Friday, November 30, 2012

The Advent of Wisdom

I've had wisdom on my mind lately. Maybe it's increasing age. Maybe it's the desire to escape from what seems like an overly heavy-handed emphasis on narrative as the way "in" to biblical study. For whatever reason, the biblical concept of wisdom has my attention.

Our Wednesday noon bible study group wants to study Proverbs and wisdom in 2013, so I've been researching some options for study resources. Have had the following four books recommended to me in some way, and wonder if readers of this blog have additional recommendations.

Finally, I've taken an initial stab at meditating on wisdom in an essay for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. You can read it here:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One excellent way to reverse the decline of the ELCA

Jettison the current call process altogether. Replace it with a flat system. Create a rocking good cloud-based profile sharing system where clergy looking for positions as pastor can post their profiles, and congregational call committees can search it based on their desired characteristics.

Remove the middle position (synods and/or churchwide) from the equation. Even better, move synod staff and offices back into congregations in which case more synodical staff could serve local congregations and engage in mission. Make it truly a flat system. Wide open candidacy system at all levels. Any church can interview candidates from anywhere at any time, as many as they wish. Just like the hiring processes of schools, businesses, and most of the rest of the world.

Simultaneously, get rid of the concept of "interims." Pastors considering a call elsewhere inform their congregations well in advance of their departure, perhaps even one to two years ahead of time. Congregations assemble a call committee prior to the departure of the pastor so they are ready to bring in another pastor immediately upon the departure of the present one. Since many churches experience considerable decline during overly long interims, this creates a system where strong leadership remains in place during the transition.

Again, this model is quite like the way other institutions work. Corporations do not wait two years to get a new CEO. Sports teams flag in performance when coached for too long by interim coaches.

There are of course many other reasons why the ELCA is currently not growing as a denomination. Some of it has to do with reorientation of values and theological priorities, and how people identify with those.

Even more of it has to do with the fact that we aren't having enough babies. Growing denominations and churches are growing demographically, through births, more than any other reason.

But I really do think changing our call process in the way I outline above would go a long way towards strengthening the mission of the ELCA.

Anybody else?

This blog post will change your life for the better

Perhaps you've never heard of Bowen Family Systems Theory. If you haven't no worries. There are lots of great resources out there you can read to learn more, and seminars to attend. I recommend them. You might start by visiting the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. Bown theory is first of all focused on family systems, but is now increasingly used to analyze emotional processes in society as a whole, for example in an essay like "Emotional Process in Society: the 8th Concept of Bowen Theory."

Some readers of this blog will probably click through to read that essay or visit that web site, but let me here give you the very short version on Bowen Family Systems Theory, and why it can change your life for the better.

This is the part that will change your life

Bowen's theory is describing change in systems through the "I" position (what is sometimes called self-differentiation). This kind of change happens when people in emotional systems take a self-focused approach to their difficulties (in contrast to an other-focus). Change in families and couples can happen, and happen well, when just one person in that system can achieve six goals:

  • achieve an inner calmness (lowered level of anxiety);
  • think through self's own principles, beliefs, and convictions;
  • state his or her own convictions and beliefs;
  • take action on them;
  • refuse to criticize the beliefs of others; and
  • refuse to become involved in emotional debate with others in the system who react to the person's self-focused action.
Re-read that set of bullet points again, maybe two or three times. Then try to recall a real-life situation where you did or did not achieve these six goals in a relationship or system. 

Bowen therapists tend to invite those they counsel to talk through their situations to gain greater clarity and self-differentiation, to ponder how they can make change in systems through the "I" position. Such change can happen in families. It also helps in groups. Communities of self-differentiated people (like churches or businesses) will function better and be more healthy. [all of the above is adapted from Ronald Richardson's excellent Polarization and the Healthier Church: Applying Bowen Family Systems Theory to Conflict and Change in Society and Congregational Life

For example, Michael Kerr in Family Evaluation
 writes, "The higher the level of differentiation of people in a family or a social group, the more they can cooperate, look out for one another's welfare, and stay in adequate contact during stressful as well as calm periods. The lower the level of differentiation, the more likely the family [or social group like the church], when stressed, will regress to selfish, aggressive, and avoidance behaviors; cohesiveness, altruism, and cooperativeness will break down." 

Would you like to be less anxious? Would you like your family or church to be more healthy? Would you like to break the cycle of criticizing others and instead examine how change in your own self can effect change in the world? Then read on. Perhaps this post can change your life.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I Read Such Great Books

A good friend suggested this title for a blog post, so here goes. He's interested in how I read, when I read, and why people are freaked out by how quickly I read. So here goes.

First of all, here's a photo of my current "pile." My family would tell you I've got some kind of book pile in process somewhere in the house at any given moment, although it migrates periodically. This is typically the number of books I'm engaging and considering as a set, in some fashion or another. I'll work from right to left, just for fun. First, there's the laptop. That's how I share books with others. Behind it on the bottom is J.K. Rowling's new novel The Casual Vacancy. I'm leading a discussion of this book in December at our local indie bookstore, Nightbird Books. Leading a book group keeps me reading at least one novel per month.

On top of Rowling are the two books that will form the backbone of a study group I'm leading next year, 2013, of Augustine's The City of God. We're reading that classic over the course of the whole year, and I'm reading Augustine's City of God: A Reader's Guide as a companion text also. Right now I'm reviewing both to create a structure for our joint study in 2013.

On top of these is a small volume, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St. Maximus the Confessor. This is a devotional resource I think will be fruitful for some of my preaching during the Advent and Christmas season. Plus Maximus is in the top tier of my favorite "church father's."

The Second Stack of Books

Second stack over, on the bottom are three new graphic novels I'm reading, including The Arctic Marauder, a work of "Icepunk," and Huizinga's Gloriana, a graphic novel that explores the glory in everyday life. Also appropriate for Advent and Christmas.

On top of these are Erik Peterson's Theological Tractates (Cultural Memory in the Present) and David Foster Wallace's post-humousBoth Flesh and Not: Essays, both of which I'm reading purely out of personal interest, the first because I've been on a political theology jag, the second because I simply adore David Foster Wallace essays.

Also in this stack is my to-do list, and a book with the title Platform: How To Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, definitely the most practical book in the stacks (it's featured in my sidebar of recommended books). This blog post has been influenced by insights from that book.

The Third Stack of Books

Finally, on the far left are two commentaries on Luke, both of which I'm trying to read this week prior to the beginning of the year of Luke. One is the Brazos Theological Commentary on Scripture volume on Luke by Jeffrey. The second is Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians
 by Luke Timothy Johnson. Also in this stack is a book that will initiate my foray into phenomenology, Jean-Luc Marion's Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness (Cultural Memory in the Present). Marion has written more recently on Augustine and phenomenology, so that philosophical school will come crashing into City of God when I begin that study next year.

Open to mark the page on top of this stack is a wonderful little book Polarization and the Healthier Church: Applying Bowen Family Systems Theory to Conflict and Change in Society and Congregational Life. It's worth its weight in gold.

How and where do I read?

The first answer is everywhere and always, although I am reading quite a bit less often than you might think. Most days are filled with the daily work of a pastor and father. If I read during the day, it is fits and starts, perhaps a few pages in the morning or afternoon at the office, though rarely. I might read some if I go to the sauna or have a bit of down time waiting somewhere. I carry books everywhere I go, lots of them, which helps me slowly make my way through the pages.

But the majority of my reading is done at night, say from about 10:30 until midnight, and in this space of time I can read quite a lot. I think I average 2-3 books per week. This week I might read a bit more because I'm trying to read the two commentaries that will set the stage for much of my preaching on Luke this next church calendar year.

Also, I don't always read all of every book. Many books don't warrant a front-to-back read. For example, one chapter in the Polarization book was on stuff familiar to me from other reads, and I skipped it altogether. Some chapters are worth skimming, some chapters worth browsing. On the other hand, a book like Marion's I might read only ten pages an hour. It really depends.

I consider reading to be my main monastic vow. I am committed to a life of reading. I see it bear fruit in my life all over the place, in preaching, teaching, daily life decisions, and more.

To the left of all the books is a Copper Mountain coffee cup that, to a considerable degree, fuels the entire reading adventure. Oh, one other reason I have time to read: I don't watch television.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I'm too lazy to stop.

Another famous saying of Lincoln, put to good use in the recent movie.

I think my sermon might be an example of this. On the other hand, many hearers reported it speaking to them. So check it out if you have the time and inclination.

The "this" at the beginning of the sermon is a Lathropian Bow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Church We Hope To See

I serve on the editorial board for the Connect Journal, the Journal of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. The current issue is out on-line, viewable on the gorgeous ISSUU platform. The title of this issue: The Church We Hope to See.

I publish simultaneously here my article which appears in the issue:

The Church We Hope to See

Every step we take, every move we make, in organizing or forwarding the mission of the church, either explicitly or implicitly expresses in concrete form the church we hope to see. Although a strong vision of the future may or may not drive our daily ministry, nevertheless what the church does and says from day to day is just so an expression of what the church hopes to see itself as in the future.

Once we come to this realization, we realize the extent to which the present form of the church--or the past forms of the church as we remember them--tend to drive our vision of the church we hope to see. The classic cliché, "We've never done it that way before," is not just a description of how the church has been in the past, or how we see the church in the present; it is also a prescription for how the church ought to be in the future.

In other words, the church is almost exclusively driven by what already is rather than what might be. The church re-actualizes what already is rather than dwelling and visioning in possibility. When and if the church considers hoped-for or preferred futures, it tends to extrapolate the future from present realities, either in the negative--because we don't like the church as it is now, we hope it won't be this way in the future--or more rarely the positive--we like this part of the church now and hope it will be strengthened.

By comparison, consider the gospel pericope for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:46-52. Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind begger, knew precisely the church he hoped to see. He hoped to see the kind of church that could give him sight to see. In other words, Bartimaeus was wise enough to pray not for the future of the church per se, but rather for the sight to see anything at all. You can't see a church or hope for it if you yourself remain blind.

His simple prayer has developed over the centuries into the Jesus Prayer, a penitential prayer prayed by millions of Christians (especially in the East) that offers a concrete vision of the church we hope for, as well as a confession of who we are that blinds us from this vision. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Bartimaeus hoped to see Jesus, Son of David. He sought mercy and healing. Having received report from the crowd that Jesus was calling him, he sprang up, threw off his cloak, and came to Jesus. Upon receiving his sight, he made sure he kept Jesus in his sights by following him.

What might this mean for our description of the church we hope to see? For starters, it means listening to the thrum of the engine that has driven the recovery of the eschatological imagination in 21st century theology: the future is not something that we are on the way to; instead, the future is on the way to us. The future is coming to meet us in Christ. In this sense, the church we hope to see is the church on the way to us in Christ.

I remember reading a column a few years back by Richard Bliese, the president of Luther Seminary, that caught my attention, so much so that I made one quote from it one of my "favorited" quotes on my Facebook profile.

Reflecting on his return to the United States after 11 years serving as a missionary in Germany, Zaire, and Rwanda, he wrote, "I once heard this advice from a wise African missionary: In working with young people in America, do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place might seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before." (

There is much to commend this way of thinking. At the very least, it opens up the possibility that the church of the future might be beyond the imagining both of the church inviting young people into ministry, as well as the young people themselves considering partnership with the church in ministry. It confesses the temptations to continue church as it is, or to continue life as it had been prior to an encounter with the church on a mission in God. These are admirable and salutary. I recommend this kind of imagineering.

In the end, thought, it may not go far enough. The danger is simple: the insight still implies there is something intrinsic to the tribe or the missionary that will lead them into a new place one could have guessed completely apart from God as future. It is still you, the missionary, together with them, young people, on the way to somewhere.

The eschatological insight here is that the future is not our preferred future, but God's future. It is God's future on the way to us, not the other way around. This makes all the difference in the world. It means that the question, "What is the church we hope to see?" is not only a future-oriented question, but a matter of present realities. We are called to live, as N.T. Wright felicitously expresses it, "from the future back into the present."[1] The church we hope for is standing right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see. The church we hope to see we entertain in faith when we cry out with Bartimaeus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us."

Now everyone is going to want something concrete, right? Tell me what this future coming from God looks like. Part of me wants to respond that this future looks like Jesus. Another part of me wants to say that the future is God. Both of those answers, though true, will sound too abstractly theological to some. I admit that I don't find them to be so, because part of being open to God's future on the way to us is to let go of some of our empty visions and false hopes. We are called, like Bartimaeus, to plead for God's mercy in our blindness. Who knows what kind of sight we'll have when Jesus heals us?

However, the concrete vision is actually implicit in the eschatological insight. If the future is coming to us, then it is our reception of God's future that is our concrete action in the world. And the model for what this looks like is Christ's suffering love. Walter Brueggemann, in his wonderful early work, Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom, offers this quote, which summarizes as well as anything written, the shape of the church we hope to see: "What is it God has promised that the world does not know? Simply that which separates the followers of Jesus from the slaves of this world--suffering love. This little, seemingly powerless community is ordered and identified by its practice of caring, transforming, empowering love of the towel and basin variety."[2]

The church we hope to see is a church on its knees, washing feet, praying under their breath, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," all the while keeping their eyes focused on the one who has given them sight--Jesus. Oh wait, I see, that means all the church is doing is what they've already seen God's future in Jesus doing, because there he is, on his knees, washing feet.

[1] "So the life into which you are baptised and confirmed is the resurrection life, the kings-and-priests life, the life lived from the future back into the present" (N.T. Wright, a sermon for Easter Vigil, Living in God's Future,

[2] Page 117.

Reviewed and recommended books of 2012: January

all the authors are hyphenated in that they combine/meld/weave/smash their own tradition into creative synergy/tension with emergence Christianity. Nathan Frambach, for example, coins the term "Luthermergent." He sees himself as an interested observer cataloging this Luthermergence. Bolz-Weber and Phil Snyder are, each in their own way, signally embedded in the emergence itself as Lutherans who both benefit from, and struggle with, the way they are as hyphenateds. I recommend you read the book in its entirety in order to hear the narrative in the voice of the authors. Hearing their collective voices (some hopeful, some angry, some aloof, some prophetic) gives a better sense than anything I've read recently of what this emergence, if it is anything at all, is like. 

2. Three great sci-fi authors published collections essays this year, and I recommend all three highly. William Gibson's Distrust That Particular Flavor, , and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood. And Neal Stephenson's Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. All three collections offer insight into the intellectual process backside of, or accompanying, the creative fiction they each write.

3. The first English translation of the bible to seriously contend with the NRSV for a place in the public reading of Scripture in the liturgy: CEB Common English Thinline Bible with Apocrypha DecoTone Black

4. A collection of post-humous essays by the incredible and faithful New Testament scholar Don Juel, Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning, and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Don't miss these Black Friday Savings!

You can save money on Black Friday if you camp out in a parking lot Thursday night or wake up insanely early Friday morning. 

Or your money can "save" others in the real sense of that term if you donate to a worthy charity. I recommend the following as your best options for true Black Friday Savings! Many of us are looking for places to do end-of-the-year gift-giving. These are excellent options.

1. Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is our go-to charity for global relief. They do incredible and creative work all over the world, and spend less on overhead than almost all comparable charitable organizations. 

2. Both LWR, and the ELCA, its sister denomination, are conducting anti-malaria campaigns. Consider a donation to the ELCA Malaria Campaign. They have the realistic goal of ending malaria worldwide.

3. I would be re-miss not to mention our own congregation as a worthy recipient of your end of the year giving. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church does great ministry in Northwest Arkansas, connecting people to God through the gospel of Christ and bringing the Lutheran emphasis on freedom in Christ to our neighborhood and region. 

4. We make an annual gift to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. They're focus on resettling refugees in our country, and advocating for immigrant and refugee issues, is inspiring and important.

By all means, also enjoy shopping as you are willing or able on Friday, and Thanksgiving blessings to all. But do consider generous donations to these worth black Friday savings groups.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Augustine's City of God

For those interested in book discussion groups and the "classics" of theological literature, I'm launching a discussion of The City of God: Books 1-10 (I/6) (Works of Saint Augustine)in a Facebook group in 2013. Augustine's magnum opus is a book I very much want to read, but need a community to read it with. If you share interest in this, consider joining us here: City of God

The second volume from New City Press will ship in May or June of 2013, so if you order the first volume now, our reading schedule will bring you through volume one just about the time volume two comes out. There are of course other translations available, such as the widely recommended City of God (Penguin Classics) translation. 

However, I love new fresh translations and study volumes, and the New City Press's labor of love, fresh translations of Augustine's works for the 21st century, fits the bill nicely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It is as if the religion must disown the language of Jesus to be the faith that Jesus taught.

"I noted to my colleagues my surprise [as a convert from Islam] that Christianity seems unique in being a missionary religion that is transmitted without the language of the founder of the religion, and, furthermore, how the religion invests itself in all languages except the language of Jesus. It is as if the religion must disown the language of Jesus to be the faith that Jesus taught."(222)

"The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman's breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. "Isn't that fact significant for the religion and for its worldwide expansion?" (224)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What is a columbarium?

Grandma Schnekloth often visited the grave of her parents and aunts on Sunday afternoon, and brought my sister and I along for the ride. Sometimes we would pack a picnic lunch. We'd ride her (always pristine) Oldsmobile into town, cross some railroad tracks, then ascend the hill to the cemetery. We'd park along the edge of a path, get out, clean out old flowers, sweep the gravestones, put out new flags and wreaths, and then eat our picnic. My memory is fuzzy on some of the details, but I very much remember the vitality of that cemetery, the beauty of the view from the hill, the loving care and quiet.

Not once as a child did it ever occur to me that this was in any way a "morbid" activity. Also as a result, I've never felt scared in a cemetery. They don't spook me. Cemeteries feel warm, and loving. They remind me of my grandma, who is now buried in one. They offer space to commune with the memory of the dead. They are restful places.

Later, while serving in global missions with the ELCA in Slovakia, I had the honor of visiting cemeteries on All Saints Eve. The tradition in much of Eastern Europe for All Saints Eve and Day includes visiting the graves of loved ones to grace them with the light of votive candles. Often there is enough candle light that it lights the entire space as if it were dusk. It's an astounding sight, one you never forget. The light and the people form a community that transverses the earthly and celestial. I'm not sure how else to describe it.

Finally, when I served as pastor of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, Cambridge, Wisconsin, I had the absolute joy to discover a cemetery that outstrips almost any other I have visited in beauty and grace. It's the first cemetery I've ever been in where I thought, "I would like to be buried here." I walked it often, in all seasons. I buried many beloved parishioners there.

I've given considerable thought to how I would prefer to be buried. If I get my choice, I'd like to be buried in a simple pine box. Some Benedictine monastic orders make them. They're simple and inexpensive. I'd like the mortician to use as little preservation techniques as permissible by the state in which I reside, so my body will return to the earth quickly. 

I used to keep a list of hymns I'd like sung at my funeral, and readings, but more recently I've thought I'd prefer that my family and friends pick those things themselves, so they can sing not what I want to express from the grave, but what they prayerfully hope and wish to sing. If you want to sing a song I like, feel free. I especially like the plainsong chant of the Nunc dimittis at the conclusion of compline. My kids know it. Ask them to sing it for you. "Now Lord you let your servant go in peace..."

All of this is a very long preamble to introducing the concept of a columbarium. This Sunday, our congregation will break ground for a columbarium garden that will be located right outside our sanctuary windows. If you've been in our church, you know the sanctuary is unusually "light" because both walls of the sanctuary are floor to ceiling clear windows. The columbarium, when completed, will be a memorial garden very visible out the east window of the sanctuary. 

What is a columbarium, you ask? columbarium is a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns (i.e. urns holding a deceased’s cremated remains). In Northwest Arkansas, not to mention the rest of the country, the practice of cremation is on the rise. I'm not quite sure why this transition has been occurring. My best theory is that we are a much more mobile society than ever before, and it is increasingly less likely that people live and die near where their ancestors are buried. In such a case, it makes more sense to discover (and use) methods for burial that are less cost prohibitive, and perhaps even fit with the worship space of the congregation with which we are affiliated. Once the columbarium will be completed, people will have the opportunity to be committed on the same grounds where they worship.

The beauty of the columbarium is simple. It bring us as a worshipping community into close geographical proximity to those saints who have died in the faith and now rest in God. When we proclaim in the Eucharist, "together with all the saints, we praise your name and join their unending hymn," we will have, right there next to us, visible and concrete reminder of those saints we anticipate being gathered up together with into Christ.

I have given much thought to this, perhaps too much. I remember one description of cemeteries in Eastern Orthodox lands, where the parishioners are buried with their feet to the east, so that at the resurrection dawn they will rise to see the risen Christ. The priest, however, is in these cemeteries buried with his face to the west, so that at the resurrection he will rise to see the risen Christ reflected in the faces of his parishioners

I love this kind of mythologizing and mysticizing of the resurrection. It's powerful imagery. There's truth behind it. But I also think there is power in the mythos of, say, a "theologian" like Walt Whitman (see a short selection from his Leaves of Grass below), who imagined the grass growing on graves as emerging from the mouths of those buried, for it shows that out of death there are other kinds of life, and "to die is different from what anyone supposed." If we are formed from dust, and return to dust (as we often say at funerals), then indeed even if we are buried as bodies, we will soon turn to dust, return to dust, get mixed into the complexity of the creation which really is simply a mix of light and dust.

So dust, cremains, ashes, are as much a reminder and proper state for those who have died as is burial of bodies in the ground. Either way, God (and this is a mystery) joins us to the resurrection of Christ, and we trust in this. No one was in the tomb Easter morning to see precisely how God raised Christ from the dead, but it is a matter of Christian faith that when the disciples and women returned to the tomb that morning, there was no body. God makes life where there is dust, and forms humans (and new humanity) even from the dead and out of the grave.

All of this has become a surprisingly long meditation on the ground breaking for our columbarium this Sunday. You're welcome to join us--3:30 p.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. We will take a shovel, the same shovel used to break ground for our church property 47 years ago, and we will turn over some dust to prepare a garden for the faithful committal of those who have returned to dust, and all because we believe we have a God who forms new things out of dust all the time, and will form us into a resurrection body in Christ as well.

A child said, What is the grass?

by Walt Whitman

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
 is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
 green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
 may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
 of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the 
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
 from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
 for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
 and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
 taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
 at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Being Lutheran: Column for Northwest Arkansas Times

When you read this, I will most likely be in the air on the way back to Northwest Arkansas from Minneapolis, Minnesota. This has been, by every measure, a very "Lutheran" week for me. Last Sunday, our congregation hosted the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as guest preacher. This was his first visit to Arkansas in his eleven years as bishop of the ELCA. Wednesday I preached at the chapel of one of the great Lutheran institutions of higher learning, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Then for two days I led workshops at the Annual Consultation on the Missional Church at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Why, you ask, am I telling you all of this? Well, if the census bureau data I have reviewed for Northwest Arkansas is any indication, it is my guess that most of you reading this are not Lutheran. Some readers may not even know quite what a Lutheran is. It may then come as some surprise to know that in other parts of the United States, and especially in the Holy Land of Minnesota, there are sometimes actually more Lutherans than people. By the time I get back to Arkansas, I will have been thoroughly immersed, almost drowned, in Lutheran culture, and I will, in addition, be quite happy to get back to this place I love, where I have the opportunity to be a minority religious tradition and try, as best I can, to represent Lutheranism among those for whom it is quite unfamiliar.

This still doesn't answer your, by this time very fair question--why does this matter to me? Here is why. Although you may not be Lutheran, I am guessing you do have a particular faith tradition, or way of thinking about being religious, in which you have been formed and that is peculiar to you as a unique human being. Furthermore, your particular faith might be lived out in community with others of similar faith, temperament, and vision. You may even ask yourself, from time to time, "What do my neighbors think of us? If our tradition were to disappear completely from Northwest Arkansas, what would be missed?"

To be honest, when I tell people I'm Lutheran, I'm not even always sure myself what that means. Some days it is probably just a designation I employ from long habit. I was born and baptized into this, have been and always will be Lutheran, world without end, amen. Lutheranism has also, at times, been unfortunately wedded to specific ethnicities (think of Prairie Home Companion, or the recent popularity of the play Church Basement Ladies in Little Rock, Arkansas,  if you need an example).

On my better days, I know what is unique about us. So what is unique about our tradition? What is the gift we bring, not in the sense of us thinking we own that part of Christian faith, but in the sense that we especially emphasize and celebrate it and bring it as a gift to the wider faith community? 

First, I can tell you that the ELCA is in full communion agreements with more denominations than any other denomination in the United States. We are intentionally and broadly ecumenical. We try to figure out how we can have full table fellowship with as many other Christian communities as possible. We are incredibly interested in and committed to the cause of Christian unity.

Second, Lutherans emphasize, in as many ways as possible, the freedom we have in Christ. Our denomination just recently adopted a mission statement I quite like, "We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person — questions, complexities and all. Join us as we do God's work in Christ's name for the life of the world."  We tend to think that the incredible grace extended to us in Christ set's us free to serve our neighbors. We also tend to think this freedom means we can be welcoming and affirming of all people, inviting them to join us in this journey of faith.

Which means, finally, that Lutherans have a tendency to get really involved in and focused on service in the world. Lutheran Services in America is, for example, in terms of revenue, the largest single non-profit charitable organization in America. Lutherans start hospitals, serve refugees and immigrants, fight malaria, feed the poor, and care for the least and the lost. Our own congregation has been instrumental in forming Community Emergency Outreach, makes Love Bears for children in the local hospitals, supports Single Parent Scholarship Fund, sends groups on service trips, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and in a wide variety of ways strives to be of service to our neighbors in need.

I bet if you asked a cross-section of the members of my congregation what it means to be Lutheran, you would get all kinds of answers. And they would be right also. We are a denomination that extends considerable freedom and latitude to our people to live out their Christian freedom in the world. It's a hallmark of who we are.

Oh, one other thing. Sometimes Lutherans tend to be kind of humble, almost quietist. You might have a neighbor or co-worker who is Lutheran, and they haven't told you. They may be more likely to ask you, "What does your faith tradition mean to you?" Which is just another hallmark of Lutherans. They're often really good listeners. Seriously, we're all ears. If you can, find one of us and tell us what your tradition means to you.

Friday, November 09, 2012

A lecture live and livestream simultaneously. Weird. #LutherCML

Global Church and Media Culture and Minnesota Travels #LutherCML

This week as many of you probably know I'm up in Minnesota for a series of events. Wednesday I preached at St. Olaf College (you can view streaming video of that here if it interests you: On Thursday I visited part of our denominational publishing house, Sparkhouse, and met with the publisher. I write some material for them but had never formally met any of the staff. Then Thursday evening I was at a supper with the Congregational Missional Leadership Cohort of Luther Seminary. This was really fruitful time in relationship to our Pastor of New Communities position, first because I actually met some people who train, or are in training to be, mission developers, but also because I had the chance after the supper to sit down for about a two hour meeting with Neil Harrison, the program director for congregational renewal in the ELCA, and therefore especially able to help set some direction for who we receive as candidate names for the call committee in the future, etc. 

Today I'm leading workshops at the Global Church and Media Culture consultation at Luther Seminary. If you have interest, you can watch the streaming of this event here: today in the morning and again tomorrow morning. Alternatively, you can follow people Tweeting the event at #LutherCML It's fun to be up at my alma mater after long absence, and especially fun to be invited to be a presenter at this event. All in all, this has been a very "meta-" church week for me, beginning with the bishop's visit last weekend, then continuing with these stops at St. Olaf and Luther Seminary. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Questions from Dr. Gregory Walter's Theology Class for Wednesday

Questions for Clint Schnkeloth.

Here is his bio at his website:

Here’s a fascinating blog entry to get you thinking.

What is a contemporary Christianity?

Walking around:

And, yes, he, a good friend, and I write a weird steampunk blog together.  

Each person should contribute one question below.  Please put your name after the question to denote your contribution.


1.  In your blog post called “Hyping Hyphenated Lutherans,” you speak of a new “emergence” or “trend” in Christianity that involves “ministry with the marginalized, in marginal places.” A Few of our authors that we have read such as Amos Yong and Christine Pohl talk about Christian evangelism as hospitality.Would you call this new ministry a way of pure Christian hospitality, or a mission to evangelize the “other” in our society? - student #1

2. In your blog “Hyping Hphenated Lutherans,” You say that each Lutheran emergent is trying, in their own way, maintain a strong center with an open door. I take this to mean to have solid and stable values/doctrines while simultaneously being open to other views and opinions, especially of the marginalized. My question for you is, what values/doctrines are non-negotiable, and what are? -student #2

3. In your blog "Hyping Hphenated Lutherans," you talk about emergence as being the hip kind of stuff such as ministry to the marginalized in marginalized places? Was Christ  an emergent then? How can the church continue to be emergent if it was founded on this very structure? -student #3

4- In your opinion, what sort of exchange occurs or should occur in hospitality? For example, we've read some authors (such as Derrida or Levinas) who insist that a unilateral, non returnable gift is the only true form of hospitality, whereas others (Milbank) suggest that a gift that creates mutuality and exchange is a more ethical way to give. Do you think there is only 'one' way to give a gift hospitably, or there is an 'ideal' type of gift to give? -student #4

5. Some believe that hospitality requires a compromise on the part of both the host and the guest. One of the authors we read discussed taking down crucifixes and other religious relics when someone of another religious tradition comes to visit. Various rituals such as prayers at meals are sensitive when dealing with the differently religious. Keeping in mind the goal of being radical, gentle, and inclusive, how much would an emerging Christian have to compromise for the other (if at all) in domestic hospitality or even interreligious conversation? - Ashley

6. We read an article called “Que(e)rying Hospitality” which looked at the foundational Christian church and its role in accepting the marginalized and the outcasts-- the queer. Do you believe that this model still holds true? If yes, how can it be enacted? If no, what caused it to dissipate?

7. In your biography it says you grew up in a German family, but have been adopted into many different Norwegian institutions. Do you feel that you had to change any of your beliefs or customs in order to be accepted into the Norwegian community?

8. In a few of our readings, such as Yong, the concept of “true Christian hospitality” is brought up. What do you believe is the root of the Christian mission and true Christian hospitality? How does evangelization play into that mission, and is it a vital part of Christian hospitality in your opinion? How does evangelization play a part in interreligious hospitality and dialogue?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

God's Work, Our Noses

You can hear audio of Bishop Mark S. Hanson's All Saints Day sermon here:

Bishop Hanson had some outstanding insights in his message. Perhaps my favorite was the notion that the saints go where the stench is. The saints use their noses to smell out where things are dying and dead, then go and weep and minister there.

He also riffed on the current mission statement of the ELCA--God's work, our hands--indicating that perhaps it could be modified: God's work, our noses.

This was Bishop Hanson's first visit to Arkansas in his eleven years as bishop, and the first time he had been invited to a church not by synod staff or a pastor, but by the church youth group. We were honored to host him. Watch for an additional link soon of the audio of his Q&A time with us.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Question Concerning Metriopathic Technophilia

Many of the crises that provoke anxiety and exuberance today demonstrate our unfamiliarity with certain modes of technology and our comfortable familiarity with other modes, more than they engage questions about 'technology' itself... The question concerning technology and religion challenges us to recall and interrogate our involvement with digital technology in the context of our other technological dependencies (and aversions), and to proceed thoughtfully out of coherent sense of the grounds for our discernments.

New essay up at

“Since human religious awareness—as indeed human existence—has always relied on technology of one sort or another, religious traditions were born into technologically-mediated worlds. They will thus find in their own history and identity their most profound guidance for negotiating the coming digital transformation"