For every Eugene, there’s an Ernie. Ernie was a frequent visitor at the home I shared with four other men prior to getting married. He was a thoughtful young man seeking answers for life’s questions. At times, we would engage in conversations about meaning and purpose in life. Ernie would often use me as a foil for his search for meaning. I wore my newly discovered Christianity on my sleeve and he liked to bring me into a debate on the existence of God. “I just can’t get myself to believe in God,” Ernie said. “In fact, the evidence I see makes me believe there is no God. When I read about children dying from natural disasters, it turns me away from believing in God. Then when I see Christians and others who believe in God add to these deaths in the name of their religion, I am totally turned off to the idea of God.”
I had recently finished reading Dostoevsky’s, Brothers Karamzov, in which the brother Ivan makes exactly this point, so I engaged Ernie in a spirited debate. If you have read the book, you will know that Dostoevsky counters Ivan’s skepticism with Alyosha’s, generous and loving spirit, which comes from his simple and unquestioning faith. But, to no avail. Ernie just wouldn’t have it. And so, I emerged from those discussions a wiser, but a sadder man, learning how hard it would be to transmit the joy, meaning, and purpose that I had found in my newly rediscovered faith.
So, when Eugene said, “I ain’t through sinning yet,” I felt a mixture of anger and pity -anger toward the powerful destructive forces that can overtake good people, and pity because I knew he was hurting. But, again, couldEugenehave been hanging on to the pain as some sort of consequence for the harm he felt he may have done to himself or someone else? Again, from what I know of God, that would not be necessary. It is God’s intention that we live happy and fulfilled lives and if we go off track, that we receive forgiveness and get back on track. Some time later,Eugenecame by the church and asked if he could paint the window trim. “I don’t want anything for it,” he said. “I figure I owe the church something for providing me something hopeful to look at.” He kept at it hard all day –he was a good painter, could even “jump” the ladder. And then he was gone –evicted along with his sister and her five kids. A few years later,Eugeneshowed up in church dressed to the nines with a pretty little girl next to him. “This is my granddaughter,” he said proudly. “I want her to grow up in the church, but I’m sorry it won’t be this church. We live too far away. I just came back to tell you I’m all through sinnin’ now. The Lord got me back.” What a powerful testimony to the teaching of the Church. Eugene knew the way back.
I realize an entry into this blog is long overdue. That is the nature of my work. I go long periods of time without much time to spare. I am not a workaholic. It’s just that the demands of ministry in an inner city setting can sometimes be quite high. I remember one time on a visit to a youth across the street from the church, I encountered an uncle who lived in the same household. I knew this man as an honest, hard working man. He was sitting in an armchair watching TV with a glass of water perched on the armrest. When he saw me, he quickly put the water glass on the floor out of my sight. He didn’t, however, remove the vodka bottle in time for me to not notice that. Suddenly, I had an opportunity to demonstrate to him our emphasis on grace in the Lutheran church. I wanted him to know that he would be welcome “as is.” He didn’t need to quit drinking prior to joining St. Olaf. He was acceptable just as he was. “Simul justus et peccator” –simultaneously saint and sinner. “I came to see your nephew,” I said, “but while I’m here, do you mind me asking if you belong to a church?” “No,” he answered politely. “Well then,” I said. “I invite you to come to St. Olaf. I think you’ll find the people very down to earth. You’ll probably know some of them from the neighborhood.” “Thank you for the invitation,” he replied. “But, I ain’t through sinning’ yet.” With that, he picked up the water glass and the vodka bottle and poured himself another drink.
In the Pastor’s Pen article in the January newsletter, there was an error: “median household income” should read “medium household worth.” Thank you, Cecilia for spotting the error. On one level, the error makes no difference. The income disparity between African-American families and Caucasian families is unjust. But, on another level, the correction makes the point that the median African-American household is always very close to significant financial calamity such as home foreclosure.
Blog2: Again, my name is Dale Hulme and I am the Pastor of St. Olaf Lutheran Church. In my first blog, I told the story of a woman who didn’t feel she a good enough person to attend church. Whether this was from a genuinely guilty conscience or a disdain for self-righteousness, I did not say. To this day, I am not sure where she was coming from. Nor does it matter for what I am trying to convey in these blogs. God loves her anyway. Can she love God back?
But, why love God? Why even acknowledge that God exists? I am not going to attempt to answer these questions theologically. Instead, let me use another story to address these questions. Some years back a friend, Tom, reported to me that he was getting divorced. His marriage had become stale and lackluster and since he was contemplating an affair, he felt he should get the divorce done so his new relationship would be not be encumbered with the trappings of adultery. Fair enough. Divorce in our state is “no fault.” So why did he tell me beforehand? I agonized over this and finally decided it wasn’t worth it to interfere with his decision. He would probably get divorced anyway. And so he did. After the divorce, he took up with another woman and had a successful relationship for several years. But, then, that relationship fell apart and he connected with another woman. Still no marriage. That woman contracted cancer. Suddenly the concept of relationship necessarily involved commitment. His conscience wouldn’t just let him walk away from this relationship. But, the awakening of conscience pricked feelings of guilt over abandoning his first wife. He couldn’t understand why he was feeling guilty because she had remarried and was enjoying the relationship. Sadly, Tom’s third relationship ended in death. He found himself in a crazy place -alone, ridden with guilt, and despondent with sadness. How had it all come to this? Up to this point, Tom had been in control of his feelings. “Should I pray to God,” Tom wondered. “No,” he concluded. “I’m not worthy of being answered after what I did to my wife.” And right there Tom decided to carry sadness with him for the rest of his life as a penance of sorts. But, the God I know would prefer to lift the sadness and have Tom restored to happiness. It would not be the shallow happiness that directed the actions of his former self, but a happiness forged in the journey of life that would direct him to make more compassionate life decisions in the future. I have prayed many times for God to help Tom revisit the decision not to seek his help, because the God I know would respond.
Peace… Pastor Dale
Hello. My name is Dale Hulme and it is my privilege to be the Pastor of St. Olaf Lutheran Church. I write a newsletter article every month and I understand that blogging will be similar, but with a potentially much larger and wider audience. With that in mind, I intend to use this blog as an opportunity to market what is called the “mainline Protestant church,” the category to which St. Olaf belongs. It is unfortunate that the views and values of the mainline Protestant church have been pushed out of sight during the past 40 years, because what passes for Christianity now in the public mind is, in my opinion, a skewed version of the faith. The major characteristic of the skewed-ness has to do with a rejection of science, in my view. These are churches which do not allow for a historical-critical study of the basic scriptures of the religion, and all kinds of aberrations develop as a result. However, I do not want this blog to be some sort of cerebral, academic thing. It will be stories from my experience which have shaped my life and faith. My entry-point story is of a woman I knew when we were young.
She was beautiful and successful. She was the envy of women and the desire of men. For some reason, she became interested in me. As flattering as this was, I had recently come through my own conversion to Christianity and I did not want to blow the next relationship I would enter into. It had to be the right one and that meant she had to share the faith. So, I asked her, “Are you a Christian?” “No,” she answered. “I am not.” “Well,” I thought. “Perhaps she could become one.” She was quite beautiful, after all. So, I asked her, “Would you come to church with me?”
“I’m not good enough,” she replied.
I was taken back by this response. At first I thought it was mock humility. “How can you say you are not good enough?” I asked. “You haven’t done any terrible thing, have you?” “I am not good enough. Maybe some day,” she replied.
Now, I knew that she was good enough in God’s eyes. I knew that God loves a repentant sinner, so whatever she was thinking wasn’t good enough about her would be no problem with God. God understands our rebelliousness and is eager to forgive. It was then that I realized what her hangup was. She was her own judge –and jury and executioner! And she was a much more severe judge than God ever would be. But, because she didn’t believe, she couldn’t see herself as God saw her – a child of God’s own making who was entirely worthy of forgiveness just as a loving parent forgives a child.
We parted ways after that day and this encounter was one that shaped my desire to become a Pastor one day. I would have liked to help her, but didn’t know how. Later, I had an encounter with another man which revealed to me why she was unable to believe, but that is a story for another blog. Until next time… Peace…. Pastor Dale
Mark your calendars for The St. Olaf Christmas Concert Sunday, Dec. 18 at 10:45 a.m. A free will offering will be taken to tune and repair the organ. Please invite family and friends. Preludes begin at 10:45. WELCA will hold a bake sale in the Fireside Room after the concert. Contact the church to donate items for the bake sale.
Also mark your calendars for our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 6 p.m., Dec. 24!
Welcome! We’re glad you came to visit St. Olaf’s new website.
Explore our site, and find important information about our congregation and our community. For 138 years, we’ve been “in the city for God, and in the city for good.” If you’re not currently involved with St. Olaf, please consider joining us at 11 a.m. this Sunday. We take seriously the Christian mandate to serve the poor and seek social justice, and we have a lot of fun doing it! As the Christmas Season approaches keep checking this site for information on holiday events, including our popular Christmas concert! Our altar is truly breathtaking during the holidays. We hope you join us!