Monthly Archives: April 2010

Enter a free book giveaway contest: Update with winners

Since this is a new “book blog”, I’m learning. I’ve discovered that book giveaways are hot, so what the heck, I’ll give it a try. Thus, I am announcing a book giveaway (two books, actually); the winners will receive a copy of  A Wretched Man to be shipped to you at my expense. Entries will be accepted until May 14th when the winners will be announced. Decisions of the judges (that’s me) are final. Winners will be expected (but not required) to write a review in appropriate forums*.

You enter by signing up for our email newsletter.

Follow the author via email

Increase your chances to win by commenting to this post and indicating your interest in the book.  You can also receive bonus entries by tweeting this post, signing up as a follower via Google Friend Connect (see sidebar), following on Twitter or RSS feed, and linking to this post from your own blog,   You should leave a link in the comment to prove that you did any of these things.

*Appropriate forums for review include winner’s own blog, Goodreads, Library Thing, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble online.

Update:  The two winners are Rick Rhodes and Leola Norman.  Congratulations!

Paul and Romans, chapter one

I often refer to Paul as enigma when I explain why I was drawn to write a novel about him.  His writings about a gracious God and Christian egalitarianism–no longer Jew or Greek … slave or free … male and female—have informed and inspired theologian and laity alike over the centuries.  But, charges of anti-Semitism, apologist for slavery, misogynist, and gay-bashing homophobe are also levied against his writings.  The simple explanation, of course, is that Pauline views were shaped by the cultural context of his ancient world, the 1st century mix of Greco-Roman Hellenism and Hebrew religion.

A recent post on Christian Century blogs (my other blog, Spirit of a Liberal, is also part of the CC blog network) digs much deeper into the cultural influences at play in the oft cited clobber passages at the end of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Professor James F McGrath of the religion department at Butler University offers a succinct but salient commentary into the Romans verses in which “Paul talks about homosexuality not as a sin, but as a divine punishment for sin.”

In Paul’s time, the thinking about nature, gender and intercourse was that men are by nature active and women by nature passive. What would seemed [sic] shameful in this ancient honor-shame cultural context was the transgressing of such gender roles, with men demeaning themselves by taking the passive female role, and conversely women taking on the active role which is by nature male.

Note the link between a misogynist understanding of gender and 1st century homophobia—a relationship that remains present today.  Fear of the feminine characterizes both misogynists and homophobes.

Another cultural influence, perhaps Stoic (Tarsus was home to a major Greek university of the Stoic school of philosophy), suggested that same gender sexual behavior was due to an excess of passion.  Consistent with the Stoic ideal of all things in moderation, self control was preferred to impassioned emotionalism, and homosexual behavior was understood to be an unrestrained progression of passion beyond heterosexual promiscuity and well beyond cool and dispassionate Stoicism.

Of course, Paul the Pharisee would also have been well-educated in the abominations of Leviticus so his various cultural influences would have coalesced into the untested assumption that same gender sexual behavior was unnatural.  The concepts of sexual orientation and mutually affirming and loving same-gender relationships would have been entirely alien to his now 2000-year-old cultural preconceptions.

It is appropriate to repeat the oft-stated assertion that it is unfair to ask 21st century questions of a 1st century man.

Event: Display booth at church convention

NE synod logo Last weekend, Lynn and I returned to our old stomping grounds, the NE Minnesota Synod of the ELCA.  We attended the annual assembly of Lutherans from northern Minnesota for the purpose of promoting the novel through a display booth.

The event was successful on multiple levels.  First, it was a lot of fun to return to Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd, which is the site for the assembly in even years (the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in odd years).  We saw many friends from our past association with this synod, including the contingent from our former parish in Upsala.  Secondly, we sold a lot of books—over ten percent of the attendees purchased a copy (including the bishop).  Thirdly, we effectively networked and tentatively arranged up to three more events and a possible book review.

April news: Lutheran CORE, WordAlone, LCMC

The April newsletter from Lutheran CORE is out.  The eleven page missive contains two pages trumpeting their August Convocation and nine pages bashing the ELCA.  Surprise, surprise, they persist in charging the rest of us with error, heresy, and apostasy.  Indeed, their theologian du jure claims that the ELCA is now directly challenging the authority of God.

In previous posts about the ELCA Church Council meeting earlier this month, commenters wondered why ELM representatives were allowed to be present but not CORE folks.  Turns out CORE supporters were there and a couple offered their perspectives in the CORE newsletter.  Interestingly but apropos of nothing, both mentioned the great views from the ELCA offices in Chicago.

The WordAlone Network held their annual meeting recently, and their big order of business was rebranding themselves as WordAlone Ministries and proclaiming a “New Day”.  WordAlone president Jaynan Clark apparently offered an emotional plea of repentence, falling to her knees during her keynote sermon, begging forgiveness “for anything WordAlone failed to do that the Lord called it to do in the past 10 years.”  Can I hear an amen?  Why do Matt 6:1-8 and a blubbering Jimmy Swaggert come to mind? 

The LCMC leadership conference in Omaha is underway right now.  More later.

Local newspaper offers story

My hometown newspaper, the Northfield News, published a story about me and my book last week.  Thanks for a nice article, Brenda Ward, which I reprint below:

The Apostle Paul was a highly important man in the history of Christianity. Though he never actually met Jesus, his letters are credited for being the foundation of the New Testament.

Recently, Northfield author RW “Obie” Holmen took on this controversial figure, writing and publishing a book of historical fiction titled, “A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle.”

“Paul is a such a fascinating character who said some things that seem awfully conservative and mean spirited and he seems rather negative in many respects. On the other hand he was also a writer who helped Christendom understand a gracious and loving God and who wrote the Christian Magna Carta,” said Holmen. “This novel’s protagonist comes ready-made with knotty complications and buffeted by conflict from all sides.”

Set in the first century world of the Roman empire, “A Wretched Man” is the story of Paul, a man struggling with teachings of the Torah, the religious text of Judaism, who experienced a dramatic spiritual transformation while traveling through Damascus after the crucifixion of Jesus. A vision of the resurrected Jesus opened Paul’s eyes to the graciousness of God, to a God not of division, but of oneness and love. This newfound belief in Jesus as the Christ greatly altered the course of his life.
James, Jesus’ brother, however, is not convinced of Paul’s conversion. It was this rejection that motivates Paul to spread the truth of his experience in Damascus to those of the Mediterranean world, a way to seek the approval of James and of his own self. The struggle between these two men is, ultimately, the origin of Christianity.
“Jesus himself authored no writings. Nor did any of those who followed him in the Galilee or during his fateful pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” said Holmen. “It fell to Paul the outsider, who first opposed the movement, to become its reporter, memorialist, essayist, interpreter and promoter.”

Readers will encounter Biblical characters brought to life and experience the richness of the Mediterranean landscape, its cities and wilderness.

“‘A Wretched Man’ is a stunning fictional account of the early church that reads like real-life. While a work of fiction, this just may be the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Buetz, instructor of Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, and author of “The Brother of Jesus.”

Holmen is a retired attorney and businessman who spent time in graduate school with monks at St. John’s School of Theology, at which time he began giving thought to the life of Paul. After retirement, he spent around three years writing the book. He now lives in Northfield with his wife, Lynn.

Holmen will read from and sign copies of his book at 1 p.m. May 15 at the Northfield Public Library. He will also teach a class on the process of how various writings became books of the Bible during four Sundays in May at Bethel Lutheran Church in Northfield.

WHERE TO FIND THE BOOK
“A Wretched Man” is available for $16.95 at the following locations:
• Monkey See Monkey Read Bookstore
• St. Olaf Bookstore
• Carleton College Bookstore
• Online at www.awretchedman.com

— Brenda Ward writes features and may be reached at 645-1117 or bward@northfieldnews.com.

April tally of congregations voting out of the ELCA

In response to my request to the office of the ELCA secretary, I received an email from The Rev Ruth E Hamilton, Ph.D., which is reprinted below:

These are the latest statistics:

As of April 7, we have been advised that 308 first votes have been taken by congregations to terminate their relationship with the ELCA (some congregations have taken more than one first vote).  Of those 308 first votes, 221 passed and 87 failed.   Synods also have informed the Office of the Secretary that 90 congregations have taken a second vote, 89 of which passed.  (This does not mean that all of these congregations have been removed from the roster because Synod Council approval is required for congregations established by the ELCA and former congregations of the Lutheran Church in America, and, in some cases, the vote is disputed because questions exist regarding the process.  The Office of the Secretary will remove a congregation from the roster only upon advice of the synod.)  As of this date 46 congregations have been removed.

For comparison purposes, the website of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) reports 185 new congregations since CWA09.  It would appear that a heavy preponderance of the congregations departing the ELCA are coming to rest in LCMC, which raises interesting issues for the Lutheran CORE progeny, the new denomination scheduled to start next August, which will be called the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  Again, remember that the ELCA counts over 10,000 congregations on its rolls.

ELCA Synod Assembly update: NE Minnesota

This past weekend, the NE Minnesota synod of the ELCA met in annual assembly at Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd.  The annual assemblies rotate between this venue and the Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center in alternate years.  This is the synod my wife and I formerly belonged to, and it was a delight to see many familiar faces and to renew friendships.  We were in attendance to promote my recently released novel of Biblical fiction, A Wretched Man.

In private conversations with Bishop Tom Aiken, and in his report to the assembly, Bishop Tom said that the eight months since the church wide assembly decisions of August (CWA09) have been difficult … but it is the nature of the church to always face a crossroads, he added.

Bishop Thomas AikenSome in our synod are joy-filled about the new ministry policies, some are unhappy, and the bulk are somewhere in between, pondering this issue and willing to live with our decisions as a church. I believe we can be a stronger church if we take this time in the life of our synod, to become more dedicated to a deeper study of Scripture and grow more fervent in our love for each other and for our call to the ministry of reconciliation we received from God.

The Bishop reported that nine synod congregations had taken first votes to leave the ELCA, but only one first vote had achieved the required 2/3 majority.

I spoke at length with two ladies whose congregations are in conflict (one congregation voted to stay and the other is likely to vote to leave), and the tears in their eyes and quivering lips betrayed their anguish.  For both, the most odious and hurtful aspect of the conflict was that their own faith as Christians was being questioned; despite lengthy involvement as leaders of their local congregations, their own moral standing before God was the subject of whisper campaigns because they dared to support gays and the ELCA, and their own pastors had been complicit in the judgmentalism of the schismatic faction.

Coincidentally, the weekend saw a similarly self-righteous op-ed piece published by a Duluth newspaper (Duluth is the largest city in the synod and the home of the ELCA synod offices).  The article was entitled Pastor’s view: ELCA must repent for turning back on God and subtitled Lutheran? I don’t think so.  Curiously, the newspaper named the author as a pastor of a local Lutheran church but failed to note his LCMS (Missouri Synod) affiliation.

The only official order of business pertaining to the revised ELCA ministry policies was a resolution calling for a polling of congregations and congregational members regarding their views of the CWA09 decisions.  The first speaker from the floor opposed the resolution because it was extra-constitutional—a method of decision-making inconsistent with constitutional procedures.  A second speaker suggested it was time to move on and that such a polling would prick the scab off the still fresh wound in his own congregation that had voted to stay and to move forward.  Following repeated invitations from the bishop for someone to speak in favor of the resolution, one person came forward and offered half-hearted support.  The fourth speaker moved the question, and the resolution failed by an overwhelming show of hands—to my eyes, it appeared that only 10% or so supported the resolution.

Last week, I reported on the first round of springtime ELCA synod assemblies, and I invite you to post a comment about your assembly.

Springtime in the synods UPDATED

The primary legislative body of the ELCA is the assembly of voting members.  Nationally, there are church wide assemblies every two years, but in each of the 65 regional synods, there are annual, springtime assemblies.  The season of synod assemblies has begun, and the first reports are trickling in.  I encourage folks of various synods who follow this blog to provide your own reports of your assemblies.

Synod assemblies often consider resolutions or memorials urging the church wide assembly to do this or that.  These resolutions are not binding but merely express the mood or prevailing views of the various synods.  According to the Fargo, North Dakota, Forum newspaper, the Eastern North Dakota synod rejected a resolution that would have urged a reversal of the pro-LGBT ministry policy resolutions enacted at the 2009 church wide assembly (CWA09).  The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast synod also met this past weekend, and there were apparently no resolutions pertaining to the CWA09 decisions.  According to one report, the bishop reported that the sister synods in South America and Africa had not expressed disapproval of the revised ELCA ministry policies, and the bishop suggested immigration reform ought to be the paramount concern of this synod in geographical proximity to Latin America.

This weekend, I will be in attendance at the NE Mn synod assembly (our old synod) where I will have a display promoting my book, but I will certainly pay close attention to the actions of the voting members.  In two weeks, my wife and I will be voting members at our new SE Mn synod’s assembly in Rochester.

Again, I urge readers to provide reports from other synod assemblies.  A full calendar (pdf file) of springtime assemblies is available from the ELCA website.

UPDATE:

The third synod assembly held last weekend was in SW Minnesota.  In a private email from a voting member, I was informed that a resolution to memorialize churchwide to rescind the ministry policy actions of CWA09 was defeated, but not without “nasty and high hatted” debate points offered by the conservative proponents of the failed resolution.

National media discovers the ELCA

The recent actions of the ELCA council revamping ministry policies and welcoming ELM clergy into the ELCA were natural consequences of CWA09–hardly surprising but welcome nevertheless.  For those of us in the ELCA, as well as the trio of dissident organizations (LCMC, CORE, & Wordalone), the news and the issues behind the news are in some ways old hat. 

Dr. Cindi Love Not so with a national news article appearing on the Huffington Post and the hundreds of comments that follow.  The article was written by Rev Dr. Cindi Love, the newly appointed executive director of Soulforce (an LGBTQ advocacy group).  Except for the rather notably understated reference to CWA09 as merely “discussions”, the article is pretty straight forward.  Many of the comments that follow the article are rants from trolls.

Yet, I commend the article and the comments because it affords us a glimpse into the way others view Lutherans.  Hear the words of Dr. Love:

The ELCA has served as the beta test site for a process through which a very traditional faith community can reverse its thinking and policies. They will continue to push the envelope and all of us will learn from their experiences. Other denominational leaders and congregants will be glad that they tested the waters first.

The ELCA has conducted itself with grace and dignity, and many of us are longing for some of that type of public civility. Their example is going to make people within other embattled denominations long for a better process within their own communities. The ELCA members didn’t wage war in public with one another. There was no public outcry that diminished everyone while they worked their way through a quarter century of discussion.

One critical comment pointed out that Love overlooks the pain of dissension felt in some congregations and some geographical areas such as Montana:

Unfortunately the ELCA churches of Montana are going through tremendous upheaval over this issue- yes, they are arguing in public, friendships of many years are dissolving as people refuse to talk to one another, or yell at each other, some churches have stopped donating to the ELCA altogether etc. Most every church is taking a vote on whether to leave the ELCA or not. This is the situation in Montana, and it’s not pretty or quiet- and readers need to know that tremendous pain is being caused by this process.

Other comments contain plenty of judgment and condemnation:

ELCA – Another Apostate Denomination … God will be their judge. Woe to them when that time comes.

But, there is a refreshing new awareness from many that the ELCA may be a welcoming place.  There is a recurring theme of agnostics and wounded former Christians taking a second look.  Here is a sampling:

So Lutherans, I applaud your decision to welcome ALL your children back into your pews. I hope other religious leaders will follow your example.

I’m confused, but for the most part happy. As a proud agnostic, I have issues with people’s struggle to be accepted by a segment of the population that blatantly thought less of them. However, I wholeheartedly embrace the decision by the church as something loving and progressive.

I am not even a Christian, but nonetheless, throughout my life, I have revered the message of Christ – one of love and tolerance and inclusion. And that’s what the Lutherans did with this declaration – they embraced the loving spirit of Christ regardless of the words (and translated, to boot!) in the book … Jesus would be proud of them. They are walking with the spirit in love and acceptance. Exactly the way Jesus intended.

What is so striking to me about the Lutheran journey toward inclusion is the way that, in recent years especially, they have considered their ministry to the LGBTQ community. When asked, what is the pastoral message to the LGBTQ, they have had an answer. All too often, our congregations/denominations reveal that they have no response to the pastoral needs of the LGBTQ community. Kudos to the ELCA! May we all follow their example.

Some straight people equate homosexuality with one thing SEX. Why not try just once to look at us as people. You are so hung up on the sexual aspect you can’t see the forest for the trees. Stop using the bible to do your dirty work and stop hiding behind it. Do some research or are you afraid to learn we put our socks on one foot at a time just like you. I imagine many bibles are only dusted off when needed as an anti gay weapon because you would not be spewing this garbage if you read it.

Congratulations, ECLA, and a bit of applause from one of the ‘neighbors.’ 🙂
You’ve helped make the world a little less divided tonight, …whatever some may say, less hate in the world can’t be bad.  Blessed be.

When it comes to Christians, the Lutherans are probably the most tolerant. They believe in grace.

Once I read this, as a former Mormon but (continuing) homosexual man, I have spent the afternoon researching the Lutheran-organized charities in my neighborhood. I am thrilled that there is finally a faith-based organization I can believe in (even though it has specific tenets with which I do not agree.) I am excited that I can volunteer with or donate to their charity organizations without the underlying fear that the fruits of my good intentions will go toward encouraging further discrimination against me, my husband and my fellow gay brothers and sisters.

There was a time when this news would have meant a lot to me personally. I still think it’s great, particularly since the influence of the church is so huge in the U.S. I’m happy that a major mainline denomination has taken this step and hope it will lead others (like the milk toast Methodists) to finally do the same. For me personally, however, this is too little to late. I gave up on the church long ago partly because of it’s stance on homosexuality, among a host of other nonsensical stances. I now consider myself an agnostic more inclined to support secular humanism that some religious superstition and hierarchy. Still – congratulations to those still within the church who have worked so hard for this victory against prejudice and ignorance.

Even as a non-believer, I find this to be great news. Thank you, Lutherans. Maybe some believers actually are good people.

Canadian Lutherans preparing human sexuality social statement

ELCIC logo Our Lutheran friends and family north of the border (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada—ELCIC) are boldly stepping forward with the process of creating a social statement on human sexuality.  Of course, it was the ELCA sexuality statement and related changes to ministry policies enacted at the 2009 churchwide assembly (CWA09) that has roiled the ELCA, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.  The Canadian Lutherans are in the process of discernment and discussion with the goal of presenting the finished policy statement to their 2011 national assembly.  For information on the process, check out the ELCIC website.

At this time, the first draft has been created consisting of eleven pages.  Although the document deals with the broad range of human sexuality, certainly the passages relating to gays and lesbians will draw the greatest attention.  Here is what this preliminary document, released April 15th, states:

This church acknowledges diversity of opinion on how to respond to the reality that people of orientations other than heterosexual are members of our neighbourhood and are faithful members of this church. Our church is affected by the biases of our heterosexually-privileged culture, and by our society’s call for more openness. Working from a rich and faithful practice of Word and Sacrament, members of this church have come to very different opinions on these matters.

Opportunities for ministry will be maximized by permitting congregations to engage in practices that more fully enable persons of various sexual orientations to live as members of the body of Christ and as co-workers in ministry. This would empower congregations to support families and the processes of healing, no matter how family is defined, and to help nurture disciples who “are responsible persons made in the image of God.”

This church commits itself to engaging the diverse faces of the world in which we live. This church recognizes that meeting diverse peoples and forming a truly inclusive community will be a journey of discovery that will include moments of discomfort and anxiety. This church celebrates the vital role that congregations play in helping diverse people of faith to meet and to form community.