Monthly Archives: September 2009

Monastic Vocations “in the world” for Catholics and non-Catholics

Northfield friend and Lutheran Pastor Keith Homstad is a Benedictine oblate of St John’s Abbey in central Minnesota:

Monastic prayerAn Oblate is a lay or clerical, single or married, person formally associated to a particular monastery. Oblates seek to live life in harmony with the spirit of Saint Benedict as revealed in the Rule of Saint Benedict and its contemporary expression. Oblates are invited to come to Saint John’s for the Annual Oblate Retreat in July and the Days of Recollection offered in Advent and Lent, but they are welcome to visit us at any time.

Keith and I recently spent a day at St John’s, along with my daughter Karin, that concluded with evening prayer with the monastic community in the resplendent Abbey Church.  We prayed and sang five psalms as part of the cycle in which 150 psalms are prayed monthly.  We also visited our familiar haunts at this progressive Catholic Abbey and University, including the School of Theology where I studied in the early ‘90s and Keith at the end of the ‘90s, the Great Hall, Alcuin Library, and Sexton Commons. 

The St John’s Bible, a project a decade in the making, is nearing completion, and we toured the exhibit.

In 1998, Saint John’s Abbey and University commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible … a work of art that unites an ancient Benedictine tradition with the technology and vision of today, illuminating the Word of God for a new millennium.

Copies of the Gospels from the St John’s Bible were loaned to the ELCA for use at the recent 2009 Churchwide assembly.  These were used for the reading of the Gospel as part of daily worship and at the concluding Service of the Word across the street at Central Lutheran church.  In a stirring processional, the magnificent book was brought up the aisle at Central Lutheran and placed prominently in front of the altar for the service.  Blogger Kristen Swenson recently offered a brief post about the St John’s Bible.

St John’s Abbey was the setting for Kathleen Norris’ popular book, The Cloister Walk, which is described by Publisher’s Weekly as follows:

The allure of the monastic life baffles most lay people, but in her second book, Norris goes far in explaining it. The author, raised Protestant, has been a Benedictine oblate, or lay associate, for 10 years, and has lived at a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota for two. Here, she compresses these years of experience into the diary of one liturgical year, offering observations on subjects ranging from celibacy to dealing with emotions to Christmas music. Like the liturgy she loves, this meandering, often repetitive book is perhaps best approached through the lectio divina practiced by the Benedictines, in which one tries to “surrender to whatever word or phrase captures the attention.” There is a certain nervous facility to some of Norris’s jabs at academics, and she is sometimes sanctimonious. But there is no doubting her conviction, exemplified in her defense of the much-maligned Catholic “virgin martyrs,” whose relevance and heroism she wants to redeem for feminists. What emerges, finally, is an affecting portrait of one of the most vibrant since Thomas Merton of the misunderstood, often invisible world of monastics, as seen by a restless, generous intelligence.

I regularly follow the blog of Carl McColman, THE WEBSITE OF UNKNOWING, which is “all about Christian mysticism, Celtic wisdom, interfaith spirituality, the emergent conversation, and assorted other topics.”  He recently explored the attraction to lay monasticism in a blog post entitled “Cloister of the Heart.”  Check it out.

Lay Cistercians, incidentally, are like Benedictine Oblates, Secular Franciscans, or Third Order Carmelites: people who are not called to the consecrated religious life, but who are nonetheless drawn to it. As its name implies, Lay Cistercians are laypeople, most of us married with ordinary jobs and lives “in the world,” who nevertheless find that the culture and spirituality of monasticism has a real and significant role to play in our ongoing formation as Christians. We are not “monk wanna-bes” so much as we function as a kind of ambassador or translator, who interfaces with both the monastic community and the world at large, drinking deeply from the monastic well as a way to nourish the good life we have been called to live, outside the monastic cloister.

Keith and I plan to return to St John’s next week to hear progressive Catholic author and activist Sister Joan Chittister speak.

National Equality March

On October 10 and 11, Washington DC will witness thousands of LGBT persons and their allies marching “to demand equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.”  The event is sponsored and organized by Equality Across America,  “a network of decentralized organizers in every one of the 435 Congressional districts.” reports that the march has been endorsed by the National Organization of Women (NOW), which states:

No woman will have full equality until all women have full equality, and we must seize every opportunity to ensure equal rights under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Walking with Integrity, the blog of Integrity USA, the Episcopal LGBT advocacy group, announced that the The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also endorses the march.

The popular blog of Pam Spaulding, Pam’s House Blend … always steamin’, contains a lengthy list of the full slate of activities.

On the other hand, Marc Ambinder reports in the Atlantic Monthly that the event is controversial—not with the religious right but–with others in the LGBT community:

But on Oct. 11, this conservative, measured progress will collide with the National Equality March, a hastily organized gathering of gay-rights supporters on the National Mall. The march, announced just 6 months ago by Harvey Milk protégé and AIDS quilt founder Cleve Jones — has garnered criticism in the gay blogosphere, slammed as a vanity project for Jones and a distraction from state-level gay marriage initiatives in Maine and Washington state. And D.C. advocates are asking why local organizers were not asked to the table so close to the city’s own marriage-rights battle.

Lutheran Core Convention Postscript #ELCA & #CWA09 & #LMCACORE

The Lutheran Core Convocation has come and gone.  Was it a big wind or a burst of hot air?  Apart from red meat speeches that rallied the troops, the actual substantive accomplishments were de minimis … the much ballyhooed question of schism in the ELCA was postponed for a year.

Oh, the Core leaders are grandiose enough, calling for a “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism”.  Ahem.  They aspire to a free floating synod that includes ELCA members, congregations, even synods.  And LCMS folks too.  Do they expect the ELCA to share autonomy with them?  The LCMS? Or, are they merely going to be an organization like WordAlone has been for a decade, building membership lists and holding conventions and sending out newsletters but in reality a toothless lion?  For all its holier-than-thou bluster, how much real influence has WordAlone wielded in the ELCA since the network came into existence?

Some have left the ELCA with more to follow.  With each defection, the conservative influence within the ELCA diminishes proportionately. 

Or, does Core think that their hyperbolic rhetoric and name calling is the way to win friends and influence people?  Or childishly taking their football and going home by withholding financial support?

Speaking of the financial boycott, what is the moral or theological justification for that beyond pure power politics?  True enough, Core can inflict pain—financial, spiritual, and emotional—but can they heal?  Where is the churchmanship?

We all have our biases, and I certainly have mine.  Thus, my ears hear the call to uphold the Law as legalism; the call to uphold the scriptures as literalism; the call to “speak the truth in love” as judgmentalism; the call for reform as reactionary; the call to withhold funds as petulant.  More law and less gospel.  More judgment and less grace.  Exclusion not inclusion.  To my Core readers, I apologize, but this is what I hear in your shrill voices.  If this is not your reality, know that it is your appearance.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the ELCA #ELCA & #CWA09

Not all Lutheran eyes are focused on the Core Convocation in Indiana this weekend.

Stephen MarshFor instance, Pretty Good Lutherans blog reports:

A whole lot of Lutherans will gather today in a Baptist church with ample seating in Detroit. The Rev. Stephen Marsh of the ELCA will walk in a pastor and walk out a bishop. His 2 p.m. installation ceremony is being led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. Marsh, 54, was elected in May to a six-year term as bishop of the Southeast Michigan ELCA Synod. He’ll become the first African American bishop of the synod, which maintains an office in Detroit.

Lutherans Concerned North America, an LGBT advocacy group, meets in Chicago, and they issued the following press release:

The leadership of Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) is meeting this weekend at a retreat house in Chicago to celebrate the recent actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) supporting committed same-gender relationships and allowing for the rostered service of ministers in such relationships and to plan immediate and long term strategies and actions to ensure that the new policies of inclusion are enacted in principle and in practice.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned said, “After 35 years of witness and reconciling outreach LC/NA gives thanks to God and to the voting members of the ELCA for this historic transformation in the life of our church.  It is as if the ELCA has finally come out about its LGBT members and ministers.  As with any coming out, some members of the ELCA family are reacting with celebration, others with fear or anger, and some with silence.  The church has voted for tolerance at the policy level and included congregational autonomy as the failsafe for those members of the family who need distance and time.  As within our families, reconciliation requires intentionality, faithful witness, and relentless love in the face of difficult and painful circumstances. We rely on the witness of Jesus Himself as our guide.  Building relationships across theological, ideological and affinity group lines is needed to sustain the church and the family.  LC/NA is ready and willing to d
o our part.

“The ELCA having spoken in favor of full inclusion, our task for education and outreach is all the more important. We are working to increase the resources and assistance we can offer to congregations who want to expand their understanding of LGBT Lutherans as part of the church.  Working at the intersection of oppressions, our intent is to aid the church’s spread of the Gospel and provision of care and services for those less fortunate than ourselves.  Our prayers are lifted for everyone, celebrating or in distress, in this transforming and challenging time.

“The way forward for a fully inclusive ELCA is clear.  The mission of the church has not changed.  What has changed is that now the work of all faithful Lutherans towards the goals of the church can be recognized and honored.  We may disagree on some points, but Lutherans are one about the message of Christ to be in service to others – it’s our hands doing God’s work.  At last, it can truly be all our hands.”

Lutherans Concerned has advocated for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Lutheran church since 1974, and was part of the Goodsoil coalition that advocated at the churchwide assembly in August for the changes that were enacted.

The ELCA, in consultation with its Conference of Bishops, is developing the changes that need to be put in place to carry out the decision of the churchwide assembly.  Those changes are expected to go before the ELCA Church Council for consideration and approval when it meets in November 2009.  The Lutherans Concerned Board of Directors and Regional Coordinators will continue their meeting through the weekend.

While those at the Core Convocation debate leaving the ELCA, others are joining or returning.  In San Francisco, the two congregations that were expelled from the ELCA in the ‘90s because they called gay clergy in committed relationships are now considering whether to return.

    Robert W. Byrne, a council member at St. Francis, said he joined that congregation because of its “historic principled stand within the institutional church (against the church’s) discrimination against clergy and seminarians in committed same-sex relationships. I truly believe that being Lutheran calls each of us to be reformers, whenever and wherever we see injustice — as (Martin) Luther himself did.”
     “I have always hoped for and voiced my support for eventual reunion with the ELCA,” Byrne said. “Others in this congregation hold different beliefs at present, and value the traditions and practices we were forced to create for ourselves over the past 20 years,” he said.
     Goldstein said the council at St. Francis planned a series of “cottage meetings” through September to hear from congregation members and build some consensus in advance of an Oct. 4 visit from the Rev. Nancy M. Feniuk Nelson, bishop’s associate, ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland.

In response to natural disasters in Africa and South America, the ELCA Disaster Response, under the coordination of the ELCA global mission, provided funds in flood ravaged communities.  It is missions such as these that will be harmed by the Core call to withhold funds from the ELCA.

The Lutheran Youth Organization of an ELCA synod recently sent a letter to the ELCA home offices regarding the passage of the sexuality statement and gay ordination and gay marriage proposals at the recent ELCA convention.

“We also have a variety of opinions, and we often disagree,” wrote the synod LYO board.      “However, we stand united as an LYO board behind a slightly different message,” said the youth. “We strive daily to live out a faith of love, tolerance and understanding, even in the most trying of times, and especially when we disagree,” they said.  “We believe most ardently in the gospel message of God’s loving grace and forgiveness, given freely for us all through Christ’s sacrifice. Please join us as we aspire to live love,” said the synod LYO board. “We understand that people have different opinions, and we as a board were very split in our opinions,” said Sarah Embley, synod LYO president, Trinity Lutheran Church, Mount Joy, Pa. “We think it is more important to look past our differences and keep the unity of the church and keep God in main view.”

Sometimes the grownups should listen to the kids.

Lutheran Core Convocation: 1st night report #ELCA & #CWA09

Late yesterday, the Core Convocation convened at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fishers, Indiana with an estimated 1200 persons in attendance.  Substantive matters were not addressed except for the speeches offered by Core leadership.  “Should we stay or should we go?” was the question that hung in the air, but the answer will not likely be determined this weekend but only after a year long process of deliberation and organization.

The speeches soared with the conviction of the self-assured, often harsh and critical of the ELCA with sarcastic jibes sparking their comments.  For instance, one speaker scoffed at the ELCA 2009 assembly approval of a $75 million Malaria initiative, calling instead for a church, “where the appreciation for overcoming malaria does not replace the passion for preaching the gospel and administering the sacrament. We must stand for both Law and Gospel, not Gospel alone. Battling AIDS, hunger, poverty does not replace Word & Sacrament.”  Another labeled the ELCA’s call for unity and Scripture study hypocritical, as if only Core’s interpretation of scripture was valid.  The call for “Churchmanship” from former ELCA presiding Bishop Herb Chilstrom was mocked.  Still another, in a thinly veiled comment, contrasted the holy remnant of Core to their opponents “we are here to represent those who have not bent the knee to Baal.”

Maybe just a little self-righteous.

The criticism of the ELCA was not restricted to the recent actions approving gay clergy and moving toward marriage equality, but went all the way back to the original merger, mirroring the view of dissenting theologian James Nestingen, the subject of earlier blog posts here and here.  In particular, the ELCA policy of giving strong voice and vote to the laity, at the expense of clergy power, was criticized.

Last night speeches.  Today?

(Note: since I was not present, the above information is derived from various “tweets” and especially the comments on ALPB forum.)

Lutheran Core Convocation commences #ELCA #CWA09

Lutheran eyes are on Indianapolis this weekend and the Convocation of Lutheran Core, the organized opposition to the recent ELCA convention action approving gay clergy and moving toward marriage equality.  Will Core breakaway or choose to remain within the ELCA as the loyal opposition?  Perhaps we’ll know more on Monday.

In August, the ELCA national convention in Minneapolis approved the ordination of persons in lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and also opened the door for congregations to support and recognize such relationships (gay marriage?).  Lutheran Core maintained a hospitality room at the convention and served as the organized opposition to the various LGBT ballot measures.  Defeated at the Churchwide assembly, Core has called for a Convocation this weekend to consider their options.

While serving as host for the 2009 convention, Minnesota is also home to 800,000 Lutherans, about 1/6th of ELCA Lutherans nationwide, according to an article appearing today in Minnesota’s leading newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The article quotes several Minnesotans who will be among the 1200 or so who will gather at the Core convocation, and they express a wait and see attitude.

There are mixed signals coming from the Lutheran Core camp.  On the one hand, they have counseled patience and encouraged persons to stay in the ELCA—for the time being.  Lutheran pastor Dave Glesne of Redeemer Lutheran in Fridley is quoted in the STRIB article: “I wouldn’t expect any major decisions for at least a year”, he said.  According to the article, Glesne “thinks that the short duration [of the Core Convocation agenda] is an advantage because it’s enough time to discuss an action plan but not enough time to implement one.” On the other hand, the harsh rhetoric that sounds from the Core camp raises questions how Core could remain within the ELCA as the loyal opposition while shouting (from their website):

The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible

We just voted out the Word of God, sound reason, and the good orders of creation

We can no longer in good conscience participate in this relationship with the offices in

It is going to be very hard for faithful Lutherans to support the ELCA when the ELCA is willing to reject the clear teaching of Scripture

and their unofficial spokespersons, retired theologians Carl Braaten and James Nestingen, pen articles accusing the ELCA:

[of] “heresies and heterodoxies now rampant and tolerated in the institutions of the ELCA” [Braaten]

“the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America effectively declared that it is no longer a church”  [Nestingen] 


And then there is the matter of money.  A cynical view suggests that the ELCA pastors who flirt with Core yet remain in the ELCA are unwilling to sacrifice their ELCA pension and benefits unless and until Core is a viable financial alternative.  In a controversial move criticized by many, CORE has urged a financial boycott of ELCA ministries, and mission congregations ask CORE to consider who and what is really hurt by such actions.  ELCA presiding Bishop Mark Hanson has posted a web video in which he says,

I am deeply concerned when ELCA members and congregations are being encouraged to signal disagreement [with convention actions] by withholding financial support because the unintended consequence is to diminish our capacity for mission.

Blogger Susan Hogan asks:

Is the bishop being smart by going public about the money situation just before the Lutheran CORE meeting? Or is he playing into the dissenters hand, giving them more weight and power than they deserve or have?

Finally, on the eve of the Lutheran Core Convocation, former presiding Bishop Herb Chilstrom invites “churchmanship”.

In response to CORE’s intent to seek other avenues for how it may relate to the ELCA, Chilstrom said the consequences of such action “would be corporate, personal and immediate. We would see the mission of the ELCA in this country and around the globe hobbled and maimed.”

For years many Lutherans had hoped for the kinds of change that came at the assembly, Chilstrom wrote. “During all that time we never tried to organize another church body or some kind of independent entity within the ELCA,” he said. “We never withdrew or reduced our support for the mission of the church. We never changed our wills or estate plans to cripple the seminaries, global missions, or other ministries of the church.”

He ended his statement by asking, “Can we think of a better resolution than the one we reached at our recent assembly, one that allows us to live with diversity in matters that are not central to the proclamation of law and gospel? This is the time to think and think and pray and pray again — as the church did at its assembly — before taking action.”

Will Lutheran Core and its supporters rise to the call for churchmanship?

Dissident ELCA theologian Nestingen update: #CWA09 & #ELCA

Erik Samuelson Yesterday’s post was about professor emeritus James Nestingen’s negativity regarding the ELCA, past and present.  This morning, a blog post from Pastor Erik Samuelson offers another view of Nestingen. 

Pastor Erik is of Norwegian ancestry, and his roots are in the old American Lutheran Church (ALC), which was one of the major partners in the ELCA merger twenty some years ago.  Professor Nestingen has the same background, and Pastor Erik suggests that Nestingen still resents the merger and the diminished influence of conservative, Norwegian Lutherans in the merged church.

Dr. Nestingen gets to the heart of it: The #ELCA was a bad idea all along. Three cheers for the Old ALC! Hmm…

What I found as I analyzed the way he uses the documents [Lutheran Confessions] is that he often intersperses American political philosophy and highly preferences one particular historical branch of Lutheranism which my family shares with him. It’s a straight line from the German Reformation to it’s adoption in Norway (subscribing to the Augsburg Confession and Catechisms) to the United States via the Norwegian Synod (and some Haugean pietists thrown in from time to time) that kept Norwegian [language] in worship long into the 20th Century, who formed the core of the ALC and had their stronghold in Luther Seminary (and St. Olaf and PLU). Nestingen again and again seems to refer to this as the “true Lutheran” heritage. This works great for Norwegian American Lutherans (who held a great deal of power in the ALC and less since the merger in 1988), but I just don’t see how he can claim this as the predominant form of Lutheranism, or the mainstream of Christianity.

Pastor Erik’s blog also offers a detailed rebuttal to Nestingen’s assertion that the ELCA violates the letter of the Confessions.  Check out his post if interested in the esoteric minutiae of Lutheran orthodoxy.

Are ELCA Lutherans now unchurched? One theologian thinks so. #CWA09

James  Nestingen Retired professor of church history and storyteller James Nestingen speaks with a folksy country drawl befitting his North Dakota upbringing as a Norwegian Lutheran pastor’s kid.  I once heard him speak as a Bible study leader at an ELCA synod assembly, teaching the twenty first chapter of John.  When Peter and other disciples had empty nets on Lake Galilee, Jesus told them to try the other side of the boat: So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.  “And they were big fish too,” Nestingen said with eyes sparkling, “fat walleyes, eight pounders every one.”  His Minnesota listeners laughingly approved.

“Church history” in Lutheran seminaries seems to assume that the church was born in 1517 on the day that Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, as if the first fifteen centuries after Christ are a mere footnote.  And so Nestingen, the professor emeritus of church history at Luther Seminary in St Paul, is an expert in the life of Luther and the confessional writings that encapsulated the insights and teachings of the Lutheran reformers.  As professor emeritus, he taught a course entitled Lutheran Confessional Writings.  His seminary students were required to memorize Luther’s small catechism. 

“This is the document that saved the Reformation,” he points out. “In the 16th Century, it was printed up for people to hang in their kitchens and to use in the instruction of their children.” Many older parishioners have memorized its wisdom, and Nestingen believes that young pastors must “have on their tongues the words that are in the people’s hearts.”

Quite apart from his storytelling and teaching, Nestingen has long been a critic of the ELCA and an irritant to its leadership.  Ten years ago, the hot button issue in the ELCA was the ecumenical agreement with the Episcopalians entitled “Called to Common Mission” (CCM).  The opponents of CCM formed the WordAlone Network, and Nestingen offered the keynote address at the first national gathering of WordAlone in 2000.  His speech is sprinkled with jibes at the ELCA and its leadership:

  • This is supposed to be a merged church; in fact, to many of us it looks much more like a hostile takeover.
  • The merger process that produced the ELCA was hijacked by special interest groups
  • It has gotten the feeling of betrayal.
  • our church developed and has been maintained on a paradigm of coercion.

Nestingen’s speech was especially critical of then presiding Bishop George Anderson and ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen and presumed back room political machinations that disenfranchised the worthy in favor of the uninformed but easily manipulated.  In the intervening years, Nestingen’s folksy but strident voice has continued to sound the alarm at his perception of the ELCA’s retreat from the 16th century Lutheran Confessions.  He has continued to provide the theology of WordAlone’s opposition, speaking at subsequent WordAlone national gatherings on several occasions.  Now, he has published a rambling rebuke of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s actions in approving gay clergy and perhaps gay marriage; his article, entitled “Joining the Unchurched”, appears on WordAlone’s website.

In its August assembly in Minneapolis … the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America effectively declared that it is no longer a church … The ELCA has redefined the Word of God … In a naked power play by the privileged—the few allowed some actual voice in the proceedings—this mighty consensus fell to a bogus, prefabricated ambiguity crafted to disallow it.  With the action taken in the Minneapolis assembly, the ELCA has made such power mongering official procedure and policy.

At least Nestingen is consistent.  In his initial address to the 2000 WordAlone gathering, he criticized the official ELCA policy mandating the inclusion of women and minorities as voting members of ELCA assemblies, and he harps on the same sour notes in his latest harangue.

From his 2000 keynote address:

The positive value of the quota system overall can be debated … There have always been people who would have traditionally been a part of the decision making processes of the church who had to eliminated to make room for others.

From his 2009 website article (emphasis added):

Positive aspects of quotas can still be argued. After 20 years, the ELCA remains 97 percent white. Some significant departures after the August assembly may make the church even whiter. Still the quotas may have brought some people forward who had been otherwise excluded. That would be a matter of thanks. Yet there’s another side to it.

Quotas include but in order to do so, they also eliminate. In fact, they do so arbitrarily, fastening on characteristics like race and gender but not necessarily putting an equal priority on characteristics, like wisdom, fidelity and zeal. In fact, while the evidence has been difficult to come by, extended experience with the system strongly suggests that those most likely to be included are the manageable, those eager to please, no matter what their race or gender, while those most likely to be eliminated are the gifted and challenging, those most likely to make waves.

Nestingen’s elitism is offensive when he suggests that the women and minorities who were voting members due to ELCA quotas were less likely to be infused with “wisdom, fidelity and zeal”, less “gifted and challenging”, and “eager to please” and “manageable”. Ugh. Unseemly name-calling is unnecessary and diminishes the debate.

Should white men be making the decisions for the ELCA?  Give Nestingen the benefit of the doubt and allow that he is neither racist nor sexist. But, his implication that voting members are hand-picked stooges of ELCA leadership is patently false and smacks of conspiratorial paranoia—a minority that believes it should be the majority imagines an ill-defined conspiracy as the explanation.  The reality is that voting members to the 2009 Churchwide Convention were themselves selected by the ballot at either the synod level or the conference level, elected by persons selected by local congregations.  I recently blogged about a gathering of synod clergy in which normally placid SE Minnesota Bishop Huck Usgaard railed at suggestions that voting members were hand picked or were incompetent.

Carl Braaten is Nestingen’s counterpart in Lutheran Core, a professor emeritus of church history with expertise in the life of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions.  Just as Nestingen is the theologian on call for the WordAlone Network, Braaten provides the theological underpinning of Lutheran Core’s resistance to the ELCA.  In earlier blog posts (here and here), I critiqued Braaten’s look back, not forward approach.

With feet planted squarely in the sixteenth century, octogenarian and retired theologian Carl Braaten has assumed the intellectual mantle as defender of Lutheran orthodoxy … Braaten argues that ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson is wrong, our ELCA unity is not in Christ, as Hanson suggests, but in our Reformation era Confessions.

So too, Nestingen:

And this is the importance of the confessions. We tell the story of Luther not because his experience is normative, but because as we have heard the promising word confessed, it has become definitive for our community. Some of the Lutheran confessions were written by Luther, the catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. Others were written by a colleague of his at the University of Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon-the Augsburg Confession and its supporting documents. Still another was written by Luther and Melanchthon’s students. But whoever wrote them, each of the confessions became a public document, summing up Catholic faith in terms suitable to ongoing confession, witness.

As such, the confessions are like the Magna Charta or the Declaration of Independence. They are declarative.

With the symbolic gesture of nailing his theses to the door, Luther unloosed a torrent of reform that washed over northern Europe.  Luther and the reformers challenged the Roman Catholic church, challenged the institution of a celibate clergy (even the very notion of the evil of sexual expression), challenged the basic theological premises of the day, and even challenged scripture itself by offering the doctrine of a “canon within a canon” and disputing the authority of the books of James and Revelation.  The spirit of reform blew like the wind, sometimes uncontrollable as with the ill fated peasants war, and the reformers felt the need to write down boundaries and definitions, to domesticate the unruly spirit.  Thus, there were two parts to the reformation: the doing of it and the writing of it, known as the Confessions.

This brings to mind the saying of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: Concepts are second thoughts. All conceptualization is symbolization, an act of accommodation of reality to the human mind.  By taming the wind of reform, by defining in written word the meaning of it all, by penning the Lutheran Confessions, did the reformers lose something?  Did a reforming church become a reformed churchDid we lose the timelessness of a reforming spirit in favor of the time centered Confessions?

I find the attitudes of Nestingen and Braaten to be revealing.  While ignoring the spirit of reform—the flux doing of it—they focus on the Confessions—the static writing of it.  The radicalism of Luther, who flaunted convention, is lost in their resort to the sixteenth century written word, which has itself become a convention.  Should we not apply Luther’s own challenge, his own hermeneutic to the writings of the Confessions? “Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching.”  Dare we say, even though Luther or Melanchthon does the teaching?  Hear me well, I am not suggesting the Confessions be abandoned or diminished, but should not the spirit of reform interpret these 16th century words?  A hermeneutic that allows us to hear the spirit and not merely the letter?

To the majority of voting members at the ELCA 2009 convention, the ELCA continues to be a reforming church.  To Nestingen and WordAlone, to Braaten and Lutheran Core, the ELCA has ceased to be a church of the Reformation era Confessions and thus no church at all.

Hindu Temple in Lake Wobegon

Minnesota is home to more than ten thousand lakes; the Twins, Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves, and Gophers; five synods of ELCA Lutherans with nearly a thousand congregations; a Roman Catholic diocese in each corner of the state, one in the middle, and a metropolitan archdiocese; and the fictionalized Pastor Inqvist and Father Emil of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. 

And the largest Hindu Temple in North America.

St Olaf College of Northfield is one of four ELCA private colleges in Minnesota.  Not surprisingly, it has a robust religion department with over twenty professors plus another half dozen faculty emerti. 

And the chairman of the department is a Hindu.

Along with jello salads, tater tot hotdish, and sausage with kraut, Minnesotan’s ethno-religious meals now include vegetarian curries.

Earlier this month, religion reporters from around the US were invited to tour the new 43,000 square foot Hindu temple located in the Twin Cities suburb of Maple Grove.  Thus, we see excellent articles about the temple and the Hindu faith popping up in major newspapers around the country.

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world behind Christianity and Islam, but the vast majority of Hindus remain in their Indian homeland.  Barely a quarter of one percent of all Hindus reside in the United States, and most of them have arrived since 1965 following a change in US immigration law.

Christina Capecchi of the New York Times reported on the Temple’s grand opening earlier this summer:

Perhaps the greatest diplomacy was needed among fellow Hindus, managing the tangled politics of religion. They come from various parts of India, where favored deities vary as widely as the dialects and cuisines. Temple planners decided to embrace that diversity, so they incorporated 21 hand-carved minitemples that replicate real Hindu temples across India into the building.

Reporter Julia Duin of the Washington Times reported:

As we walked about the place, we heard priests chant prayers in Sanskrit and saw offerings of grains, turmeric powder and betel nut leaves. In one shrine, we saw the goddess Saraswati sitting on a peacock; in another was Lord Krishna in pink silks. Ganesha, the elephant god, had the most plates of fruit offerings in front of him.

Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe blogged:

This temple is unlike anything you would see in India — there, temples are typically centered on a single deity, but because this is the U.S., where the Hindu community hails from all over India as well as the Hindu diaspora, the temple opted for a variety of shrines to meet the needs and devotional practices of a diverse group of worshipers. When we visited, there were families and individuals bringing offerings of food and money to various shrines, there were worshipers praying silently, touching their foreheads to the floor or lying fully prostrate for a while, there was a large group praying collectively as a priest performed a ritual at the shrine of Lord Vishnu, and there was a group of adults and children silently circling a group of statues intended to represent the planets.

Anant Rambachan Following the tour, three Hindu scholars participated in a panel discussion, including Dr. Anant Rambachan, the chair of the religion department at St Olaf.  Dr Rambachan is of Indian ancestry via Trinidad.  Blogger Paulson moderated the panel, and he reported:

The biggest challenge, of course, is transmitting the faith from immigrants, most of whom grew up in a predominantly Hindu society, to their children, who are growing up in a predominantly Christian society. Temples are launching religious education programs, modeled after those in churches and synagogues, but Rambachan said there are other issues – for example, Hindus will have to decide what language to use for worship, and, he asked, “can we visualize English being a liturgical language for Hindus?” He called Hinduism “the least understood among American religious traditions,’’ noting Judaism, Christianity and Islam which “are all suspicious about imaging the divine” and emphasize the oneness of God, whereas Hinduism offers a plethora of iconography and “celebrates a multiplicity of divine names and forms.’’

Capecchi concluded:

“Even in India you don’t have a temple like this,” Ms. Chari [the Temple president] said. “But because all of us are immigrants who came here years ago, we were each yearning for our own parts of home.”

Now the same place feels like home to many Hindus in the area.

“This is home — the sounds, the smells, the colors,” said Vidya Subramani, 48, a banker who lives in Minnetonka.

A moment later, she cupped her hand above a flame to absorb Ganesha’s divinity. In a year of layoffs and foreclosures, this temple is imperative, she said. “This gives you a sense of hope that a door will open,” she said. “When you bring in good spirits, they will vibrate all around.”