Tag Archives: Poverty

How Can This Be? ELCA Assembly Opening Sessions

Opening plenaryThe morning and early afternoon of the first day of CWA11 were dry and boring—a lot of “how-to” instructions on procedures as well as introduction of matters to come later.  But, with the afternoon worship, the Assembly began to soar.  Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s sermon was interrupted by “amens” and applause as he offered powerful words of hope and encouragement based upon the Lucan gospel theme of Mary’s annunciation.

“How can this be?” asked Mary, shocked by the angel’s revelation, and this phrase became the bishop’s refrain as he challenged the Assembly to hear Mary’s song and to dare to follow the call of the Spirit to do mission in the 21st century.

So are we ready for the Holy Spirit to move us with Mary? I believe that, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we are being moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to sing Mary’s song of God’s disrupting, dislocating, relocating power.

Friends, you know and I know that religious leaders singing Mary’s song are not packing people into sports stadiums for so-called religious rallies. In a consumer-oriented, competitive, what-has-God-done-for-me-lately? religious marketplace, we are not going to hear much about God dismantling structures that marginalize and exclude people in poverty or those whose race or gender or citizenship or sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities or health make them unwanted, unnoticed.

But that is Mary’s song, and it is Mary’s song that the Holy Spirit will give you the courage and voice to sing. It is Mary’s song of God bringing the despised and the marginalized, the outcast and the downcast, the defeated and the denied, and even
the dead into a new place. The place where God is building the new creation—the new community in Christ.

When we have been disrupted by God’s grace, when we have been dislocated, when we have been knocked off balance by God’s word of judgment and left wondering, “How can this be?” the Holy Spirit moves us. The Holy Spirit relocates us into God’s
abundant mercy, into a community of faith that with Mary believes “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

Oh yes, this is who we are as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—a community freed in Christ to serve. So let this assembly unfold. Come, Holy Spirit. Come with your power, Holy Spirit. Move us as you moved Mary. Move us to sing, to live Mary’s song. Move us to faith. Move us to a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Move us to respond with Mary, “Here am I—here we are. Let it be to me—let it be to us, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, according to your word.”


If the opening worship was the main act, there was also a sideshow.  The clownish Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, the same who protest at military funerals, attempted to picket our Assembly, but the host Convention Center refused to let them on the grounds.  Thus, their demonstration went unnoticed a mile away, and after an hour they departed.

Malaria CampaignAfter worship and after dinner, the Assembly returned for Plenary Session II Monday evening, and the main item on the agenda was the kickoff of the ELCA Malaria Campaign.  The presentations roused the voting members to the point that I half expected a motion from the floor to raise the appeal to a higher level than $15 million.  Despite the fact that malaria is both preventable and treatable, a child dies from malaria every 45 seconds.  Every 45 seconds!

Here are the opening paragraphs of the resolution adopted by a vote of 968-19.

To launch the ELCA Malaria Campaign under the auspices of ELCA World Hunger as a major fundraising effort of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, its synods and congregations, and its affiliated ministries, auxiliaries, and individual members, that will encompass the best efforts of this church to join companion churches in Africa and
ELCA full-communion partners to contain deaths related to malaria by 2015;

To join with domestic and global partners to address malaria as a disease intensified by poverty within the context of comprehensive and sustainable community development and in close cooperation and partnership with this church’s companion churches in Africa and The Lutheran World Federation;

To invite every congregation, synod, affiliated ministry, auxiliary, and individual member of this church to make a contribution toward the goal of $15 million over the next four years (2011–2015) while emphasizing that gifts to the ELCA Malaria Campaign are not intended to replace giving to ELCA World Hunger but demonstrate commitment above and beyond normal ELCA World Hunger giving;

Over $1.5 million was pledged before the Assembly opened, and another $150,000 or so was pledged during the assembly.

After the plenary, I fired up my laptop in the lobby (the only place wireless was available without an exorbitant fee), but I barely checked my email before I was swept up in an engaging conversation that lasted late into the night—thus setting a precedent that would continue for the duration.

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”).

What is “progressive Christianity”?

A lengthy essay by Brad R Braxton (Baptist minister and seminary professor) appearing in the Huffington Post seeks to answer this question.  Since this blog purports to be about “progressive, religious themes”, we’ll pick up this thread.  Braxton writes:

According to some accounts, the term “progressive Christian” surfaced in the 1990s and began replacing the more traditional term “liberal Christian.” During this period, some Christian leaders wanted to increasingly identify an approach to Christianity that was socially inclusive, conversant with science and culture, and not dogmatically adherent to theological litmus tests such as a belief in the Bible’s inerrancy. The emergence of contemporary Christian progressivism was a refusal to make the false choice of “redeeming souls or redeeming the social order.”

Progressive Christians believe that sacred truth is not frozen in the ancient past. While respecting the wisdom of the past, progressive Christians are open to the ways truth is moving forward in the present and future for the betterment of the world. Progressive Christianity recognizes that our sacred texts and authoritative traditions must be critically engaged and continually reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances to prevent religion from becoming a relic.

During the recent biennial convention of Lutherans Concerned North America, I attended a breakout session for “progressive clergy” (I was a usurper since I’m not clergy), and the threshold question was raised, “what does it mean to be a religious progressive?”  Since time was limited, we didn’t explore all nuances of the question, but we quickly focused on the prophetic.  Braxton also stresses the the prophetic nature of religious progressivism.

Prophetic religion involves a willingness to interrupt an unjust status quo so that more people might experience peace and prosperity … Prophetic evangelicalism insists that Jesus came to save us not only from our personal sins but also from the systematic sins that oppress neighborhoods and nations. Jesus presented his central theme in social and political terms. He preached and taught consistently about the “kingdom of God” — God’s beloved community where social differences no longer divide and access to God’s abundance is equal.

Braxton quotes Biblical scholar Obery Hendricks:

In our time, when many seem to think that Christianity goes hand in hand with right-wing visions of the world, it is important to remember that there has never been a conservative prophet. Prophets have never been called to conserve social orders that have stratified inequities of power and privilege and wealth; prophets have always been called to change them so all can have access to the fullest fruits of life.

Rev Dr. Serene Jones In response to Fox News resident idiot Glen Beck, who foolishly suggested that social justice is not in the Bible, the President of Union Theological Seminary, the Rev Dr. Serene Jones, penned a tongue in cheek response (quoted here from Telling Secrets blog):

Dear Mr. Beck,

I write with exciting news. Bibles are en route to you, even as we speak!

Kindly let me explain. On your show, you said that social justice is not in the Bible, anywhere. Oh my, Mr. Beck. At first we were so confused. We couldn’t figure out how you could possibly miss this important theme. And then it hit us: maybe you don’t have a Bible to read. Let me assure you, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people live Bible-less lives. But we want to help out. And so, as I write this, our students are collecting Bibles from across the nation, packing them in boxes, and sending them to your offices. Grandmothers, uncles, children, co-workers — indeed, Bible-readers from all walks of life have eagerly contributed. They should be arriving early next week, hopefully just in time for your next show. Read them with zeal!

Oh, I almost forgot: we’ve marked a few of the social justice passages, just in case you can’t find them.

What does this mean in actual practice?  How do progressive Christians live out the prophetic call to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Of course, one could cite the progressive march toward full inclusion of the LGBTQ community that is occurring in our mainline Protestant churches.  For instance, seven LGBT pastors who were previously ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries but not by the ELCA will be received as ELCA rostered pastors through a “Rite of Reception” this coming Sunday, July 25.Seven California Pastors

Here’s another example gleaned from today’s blogosphere.  Blog friend Susan Hogan reports that “Pastors for peace head to Cuba” (ELCA critic and WordAlone President Jaynan Clark will likely flip out again in response to this report).

A caravan carrying 100 tons of “humanitarian” aid is scheduled to cross into Cuba today, leaders of Pastors for Peace said Tuesday at a news conference at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in McAllen, Texas.

The [group] has broken the U.S. embargo against Cuba 20 times previously. The embargo includes travel and trade restrictions.

Pastors for Peace is an outreach of the New York-based Interreligious Foundation for Community, which delivers aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

And another from fellow blogger Terence Weldon on Open Tabernacle in an article entitled “Authentic Catholicism”.  While discussing the water relief efforts of an African Catholic diocese, Weldon offers the following indictment of the patriarchal, clerical, hierarchal structures of the Vatican:

To judge from either the most outspoken voices of the Catholic right, or from the anti-Catholic opposition, you could easily think that Catholicism’s most distinctive features are an insistence on blind obedience to the Pope and Catechism, and puritanical sexual ethics.  The empirical evidence from actual research, shows a very different picture … [Weldon cites two reports which gauge parishoner’s own sense of what it means to be Catholic] Once again, I do not see in there any reference to automatic obedience, still less to compliance with “official” sexual ethics. But in both these characterizations of Catholic “identity”, a sense of social responsibility and concern for the poor ranked high (emphasis added)- which is what the Ghana contribution to clean water is all about.

And then there is the silly charge by conservatives that progressives don’t uphold the moral standards of the Bible.  Jesus called his followers to a higher morality that upheld the spirit of the law often in conflict with its letter, to uplift the alien and the outcast, and to love one’s neighbor.  Braxton quotes author Amy-Jill Levine who imagines Jesus chiding a narrow minded, exclusivist Christian who wrongly believes his status is based on offering an appropriate creedal confession:

If you flip back to the Gospel of Matthew … you’ll notice in chapter 25, at the judgment of the sheep and the goats, that I am not interested in those who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in those who do their best to live a righteous life: feeding the hungry, visiting people in prison …  [Jesus continues] I am saying that I am the way, not you, not your church, not your reading of John’s Gospel, and not the claim of any individual Christian or any particular congregation. I am making the determination, and it is by my grace that anyone gets in, including you. Do you want to argue?