Monthly Archives: September 2010

Dusting off your feet

Dust off their feet The metaphor of shaking the dust off one’s feet and moving on appears in the synoptic gospels and also in one passage of Acts when Paul and his entourage are not well received in the synagogue of a Phrygian city.

If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.  Mark 6:11

Nearly a year ago, well-known author and Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, the bane of many conservatives, dusted off his feet.

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality “deviant.” I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.”

Recently, former ELCA Presiding Bishop Herb Chilstrom dusted off his feet.

I am both sad and relieved that you [ELCA defectors] 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.”

Today, blogger and ELCA pastor Justin Johnson writes about the decision of Lutheran CORE to post, and thereby endorse, the repugnant comments of one ELCA defector who wrote, among other untruths,

But the education, worship and other materials provided by the ELCA for use in congregations are shot through with an alien agenda, most of the pastors and ministers it now trains are not competent to preach the gospel, and its home and global missions are in captivity to a false gospel.

Pastor Justin has dusted off his feet.

I think I am done with them.  If this is how they feel about me and my ministry and my friends who are also in the ministry, I too am going to have to take the stance and say “I’m glad your gone.”  I never wanted to feel this way and never wanted to say such a thing honestly, but if your stance is to be insulting and demeaning, then goodbye, I’m done.

Lutheran CORE, can you disagree without being disagreeable?  Can you say, the ELCA is becoming too liberal, and as conservatives, we are uncomfortable?  Nah, it’s better to accuse ELCA folks of becoming “unchurched” who have “officially renounced the Lordship of Christ” and now are “committed to false teaching and immorality”.  Can you say, I respectfully disagree with your Biblical interpretation?  Nah, it’s better to accuse ELCA folks of being “unbiblical”, pursuing a “false gospel you have chosen for yourself”.

Lutheran CORE, you’re gone and you’ve formed your own little denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC); please get on with the business of being a church and get over bashing the ELCA to which you no longer belong.  Or, is that your business, your raison d’être?

Maybe we all need to shake the dust off our feet.

A Wretched Man Website tweaks

Recently, the novel’s website, www.awretchedman.com, received a couple of adjustments.  The two obvious changes were the addition of a product purchase page which enables direct purchases of the novel in either paperback or eBook format, and the second was a revamping of the “reviews” page.  Actually, the reviews page has been broken down into four sub-pages: Scholarly Reviews, Blog Reviews, Reader Comments, and Online Comments (from either Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble).

Late last night, I received another comment from a reader via email that will soon be added to the website but which warrants special mention here.

Last Saturday, I was the guest of the Gustavus Adolphus College bookstore prior to the Gusties homecoming football game with St. Olaf.  A man named Jim stopped by and browsed a bit before moving on, but he took a book flyer with him.  Ten or fifteen minutes later, he returned and purchased a copy of the book.  Another ten or fifteen minutes passed, and he returned again to report that he had read the prologue and first chapter, and he was hooked.  Yesterday, three days after he bought the book, Jim sent me an email, and he said the following:

I just finished the book and congratulate you! Like all good books, it entertained. Like all really good books, it taught and expanded viewpoints. Like the few downright excellent books I have read in the past several years, it challenges me to think and motivates further study.

As you can imagine and have probably heard from others, your thoughts have created some discomfort that I now feel compelled to address. This, to me, is the mark of a truly significant work. This splash will produce ripples to keep me busy for a while and I thank you for what you put into it.

I suppose I’m like most authors—I thought my book was pretty good, or at least hoped, but I also wrestled with doubt.  So, when I receive comments like these, I am more than gratified, I am flattered and more than a little surprised.

Catholic Crisis in Minnesota

As the Catholic hierarchy becomes ever more firmly entrenched in a conservative retreat from the reforms of Vatican II, recent events in Minnesota offer a microcosm of the rift that widens with those who dare question the top down policies that emanate from the Vatican. 

Synod of the Baptized On Saturday, September 18th, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) organized an event entitled Synod of the Baptized in Minneapolis.  The title implied the theme: that all the baptized, both lay and clergy, are coequal and a hierarchical model of governance in which clergy alone dictate church policy must be reformed.  Organizers planned for up to 400 participants, but registrations exceeded expectations and were cut off at 500 in the weeks before the event, and the facilities included both a main ballroom that was crowded to full capacity and an adjacent overflow room with closed circuit TV that was also nearly full.

The morning session included a keynote address by Paul Lakeland director of the Center for Catholic Studies and the Aloysius P. Kelly Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  His address paralleled his ideas in his recently released book entitled Church, and also his earlier work, Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the laity can save the church.  I was present at the Synod, working with the bookstore of St. Martin’s table, and his books were clearly the hot item and sold out quickly.  I spoke with Professor Lakeland after his keynote address.   Noting the absence of folks browsing at the bookstore while the Synod was in session, Lakeland suggested that these folks were seriously devoted to their cause and faithfully listened to the speakers. 

Paula Ruddy, one of the key organizers, stated:

If signs of the Holy Spirit’s action in a group are joy and hope, Saturday’s Synod of the Baptized was a Spirit-filled place. Most of us were not able to see tongues of fire, but we heard voluble talk and shining eyes while people spoke of their experience of oneness.

And the official response from the St Paul Archdiocese?

CCCR is not “in union” with either the Archbishop nor the Archdiocese in any way, shape or form. That fact has been posted on our Archdiocesan web site since this past August and has been printed in the Catholic Spirit.

Please read the blog Progressive Catholic Voice for full treatment of this event and the critical comments of the Archdiocese.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota announced on September 20th that they would mail thousands of DVDs to Catholic parishioners encouraging resistance to political efforts in the legislature to enact marriage equality laws in Minnesota.  One notable dissenting voice to this official entanglement of the Roman Catholic Church in secular politics is artist Lucinda Naylor.  When Naylor announced plans to create a sculpture out of these DVDs as a protest against the actions of the Bishops, she was promptly suspended from her part-time job at the Minneapolis Basilica of St Mary.  According to the article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune,

“I suspect suspension is a kind word for termination,” Naylor said. “I’ll miss the income. But there’s times when people need to stand up for what they believe.”

One blogger commented,

The Basilica of St. Mary is a monumental church in downtown Minneapolis. Part of their mission? To “preach justice,” and to “contribute to the celebration of the sacred arts” in the Minneapolis community. Yet despite this core identity, the Basilica of St. Mary has decided to discipline Naylor because she supports marriage equality. Art it seems, at least within the confines of the Basilica of St. Mary, is now only suitable if the artist making it believes that homosexuality is icky.

Finally, blogger Terence on Open Tabernacle notes the study in contrasts between the Roman Catholic hierarchical response to progressive impulses in Minnesota versus the official ELCA involvement in the Rites of Reception that have welcomed LGBT clergy onto the rosters of ordained clergy.

Gustavus Adolphus and St. Olaf: ELCA private colleges

Gustavus logo On Saturday, I was at Gustavus Adolphus College in nearby St Peter, Minnesota signing copies of my book, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle as a guest of Bookmark, the campus bookstore.  A lot of folks asked if I was a Gusty grad, so I told my story numerous times about how I was all set to attend Gustavus, coming from my Swedish, Lutheran background, but at the last minute I decided to head east to Dartmouth.  Still, I had family and friends who did attend Gustavus, so I spent some time on campus decades ago.  Once, I hitchhiked from the MSP airport to St. Peter, an alien concept to today’s students.

I bumped into a few acquaintances, and had one person tell me he followed this blog as a “lurker” but never a commenter.  Another introduced himself as “pretty fundamentalist” and asked if my book would offend him.  I said it probably would since the plot line was based on conflict in the early church and characterized Paul and others from the Bible as real humans with passions and personal agendas, but he decided to take a chance and purchased a copy.

St Olaf logo Next Saturday, I will be the guest of the St Olaf campus bookstore right here in Northfield.  These two campuses and the students remind me of what great assets our numerous, private liberal arts colleges are to the ELCA.  By the way, St Olaf defeated Gustavus on the football field 19-14 Saturday.

At ten this morning (Monday, September 27th, CDT), I will be a guest for an hour on Coffee with an author, an internet based radio show.  So, if you don’t have anything better to do, tune in by clicking here.  I’m not quite sure how this all works, but you may have a chance to join the discussion.  Even if you don’t join in this morning, I believe the radio interview will remain online for later listening.

A historic day—and insignificant: UPDATED WITH VIDEO

The title of this post comes from St Paul area ELCA Synod Bishop Peter Rogness. 

At the Saturday press conference prior to the Rite of Reception held in St Paul, Minnesota for three lesbian pastors (Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Anita Hill), Bishop Rogness alluded to the obvious historic significance of the formal ELCA welcome to the roster of ordained clergy but also reminded those assembled that the three pastors will now do the same things they did last week, last month, last year and for many years before that.  Everything has changed and nothing has changed.  Pastors Frost and Zillhart will continue with their hospice ministries and Pastor Hill will return to her pastoral call to St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church.  For over sixty years combined, these three have been responding to their calls to the ministry, and now they will continue as before. 

“Few who have personal knowledge of them as persons or of the ministries they’ve done would question that the love of the God we meet in Jesus Christ has been proclaimed and lived through them,” said the bishop.

“What then has changed?” came the question from the assembled press corps.

Pastor Hill responded, “It is the message of welcome we now hear from our church.”

Pastor Frost added, “And the message goes out from here to the ears of other gays and lesbians who hear the call to ministry, but even more importantly, to the whole host, the entire gay community.  Here is a church where you are welcome.”

Pastor Zillhart spoke symbolically, befitting the religious ceremony to follow.  “Today we will join hands with all those who blessed our call over the past twenty years and with all those who will come after.”

[With apologies to the speakers, I have paraphrased their comments as I heard them at the press conference]

With the conclusion of the press conference, I joined my wife and friends Phil and Barb from Northfield in the spacious sanctuary of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the same venue that had witnessed the extraordinary ordination of Pastor Hill nearly a decade earlier.  The assembled crowd stirred and swelled as a Woodwind Quartet played variations on a “Hymn of Gladness”, the Chancel Choir sang “Al Shlosha D’Varim”, and the Chancel Brass announced the beginning of the processional with a “Fanfare and Chorus”.  Through my tears, I struggled to sing the words of the processional hymn.

Here in this place the new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away; see in this space our fears and our dreamings brought here to you in the light of the day.  Gather us in, the lost and forsaken, gather us in, the blind and the lame, call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.

Lutheran Church of the RedeemerThe entire procession of bishops, active and retired, and countless clergy filed past through four stanzas of the hymn and more before all had reached their place, and then former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Herb Chilstrom, led us in halting voice and failing eyesight in a litany of confession, which concluded with words of encouragement from the prophet Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overcome you.  You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

Hymns and prayers and greetings and readings followed and then the gospel acclamation of the Chancel Choir with the congregation joining in the refrain as a procession carried the gospel book to the center of the gathering:

My heart shall sing of the day you  bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn.  Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.

Preaching Minister, Pastor Barbara Lundblad, professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary, read the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 20, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  And then she preached from this text, as only she can do, with gentle humor and prophetic insight.  She said that this Matthew text was suggested by Pastor Hill in an email, which addressed those who question her ministry.

We are doing you no wrong by being received to the ELCA roster. … So why must our reception be seen as sullying the ministry for everyone? Do you not see the pain of not having … [our work] acknowledged for all these years?

Or, as the gracious master in the parable asks, “are you envious because I am generous?”

Then came the Rite of Reception.  Pastors Frost, Zillhart, and Hill knelt before the altar.  They and the congregation exchanged promises “to give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be known”.  The ordained clergy clustered about and laid on hands. Then the three moved to the center aisle and heard the words of their bishop,

By Joey McLeister, Mpls Star Tribune Let it be recognized and acclaimed that Ruth, Phyllis, and Anita are called and ordained ministers in the church of Christ.  They have Christ’s authority to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments, serving God’s people as together we bear God’s creative and redeeming love to all the world.

The applause from the standing congregation was long and loud.

The website of St Paul Reformation Church broadcast the ceremony live online, and the webcast is still available.

The video of the news report on Twin Cities television, KARE 11, is copied below:

More about St Paul Rite of Reception

A couple of days ago I blogged about the ELCA Rite of Reception (I erroneously referred to a Rite of Reconciliation) that will take place tomorrow in St Paul, Minnesota.  Three pioneering activists in the ELCA gay clergy movement will be formally welcomed onto the roster of ordained clergy of the ELCA in a festive service in St Paul.  St Paul Area ELCA Synod Bishop Peter Rogness will preside.

I have received word that both the press conference before the celebratory service as well as the service itself will be webcast.  So, for all of you out there who can’t be present in St Paul, you can watch online.  The webcast link is available through the website of St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church.  The press conference webcast begins at 1:00 pm on Saturday, September 18th to be followed by the Rite of Reception at 2:00 pm.

Minnesota Public Radio recently interviewed ELCA pastors Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart in a piece entitled, Lesbian clergy once expelled, now embraced.  The full interview is available online in both voice and text format.  Of course, the Saturday Rite of Reception will welcome this lesbian couple onto the roster of ELCA ordained clergy along with Pastor Anita Hill.  The interview is excellent, and I commend you to clickthrough to read the full text or to listen to the imbedded audio.  What follows are quoted highlights.

Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart didn’t set out to be revolutionaries. But their determination to serve the church as openly gay pastors accomplished what only two decades ago many thought impossible.

Zillhart and Frost met at Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 1984. Zillhart was 27 and fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a Lutheran minister. She said she hadn’t yet come to terms with her sexuality.

Due to the restrictive ELCA policies then in place, Zillhart was forced to choose between her call to the ministry and her love of another.  She brought Frost, her partner, to a meeting with  the bishop of the St Paul Area Synod, Lowell Erdahl (now well known as a strong advocate for LGBT clergy in the ELCA), and explained that she could not accept her call because of her relationship with Frost.  In the interview with MPR, Zillhart poignantly spoke of that meeting:

“I said, I just can’t live this fractured life that’s cutting me off from the source of integrity, joy, and meaningfulness in this ministry, and it’s sabotaging this relationship”.

Five years later, St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco extended a joint call to the lesbian couple despite facing official ELCA censure and ultimately expulsion.  See my earlier post for full details including an historic video of those heady days twenty years ago when Frost and Zillhart, along with gay man Jeff Johnson, received extraordinary calls to the ministry.  It was the height of the AIDS crisis, and their ministry to the gay community in San Francisco …

was sacred ground, walking the valley of the shadow, and having come from a place of my own sense of feeling previously hidden, disempowered, caught in my own shame,” she said. “At that time there really still was a shame message being given, that you were sick, or evil, or wrong somehow in God’s eyes.”

Their message to AIDS victims was simple. “We’re not here to pity you. You are loved and cherished and respected.”

Since returning to Minnesota five years ago, Pastors Frost and Zillhart have continued to minister to the dying as hospice chaplains.

Again, it is a compelling article, and I encourage you to read or listen to it in its entirety.

St Paul Rite of Reconciliation

Pastors Frost, Hill, and Zillhart Ruth Frost, Anita Hill, and Phyllis Zillhart are three women well known in ELCA circles for their boundary breaking courage.  All three are lesbian clergy who bucked the system despite the certainty of official ELCA sanctions and personal opprobriation.   Here are snippets from a sermon delivered by Pastor Hill following one public act of civil disobedience against the former ELCA policies toward gay clergy:

There was disapproval raining down on our heads …  I heard the tension in the murmurs and groans of many voting members. … We risked our reputations, risked losing the respect of the church we’ve been nurtured in along with our families for generations.

Ruth and Phyllis are a lesbian couple who made national news in 1990 by accepting a joint call to the ministry as co-pastors of St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco.  In response, the ELCA kicked the congregation out of the denomination, and refused to recognize the ordinations of the two women.  This was the beginning of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM); by the time of the ELCA Church Wide Assembly of 2009 (CWA09) when the voting members reversed the restrictive LGBTQ ministry policies, ELM had ordained thirty or so extraordinary persons extraordinarily.  Here is a video about the historic events of twenty years ago.

 

 

Similarly, Pastor Hill made national headlines when she accepted a call to St Paul Reformation Church in 2001.  This time, the denomination placed sanctions on the congregation, but it was not expelled from the ELCA.  Here is a link to the Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with Pastor Hill dated May 5, 2001.  Pastor Hill’s story was the subject of a ninety minute award winning documentary in 2003 entitled “This Obedience.”  I couldn’t find a good video about the documentary to post here, but I did find one in which Pastor Hill speaks as an advocate for marriage equality.

Past is prologue, as they say, and the ELCA ministry policies have changed–thanks in no small part to those who have risked “disapproval raining down on our heads”.  On Saturday next, these three pioneering women will be formally received onto the roster of ELCA clergy in a public Rite of Reconciliation.  Details about this celebratory event may be found on the website of Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA), ELM’s blog,  and the website of St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church where Pastor Hill continues to serve.  Pastors Frost and Zillhart have returned to Minnesota (they had attended seminary at Luther in St Paul), and both serve as hospice/elder care chaplains.

The service promises to be festive with many clergy and bishops past and present.  St Paul area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness will preside, and the sermon will be delivered by another well known Lutheran LGBTQ activist, Barbara Lundblad, professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary.  This will be the second highly publicized Rite of Reconciliation in the ELCA.  A few months ago, seven LGBTQ clergy were welcomed onto the ELCA roster of ordained clergy in California.  Pastor Jeff Johnson, featured in the video along with Pastors Frost and Zillhart, was one of the seven.

Synod of the Baptized

Synod of the baptized logo On Saturday, September 18th, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) will convene a Synod of the Baptized in Minneapolis with expectations for an overflow crowd of nearly 500 persons.  The Synod byline is “Claiming our place at the Table.”  More information is available on CCCR’s website.  The website lists eight progressive Catholic coalition partners with ties to Minnesota, and here is a portion of their self-definition:

We are the Church. In our understanding of Church, all the baptized are one big community of smaller communities, we are all equal, we all participate in different ministries (lay, clergy, bishop), we communicate with one another, and we share a vision and a self-critique. The five words we have been using to summarize this model of Church are community, equality, participation, dialogue, and prophecy. It is a model arising out of Vatican II and seems to us most in line with the Gospel message. It has been promulgated by the Asian bishops and it also fits well with the positive values of our U.S. culture.

There are other models of Church that can be drawn from Vatican II documents, more top down models, and this is what is causing tension in the contemporary Church. We believe that the fate of grown-ups is to live with ambiguity and tension, so we are not daunted by differences in points of view. Our intent is to try to create community based on the model we think best, to remain open to dialogue with people who espouse other models, and to keep focused on the Church’s mission.

The Synod keynote address will be offered by Paul Lakeland:

Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, and Director of Fairfield University’s Center for Catholic Studies. He has been teaching at Fairfield University since 1981, where he has previously served as Director of the Honors Program and Chair of the Religious Studies Department.

Michael Bayly and Paula Ruddy are board members and key organizers of the Synod.  They have been blogging at Progressive Catholic Voice in preparation for the Synod, discussing challenges for the contemporary church, following the list offered by Lakeland in his recent book entitled Church.  Lakeland’s list of challenges includes ecumenism, the role of women, scandal of sexual abuse, etc.

Ruddy’s latest post about ecumenism notes the historical role played by Minnesota’s own St John’s Abbey and University:

Minnesotans are familiar with the liturgical movement that began in Europe in the middle of the 19th century from the involvement of St. John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville and the great teachers trained there. [Lakeland] says that in some ways the liturgical movement laid groundwork for the ecumenical movement in crossing denominational lines. It all led up to the great Ecumenical Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

I was privileged to have studied under Father Godfrey Diekmann at St John’s School of Theology who was one of these important reform figures behind the scenes of Vatican II that Lakeland referred to.

Lutherans and Muslims: 9/11 musings

 A week ago, amidst rising anti-Muslim anger,

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to denounce rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry in the United States, as the country prepares to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Read the full article here.

Pastor Stephen Bouman once served as bishop of the Metropolitan New York synod of the ELCA.  He currently serves in a leadership position of the ELCA Churchwide offices.  I met Pastor Bouman earlier this summer when he attended the biennial convention of Lutherans Concerned North America.  During that event, he delivered the sermon at the Goodsoil service at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

With a hat tip to Pastor Clint Schnekloth of Stoughton, Wisconsin, who blogs at Lutheran Confessions, I reprint the September 11th retrospective sermon of Pastor Bouman.

“You shall be called repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in.” Isaiah 58:14

This morning, nine years later, at 8:46 am., the time of the first attack, I do what I have done every year since that day. I listen to Brahms Requiem. I am quiet. I remember. Later tonight, I will listen to Bruce Springsteen’s album, The Rising, and toast the end of the day and the new day to come. I am still haunted, as if it were yesterday, by the images, the smoke rising downtown, visible from my office window. The second plane roaring down the Hudson right past our office. The stricken looks on hundreds of people’s faces as we gathered for prayer at noon at the Interchurch Center in Manhattan. I remember dialing the phone frantically, trying to find family, pastors, those we knew who worked in the towers. I remember the collision of feelings and images, the helplessness, the growing terrible panic, best described by this line from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass: “how easily things are broken.”

In the petty squabbles over who can pray at Ground Zero, in the self righteous cruelty of a so-called religious leader threatening to desecrate the resting place of thousands of our neighbors and particular people I have loved by burning a book holy to billions of our neighbors on this planet, I am overcome with anger and powerlessness. Even the good name of the faith I hold dear, is trashed and desecrated at Ground Zero.
I have different memories of this sacred space of obscene suffering, yet sacred struggle. And I have different memories of who should be able to pray where and why.

Two things come to mind and I offer them today. First, when the towers fell, we in New York did, by instinct, what people did all over the world. The spiritual dna hardwired into what it means to be human expressed itself naturally and deeply. We prayed. We prayed together. We prayed in as wide a way as possible. We wanted to talk to our Maker, and wanted the comfort of human solidarity. St. Augustine was right: the soul was made for God, and will not find its rest until it rests in God.

Peter DeVries put this prayerful solidarity beautifully in his book “the Blood of the Lamb”:

“the recognition of how long, how very long, is the mourner’s bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship-all of us, brief links ourselves, in the eternal pity.”

On Wednesday evening, September 13, there was an emotional reunion of religious leaders in New York City at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem. Pastor Calvin Butts, chair of the Council of Churches of the City of New York had put the interfaith service together. Imams, rabbis, pastors hugged and shared news of loss and nascent efforts at response. As we walked together toward the sanctuary I saw the bright television lights and Robin Williams of Good Morning America interviewing Don Taylor, the Episcopal bishop who is vicar for New York City. We were funneled in that direction by the tv flacks. I just continued to walk toward the sanctuary, empty of any wisdom for the next day’s breakfast. The singing at the liturgy was powerful, the remarks by leaders moving. As I gave a brief homily it occurred to me that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had preached from this pulpit for his friend Adam Clayton Powell. Bonhoeffer himself was a victim of bogus Christianity, a twisted version of spiritual warfare. Later, on the street, I saw some members of our synod and we embraced. I cried for the first time. Prayer enabled that.

Second, Ground zero became a house of prayer for all people. I often saw the holy respect for life at that awful place. When word began to circulate that human remains were found, the word would spread quickly. People would stop what they were doing. The site would gentle down to silence. Hats were removed. People knew that this was holy ground. One of the fire fighters in whose memorial I had participated, was lifted from the ground by his father and brother, both firemen. How dare anyone politicize, pontificate, harass or demonize the prayers of anyone near this sacred site! “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers,” said Jesus at another sacred site.

I am remembering that Muslim and Arab neighbors in Brooklyn brought their children to Salaam Arabic Lutheran Church and our neighborhood Lutheran schools for safety. I am remembering that for every broken window or graffiti covered wall of an Arab establishment there were a hundred flowers.

As I watched this morning the names of our brothers and sisters being read at Ground Zero I am proud of my Lutheran family and how we served together with many interfaith and public and private efforts. Our collective work of disaster response started the association of victim’s families. As the last faith based group still attending to 9-11 for the past several years, LDRNY accompanied the families at this sacred space on every anniversary, a “house of prayer for all people.”

For me, this day will always be a day of Lamentations. Kathleen O’Conner put beautifully the deep meaning of lamenting our losses.

“Lamentations is an act of resistance. It teaches us to lament and to become agents in our relationship with God, even if our fidelity only takes the form of telling God and one another our truth….Lamentations crushes false images, smashes syrupy pictures, destroys narrow theologies. It pours cold water upon theologies of a God who prospers us in all things, on a God who cares only about us, on a God who blesses our nation and punishes our enemies, as if we were God’s only people.”

Our Lamentations are not the isolation and depression of wounded entitlement or private grief, but the community at the foot of the Cross moving outward in solidarity and love toward the sorrow of the world God loves.

A Wretched Man graphic

Wretched Man emblemI happened upon an old  piece of art based upon Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7, the same  passages that serve as the epigraph to my novel and the inspiration for the title.  The drawing belongs to Hermannus Hugo’s Pia Desideria (1624).

Here is the epigraph to my novel:

I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?