Monthly Archives: August 2010

Wisdom from Herb Chilstrom

Pr. Herbert Chilstrom during Plenary Session Nine Since the formation of the ELCA in 1988, the denomination has been shepherded by three presiding Bishops:  Herb Chilstrom, H George Anderson, and currently Mark Hanson.  Herb and wife Corrine now reside in retirement in St. Peter, Minnesota.  On August 26th, Herb penned an op-ed piece for the newspaper in nearby Mankato—his response to the formation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) as a splinter from the ELCA.  Bishop Chilstrom asked three rhetorical questions of those who have departed the ELCA for NALC, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), or another church body.

First, what is it about sex that pushed you over the edge?

The retired Bishop wonders why some elevate questions of sexual behavior over more momentous issues such as abortion, war and peace, and the death penalty.  What is it about the sexual behavior of others that causes such a visceral outcry and schismatic response?

[Other issues seem] far more serious than getting upset about two adults of the same gender who, like most of us straight folks, chose to live peacefully in a life-long relationship — the only such pairing the ELCA has approved. Like their straight neighbors, they live peacefully, go to their jobs every morning, pay their taxes, volunteer for good causes and, in many cases, worship with us. What is it that upsets you about this?

Ah, the straw that broke the camel’s back comes the response.  The various dissident groups go to great lengths to suggest that LGBT issues were merely the tipping point that reflects a lengthy ELCA drift away from tradition and traditional Biblical interpretations.  To be sure, LCMC was formed nearly a decade ago, and many LCMC congregations departed the ELCA prior to CWA09 (but the LCMC has doubled in size since CWA09).

Here is my take.  CWA09 resolutions were not the tipping point but the opportunity seized upon by long time ELCA detractors to scare the the folks in the pews into following their leadership.  For much of the hierarchy of WordAlone, CORE, NALC, and even LCMC, their disaffection with the ELCA goes back to the very beginning, and it can all be summed up in one word—CONTROL.  This blog has previously critiqued the comments of dissident theologians Nestingen, Braaten, and Benne who in similar ways lamented the egalitarian impulses of the newly formed ELCA thereby diminishing the power of the male elites.  Over the years, this coterie repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to achieve leadership status within the ELCA.

But then came CWA09.  They saw their chance and they took it.  CWA09 handed the dissidents a cultural wedge issue that they could use to drive ELCA congregants and congregations away from the ELCA and into their own organization, under their control.  So, Herb, it is not about sex.  Nor is it truly about Biblical interpretation.  Here the Missouri Synod critique of the new Lutheran church bodies makes sense—if these new organizations truly want to be Biblical traditionalists, why do they allow female clergy?  Or divorced clergy?  The existence of female and divorced clergy within their ranks puts the lie to the claim that it is all about strict and traditional Biblical interpretation.  No, Herb, it is something else.  It is all about power and control.

Here is Bishop Chilstrom’s second question:

Second, why are you organizing new churches?

Surely there must be one among them [existing Lutheran bodies] that would welcome you. Why go to all the unnecessary expense of setting up an entirely new structure with officers, boards, committees and institutions?

This might be a good place to interject some basic data about the numerous small and uniformly conservative Lutheran Church bodies that exist in the US in open criticism of the more-progressive ELCA.  For comparison, the ELCA has over 10,000 congregations and over 4 million members (statistics for each derived from Wikipedia or the organization’s website)

  • Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2.4 million members
  • Wisconsin Synod (WELS) 1,300 congregations
  • Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) 500 congregations
  • Free Lutheran Churches (AFLC) 270 congregations
  • Lutheran Brethren 123 Congregations
  • North American Lutheran Church (NALC) 18 congregations.

Bishop Chilstrom assumes the reason why LCMC and NALC don’t join one of the other bodies is because LCMC and NALC will continue to ordain women as their legacy from the ELCA.  I know the LCMC is attempting to to position itself as the moderate middle of Lutherandom with the more progressive ELCA on the left and the more conservative others on the right.  There would also appear to be an organizational difference between LCMC (congregational autonomy) and NALC (a denominational structure).  I have previously characterized LCMC as a website and a mailing list.  Their organizational paid staff is minimal.  No seminaries, no colleges, no candidacy committees, no disaster relief, no missionary support, no … fill in the blank.  It is merely an affiliation of like minded congregations that are free to do their own thing with minimal organizational support or control.

There’s that word again.  CONTROL.  See the answer to number 1, Herb.

Here is Bishop Chilstrom’s final question:

Third, what will you say to your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and others in your churches when they tell you they are homosexual?

This is the nub of it.  We can argue about “gay issues” till we’re blue in the face, but we miss the human element.  This not some academic argument; this is about real lives, children of God, baptized brothers and sisters.  I asked last week how many church bulletins proclaim “all are welcome”—and really mean it. 

“What will you say to your sons and daughters?” Herb asks. 

Will you offer empty platitudes (hate the sin but love the sinner)?  Will you “pray the gay away?”  Will you offer junk science such as reparative therapy that will only deepen their pain?  Will you turn your back or offer an embrace?

Retired Pastor Duane from my congregation tells the story of the gay high school boy who came out to him and then asked Duane to accompany him when he came out to his parents. 

Mom came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, with a worried look on her face when the pair arrived in the driveway.

“Mom, I’m gay,” the boy said.

“Is that all?” and mom smiled with relief and gave her son a hug.

They were still in the driveway when dad arrived in the pickup with mud flaps and a rifle slung in the rear window.  He exited the cab with a mixed expression of anger and concern.

“Dad, I’m gay”, the son said.

Dad’s face drained of all color, and his eyes turned black.  He looked at his son, his wife, Pastor Duane, and back at his son.  Then, his eyes moistened and his lips quivered.

“I don’t understand,” he said, his voice cracking, “and I probably never will.  But, you’re my son, and I love you.”  Father and son fell into each other’s arms, shaking and sobbing.

This isn’t about doctrine, or confessionalism, or Biblical interpretation, and it ought not be about control.  This is about grace.  This is about trust.  Let go and let God.  Listen to the wisdom of Herb Chilstrom:

I am both sad and relieved that you are leaving. Sad, because this was not what we hoped for when the ELCA was formed some 22 years ago. We believed we could be a church where we held to the essentials and allowed for differences on non-essentials.
But I am also relieved. Now those of us who remain in the ELCA can get on with our primary mission of telling everyone  — everyone — “Jesus loves you. You are welcome in this church.”

North American Lutheran Church spawned by CORE

The long awaited and much ballyhooed Convocation of Lutheran CORE is underway in Grove City, Ohio.  At the Convocation, eighteen former ELCA congregations have banded together as charter members of the CORE created Lutheran denomination auspiciously called The North American Lutheran Church (NALC). 

Eighteen. 

Newly elected NALC bishop Paull Spring predicts the new denomination will soon grow to as many as two hundred congregations.  Even this optimistic view seems a far cry from “A Reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism”, yet the press release yesterday persisted in that hyperbole and added the prideful presumption that the actions of CORE were the Lord’s doing:

Our Lord’s reconfiguring of the Lutheran landscape not only in North America, but worldwide, is breathtaking and exciting.

Eighteen.

Spring suggested that the ELCA gay friendly resolutions of a year ago were merely the tipping point, and it was the ELCA’s long term drift away from Scripture that is really the issue.  According to the Associated Press report on the Convocation and an interview with Bishop Spring,

He gave as an example the ELCA’s use of inclusive language that strips male references to God — such as “Father” and “Son” — replacing them with words like “Creator” and “Savior.”

Bishop Paull SpringDid he really say that?  Did he really claim that “Creator” is non-scriptural?  Did he really argue that “Savior” is non-scriptural?  The verses that prove the contrary are too numerous to list, but here are a couple of obvious examples.  Surely the recycled Bishop is familiar with Romans 1, perhaps the favorite “clobber passage” of those who would use Scripture to bash gays, where Paul nobly references “the Creator”.  And what about those favorites of churchly misogynists, the Pastoral Epistles–surely the Bishop knows these well?  How did he miss the numerous references there to the “Savior”?  What kind of Biblical parsing is the Bishop up to? 

In this case, at least, it would appear that the arrogance of Biblicism is matched by its incompetence.

Paul the apostle, the man from Tarsus

Tarsus map Although Paul never mentioned his city of origin, the Book of Acts reports that Tarsus, in modern day Turkey, was the home of the diaspora Jew.  In the first century, Tarsus was a major city, home to a Greek University of the Stoic school of philosophy, and the capitol of the coastland and plains province of Cilicia.  Churning out of the rugged mountain pass known as the Cilician Gates (Alexander’s army passed this way), the Cydnus River rushed toward Tarsus before slowing and ribboning the last ten miles to the sea.

In A Wretched Man novel, this city and the river provided the setting for many scenes (the names are in the Greek language of the times).

A caterpillar rafted down the river aboard a silvery olive leaf. The larvae had not yet become a moth, a butterfly, or whatever it was destined to be. Speeding through the ripples, slowing in a pool, and spinning in an eddy, the hairy pilgrim drifted with the current.

Perched on a rocky outcropping along the River Kydnos, the teen-aged boy named Paulos dangled his feet in the cool alpine waters, coursing toward the sea from the nearby mountains. Snow-capped peaks loomed over the Cilician plain and the city of Tarsos like white-haired eminences in vigil over their domain. Here was the young man’s sanctuary: a maze of rocks, pools, and small waterfalls just upriver from Tarsos, his home.

Cydnus river Much changes in two millennia.  Tarsus is now a small city wedged between the greater burgs of Mersin to the west and Adana to the east.  Rivers silt in, dams and levies altar God’s creation.  Do modern day pictures of Cydnus river rapids depict the spot where Alexander bathed and nearly caught his death of a chill?  Does the slow river beneath Tarsus where Cleopatra’s barge entertained Marc Anthony now follow a different course?

And the centuries spawn myths and legends—here is Cleopatra’s bridge and there is the church of St Paul, the site of his childhood home according to local tradition.  Turkey is now Islamic, and St Paul’s church is merely a museum, but that may change if the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate gets his way:St Paul church garden

Bardakoğlu called for the reopening of the Saint Paul Church in Tarsus, a district of the southern province of Mersin, comments he reiterated at the iftar. “I find it more correct if the Saint Paul Church in Tarsus serves as a church than in its current role as a museum,” he said.

Go there as a pilgrim and ponder; or join me in my wonderings as I imagined my way onto the shores of first century riverbanks, pricked my ears at hawkers in boisterous marketplaces, and meandered through back alleys as Roman legionaries lurked in the shadows.  One reviewer said it this way:

a stupendous novel about Paul … the book is beautifully written full of descriptions of the Holy Land’s landscape and Agriculture … made me read further, stop reading, begin reading and so on throughout the book … I questioned, I discovered, I began to see with a better lighting … birthed in me a desire to know more.

In celebration of St. Martin’s Table

St Martins Front In 1984, a new restaurant opened in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, between the west bank campus of the University of Minnesota and Augsburg, a private liberal arts college of the ELCA.  Restaurants come and go, and this new start was hardly noteworthy except that the goal was not to make money but to give it away, and they have succeeded beyond the founder’s wildest imagination.  By the time that St. Martin’s Table serves its final customers this December, 26 years after it first offered delicious, homemade vegetarian fare, it will have gifted over $700,000 to alleviate hunger locally and globally.

St. Martin’s Table is an outreach ministry of the Community of St. Martin. It is a bookstore and restaurant open to the general public. St. Martin’s Table strives to be a center for peacemaking and justice seeking. This focus springs from the Community’s faith, centered in the life and teachings of Jesus, and so we seek to provide hospitality to all people in their journeys toward peace, justice and wholeness.

St Martin's TableThe existence of St. Martin’s Table was one of those things that lay somewhere in the recesses of my mind.  I knew about it, but I didn’t really know about it.  Thus, when I stopped in for lunch for the first time a month or so ago, my response was “why haven’t I been here before” and “I can’t wait to come back.”  The homemade gazpacho and generous wedge of carrot cake were part of the attraction, but it was much more than that.

The food served is a celebration of God’s gifts to us. To that end, St. Martin’s Table serves vegetarian meals with and emphasis on locally grown and organic food. Volunteer servers not only contribute their time, but also contribute their tips to programs that alleviate hunger in the global community.

Conversation takes place not only around the table at noon, but also during programs centered on peacemaking, justice issues and community-building through the arts. St. Martin’s Table is also available for study, worship, fellowship and special events for the wider community.

St. Martin’s Table strives to be fiscally sound and to be a good steward of all resources, especially as they relate to the long-term vitality of the Table. As an alternative business, it is our priority to model a more just way to live and have that reflected in the relationships we cultivate. The Table strives to be a place of peace where creative visions for a world of justice are welcomed and nurtured.

And who is St. Martin, the namesake of the community and the restaurant/bookstore?

The restaurant/bookstore, like the ecumenical community, was named for five Martins who have been models of change, truth and resistance in the Christian faith:

  • Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer who taught the theology of the cross
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., for his leadership in nonviolent protest to end racism and injustice
  • Martin of Tours, a fourth century Roman soldier turned pacifist
  • Martin de Porres, a Spanish-Indian healer who served the poor of Peru in the 1600s
  • Martin Niemoeller, a German pastor imprisoned for his nonviolent resistance to the Nazis during World War II

On August 25th, I received an email that announced that The Table would serve its last meal this coming December.

It is with thankfulness for all of the hospitality that has been shown here for 26 years, and also with great sadness that we announce that St. Martin’s Table will be closing in December, 2010.

Bookstore manager Kathleen Olsen encouraged people to continue to support The Table between now and Christmas. “We hope that our loyal clientele, in addition to those who have never been to The Table, will join us in the upcoming months for good food, good books, and good conversation. Help us celebrate a great 26 years!”

Drop in for lunch or leave a greeting on the Facebook page ( which lists the Thursday menu as “Soups: Creamy Curry Split Pea and Chilled Cucumber Yogurt followed by Cashew Carrot (cold). Spreads: Swiss Dill, Tofuna and Bunny Luv”).

A Minnesota report on the ELCA one year later

Minnesota Since Lutheranism was born and raised in northern Europe, it is not surprising that Minnesota, settled largely by Scandinavian and German immigrants over a century ago, is truly God’s country for many North American Lutherans.  Roughly ten percent of all ELCA Lutherans in the US reside in Minnesota, home to six of sixty five regional synods and 1,143 congregations out of 10,400 nationwide.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune (Strib) is the leading Minnesota newspaper, and its Sunday, August 22, edition contained an excellent article reporting on the status of the ELCA one year after the momentous gay friendly resolutions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly (CWA09)—held in Minneapolis, of course. 

This blog has long suggested that the defections from the ELCA are best characterized as a trickle but not a torrent.  Strib reporter Jim Spencer concurs.   The article is entitled “Lutherans bowed but unbroken”, and that is an apt summary of the article that suggests:

Disappointed opponents predicted a fracture that would cause 1,000 congregations to withdraw.  A year later, the ELCA remains largely intact.  “That 1,000-congregation figure has proven to be wishful thinking on the part of those who wanted it to happen,” said Larry Wohlrabe, Bishop of Minnesota’s rural Northwestern Synod.

Penny Edgell, a University of Minnesota sociologist who studies American religion, said fears of the ELCA collapsing under the weight of gay clergy decision were “overstated.”

But, as Pastor Jeff from Arizona who frequently comments here will remind us, this past year has not been without pain.  Many congregations remaining ELCA are roiled with internal conflict.  Financial contributions are way down although most observers would agree that has more to do with the Great Recession than ELCA politics.  Declining membership continues, but that has been true for decades, and Professor Edgell notes,

“What’s happening to American Christian churches doesn’t have much to do with these hot-button issues,” Edgell said. “It has to do with demographics. Younger generations don’t view these institutions the same way their parents did.”

Cheerleaders for the demise of the ELCA will not go away quietly.  Lutheran CORE, the primary ELCA irritant, will audaciously roll out its new denomination this weekend, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), trumpeted as “a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism.”  Spencer’s Strib article suggests:

While fewer than 10 congregations have committed to joining NALC, organizers say hundreds eventually will.

Perhaps.

Seven California Pastors On September 18th, Minnesota will celebrate a Rite of Reconciliation that will formally reinstate Pastor Anita Hill of St Paul and others onto the ELCA roster of ordained clergy.  A similar ceremony welcomed seven California LGBTQ pastors onto the ELCA roster earlier this summer.  Pastor Hill was mentioned in the Strib article:

“I feel a sense of loss for those who felt they had to leave because I am welcome,” said Anita Hill, a lesbian who is a pastor at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Hill defied her church’s ban on gay clergy for eight years as her congregation endured sanctions and battled for change. “I never thought the inclusion of some required others to depart,” she said.

How many church bulletins proclaim “All are welcome”?  And mean it?  Enjoy this UCC video that is critical of congregations that merely give lip service to full welcome.

Lutheran response to A Wretched Man

Feedback to A Wretched Man has come in many forms: critical reviews, online bookstore comments (Amazon & Barnes/Noble), private emails, and book blogs.  Recently, a new medium has chimed in—the Lutheran blogosphere.  Those who are familiar with my other blog, Spirit of a Liberal, a blog of progressive, religious themes, may also follow the ELCA news blog of Susan Hogan called Pretty Good Lutherans and ELCA Pastor Brant Clement’s blog called Both Saint and Cynic since we all link to each other regularly.  Each of these Lutheran blogs offered articles about the novel within the last week.

Pastor Brant offered a book review.

Holmen gives flesh to his characters. They eat, drink (sometimes too much) and void waste. They feel love, anger, jealousy, joy and sorrow. They fight and make up. Or not. These Apostles are not Sunday School flannel-graph cut-outs, but complex, three-dimensional human beings.

It is clear that Holmen has done his homework. Everyday life in the first century Mediterranean world is evoked with detail and description. The author has also digested a great deal of current New Testament scholarship and woven it seamlessly into his narrative.

Most importantly, Holmen spins a good yarn.

Susan Hogan provided insight through a question and answer session with me.   Here’s a sampling:

Q. What challenges do you face in marketing Christian fiction?

A. For a lot of people, the word “Christian” means evangelical or conservative Christian. That’s the popular conception. My book is written for a more progressive readership, and it is best characterized as historical fiction with religious themes because it doesn’t fit the popular perception of the genre of Christian fiction. It is edgier than most Christian fiction.”

Thanks to both Susan and Brant for your interest in my novel and for helping to publicize it.

What do you know for sure?

Self doubt is the blossom of wisdom, self assurance its rot.  Socrates purportedly said the only true wisdom is that one knows nothing.  Vanity, vanity, all is vanity saith the teacher.  Jeremiah admonished the haughty, “do not let the wise boast in their wisdom.”  Paul added, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  “Let go and let God” replies the 12th stepper. 

I happened on the blog today of Kathy Baldock that husked the kernel this way:

My know-it-all attitude was already being confronted  by having my Christian marriage ending over fidelity+ issues and I was open to considering that maybe I did not have all the answers, maybe I did not understand as much as I thought.  I was in that scary place of failure and being unsure. I was ripe for change.

To stretch in any area of growth and to shed the comfort of assurance is unsettling and intimidating. My comfort was broken just enough to allow challenge to some of my core beliefs about several things.  So, for me, it was crisis that opened me more to God’s Spirit. My own voice and opinions were becoming less loud in me; I was hurt and willing to listen.  This was a pivotal point in my own faith walk.  I moved out of the known and into the scary.

Kathy Baldock Kathy, a straight ally who blogs at Canyonwalker Connections, comes from an Evangelical background, and she confesses that she once bashed the gay community, “I felt compelled to tell ‘the truth in love’ and did so quite a few times.” [a favorite catch-phrase of self assured gay bashers]

But, in her own vulnerability, as she encountered ambiguity in her own life, her ingrained assumptions proved empty when she stumbled upon another hurting human on the dusty hiking paths of the nearby canyons.  After more than a year of a developing trust, her friend confided,

I am the absolute lowest on the totem pole.  I am a Native American.  I am a woman, and I am a lesbian.  Not even God loves me.

Perhaps a self-assured person would not have heard the pain in this lament, but Kathy’s own wounds allowed her to listen and to grow:

I was growing in my own relationship with God; it was less about rules and more about grace and mercy. Grace and mercy on me from Him. It flowed outward to those around me. I had to understand it before I could extend it. I often say, you cannot export what you do not have.  I can now see that the way believers treat the needy, the less powerful and those on the edge says more about their own relationship with God than just about any other indicator.  When I see grace come out of a person, that is what is in their reservoir. When I see anger and intolerance come out, then unresolved pain is in their reservoir. I was personally going through massive, miraculous, marvelous healing and grace was filling the newly available places in me. Grace was filling my reservoirs and it was coming out.

“Not even God loves me,” said the woman hiking the canyons. 

Kathy knew scripture; she knew the oft-quoted clobber passages, but their message of condemnation seemed dry as the canyon trail.  It was time for some good news.  You are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, sang the Psalmist.  To her hurting friend, Kathy became a wounded healer.  To the gay and lesbian community, Kathy became a grace-filled, evangelist of good news.  To the “hate the sin but love the sinner” church community, Kathy issued a challenge.

I made up my own story about gay and trans people according to my truth about them. Are you doing that?  When you humbly get outside your own understanding and story and engage another person that is nothing like you, it can be challenging and scary. What if you are wrong about them?

Equality for the GLBT community is coming and we, as Christians, both straight and GLBT, have a great opportunity in this to grow in grace and love as we challenge our judgments and fear. We can either do this the world-way of yelling and polarizing or the Jesus-way of engaging with hospitality.  Up until now, the church has been very guilty of conducting ourselves in the world-way.  We are not looking very Jesus-like to those outside the church.

What do you know for sure?

A collection of post CWA09 personal stories

debaters For the past few months, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), through its Public Insight Network and Speaking of Faith project, has been soliciting feedback from ELCA Lutherans regarding the gay-friendly policy changes resulting from the Churchwide assembly one year ago (CWA09).  Many of the responses were published recently in an article entitled A church divided, together.

The responses run the gamut of human emotions and of church political views. 

A church organist expressed depression at being forced, for reasons of income, to remain employed with an ELCA congregation despite his unyielding conviction that the ELCA had devalued the Bible:

I have had a long, depressing period of very serious soul-searching, and haven’t the slightest doubt about my convictions.

I feel as though I’ll be working in this congregation until my retirement, but that it will no longer be “my church”. My offerings are all now going elsewhere, to ministries where the truth of the Bible is valued.

Another pair of congregants, husband and wife, with a long history in their small town congregation, feel the strain on their social relationships because they chose to leave and attend a different congregation that has severed ties with the ELCA:

Their social network centered around the church, and now their friendships are suffering. “We have a lot of really good friends that are members of that congregation and we still see them socially. But it certainly has put a strain on our relationship. It’s not easy to make that kind of a break,” he says.

A congregant from Arizona said the heavy-handed and questionable tactics of the anti-ELCA faction caused him to become a strong supporter of the ELCA, calling the rabble rousing of the dissidents “the worst display of Christian disharmony I have ever witnessed,” and he deeply resented that:

We lost a beautiful church and campus many of our members had worked hard and long to establish. The legal methods our anti-ELCA group used were devious and too easy for them to destroy our former church. Church members should have the right to disagree but it should not be so easily possible for them to destroy a church.

Perhaps the most eloquent lament over the consequences of fear and mistrust came from a gay man from rural Minnesota whose father was pastor of the local ELCA congregation, fired for speaking on behalf of his son and the ELCA revised policy.  At first, the young man was overjoyed at the decisions of CWA09:

I was never prouder. I was so excited. Thrilled. Giddy with the Holy Spirit. Yes, this was my church! Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the church my Dad preached in every Sunday. This was the church I joined with my Mom and the choir, filling it with song. This was true fellowship. This was love. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself. This is God’s Love. This is why Jesus died on the cross. He died for me. So that I could be part of this wonderful family.

But then, the fear-mongering and ostracizing began:

I hear talk of false prophets and evilness and their eyes turn toward me. Me. Me?!

Wow. This is not right. This is not right at all. I must have gotten off at the wrong stop. Made a wrong turn. Crossed the wrong road. Maybe I’m lost in a dream that went south. Way south. The eyes on me hurt. The judgment hurts my very soul. Teenaged boys stare at me as if I were possessed. Young women avert their eyes. My Dad is sneered at. My Mom cries.

Yet, the young man’s hope is unbowed:

No, I didn’t take a wrong turn. My Dad is still my Dad. Wise and with God. Always with God. My Mom still loves her choir and her bells and her Bible. The Bible is the very same one I read growing up. And I know I’m not that false prophet people talk about. God knows I’m not that false prophet. I know the ELCA was right with God when the resolutions passed this past August. They did it with prayer. They did it with care. The Holy Spirit was with them as it was with me… then and now.

I know Jesus died for me. I know he rises again and is in my heart and soul.

As for my church? Fear and ignorance can be a deadly work. Thick and messy. But I’m on a mission. God’s mission.

I will find my church. I think I know where it is. I hope and pray my church is in Hawley, Minnesota. Right where it’s been for well over a hundred years. The foundation appears as strong as it ever was…with God. Working with God’s people.

I am convinced that this strife will pass, and while we grieve the loss of those who feel compelled to depart, we who are the ELCA shall emerge, smaller perhaps, but stronger and more committed to the love of Christ and an inclusive church that lives that love.  I concur in the comments of the husband and father from St. Louis:

I have discovered that I feel strongly about oppression in all its forms.

I believe that although the ELCA may have lost some members because of this vote, it is because we have chosen to be more open and welcoming, less fear-mongering, and truer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That can only be a good thing.”

And, finally, I offer the summation of the woman from Woodbury, Minnesota, a straight ally, who felt ostracized by her conservative congregation before finding a comfortable home in a more inclusive setting:

… in the process I have made many new Christian friends. I also connected with some who had also transferred from other churches for the same reason. Finally, I felt understood.

I wish this transition had been easier for the ELCA, but the difficulties of my journey, which pale in comparison to the journeys of those more personally affected, have enriched my life.

More blog attention for A Wretched Man

Another review appeared recently on a book blog, and last week I was interviewed on blog talk radio.  Stephanie, at Curling up by the Fire, wrote the following:

Mr. Holmen was able to show Paul’s struggles with his own spiritual self as well as with the political world in this novel, to the point where I felt I was right there along with the people involved.  I felt a connection with the people (I can’t use the word characters as these people were actually alive and existed) and a great empathy for their belief and what they were trying to accomplish, putting themselves in great danger.

The world in Mr. Holmen’s book is also brought vividly to life and I enjoyed reading about the daily life of the people involved in the New Testament.  Even simple things like what they ate for breakfast and descriptions of the homes, boats, clothing, jobs, and traditions were very enjoyable.  I loved learning about things like where and how they slept, what they used to transport materials, what was used for currency in different parts of the Roman world; it was all so fascinating.  It added a rich element to Paul’s life that made it so much easier to understand and made the characters so much more real.

And here’s a link to the half hour radio interview conducted by Cyrus Webb on Conversations Live!