Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Advent essay for your reading pleasure

Advent, Virtue Ethics, and the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

Historical reading for this Sunday

John the Baptist is not a self-appointed radical who appeared in the wilderness one day and started baptizing. He is not sui generis—quite the opposite. John’s genealogy proves how situated he is within a specific proclamatory and historical context, and it is this context that anoints him as the one who functions appropriately as the Forerunner of Christ. First, he is the cousin of Christ through Elizabeth (Luke 1:36). Second, his father Zacharias was a priest of the temple, famously losing his voice because of his failure to believe God’s promise concerning the birth of a son in his late years (Luke 1:13). Third, his mother Elizabeth was of the house of Aaron, something that gave him the right to perform baptisms (Luke 1:5).
In other words, John the Baptist is fully a member of the priestly class in Israelite society, and functions as such. Even his odd dress and eating habits are an aspect of his calling as a Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-21; Luke 7:33). He himself is doing nothing new. His ministry of baptism and repentance is deeply situated in the customs and religious practices of his community, even if those practices themselves appear radical or challenging. He is, quite simply, the last of the biblical prophets.
What is new about John the Baptist is not his station in life or his network of relationships, but his singular focus on the one coming after him. Jesus says to his hearers that John was a “burning and shining light… you were willing to rejoice for a little in his light” (5:35), but then goes on to say, “I have a testimony greater than John’s” (5:36), echoing John 1:8, “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” He is the squeak in the hinge of history. The hinge itself is Christ, but a squeak draws attention to a hinge when it is in use. Just so John the Baptist testified to the hinge in a noisy and sacrificially faithful way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A literary reading of the texts for this week

New Testament intertextuality—the meaning of texts are shaped by other texts, especially from the Old Testament—has received sustained attention in the work of Richard B. Hays, especially in his Echoes of Scripture in the Letter’s of Paul, and The Conversion of the Imagination. Leaders interested in doing more in-depth preparation for this week of Advent would be well-served by reading one or both books.
Hays’s work stands out because most students of intertextuality attend to quotations and direct allusions, of which there are many in the New Testament, but then stop there. Hays, however, goes even further, arguing that the New Testament can be understood better and more richly by attending also to other subtle intertextual “echoes” (which he terms metalepsis) and resonances.
Although this may seem somewhat esoteric, it actually links up nicely with the season of Advent, where intertextuality abounds (think, for example, of Christ’s double advent in his Nativity and the Parousia, both of which are celebrated in this season). The season implicitly offers echoes of Christ’s first and second comings in such a way that one cannot be read or thought apart from the other. Advent appears to teach us precisely how our imaginations might be converted so that we keep in mind asynchronous texts that metaleptically resonate.
Mark 1:1-8 exemplifies this theme, for although Mark says, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” the actual quotation is a mash-up of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Students of intertextuality invite us to see if the texts before or after a direct quotation have any shaping influence on the context in which the quotation is actually utilized. In this case, for example, Isaiah 4:1-2, although not quoted, offers encouragement to comfort God’s people. Mark 1:1 proclaims the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Isaiah 40:4-11 emphasizes that the people are like grass, the playing field will be leveled, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Similarly, Mark 1:4-8 portrays John the Baptist as one who forgives sin, brings everyone to the same level at the river, and says, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (1:7). A look at the texts surrounding Malachi 3:1 will produce similarly fascinating resonances and echoes. Participants in this session will be fascinated by such echoes, and will likely be excellent at finding even more echoes than the leader. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent and Waiting

Advent is not about us; it is about God. However, any season that invites waiting and other holy practices can quickly devolve into a focus on the practices as the ends themselves rather than the means to the primary end—God. Notice that 2 Peter 3:11 includes both the means and the end, but in their proper order and perspective, “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way [at the day of the Lord], what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness.”
If the preachers and prophets of the church are doing their job, they will draw attention away from their own self-serving and congratulatory practices (Oh look at you, you’re dressed for a baptism!), and towards the one who is to come (The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me). In fact, John the Baptist is a model prophet in this regard, for although he is remembered for a particular practice—baptism—he proclaims that even his baptism pales in comparison to baptism in the Spirit, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Skin Map

Disclosure: This book was provided by Thomas Nelson for review purposes.

Some books are simply perfect as audio, and this is one. Lawhead has written a book that reads out loud beautifully. Although the plot of the novel moves via a now common conceit (multiple universes that can be entered through passages between them), the effect in Lawhead's tell is superb. In addition to a compelling plot, each foray into an alternative universe is also a pleasant introduction to the culture and gastronomy of the period and place.

Bakeries and coffee in Prague. Excavations in Egypt. England at various points in its diverse history, including a neat fix for the Great Fire.

I recommend this book very highly as a "drive around in the car and immerse yourself in an alternative world" type of read.

Irigaray, apophaticism, and religious difference

"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." (Emily Holmes)

That's a great thesis, and a helpful way of framing the questions, and I am so looking forward to her lecture Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Good Shepherd...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Reading Marshall McCluhan

It makes all the difference in the world when you realize that McCluhan's famous aphorism, "the medium is the message," is a Cubist insight, and that McCluhan's favorite novel was Finnegan's Wake. Sends a reader back into Understanding Media with a much higher degree of excitement, fear, and trembling.

And the user is always the content of any medium.

Get my drift?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Augustine and Advent

"We live only in the present, but this present has several dimensions: the present of past things, the present of present things, and the present of future things... Your [God's] years are like a single day... and this today does not give way to a tomorrow, anymore than it follows a yesterday. Your today is Eternity" (Augustine, Confessions 10:13)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

by Margaret Atwood, a review

You can always expect Margaret Atwood to come at a topic sideways, and this collection of essays is no exception. It opens with a series of three evocative pieces on the relationship between the human imagination and the development of a genre many only begrudgingly title and shelve as "science fiction."

What sets these early essays apart is Atwood's considered interpretation that the lines between genres are not nearly as hard and fast as we might think. Furthermore, she sees origins of the drive to write science fiction and fantasy differently than other authors, because she sees it a natural outgrowth the habits and activities of childhood. One theory she offers from her own childhood, that since she kept failing to build a windmill from her Tinkertoy set (she missed some of the necessary parts), she built fantastical structures and creatures instead.

Atwood continues this (might we call it Jungian?) analysis of science fiction writing throughout. She sees archetypes washing between the various genres--comparing superheroes to Greek mythology and modern fantasy. She sees her own early imaginative world influencing what she writes as an adult.

And in one of her most intriguing theses, she coins the term "ustopia": "A word I made up by combining utopia and dystopia--the imagined perfect society and its opposite--because, in my view, each contains a latent version of the other" (66). I find this incredibly helpful, because as we know certain individuals thrive in dystopias and find their place there, whereas every utopia is only the perfect society for those who belong to it, certainly not those who feel excluded from it.

Finally, Atwood in this early section helpful defines "myth": Myths are stories that are central to their cultures and that are taken seriously enough that people organize their rituals and emotional lives around them, and can even start wars over them" (55). Atwood offers this definition in a wide-ranging essay that considers origin myths as well as contemporary sci-fi movies, and everything in between. It's really a lovely essay.

The middle section of this book is a collection of short reviews Atwood has written over the course of her career, all on "classics" in science fiction (H. Rider Haggard, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and Jonathan Swift but also a bit more surprisingly Kazuo Ishiguro and Bill McKibben). I found this section very helpful because it introduced me to some important works with which I was unfamiliar, and also expanded my cartography of what I might map as "science fiction." Somehow the full range of what she included is perfectly indicative of the philosophy of science fiction she offered in the first section.

Finally, she concludes with six crisp selections from her own fiction. Although these don't move the argument forward per se, they do illustrate what Atwood has been pondering in her book.

It isn't every day that science fiction readers get the pleasure of reading sustained reflection on the craft by one of its outstanding practitioners. I recommend this book highly for that reason.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Transformative Lutheran Theologies: Feminist, Womanist, and Mujerista Perspectives

This book is outstanding on a number of levels. First of all, it is a collection of relatively brief essays outlining many of the key emphases of Lutheran theology. In that sense, readers can engage it as a primer in Lutheran theology and interpretation. It simultaneously functions as a primer in feminist, womanist, and mujerista perspectives as they come into conversation with the Lutheran theological tradition. I found this to be a rich approach, because they authors come at both aspects of this conversation (the Lutheran and the feminist/womanist/mujerista) with a generosity of interpretation that invites readers to see, for the most part, what is positive and contributes to forward movement in theological conversation.

It helps to see the titles of the essays:

Part 1: Legacies and Margins

1. Historical and Theological Legacies of Feminism and Lutheranism
L. DeAne Lagerquist and Caryn D. Riswold
2. The Elusive Lure of the Lotus
Mary (Joy) Philip

Part 2: God and Humanity
3. Inhabiting Paradox: God and Feminist Theology for the Third Wave
Caryn D. Riswold

4. God’s Heart Revealed in Eden: Luther on the Character of God and the Vocation of Humanity
Kristen E. Kvam

Part 3: sin and grace

5. Sin from a Queer, Lutheran Perspective
Mary E. Lowe

6. Who Are You? Christ and the Imperative of Subjectivity
Anna Mercedes

Part 4: The Work and Person of Christ
7. Through Mujerista Eyes: Stories of Incarnate Redemption
Alicia Vargas

8. Putting the Cross in Context: Atonement through Covenant
Marit Trelstad

9. Christ as Bride/Groom: A Lutheran Feminist Relational Christology
Kathryn A. Kleinhans

10. The Person of Christ from a Feminist Perspective: Human and Divine, Male and Female
Mary J. Streufert

Part 5: Spirit and Body

11. Spirit and Body: A Lutheran-Feminist Conversation
Cheryl M. Peterson

12. Experiencing the Spirit: The Magnificat, Luther, and Feminists
Lois Malcolm

Part 6. Knowing and Living

13. Hush No More! Constructing an African American Lutheran Womanist Ethic
Beverly Wallace

14. Being Church as, in, and against White Privilege
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda

Part 7:Hope and the Future
15. In the Flesh: A Feminist Vision of Hope
Krista E. Hughes

16. Hoping for More: How Eschatology Matters for Lutheran Feminist Theologies
Deana Thompson

One can immediately see how the themes are equally influenced by the traditional loci of what be called traditional Lutheran theology (arising out of the confessions and Melanchthon's Loci) and the concerns and themes of the feminist/womanist/mujerista traditions.

As a white male reader, I have to remind myself (and this book does a spectacular job of reminding me of this) that I could come to the idea that there is only one Lutheran theology, and it is the one I currently hold. This book expands my perspective on many levels, in beneficial ways.

The essays are, individually, also incredibly well written. You can tell they arose out of an ongoing conversation. I appreciate many of these theologians for their own merits, and encourage readers to read their books, if available. But as an introduction to these themes in Lutheran theology from an important and often silenced perspective, this book simply can't be beat, and Augsburg Fortress is to be commended for publishing it. I hope it is read very widely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Reading Brain

Spent this past week powering through two enlightening reads on the science of the reading brain. Although anyone who reads blogs probably tends to take reading for granted (it has become for you a somewhat automatic activity that does not require concentrated attention), reading is actually an incredibly complex activity, and the layering of reading technology into the human brain, though common in our culture, is not biological, and so complicated by the formative practices various cultures employ.

Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid does a splendid job introducing readers to the various facets of the science of reading and the brain. She opens with the historical, the development of forms of writing, and shows how brains develop differently depending on whether letters are pictographic or an abecedary. In the middle section of the book, she examines how children learn to read, from a developmental and neuroscience perspective. This section is peppered with practical advice helpful for teachers or parents who are raising early readers.

The final section is interested in the hegemony of reading, and concerns Wolf has that in expecting the same level of reading finesse in everyone regardless of how individual brains are organized, we overlook or exclude those whose brains are not wired for the developmental task of learning to read. This section is an amazing primer in dyslexia, what it is, what causes it, and the unique skills that many people who struggle with dyslexia.

The other volume is Stanislas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain. This book focuses more on the science of reading itself. How does a brain that evolved prior to reading develop the ability to read and write? How did this cultural form arise in the first place, and what mechanisms are at work in the brain to make reading happen.

Dehaene's book is focused even more on the hard science of neurology itself, with fascinating MRI maps of the brain and sections of the brain at work in the reading process.

As a father currently watching his children learn to read, I found these two books enlightening and heartening.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and People's Assembly #ows

In spite of what much of the press says, the Occupy Wall Street movement has very clearly stated goals and agendas. They have a loosely anarchist approach to self-government, and are actively working to challenge the hegemony of Wall Street, and weaken plutocracy. You can read about it.

Generally speaking, I'm in favor of movements that encourage grassroots democracy, undermine plutocracy, and encourage democratic forms of assembly. I find the movement's organizational strategy of People's Assemblies particularly interesting. I think churches and other groups can learn much from the model. For example, the faq on people's assemblies includes this wisdom:

The aim of Collective Thinking is to construct. That is to say, two people with differing ideas work together to build something new. The onus is therefore not on my idea or yours; rather it is the notion that two ideas together will produce something new, something that neither of us had envisaged beforehand. This focus requires of us that we actively listen, rather than merely be preoccupied with preparing our response.

Collective Thinking is born when we understand that all opinions, be these opinions our own or others’, need to be considered when generating consensus and that an idea, once it has been constructed indirectly, can transform us.

Do not be discouraged: we are learning; we’ll get there: all that’s needed is time.

That is an ethic not uninformed by love of neighbor and a kingdom eschatology, even if Jesus is not named.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On reading long sections of the bible in community

"This is why daily worship together must include a longer Old and New Testament lesson besides the prayer of the Psalms. A community of Christians living together surely should be able to read and listen to a chapter of the Old Testament and at least half a chapter of the New Testament every morning and evening. When the practice is first tried, however, such a community will discover that even this modest measure represents a maximum demand for most people and will meet with resistance. It will be objected that it is impossible really to take in and retain such an abundance of ideas and interconnections, that it even shows disrespect for God's word to read more than one can seriously digest. In the face of these objections, we will easily content ourselves again with reading only verses. In truth, however, a serious failing lies hidden beneath this attitute. If it is really true that it is hard for us, as adult Christians, to comprehend a chapter of the Old Testament in its context, then that can only fill us with profound shame. What kind of testimony is that to our knowledge of the Scriptures and all our previous reading of them. If were familiar with the substance of what we read, we could follow the reading of a chapter without difficulty, especially if we have an open Bible in our hands and are reading it at the same time. However, since that is not the case, we must admit that the Holy Scriptures are still largely unknown to us."

 [Now no cheating, but can you guess what spiritual classic of the 20th century this is excerpted from, and the author?]

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Pray for the people of the Seward Penninusula, Alaska

Dear Friends,

It has been brought to my attention by Kevin Massey, the director for Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Disaster Relief, that the National Weather Service has announced a "life-threatening winter storm of historic proportions" headed for the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. It is being predicted that hurricane force winds (Cat. 2 or 3) will endure for at least 12 hours, during this storm. This is twice as long as sustained winds in an actual hurricane. Add to this enormous storm surges on coastal areas that are already experiencing major erosion from rising waters and we have a potential for great disaster.

The ELCA has five congregations on the Seward Peninsula, which comprises one-third of the native ethnic-specific congregations of the ELCA. I encourage you all to do two things: 1) Pray for the safety of these congregational members and their communities, and 2) watch for ways that you can be of help to them in the coming days and weeks. Until a specific person has been designated as the ELCA contact person for more information regarding this situation, who lives outside the impact area, I suggest you contact The Rev. Mark Allred, the D.E.M. for the Alaska Synod. His email The synod office number is 907-272-8899.

Thank you for your concern and prayers for the members of Our Savior's LC, Nome; Brevig Memorial LC, Brevig Mission; Teller LC, Teller; Shishmaref LC, Shishmaref; and Thornton Memorial LC, Wales.

Gordon Straw

Program Director for American Indian & Alaska Native Ministries
Congregational & Synodical Mission Unit- ESMM
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631

Steps towards a new university ministry

This is a letter we sent out to our congregation in September of this year. I'm re-posting it here for two reasons, first as an example of a congregational letter for review and comment, and second as a resource for members of our congregation interested in reading it on-line:
September 13th, 2011

Dear <>,
In April of 2011, our church council, by a vote of 10-1, passed the following resolution, "Be it resolved that the GSLC church council initiate and pursue the necessary steps to call and fund an ELCA mission developer, with a focus on developing a university ministry as a satellite campus of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church beginning fall of 2011, and be it further resolved that our church immediately commission a university ministry team to begin outreach and ministry at the University of Arkansas."
Since that time, I've been keeping this message in front of us. Many of our leadership have also caught this vision. At the same time, our synod staff has been encouraging us as a congregation in our development of new ministries. I can't think of a month that has gone by where I haven't thought to myself, "Wow, God, you really have a plan for us, don't you!?" Assets and opportunities keep presenting themselves.
At our annual meeting in the spring, Curt Rom offered a summary of some initial conversations we were having around development of a university ministry. We initiated some planning conversations with the church council and staff. Additionally, we have been having informal conversations all over the place about Good Shepherd's call to develop a ministry focused on the university campus community. Many of you routinely ask me, "How are things going with the development of our ministry at the university?"
Since passing this resolution, we have taken significant steps in this direction. First, we applied for a grant from the ELCA to fund a mission developer beginning in the summer of 2012. The ELCA has accepted our grant proposal, which means we can anticipate approximately $30,000 in funding from the ELCA in 2012 to fund the position. We also anticipate receiving additional funding from the synod (approximately $15,000), and we have already received a promise of $1000 in seed money from the A-OK Synod Campus Ministry team. Our church would need to fund the remainder of the position, but this is about $46,000 in grants towards funding such a position.
What is a mission developer? In our context, we imagine calling a Pastor of New Communities. This person would be devoted full-time to the work of developing a new ministry with and in the university context. Such work would certainly also include connecting that satellite ministry to GSLC as the "nest" church. For a more detailed description of the position, the vision, etc., visit and read the document titled, "Campus Ministry Grant."

So what is next? If we are going to move forward with calling this pastor, the next step is for the church council to form a call committee, something we will discuss and vote on at our September meeting. The call committee would complete the paperwork to call a pastor similar to the process engaged in to call myself. Once the call committee is formed, it would work to gather input from the congregation, make use of the grant proposal as a guiding text, and communicate regularly with the congregation throughout the process.

At our November congregational meeting, the congregation would need to approve, as a part of the overall church budget, additional funding for this position, perhaps in the amount of $20,000. Once the call committee is formed, and the budget is approved, then we would be ready in the spring of 2012 to move forward with the interviewing of candidates, leading to, finally, a vote of the entire congregation on whether to call a specific candidate for the position of Pastor of New Communities. [update: Additional gifts and resources have come in that have modified what we think these funding streams will need to look like, so this paragraph reflects thinking at the time rather than further fall developments]

In the meantime, a small group of lay people from our congregation are working together to plan and lead university ministries throughout the year. I myself have already been taking the lead on this.  However, I already know that to do ministry in the university context, and to do it well, we need a full-time person. I believe with my whole heart that God is calling us to take this bold step to call a second pastor who can work full time in developing a strong and vital university ministry.
Calling such a pastor will have the added benefit of freeing myself up to continue my primary call as pastor and head of staff for GSLC. Right now, in order to develop even small new initiatives at the university, I need to split time more than is sustainable. I look forward to the possibility of working with an associate pastor who can devote themselves fully to a ministry I believe truly deserves it.
The need is great. Young single adults and multi-ethnic young adults and families make up a very large percentage of the population of Fayetteville, and we are not currently reaching them like we can and should. The University of Arkansas is growing every year in size and prestige as a university in this country. We will miss out on an amazing opportunity if we don't develop a strong and innovative university ministry--and we are the only ELCA congregation in this city, so the necessity and opportunity fall to us. Our full communion partners, such as the chaplains at the Presbyterian and Episcopalian centers, also relish the idea of a full-time full communion partner working with the university context. If we develop this, it is not only outreaching but also winningly ecumenical in scope.
I believe we can do this. I believe we can fund it. I believe we can find the right person. I believe we have the collective will to support it with prayer and volunteer time, and I believe I have the right gifts to work with such a person to help them in their own development and lead a staff that includes this person. I believe also that calling such a person will strengthen our congregation as well. I believe God is calling us to step out in faith.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and thank you especially to everyone who reads the grant proposal on-line (print copies are also available in the church office if you prefer). I hope that when you read the grant proposal, you "catch" the vision. 
GSLC is such an incredible, relationally rich, and caring place. I want to share some of our DNA and develop a new ministry, and I think the right place to start is in the university context. Will you prayerfully consider this vision with me, that together we can work to "connect people to God through the gospel of Christ"? 
In Christ,
Pastor Clint Schnekloth

Friday, November 04, 2011

A congregation dialogues on Facebook about the revised common lectionary and the narrative lectionary

I recently posted a survey on our congregational Facebook group page.  I asked:

"Curious. Currently we follow the lectionary, which means the lessons assigned each week, including readings from the Old Testament, epistles, and gospels. How many of us want to keep this, verses how many of us would be interested in a "narrative" lectionary where we simply preached and read our way consecutively through the bible, from beginning to end. For example, if we started with Genesis in January of 2012 and ended with Revelation in December of 2013. Two years straight through the bible."

The response was energetic, I think more posts in the conversation than any we have had in recent memory. Altogether, I think they offer a healthy survey of where a church like ours is at on the function of the revised common lectionary in our common life, the wisdom of switching, and perceptions of Scripture in worship. I offer the dialogue here:

Responses: 13 votes to keep the RCL, 4 votes for a narrative straight through the bible approach, and one vote for a topical approach.

  • Member: Can I choose all of the above? I like the idea of working through the Bible, but then throwing in topical where appropriate or needed.
    23 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Clint Schnekloth I think topics arise in any of the approaches above, yes, but this is more of a question of what texts from scripture would be read each Sunday.
    23 hours ago · 
  • Member #2: I like the lectionary!!! Let's keep it.
    23 hours ago ·  ·  2
  • Member #1: Complained that I voted for the narrative lectionary AND the RCL in the survey. :)

  • Clint Schnekloth I can have my cake and eat it too. I have been in a discussion with a group of church leaders who are trying out a new model call the "narrative lectionary." I find the idea compelling, because it walks the community through the bigger stories of Scripture rather than jumping around as the lectionary does. However, I also like the lectionary because it connects us with all other churches following the lectionary. If you're curious about the narrative lectionary, here's a link:
    The web's most helpful and downright coolest resource for preachers. Free exeget...See More

    22 hours ago ·  · 
  • Member #3:  I like the idea of both the lectionary (the familiar and connection with other churches) but the bigger picture of a narrative lectionary also appeals. I guess having one traditional service be a lectionary service and the other traditional service take a narrative approach would be too involved and not practical.
    22 hours ago · 

  • Member #4 (who introduced a different topic into the thread): FacebookPC, I would enjoy an opportunity to visit with you regarding the broad concept of why the the Lutheran church in America is continuing to witness steady declines in membership. Thoughts?
    22 hours ago via  · 
  • Member #1: I'm with you, PC. I want both.
    22 hours ago · 

  • Clint Schnekloth I think I have three pretty straightforward answers to why we are declining in membership. The first is cultural... the whole Christian church in America is declining in membership. The only exceptions are the denominations that are having a very large influx of immigrants (like the Roman Catholics), or have many children (Mormon, to a certain degree Southern Baptist, although even the Southern Baptists are now seeing a decline).

    There are only two denominations who are going against this trend of decline, and those are the Evangelical Covenant Church, and the Mormons. Both of those churches have built into their DNA multiplication of churches, and training of all members for discipleship and mission. The Covenant church has an approach that every congregation is a church-planting church, and every member is a mission developer.

    So, the first is that we are part of a larger trend, what some are calling the "great contraction." The second reason we are seeing steady decline in membership is that we have more members dying than we have babies being born. So it is a biological issue.

    The third reason we are declining is that we have not been as clear as we could be about sharing the gospel with our neighbors and inviting them into community with us. We also simply aren't going out to be with those who are different from us. It's about mission. That is more difficult in the concrete than in the abstract.

    22 hours ago via  · 
  • Member #6: The lectionary is what makes us connected around the globe, knowing that everywhere and in every tongue, Lutherans, Catholics, and Anglicans (I think they all follow the same lectionary) are hearing and pondering the same scripture. What's the point of a church body being affiliated with an ancient worldwide ecclesiastical network if you are going to just pick and choose which parts of the liturgy to follow and which to disregard?
    22 hours ago · 
  • Member #7: Rodney Dangerfield on this one. I like both approaches although ther narrative lectionary is appealing. I feel our greatest problem in the Church is finding a way to appeal to the younger adults/youth. If we don't, we may become irrelavant. For the last 3 weeks, I have visited ELCA churches in Arizona, and I was struck on the lack of young people attending the service. I feel that our Contemporary Service goes a long way in bridging that issue.
    22 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Member #2: I don't know if it is solely a "style of worship" issue. We had 3 young single people all join our church this last go around and all three regularly attend traditional worship - Looking to connect with or rekindle their Lutheran roots. I think we are not very good at sharing what the ELCA has to offer as far as a message to those who were not raised Lutheran.
    22 hours ago ·  ·  2
  • Member #2: I will say that I am glad we have both styles of worship. I do find it funny that my kids who drive and are given a choice as to which to attend agree to wake up and go to 8:00 traditional.
    22 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Member #2: Oh - I will say if we did use a straight through the bible approach we would get to hear some excellent Old Testament stories. Like Judges 4:21! I don't think I have heard that story read or preached on.
    22 hours ago · 
  • Member #8: I love the idea of being connected with the worldwide church, but think I could accomplish that on my own by reading the lectionary (perhaps as family devotions?). I would love to experience the narrative style and read and study straight through the Bible. I think when we returned to the lectionary style 2 years down the road, those readings might seem less disjointed.
    21 hours ago ·  ·  2

  • Member #9: Oh - I will say if we did use a straight through the bible approach we would get to hear some excellent Old Testament stories. Like Judges 4:21! I don't think I have heard that story read or preached on.
  • One thing that amuses me about the lectinoary is the sanitizing of the more salacious details, inevitably. Gets me thinking about how 2 years through the Bible might read in advance press about GSLC
    20 hours ago · 
  • Member #4: FacebookPc, I understand your 3 versed response. However, what might require further exploration is the explosive introduction and success of "alternative" neighborhood non denominational churching. Their growth with membership appears acceptable to many of the population segment. Bottom line: Perhaps the fertility/biological/cultural limitations of traditional denominational membership are now permitting non traditional, locally managed, church organizations to fill in the vacuum you suggest. They appear to being providing acceptable alternatives to the "mainline" churches. Comments? 
    20 hours ago via  · 
  • Member #1: I always think the same thing. The lectionary leaves out some of the stranger and, as you say, salacious bits of the Bible.
    19 hours ago · 
  • Member #10: The Lectionary Series does go thru the Bible (especially in the Gospel; see the ELCA website or our Hymnal) and also gives the Old Testament, New Testament & Psalm (realizing that CW does not use all of these). I think as Lutherans/Protestants we are unique in using all parts of the Bible in Worship. Altho, I also periodically enjoy a Topic Series. I must ask how the "Working Preacher" reads the entire Bible when is states: "beginning in Genesis around the start of September and culminating with the promise of the Messiah during December (Advent)." That's a LOT of Bible/sermon preaching in 4 months.
    19 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • Member #2: I think the lectionary is also a little light on women of the bible.
    19 hours ago ·  ·  1
  • But although I don't think it is perfect - I still would stick with it.
    19 hours ago · 

  • Clint Schnekloth I like that there are so many reflections on this topic. Thanks for all the responses so far! Very thoughtful.
    19 hours ago via  · 

  • Member #2: Did anyone look up Judges 4:21? Just curious.
    19 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Clint Schnekloth To the mini-thread started by earlier: Yes, some of those churches are growing exponentially, but they aren't having an overall impact on the growth of the Christian church in America. So there are two separate issues. First, attendance seems to be shifting to these larger churches, but it isn't producing overall growth.

    For my money, I want to learn from those churches on what they are doing right, and duplicate some of those strategies at GSLC in order to grow, while also not buying into some of the theological presuppositions that attend their form of church life. :)

    19 hours ago via  ·  ·  1

  • Member #5: Also, Pastor Clint, to follow up on the pros and cons of "that kind" of church (and also tie in with the original topic) they tend to be VERY personality driven by their clergy, and attendees are as much "followers" of the minister as they are members of the church, so when the minister leaves, members start changing churches in droves, etc. Not that you don't want your own groupies, but I'm sure that you are a Lutheran in part because of your respect for what the church stands for historically and institutionally, and because of the ecumenical feel of that shared liturgy circling the globe (of which the lectionary is but part). I feel that ecumenical worldwide connection whenever I say the Lord's Prayer or dip a finger into the baptismal font, too.
    18 hours ago ·  ·  1

  • Clint Schnekloth I think the designers of the narrative lectionary are trying to address your concerns, Julie, by inviting a community of congregations to do the narrative lectionary together, rather than it being something one church does alone. Also, periodically the committee on the lectionary does think through re-designs, so this is all part of the on-going dialogue. For example, right now we follow the "Revised Common Lectionary" which means it was revised from the "Common Lectionary." Some groups still go with the "Common Lectionary" which means we aren't actually in sync with everyone every Sunday. There are slightly different lectionaries in the RC, Episcopal, and Methodist communions.

    I know that is as clear as mud, but what it does mean is that the lectionary is a living tradition that is modified over time, and open to critique and discussion. It isn't set in stone. Personally, I see some strengths of the narrative approach they are offering. It still allows for observation of Advent through Easter, and then goes to a narrative the other 9 months. The problem is that you lose the diversity of readings that are read each Sunday in churches that do an OT, epistle, and gospel every Sunday...

    18 hours ago · 

  • Clint Schnekloth And the big question people who are designing these narrative lectionaries are asking is, "Do we, as people of faith, know the grand 'metanarrative' of Scripture, the big story, and does having a lectionary that chops the bible up into readings that jump around contribute to or take away from our grasping the story as a whole?" What do you think?
    17 hours ago · 

  • Member #6: I love the thematic readings and the mix of OT, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel. It doesn't seem disjointed but illustrative of the foreshadowing and follow-through. I suppose we miss out on Proverbs and Song of Solomon and all the names in Kings.
    16 hours ago · 

  • Member #2: The Bible doesn't read as a "story" in a beginning to end way. There are many stories, and poems, histories, allegories... Sometimes even within a single "book". As a book it is somewhat disjointed. I do agree there are some books that get missed. But maybe with good reason?
    16 hours ago · 

  • Clint Schnekloth For those interested, the lectionary is basically designed like this: first, a gospel is selected for each Sunday of the church year. This is a three year cycle, the first year primarily readings from Matthew, the second year from Mark, the third year from Luke. John is woven in over the three years.

    These readings are selected to narrate the "big moments" of Christ's life, especially including Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. During the season after Pentecost, the readings are basically continuous through the middle section of whatever gospel is the focus for that year.

    The Old Testament lessons are designed to "match" the gospel reading for the day. This is sometimes thematic, or the OT lesson is actually quoted in the gospel, etc. This is why sometimes OT lessons are repeated, and it is also why although we read the OT in worship every Sunday, very large sections of the OT are never read in worship.

    The second lesson is from the epistles (with the exception of the Easter season, when the first lesson is from Acts, and the second lesson is from Revelation). These readings do not match the gospel or OT (except during the main holidays), but are instead "lectio continua," meaning we read straight through an epistle before moving on to the next one.

    At the end of three years, if you have been in worship every single Sunday, you have heard a majority of the gospels read out loud, a good portion of the epistles, and perhaps about 1/3 of the Old Testament.

    Having participated in this dialogue, which I loved, I have decided we are unequivocally sticking with the Revised Common Lectionary.