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life's tasks, questions, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities--then one takes seriously no longer one's own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemene. And I think this is faith: this is metanoia. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian." (14)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Newt Among the Lutherans

Recording here today a bit of alma mater pride, as Luther College was featured in an article in perhaps my favorite news rag, The New Republic. Disregard, for a moment, the only reason Luther actually gained the attention of TNR, and instead rejoice with me that my tiny college in Northeast Iowa was featured in this august magazine.

Okay, now that I have emoted sufficiently, we can move on. Luther was featured in TNR because Newt Gingrich's third wife, Callista, is a graduate of Luther College. I do not know if she is a cradle Lutheran, but the author of this TNR blog decided to visit Luther and consider the implications of the Luther connection for Newt's bid for the presidency (if I am not mistaken, Newt himself was actually born into the Lutheran church and is now a Roman Catholic).

Of course, all of this is precipitated by the Iowa caucuses, when suddenly Iowa and all things Iowa rises to national prominence. I'm cool with that.

Before getting to the Luther connection per se, just a word about Newt himself. Of course there are plenty of scandals around him. He is dubious on many levels. On the other hand, I have to say I remember his time as speaker of the House fondly, in the same way I remember Bill Clinton fondly. It was a time when bi-partisan politics actually got things done. As a friend recently wrote, "Gingrich is the reason why a lot of moderates remember the Clinton era fondly. Not because of the Lewinsky/impeachment debacle - but because of how Clinton and a republican legislature worked together to produce truly centrist policy. That was probably the last time there was any real consensus in American politics leaving aside the 9/11 response." Yes.

Now moving on to the article itself. The author of the TNR blog, Alec MacGillis, is to be commended for doing his homework. He researched Luther (a little) and spoke to actual graduates of our college. 

However, his assumptions about what a religious college must be like miss the mark widely, in the same way so much of contemporary journalism misunderstands "our" brand of Christianity. Here's an important paragraph in his blog that illustrates the point:

Now, I know what you might be thinking: a school called Luther College in small-town Iowa, the alma mater of Mrs. Newt Gingrich…this must be a pretty conservative place. Well, you would be wrong. As I discovered when I visited during the 2008 campaign, Decorah and Luther College are veritably hippy-dippy by the standards of middle America. Decorah itself is a lovely town whose thriving Main Street, with its hipster coffee shops and natural-foods grocery, might be mistaken as being somewhere in western Massachusetts. And Luther, while affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, is far closer in spirit to Oberlin than to Bob Jones. One clue: Its Web site plays up its “sustainability” regime, which includes a “personal composting program,” “free winter bike storage” and an “energy conservation pledge.” There was a strong Obama chapter on campus for the Iowa caucuses in 2007 and the candidate drew a big crowd in Decorah during a visit in the fall of 2007.
My reactions. 1) It would never occur to me that a Lutheran college in a small town in Iowa would be conservative (loaded word, yes, but I think we know what he means). This is to misperceive both Iowa as a state, and Lutheranism in particular. 2) Wherever did he get the impression that a school affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America would be more like Bob Jones than Oberlin? The only way you could assume that is via this logical fallacy: the most vocal Christians in America are religious conservatives, therefore all Christians of whatever stripe are conservative in that same way.

This is simply one more example in a long list of examples of Lutherans and Christians like us "hiding in plain sight" (for another example, note the recent essay in The Atlantic about Norman Borlaug as the "forgotten benefactor of humanity": he's so Lutheran he saved perhaps 1 billion lives and most people don't know who he is). 

I think it would surprise most of our culture to think that the kind of place Luther College is arises precisely out of its faith. Liberal arts colleges are precisely the kinds of things that arise in Lutheran contexts, just like universities are the kinds of places that arise where Thomism holds sway (but that's a whole other topic). 

Another friend and graduate of Luther who does not profess Lutheranism and Christianity as his own faith tradition says, " I can confirm that nearly everyone I know would both a) be shocked by the idea that such a great school could be connected in any way to the Lutheran tradition and b) assume that what is great about Luther, then, survives somehow in spite of that connection. I've gotten some surprised looks when my undergraduate school has come up in conversation." He then goes on to say (and this pleases me), "Clint, I actually think that what's great about Luther survives precisely because of the connection to the Lutheran tradition too!"

How so, readers may ask. Well, look above at what the blogger lists as his surprises about how Luther College is. It plays up sustainability (the ELCA has multiple social statements on this very topic, including our recent genetics social statement, and a statement on vocation, "Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All." There is a strong Obama chapter on campus. Indeed. Both college Democrats and college Republicans were strong groups at Luther when I attended there, because Lutherans (of the ELCA persuasion anyway), tend to be open to a wide range of carefully reasoned political positions, and don't see "difference" as a problem even within the same church or community. Our confessionalism allows us to be open and centered at the same time. This is pluralism at its best.

Here is the most disappointing paragraph:

“Of course, the Lutheran tradition played a role, but it was not central to the Luther experience. In the Center for Life and Faith we listened to a wide range of amazing artists and intellectuals from around the globe. There was also vibrant social and political activism alongside a free and rigorous academic spirit and pursuit, and faculty and students who have been eager to engage with pressing issues facing America and the world, including social justice issues, racism, minority rights, and global inequality.
I'm a cradle Lutheran. I've always known that Lutheranism is a global church, and beautiful music has always been integral to who we are as a church. Lutherans have been a group committed to a rigorous academic spirit (and a free one at that) ever since our inception. We are a church that engages pressing social issues, often to our own detriment, regularly and frequently. We have organized some of the largest social service organizations in our nation. Luther is a school with daily chapel and weekly Eucharist, a vibrant campus ministry, and so on. The fact that the blogger does not know this is disappointing, to say the least.

But I don't blame him at all. I blame myself. I blame us. If a blogger at TNR doesn't know the Lutheran tradition as a vital and public and vibrant movement within U.S. Christianity, we only have ourselves to blame for that. I repent. I'm sorry. Please, will you read my blog? I'm trying my best, and I'll try harder.


Perhaps "hiding in plain sight" is precisely another mark of Lutheranism. Like yeast that leavens the whole loaf, Lutherans just go about the business of starting schools, building hospitals, winning Nobel peace prizes, feeding billions of people, for no better reason than that is what it means to be fully human as a Christian in the world. No need to label and gain attention. In that way Lutherans are a lot like Iowans.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Advent of Mary

Lutherans are often guilty of under-emphasizing what Roman Catholics overdo, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Marian devotion. There are dangers that attend Marian devotions of which Lutherans are rightfully wary. Lutherans desire, above everything else, to keep a focus on Christ and his benefits, and worry that attention to the saints and their intercessions may detract from Christ’s centrality and a right understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith.
However, most people, even if they are unfamiliar with the particulars of Marian devotion in Roman Catholic contexts, such as the pattern for praying the Rosary, or the meaning and nature of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, will nevertheless have read about the validation of Marian sightings by the Roman Catholic Church. In response, one historic Lutheran practice has been to shun any form of prayers or contemplation that in any way name or celebrate Mary. For proof of this point, ask yourself: “How many St. Mary Lutheran Churches are there?”
However, Martin Luther himself offered a middle way between the extremes of either idolizing Mary or denigrating her through inattention. The Lutheran confessional documents also offer this middle way, especially in the Formula of Concord, which declares, “On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed virgin, did not conceive a mere, ordinary human being, but a human being who is truly the Son of the most high God, as the angel testifies. He demonstrated his divine majesty even in his mother’s womb in that he was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore she is truly the mother of God and yet remained a virgin” (Solid Declaration, article VIII.24). 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On preaching that last incomplete sentence in Romans

On Romans 16:25-27... 
Paul’s letter to the Romans is achieving much, much more than is indicated in the concluding sentence read for the fourth week of Advent. In the course of sixteen dense chapters, Paul is accomplishing a number of epistolary tasks. First, he is introducing himself to the Christians in Rome. Second, he is giving indication of his intention to visit them on his way to further missionary work in Spain. Then, a majority of the letter is devoted to sharing the gospel he preaches—the salvation of God through Christ accomplished by the righteousness of God revealed through faith. See especially Romans 1:16-17 for a concise definition of the gospel Paul intends to exposit in his letter.
Furthermore, Romans gives considerable attention to God’s salvific work as it relates to both Jews and Gentiles. It is this all-encompassing impact of the gospel that energizes the letter, as well as its later impact on Christian history. 

Romans was profoundly influential in Martin Luther’s conversion to an emphasis on grace, faith, and justification, and significant theologians and church leaders such as John Wesley and Karl Barth experienced breakthroughs or tipping points as a result of careful sustained study of the letter. 

If the history of interpretation of this letter is any indication, new reform movements in the church will emerge from individuals or groups who attend to this letter closely. 

As unlikely as it seems, the revitalization of the church depends on reading very, very closely what many consider to be the most theologically dense and complicated of all Paul’s correspondence.


It is surprising and wonderful what you can discover by re-arranging words and shifting them on the page, and although many people think grammar is something they learned in middle school they hope not to repeat, once a group begins to actually move the words and phrases in a sentence like Romans 16:25-27 around on the page a bit, play can quickly take over and discoveries emerge fast and furious.
Consider, for example, what many perceive to be the thesis statement of Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith” (1:16-17). Packed together like this, there can be a tendency to rush through the text, reading but without much comprehension or meditation. However, parse the two verses somehow, and much becomes clear that was opaque:
            For I am not ashamed of the gospel;
                        It is the power of God for salvation
                                    To everyone who has faith
                                    To the Jew first and also to the Greek.
                        For in it the righteousness of God is revealed
                                    Through faith for faith;
                        As it is written, “The one who is righteous
                                    Will live by faith.
Perhaps, left to your own devices, you might parse the verses differently than they are parsed here, but in doing so, you would need to come up with some guidelines or rules for how to do so, and in the process would discover much about the grammar and structure of the phrases that had not been apparent before you applied the rules. Grammar is thinking and vice versa. At least one thing you may discover in comparing this thesis statement of Romans to the final sentence of Romans, is how dependent each is on four key terms—God, power, gospel, and faith. 

Smells like Christ's Spirit

"But thank God, who is always leading us around through Christ as if we were in a parade. He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through us. We smell like the aroma of Christ's offering to God both to those who are being saved and to those who are on the road to destruction. We smell like a contagious dead person to those who are dying, but we smell like the fountain of life to those who are being saved.

Who is qualified for this kind of ministry? We aren't like so many people who hustle the word of God to make a profit. We are speaking through Christ in the presence of God, as those who are sincere and as those who are sent from God."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mondays matter

Today I posted the 2000th post on Lutheran Confessions. Today is also the day, for a time, Lutheran Confessions had more than 10,000 readers in one month. In honor of the day, consider becoming a "follower" (see the right hand column).

Would you like a free copy of the new Common English Bible? #CEBTour

I have the opportunity to give away one copy of the new Common English Bible each week for the next few months. If you would like to read it, just post a reply to this blog post, and I'll put you on my list. You'll need to post your name and a mailing address where CEB can send the bible.

I have been reading this translation for about two weeks now, and am already convinced that it is worth using in our worship services in place of the translation we currently use, the New Revised Standard Version. I'd love to hear from more readers of this blog, and members of my congregation, on what they think and how they experience the translation.

Don't Believe Anything Ayn Rand Writes: An Advent Manifesto

One of my favorite preachers, Will Willimon has written a wonderful post repudiating the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I encourage you to read it, especially if you have been watching Ayn Rand movies or reading her books of late.

I have found that she is widely influential, widely read, and quite popular. I think her philosophy is dangerous, vulgar, and faulty. I reject it in its entirety.

I am continually surprised that so many Christians are enamored of her "philosophy." It puzzles me. Willimon writes:

The incarnation, as Luke tells the story, occurred among those on the bottom. Poor shepherds working the night shift were first to get the news that a poor, unwed Jewish woman was bearing Emmanuel into the world. Old people once made silent -- Simeon and Anna -- were the first to sing. These social leeches, as Rand regards them, were the first to be told by God of “God with us”. The rich and powerful, Rand’s chosen few, resisted Jesus from the day of his birth.
And Christians believe that strange story is the whole truth about God. Jesus Christ -- a poor, vulnerable baby whose family (according to Matthew) was forced to immigrate to Egypt, who cast his lots among the homeless, the hungry, the jobless and the poor -- is God among us.
This unexpected truth explains why North Alabama Methodists have spent the last eight months helping the victims of the April storms. That’s why this week (by my informal estimate) as many as five thousand people will be fed by our churches. That’s why some of our folks will spend Christmas Eve, not around the warmth of their family hearth but hosting some of Jesus’ less fortunate families at Christmas suppers and soup kitchens, allowing some to stay the night to keep from the cold.
Why? Not because we are soft-headed liberals, or because we have weak economic theory. No, it’s because unlike the devotees of Rand we really believe that the babe in the manger is the whole truth about God and about who we are meant to be. Ayn Rand is lying.
That’s the grand truth we get to preach this Christmastide.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Concert: Church Music at Its Best

Today Good Shepherd hosted its annual Christmas Concert. Photos of the concert, and audio recordings of each piece in the performance, can be found here. Our web admin has done a spectacular job of creating a "value added" concert by uploading all the special music for the day!

The music speaks for itself, so I encourage you to listen first, and only then read this blog post. What follows is a theological celebration of the value of this concert in our congregational life.

First, it is worth noting that all the music was under the admirable direction of Dr. Robert Mueller, conductor of the University of Arkansas symphony orchestra, and professor of music composition and music theory. He is GSLC's music director and organist. Bob writes a lot of music, and much of it was on display today at the concert, either as arrangements of traditional carols, or new compositions. It's hard to underestimate the value of a music director who writes music for our local context. It reminds us that we are, in some ways, co-creators with God, especially when it comes to worship and music.

Second, Bob has mentioned to me more than once that he writes music that plays to the strengths of the individuals and groups in the ensembles he leads. He writes music that helps the performers shine. In this sense he exercises the ministry of encouragement, encouraging gifts in others with his own gifts.

Third, as you read through the list of performers, you will see that many of the pieces were performed by families singing or playing together (see, for example, The Holly and the Ivy, Good King Wenceslas, and Savior of the Nations, Come). Since I was blessed with the opportunity to just sit and listen to the concert with my family, I took the opportunity to imagine each of these families rehearsing their songs together. This is something I aspire to for our own family as our children get older. There is joy in singing praise together to God as a family.

We also had individual soloists highlighting their musical gifts (see, for example, Christmas Bells, Silent Night, and Still, Still, Still). I love to watch someone lovingly play an instrument on which they are proficient. When that already wonderful event is happening between a person and their instrument who is also a member of your congregation, there is vicarious satisfaction in "making a joyful noise to the Lord."

Bob also nurtures special instrumental groups in our congregation (see the performance by the Band of Shepherds and the Contemporary Worship Ensemble), and since many of the music faculty attend our congregation, some of the performances were special duets or trios between those instrumentalists (see, for example, Infant Holy).

Most remarkable of all, especially if you seldom witness this, are our congregational choir, and our handbell choir. Our congregational choir is one of the most outstanding church choirs I've ever heard. They practice often, and again, because Bob writes music that helps them shine, they feature wonderfully in this concert.

Finally, I have a special place in my heart for handbell choirs. The first piece they performed today (Do You Hear What I Hear?) simply knocked my socks off. Part of the piece was done with mallets hitting the handbells, in the lower registers. Other than the organ, handbells are the instrument that make me feel like I have entered an alternative worship universe. It's an instrument (ensemble) so unique to worship. It takes incredible precision and teamwork to accomplish what they are doing in these recordings.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth. Thank you to all our musicians, and God be praised for the opportunity to serve in a congregation that is gifted with such fine musicians and a spirit of musicianship.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Healthy Models for Interfaith Dialogue

Our congregation recently hosted a lecture titled "What is the Significance of My Neighbor’s Religion for My Own? Deepening Faith and Learning from Others in a Context of Religious Diversity." Our lecturer was Dr. Emily Holmes, of the religion and philosophy department at Christian Brothers University, Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. Holmes specializes in a newly emerging and renewing field of theology--comparative theology. As the concluding text for a class I have been teaching at our local indie bookstore, Nightbird Books, we read the signature text in this field, Francis X. Clooney's Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders.

Clooney recommends small, specific engagements (the close reading of religious texts of other religions, for example) rather than a search for grand unifying theories of religion. He writes as a Jesuit priest who studies the ancient sacred texts of the Hindu tradition.

As a Christian, I have become increasingly skeptical of forms of interfaith dialogue that try to develop or discover overly simplistic and facile commonalities. It is almost as if a popular version of interfaith dialogue has as its goal a migration to a "third place," a religion that is a mashup of the two or more religious traditions that are in conversation with each other.

In my estimation, this tendency respects neither the particularities and visions of the religion of the one engaging in dialogue, nor the faith and particularity of their neighbor. It assumes "you are really actually like me and we just need to gloss over differences or make up similarities," and that counts as interfaith dialogue.

Comparative theology, in comparison, invites a theologian (and by the way, EVERYONE IS A THEOLOGIAN) to travel to live with the religious other, especially by reading their texts, closely and carefully and slowly, in order to learn something and discover the riches of those texts. Then, and only then, does the comparative theologian return and examine how this deep learning across religious borders has reformed and shaped how they think about their own faith and tradition.

What I love about this model is that it invites us, even requires us, to remain deeply grounded in our own tradition, while deeply engaging the religious other. This had been the goal of our class at Nightbird Books, to examine the riches of having a tradition. The course was titled "Canon, Creed, and Comparative Theology," and our four books included books on the development of the creed and biblical canon in conversation with each other, plus a book on ecumenical dialogue between Christian denominations, and concluding with Clooney's book on comparative theology.

This model has additional value, because it models humility (and even repentance) in the face of religious difference. It starts with a posture of listening, sitting in humble love together in common reading of sacred texts.

As part of Dr. Holmes presentation, she had this to say, ""I’m searching for theological language that avoids the twin dangers of religious imperialism, on the one hand (depicting the other as the same as or just like me, included in my theological categories and assumptions), and incommensurability, on the other (depicting the other as so different that we have nothing in common and I can say nothing to or about her). How, then, might one engage in a task that is both necessary and seemingly impossible? How might one responsibly speak of and to the other in a way that preserves the otherness of the other? An apophatic approach to our theological language for religious diversity may provide one path through this dilemma."

This is about all I can accomplish in this short blog post, to hint at some directions, and witness to the value of comparative theology. In an era when people tend to either assume that other religions are really, actually, in the end, just another path to God quite like our own (in other words, they are really me), or in an era when people tend to assume that other religions are totally different from us, evil and different and distinct (in other words, they are truly "not me"), Clooney and Holmes and others are working at a way of maintaining who we are while also honoring who the other is.

And we trust, in the exercise of such practices, and openness to such dialogue, truth does emerge, faith is strengthened, and love is formed, for it is to this kind of conversation that God has called us--for we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the context of interfaith dialogue and comparative theology, this call to love of neighbor as self takes on precisely the dimensions the Good Samaritan story illustrates. We love our neighbor, who is the religious and ethnic other, while remaining committed to loving who we are ourselves. And in loving the other as ourselves, we discover who we are together in God. That is a solid way forward.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Best Albums of 2011

Because of the Advent of Spotify, I've had the chance to listen much more widely to new albums of 2011. This has meant, however, that towards the end of this year I've listened less deeply or repeatedly, to specific albums. This list (especially the runners up category) bears some witness to that change.

Additionally, this year the top ten is heavy on bands that have made my top ten list in previous years. I don't know what this says about my listening habits, but I do think 2012 will be a banner year for listening to completely new bands, since they are now so accessible on-line.

So here they are, the completely subjective last of best albums on Lutheran Confessions:

10 (tie). Vijay Iyer- Tirtha       My favorite jazz album of the year.
10. The Decemberists- The King Is Dead     Continuing their tradition of great story-telling.
9. R.E.M.- Collapse Into Now   RIP R.E.M., you went out with a bang
8. Kaivama- Kaivama   Finnish folk music by my friend Jonathan Rundman
7. Nate Houge- Reform Follows Function      The best liturgical rock of 2011
6. Radiohead- The King of Limbs   I know, not everyone was into it, but I thought it was subtle and beautiful, the basement sessions recording this are awesome to behold.
5. Steve Earle- I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive    This album is TRUE.
4. Gillian Welch- The Harrow and the Harvest    We waited so long, and at last a new gorgeous album.
3. U2- Achtung Baby 20th Anniversary Deluxe   This album is as good as it ever was, plus b-sides.
2. Wilco- The Whole Love Wilco just keeps rockin it.
1. Beastie Boys- Hot Sauce Committee Part 2   This one is in its own category, it's in a class by itself.

Runners up (listed in no particular order, and no hyperlinks): Holy Ghost! Holy Ghost!; Bon Iver; The Head and the Heart; TV on the Radio; Girls, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; M83; tUnE-yArDs;

Thursday, December 08, 2011

9000 and counting

Lutheran Confessions broke the 9000 reader mark this month. Would love to hear why you read, what you hope to read in the future. But mostly just thanks to everyone who follows the blog. I'm honored. Advent blessings to all.

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Blessings to everyone as we commemorate the Immaculate Conception. I'm posting this a bit early so anyone who likes it can make use of it in their Christmas Eve liturgies. I typically proclaim it dramatically at the beginning of Christmas Eve worship before the processional hymn:

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December

Unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
And then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
When God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

Thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

One thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
The seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
The whole world being at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
Desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
Being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And nine months having passed since his conception,
Was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Loving the Outsider and Silver Bullets

My former youth pastor, now bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA, blogged today, and his post has had a high level of "virality."

Here's the link:

Everything I say next will make much more sense if you read his blog post first.

First, I loved this post. It tapped into something deep inside of me, perhaps because like a lot of people I'm into the idea of getting down to one basic focus and living out of it. Bishop Rinehart indicates this is the hill he will "die on": that the turnaround in the mainline churches will happen when we love the outsider as much as we love the insider. 

His hunch is that our current practice is that insiders trump outsiders virtually every time.

As I sat with his blog post for a while (I have already sent a link out to our congregation so we can read it together), I started to have some sideways thoughts. First, nothing that he says in this blog post is particularly new or edgy. You can find similar insights in many books, and spoken by many leaders. Perhaps I responded strongly because it came from a bishop, and my former pastor. But as I mention, his post went viral, so it must have tapped into something wider.

Then I started to have more sideways thoughts. I realized that this "focus on the outsider" gig is kind of like a silver bullet. We actually are dying as a denomination and as mainline churches, and so we know we need to get more outsiders inside our doors if we are going to survive. It makes sense we would focus on this idea, as it is our last great hope (other than having more babies).

I think it is very possible Bishop Rinehart's blog post could be read as applying mostly to the "worship wars" or inner church conflicts. I think that would be regrettable. If I think about "outsiders" to our churches, I think especially of ethnic communities who feel uncomfortable in our churches (I just had lunch with a Latino mission developer from Springfield, MO, yesterday, for example, and he talked a lot about how behind the ELCA is in reaching the Latino population in the United States). I also think especially about class issues. If a church is primarily middle class, how is it doing at reaching the upper class, or poor neighbors. Often our churches are incredibly class stratified.

I can also imagine the outsider being people from other religions altogether, although he does not mention that in his post. In that case, our traveling out to meet our neighbor will require an even greater commitment and sacrifice on our part than even his blog post indicates.

This is where I would like to add something (and tweak) Bishop Rinehart's argument. He seems to imply that churches need to make changes so that they can attract more outsiders to become insiders. For example, he writes, "So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here." Fair enough, but what if they never come? Shouldn't our concern for the outsider be for them pure and simple, not conditioned by whether they will eventually join us? We are called to reach those outside not because it is pragmatic and will accomplish something for us, but purely because we are called to love our neighbor (and the scriptures are clear that love of neighbor is especially love of our ethnically and religiously different neighbor) as ourselves.

That is my first tweak, a reminder that missional thinking is not attractional thinking under a new guise. If the church is going to be a "sent" church, it may perpetually remain out in the world rather than in house.

Second tweak, which is also a confession. I think the first time I read this blog post, I assumed it was addressed to other people, as if I already get this message, and I need to share it with others who don't yet get it. However, the truth is, I'm an insider-insider. I'm so insider I don't remember I'm an insider. So his post needs to apply to me and my actions as much as if not more than anybody else. I'm very comfortable inside the walls of our church. I even have an office and a special closet where I hang my stoles. If there is going to be change, it needs to begin with me, the pastor, who is so very insider.

And I'm not nearly as comfortable with change as I like to think I am. Mea culpa. Like many people, I like change that benefits me. I do not prefer change that makes my life more difficult, uncomfortable, etc., even if it is on behalf of the gospel and love of neighbor.

Finally, I am a little uncomfortable with his notion that everything the community does to nurture itself has to be for the outsider. I don't think that makes complete sense. The church needs to be a centered set, not a vacated set. If there is no center into which to invite those outside, if the center doesn't hold, then there will be no place to invite into, and no community that can engage in the kinds of practices he hopes for. 

Or another way of saying it, as much as I care about reaching the outsider (and I really do, and try to put practices in place to reach them often), I also believe I am called to love the insiders, my parishioners, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Bishop Rinehart indicates this as well in his blog, by noting we are called to care as much about the outsider as the insider.

The point for me is this: the way forward is not an either/or, pitting care for the outsider against care for the insider. The way forward is for the insiders to love each other up so much that they are so strengthened as a community that they simply will find (Spirit-willing) themselves loving the outsider as much as themselves. The church really is, when it lives at its best together, the institution that exists to give itself away. 

p.s. Thank you to the many parishioners who wrote me today and offered wise insights, many of which helped shape this blog response.

p.p.s. Thank you to Bishop Rinehart for initiating the conversation. Even if I'm tweaking some of his thoughts, it is his initial post that got the conversation rolling.