Sunday, April 30, 2006

Honest Abe and Flat Illinois

We attended the Midwest Archives Conference this past week, which took place in Bloomington, IL. I'm married to an archivist, and so a mini-trip to the conference with dad taking care of the son, swimming in the pool, etc, seemed an attractive proposition.

Bloomington appealed to us in a kind of midwest way- it felt like home, in some ways like the Quad Cities or Des Moines. We even stayed at the Chateaux, which is owned by, and is comparatively similar to, a hotel I grew up near, Jumer's Castle Lodge in Bettendorf, IA. There's a long stretch of the town that is simply strip mall. We were able to walk to Starbucks, Coldstone, a mall, Osco-Jewell, and if you continued down the street, you could get it all- McDs, Home Depot, the repeat box stores ad nauseam. It was a little disconcerting staying in the "chateaux" with all these box stores next door- but as a traveler I'll also confess it was nice to have some familiar things nearby to take advantage of and rely on. Known commodities.

We did find at least one local haunt, the Ozark House restaurant, which is a country club attached to a golf course. This is not a chain, rather a restaurant in the middle of a middle class neighborhood, and the older gentleman we sat next to (who had the barbecue pork special) told us he'd been dining there for more than 40 years. Much of the clientelle appeared to also have been eating there for years, extended families, etc.

While we're on the restaurant topic, I will add that the best and most interesting restaurant we ate at, Flat Top Grill, is coming to Madison at the Hilldale Mall some time this fall. Take a look at the format. It's a "build your own" stir fry joint, reminiscent of the wok extravaganza we used to have in the caf at Luther College in Decorah. Anyway, we loved it.

Enough about food, though. What I really intended to write about was the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield. It's about a 50 minute drive down from Bloomington to Springfield, by worth the excursion. It's a modern museum, so does a stellar job of providing narrative in a multi-media format that you can either browse (or be entertained by, if young) or delve deeper into, if interested. As just one example, there's a hall of holograms where various talking heads are making speeches, and if you move close, you can hear just the one speech, which goes on for quite a while, and then you need to move to another hologram board to hear another speech- no text.

All three of us enjoyed visiting the museum. I'm more of a book guy, but found the museum compelling. The vibrating seats in the movie theatre were a bit over the top, though.

It just so happened that I'm also reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's tremendous biography, Team of Rivals (see this aggregate site for a review, Metacritic which recently joined CNET). The last biography of Lincoln I read was as a child, maybe in first grade, so this 900 page tomb is a bit more exhaustive than the "honest Abe" approach. My own brief review: If you're wanting to read a book on "leadership", you can do no better than this book. Lincoln's story, and his choice of cabinet members, is amazing.

We returned along Route 66 to Bloomington, and then interstate all the way back to Stoughton. I've included one photo on the blog of a giant Bunyan that stands on Route 66.

Finally, this question: The ceiling in the last room of the museum, Lincoln lying in state, includes these words, "Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior." An apt metaphor, I guess, if we are thinking of George as the father of our nation (creation), and Abraham as the redeemer (redemption). Nevertheless, and I probably protest too much, this seems to typify our exaltation of our nation into the realm of the salvific. Can't Lincoln simply be a great president and man?

Paul Bunyan and Myself On Route 66

Friday, April 28, 2006

Luther and Participation

“After your heart has thus become firm in Christ, and love, not fear of pain, has made you a foe of sin, then Christ’s passion must from that day on become a pattern for your entire life. Henceforth you will have to see his passion differently. Until now we regarded it as a sacrament which is active in us while we are passive, but now we find that we too must be active…. That is a proper contemplation of Christ’s passion, and such are its fruits” (Luther, Devotional Writings I, LW vol. 42)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Another Experimental Survey

Click here to take survey

Syttende Mai LIRS Pastor Run Press Release

Last year, Pastor Clint Schnekloth of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, rural Cambridge, ran the 20 mile Syttende Mai race from the Capitol Square in Madison to Mandt Park in Stoughton to raise funds for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). His run was featured on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal sports section, the LIRS web site—, and in the Cambridge, Wis. newspaper. He completed the run in just over 3 hours, and raised over $2,300 for the ministry of LIRS.

This year, Pastor Clint has cast the net even more widely, and has invited Pastor Rachel Powell of Grace Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Wis., to walk the Syttende Mai 17 mile walk while he runs, and they've invited parishioners from both their congregations to join them in raising funds by running and walking as well. Pastor Rachael will be raising funds for a missionary that Grace Lutheran Church sponsors, and Pastor Clint will once again be raising funds for the ministry of LIRS and its affiliate Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin, this time sponsoring a Meskhetian Turk family that arrived in Milwaukee in March from Uzbekistan and Russia. This year Thrivent Financial for Lutherans will be donating matching funds of $1 for each $2 raised.

Syttende Mai is a Norwegian Independence Day festival. By using the Syttende Mai run as a fundraiser for immigrants, Pastor Clint hopes to emphasize the connection between the Norwegian immigrants that came to Wisconsin in the 1800s and immigrants who are arriving in Wisconsin today. Both he and Pastor Rachael Powell also hope to raise awareness of health and wellness issues in their congregations.

Donations toward Pastor Clint’s run can be made out to “East Koshkonong Lutheran Church” with “LIRS” in the memo line and sent to the church at 454 E. Church Rd. Cambridge, WI 53523. Donations toward Pastor Rachael’s walk can be made out to “Grace Lutheran Church” with “Missionary” in the subject line and sent to Grace Lutheran Church, 501 Skogen Rd., Cambridge, WI 53523.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Deus Caritas Est and Lutherans

Pope Benedict's first encyclical doesn't rank up there for most Lutherans with, say, the shorts recently released by Old Lutheran.

Nevertheless, I do believe all of us can benefit from reading encyclicals promulgated by the Roman primate. Deus Caritas Est, published on December 25th, 2005, has not (as Richard John Neuhaus notes in the May issue of First Things) received as much attention as some of the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. This is unfortunate. If you've never visited the Vatican web site, let the encyclical be your first stop.

If you're familiar with the theological writings of then Cardinal Ratzinger, you'll find many themes recurring here in this encyclical. If you're influenced by Augustinian and Lutheran theology (as are most Lutherans) then you will find some happy congruities between your tradition and the Pope's, who has been a consistent friendly reader of Lutheran theology.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Purpose-Driven Blog

Believe it or not, I was driving home today from work composing this post in my mind before Lutheranzephyr asked, "Why do you blog?" Great blogminds think alike?

When I first started the blog Lutheran Confessions, I had a big "why" in mind. Namely, I was going to write commentary-like posts on the Lutheran confessional documents, beginning with the Augsburg Confession. I invited some friends to write posts as well. We had a set agenda, and we sometimes stuck to it.

When I look at blogs that are relatively new, I observe this purposiveness. They give their blogs titles that say what they are going to do, or they write a "purpose" statement for the blog, because they want to commit themselves to something- reading books, writing about Scripture, defending their denominational loyalties, etc.

My first blog prior to Lutheran Confessions was kind of like this. It was a series of posts on location in Germany when I was on a three month study trip there. Travel is a great writing resource. You observe things away from home that seem worth writing about. Coming home is a different matter, and journaling at home takes on different dimensions.

Pre-blogging footnote: Before I blogged, or before there were blogs, or before I knew there were blogs, I used to write reflections and send them out by group e-mail. I think I needed an audience in order to write, or to work at writing often or well. Maybe this is an immaturity of mine. I'd like to just write to write, but it seems I need an audience. I don't think I'm alone. Most of these pre-blog blog posts were also about travel, especially our time spent in Seattle on internship. Jogging in the misty rain, driving around the Olympic Penninsula, that type of thing.

But I have now been blogging for five years. If I browse back through the posts, I can see all kinds of good intentions. Some of my posts are even posts about what I intend to do better or more often. Once I even created a graphic icon to try and get myself to blog on that topic more.

Caveat lector: I now no longer blog with a purpose, at least one that can be summarized in a brief and pithy mission statement. This blog does not have a "shape." There's seldom a method (although I can look back through the blog and see trends). What the blog has become is simple. It is a place where I write whatever comes to mind, with the hopes that it will be edifying to at least some readers, and it tends to reflect things I'm interested in or concerned about.

It also sometimes simply reflects the wonder of discovery on the web. It's easier to link to other web sites than it is, to say, try and tell you about the deer I ended up jogging with the other day. I can't use markup language to point you to that experience. I can link to deer, though.

I've given up on purposiveness in blogging, and now I just blog- when I want, at my own pace, often but not exclusively on theology and the church, less and less often about my personal life (for obvious reasons, given that I live a public life in my congregation and community).

This is not a purpose-driven blog. And I like it that way.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

8. The following topics may be addressed in future posts on this blog. Please rate the importance of the following features.

Very Important Important Somewhat Important Not Important Response Total
Book reviews
20% (2) 10% (1) 50% (5) 20% (2)
Constructive theological reflections
33% (3) 56% (5) 11% (1) 0% (0)
Commentary on Scripture
40% (4) 40% (4) 20% (2) 0% (0)
Commentary on the Lutheran Confessions
22% (2) 44% (4) 33% (3) 0% (0)
Reflections on culture and politics
22% (2) 78% (7) 0% (0) 0% (0)
Practical ministry ideas
22% (2) 56% (5) 22% (2) 0% (0)
Personal reflections
11% (1) 89% (8) 0% (0) 0% (0)

The most simple analysis of this break-down is: Most important is commentary on Scripture, second most important is constructive theological reflection, personal reflections comes in third, and reflections on culture and politics comes in fourth. Although those of you who are better statiticians than me, tell me, since personal reflections received many importants", whereas two other areas have a wider distribution, does that actually rank personal reflections higher, and reflections on culture and politics highest?

Book reviews received the widest distribution of ranking, which makes me wonder, should I satisfy the two readers who ranked it highly, or appease two readers who find it not to be important?

Altogether I received 24 responses, which might be statistically significant, since on average 125 hits are made on this blog...

Thanks to all who participated in the survey. I think I'll design another topical survey and post it some time soon, it's been quite fun.

N. T. Wright

A good pastor friend of mine is always quoting N. T. Wright, but I confess I'm intimidated by the sheer volume of his writings. I don't know where to begin. So I was pleased to discover this "unofficial website dedicated to the bishop of durham" where you can read selected sermons, essays, and watch audio and video.

In his Easter sermon for 2006, which is quite good, he has this comment on the Da Vinci Code:

And let me just say that one of the great ironies of that silly book The Da Vinci Code is that, in seeking to elevate Mary Magdalene, all it does is diminish her, to make her Jesus’ appendage, his girl-friend or even his wife, whereas she was his chosen first apostle. Here, as so often, the revisionist versions of Christianity only succeed in domesticating the utterly revolutionary message of the New Testament – not, of course, that the church has not been guilty of that as well.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Ever wondered what it would look like for the Cardinals to elect a new Peep? Dioramas of peeps can be viewed, if you are interested, by clicking on the link on this page titled "take a peep at the peeps".

Or, if you are into the important scientific research going on in the world of peeps, enjoy.

Preliminary Survey Summary

Well, so far 22 of you have taken the survey posted here on the blog, and it's been fun reading comments, etc. I'm posting a few summary notes, but you can still feel free to participate in the survey.

In answer to the question:
Why do you read Lutheran Confessions?

You answered:
1. I found a link or comment on another blog.
2. Insightful. Good religious food for thought. Provokes me into studying the work of christ more often.
3. I'm a seminary student. I love theology
4. I find your reflections interesting and thoughtful - which is saying something, since the blogosphere is filled with lots of boring, uninteresting, angry junk.
5. Because I am a life long career Lutheran who is catholic at heart. I like what the author has written on the Emerging Leaders Network blog.
6. Because they're right.
7. I think the posts are thoughtful and engaging in a way I never felt when I was in parochial school. It's one of the last threads I have to Lutheran practice.

Aw, gosh.

And you're from the following states:

1. TX
2. Texas
3. PA
4. Minnesota
5. IL
6. AZ
7. Illinois
8. IA
9. Pennsylvania
10. Louisiana

Interesting, nobody from my adopted state of Wisconsin has taken the survey yet... And no one from abroad.

You are predominately, but not exclusively, ELCA folk. Also LCMS, Quaker, and Reformed Baptist.

I'll wait and summarize the "future direction for the blog" information after I get a few more responses on the survey.

Lutheran Da Vinci Code

Books do not generally make it to the top of the best-seller list, and stay there, because the author is a master of prose. See, for example, The Bridges of Madison County. Nevertheless, my first beef with Dan Brown's book is the writing. It's not good. I admit, my prose on this blog and elsewhere can at times be clumsy. But I like to think this is because it is topical and timely, and has not gone through the rigors of a review process with editors leading to publication.

Here are some of the concepts in Strunk and White that Brown sins against:

1) Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
2) Do not affect a breezy manner
3) Do not overwrite
4) Use figures of speech sparingly
5) Do not inject opinion (to which I add: and do not call opinion fact)

But let's put aside the issue of style for a second, and answer this question: How should a Lutheran respond to The Da Vinci Code ?

First, and most basically, by remembering that it is a work of fiction. Nothing more. If this novel shakes your faith and worldview, you've taken it far too seriously.

Second, remember that Gnosticism, secret societies, secret knowledge guilds, etc., have been around for a long time. There's always somebody somewhere trying to tell somebody that if they only knew all the inner secrets (and by the way, if you've got some money we can let you in on some of those secrets), they'd achieve some form of enlightenment or salvation. Gnostics think knowledge is salvation. Christians believe otherwise.

What is Gnosticism? One great example would be Scientology. But the idea is so big and has such a long history, I refer readers to a good dictionary or encyclopedia of religion.

Third, if salvation is not about knowledge, it must be about something else. Lutherans believe and confess that salvation is about a relationship, being brought into the very life of Christ through baptism, living out that life around the table in sacrificial love of neighbor. Faith, hope, and love are the things that shake a Lutheran's world, not hidden signs in paintings.

Fourth, remember that lots of religions and peoples, ever since Christ was crucified, have been trying to argue that Christ didn't really die on that cross. The crucifixion of Christ (God incarnate) was a scandal then and still is. It is THE scandal of the faith. It is also the most central aspect of our proclamation. If Christ was not crucified and raised, then faith is null, and the promise void. As nice as it might sound (for it makes him seem even more human than he already was), Jesus did not get married. He died a young meaningless death on a cross, crucified at the hands of many, and God made something out of that death- new life.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Omnivores Dilemma

Michael Pollan has written a book with the subtitle: The Natural History of Four Meals. You can listen to an interview with him on NPR.

If you read "Eating Theology" on the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, you may be intrigued (and disturbed) by this interview and book.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Jesus and the Psalms

The Church has traditionally recognized the psalms as first and foremost the prayers of Christ. Of course, the prayers were composed by David and others, and used in the temple and elsewhere in the worship life of Israel, but the Christian church has often read the psalms as being the very prayers of Jesus. This makes sense, because so many of the psalms are fulfilled in Christ (no bone broken) or actually spoken by Christ in the NT (My God, My God).

But apparently not as many Christians as you would think know to read the psalms in this way, even though it may be the most devotional and powerful way to pray them.

On this Good Friday evening, and Holy Saturday, read Psalm 27 as the words and prayer of Christ, and read the final verse as Christ's word to you as you wait for Easter morning.

Lutheran Confessions Survey

If you haven't taken the LC Survey yet, here's the link:

Click to take the survey

Thanks to all who have responded thus far. I'll post a summary of some of the more interesting responses, as well as a summary of where readers are from.

Renewing Worship: Evangelical Lutheran Worship

I will make a confession- although I have a concern for the worship life of the ELCA, I have done very little to contribute to the new worship materials that will be published this fall. It seems to me, from what I have seen thus far, that the new book will simply contain some tweaking of what is already our traditional ordo . There will also be new hymns, some new musical settings of the liturgy, etc.

I do not have a problem with these updates. On the other hand, I do not think they constitute a renewal.

What do I think a renewal of worship would look like in the ELCA? I think the main renewal I'm encouraging is for the whole people of God to contribute to the worship life of our congregation, and not just a few people assigned roles like assisting minister, lector, or pastor.

We have already begun, in our church, to invite testimonials from parishioners on a variety of subjects. Also, each week we have "faith conversations," time for people to break out into small groups to discuss an issue of faith with each other.

I think something like this, and even more of it, would be an actual renewal movement in our worship. Tweaking the existing liturgy just won't cut it- it's far too passive.

Also, to invite this kind of participation on the part of the laity would do two things. First of all, it would shift the renewal away from "style"- contemporary, international, traditional, ancient-future musical settings- and towards an actual renewal of the congregation, where parishioners learn in worship how to share their faith, so that there is an actual practice in worship that rehearsal for the sharing of faith in the world.

Second, it would take seriously the admonitions Paul makes in his letters that there are a variety of gifts, and that people are called to speak in worship, to prophecy, and this is not just the work of an individual ordained pastor.

So, my plan, because I am convicted, is to shorten my sermons (which now average around 25 minutes) so that there can consistently be time for the whole congregation to share the gifts they have received in the Spirit. In this matter, we could learn from the Quakers, although I do not agree with the Quakers that silence is to be a primary mark of Christian worship. Maybe I have mis-interpreted their practice. But I do know that they make space for people to speak a word of the Lord.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Baptismal Spirituality

There is a Lutheran blog carnival that I missed entering- and usually, if you show up late for a carnival, there's only dead matted grass and residual cotton candy to remind you of what had been.

But-- Lutheranchik has graciously extended an invitation for delinquents, so here goes. The topic: Lutheran Spirituality.

Our synod recently published an insert in The Lutheran on spiritual practices, and many of the submissions from congregations were typical of the genre- labyrinth, meditation, breathing prayers, etc. I personally have found many of these spiritual practices enlivening at times, gratuitous at others, usually a mix of both. Piety and spirituality are often quite individual, so I'll leave it to each context and person to decide the form of their prayer, etc.

But if you ask me what I think is at the heart of a truly Lutheran spirituality, I can tell you. I'm committed to the idea that Lutheran spirituality is baptismal spirituality. The spiritual life is a return to baptism. Lutheran's have by and large lost this baptismal spirituality because they have relegated baptism to the status of an innoculation, something that needs to be done but not something we continually celebrate and live into. If Luther had any true insight into "spirituality", it was in baptism and its gifts.

Take, for example, the Small Catechism. Here Luther writes: "What does baptizing with water signify?--Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new person daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever."

Essential to the definition of spirituality is that it is something that is done daily. It is a practice. That being the case, other than and prior to regular participation in individual confession and absolution, and gathering for the Eucharist, at the heart of Lutheran spirituality is daily dying and rising in Christ through our baptism.

What is lacking in our congregations, as I have mentioned, is practice that arises out of this. Pastors know theologically that baptism is central to "the life of faith" (another simple definition of baptism), and many parents know it implicitly by example, but we don't follow up. We make it as far as cradle roll, and no further.

In the article I submitted for The Lutheran, I included some practices we have been adopting in our congregation that emphasize, and hopefully clearly proclaim, our birth right in baptism. We send out baptismal birthday cards. Many folks have mentioned they didn't know their baptism date until they received a card. We also do asperges and remembrance of baptism during worship. We offer regular opportunities for young parents to learn how to "raise their children wet," and we try to make these simple yet meaningful- a Trinitarian blessing and water poured over the head while getting a bath, and the words, Remember that you are baptized. God loves you, and so do I. A simple baptismal remembrance service that adults can do on their baptism birthday.

But more than the simple rituals, Lutheran spirituality is baptismal spirituality because it emphasizes the priority and primacy of God's good gifts to us, purely gratuitous gifts, the forgiveness of sin, life, salvation, participation in Christ's very life, beginning with His death and resurrection, and continual participation in his very body through the Eucharist, and the life of the gathered and baptized community.

The above indicates a direction, a general impulse that should be recognized as essentially Lutheran. When asked, Lutherans should be able to say, quite clearly, in answer to the question, What's your spiritual life like? Answer: Baptized, I live. A further answer might be, The life I live is no longer my own, but it is Christ's very life, to the glory of God the Father.

If I were going to take a second or third stab at an answer to the question of Lutheran spirituality, I would say.

a) Lutheran spirituality is hymn and chorale singing.
b) Lutheran spirituality is catholic spirituality.

Wisconsin Butter

Wisconsin Butter
Originally uploaded by perichoresis.

Butter Statute 97.18(4,6)

Butter Statute 97.18(4,6)
Originally uploaded by perichoresis.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Take a Survey about Lutheran Confessions

Very, very cool. I invite you to take a survey about this blog. You can also visit SurveyMonkey yourself and create your own surveys. This is way too fun!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Eating Theology

Had a minor publishing success this week. You can read my essay, "Eating Theology," in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. The JLE is a great resource in our church, I find it very informative on a lot of contemporary ethical issues, and the editor, Kaari Reierson, really helped to make the essay more clear and Biblically centered. Fun to have an editor. Thanks to Kaari!