Author Archives: olafpastordale

Why we go to church, continued

I haven’t added to this blog forever, but this one is too good to pass up.  Have you seen the new research on the health benefits of going to church?  This new study released by the American Medical Association confirms what has been hinted at in previous research –going to church increases one’s life span. So why are you staying in bed on Sunday mornings?  Do you think your morning paper and coffee are going to make you more healthy? Or that walk with the dog?  Well, yes they do. But, moreso does going to church.  Make it a part of your weekly health regimen.

Obviously, meaningful social interaction is involved here.  The private exercise of religion does not produce the same results.  But also, the study only involved Christians, mainly Catholic and Protestant. So, the research does not report on the religious practice in general, only Christian worship.

When I started this blog, I was candid about my intentions, which was to convince you to become a practicing Christian.  I can’t exactly rest my case because I know there will still be resistance, but, if you are still resisting, keep in mind that this is what Christianity is for –for dealing constructively with our resistance to that which is good for us. That which is good for us is a relationship with God, the God we know through Jesus Christ.      

Why we worship

Why do we worship?  To many people, worship seems like a waste of time.  It makes more sense to stay home and read the Sunday paper.  But, worship is not a waste of time.  Worship is where you hear the Word of God and receive the sacrament.  Hearing the Word can be in the form of songs, dialogs, sermons, and the like.  The sacrament refers to the Lord’s supper, in which bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of the crucified Jesus.  Bread and wine are the “means of grace.” (Water is the means for the other sacrament – baptism.)  Other activities are usually added to worship like Confession and Forgiveness, the Creed, Prayers, offering (of course), and even announcements.  I like Confession and Forgiveness at the beginning of a worship service because it gets the relationship with God right from the start.  A man from Liberia taught us to place the announcements midway so that people have all arrived by that time and are paying attention.  A good worship service has the effect of reframing your life for the next week.  In most churches there is a worship committee through which variety and inspiration are creatively exercised.  Worship doesn’t have to be the same every week (It can be though.), nor does it have to conform to some traditional form.  At St. Olaf, we use “blended” and “convergent” worship.  Blended means each culture present gets something from their culture and each culture must tolerate the offerings from the other culture (80 somethings have to put up with rap). Convergent means that the elements of the service are placed the way we want them, not according to some ancient formula (Though many people like the ancient mass.)  I invite you to come experience a worship service at St. Olaf.

Where have you been?

Wow! Our website needs updating, my blog being the most outdated thing on it. So, I’ll update it today. Where have I been? Well, for one thing, my mother died. She was ill for a while and that all took up my time. My mother was a member of St. Olaf and poured herself into its life. She was a Christian and sought out ways to live out her faith creatively. After my father died, she didn’t feel that was happening at her church, so when I became Pastor at St. Olaf, she joined. And did she find creative discipleship there! Her peers (other widows) weren’t content to live out their days grieving spouses. They put their shoulder to the plow and pulled their church forward. For example, when the invitation came to extend a special welcome to gay and lesbian people to help them overcome their feelings of rejection, the widows led the way, my mother joyfully jumping on the bandwagon. “Now see here,” they said. “Everyone is welcome at our church!” My mother’s oldest son was born with too much energy. He was climbing out of the crib before he could walk. In teacher training college, he was compared to a bull in a china shop. His mother compared his first call church to a “wild rumpus” church. She taught literature at Minneapolis Community College for 25 years and that is a phrase from some book she taught. I like that. I was okay with being a bull in a china shop, too. At least the kids didn’t get bored! I subscribe to the notion that something exciting should happen every Sunday at church – something that makes you want to come back. If that’s “wild rumpus,” then so be it. Rest in peace, or should I say, rumpus in wildness, mother. You deserve it! Next: Why do we worship?

Do they know it’s Christmas?

Her eyes peered out from the blanket drawn up over her mouth. They were strangely alert eyes for someone in intensive care.  Her kidneys were failing and they were failing at a rate that left no possibility of transplant.  Alcohol.  We said a prayer : “Gracious God, help Jenny surrender to your higher power.” I left with the benediction “Try to remember, you’re always in God’s loving hands.”

As we left the room, she inquired about clothes she would need if they released her for Christmas.  Her sister had brought the clothes, but she cursed anyway.  “Jenny! In front of the Pastor!?” her sister scolded.

So Christmas for Jenny will be another one separated from God’s love. And then she will die.  It’s not the cursing per se.  It’s the assumption that God is at my disposal rather than me at His/Hers.  We should know from the Christmas story that it’s okay to surrender to God. God didn’t come to the picture perfect families you see in the Christmas cards. God came into the world through a poor pregnant teenager (You don’t’ have to believe in a virgin birth.) and her confused  fiancé, a man who made his living with his hands.  They submitted and so should we.  We shy away from language that was once used to frighten people into joining the ranks of the faithful; but I really don’t know what our destiny is without God.  Rather than continually doubt, why not try to believe?

Violence unveiled

A recent study in the Journal of Science reported that all people, including atheists, report some awareness of a God or higher power.  The finding was surprising and suggests that human beings are hard-wired for God and religion.  Furthermore, the study suggests that atheists are similar to other non-religious people in that their aversion to religion is more about the malpractice of religion than the non-existence of God. As we witness “barbaric” acts done in the name of religion, it is important not to be redirected away from the central issue into “taking sides.”  Blowing people to smithereens with superior air power is likewise “barbaric.”  The malpractice of religion really is about the sanctioning of violence.  I personally cannot endorse pacifism as a mandate for religion, but agree with all people of good will that the use of violence be minimized.  What Christianity has to offer to that effort is the idea of participatory sacrifice.  Any serious effort to minimize the use of violence will necessarily require personal sacrifice.  The Christianity I endorse and practice embodies the concept of personal sacrifice for nonviolence, but not for violence.  A good read is Gil Bailey’s Violence Unveiled, Humanity at the Crossroads.

Go figure!

I have become a Christmas – Easter blogger (My last blog was just before Christmas.).  I apologize for this, but I have a good excuse.  Remember, I write a newsletter article every month (You can access these articles from this webpage.).  I also preach almost every Sunday.  These other “blogs” have a different purpose than this one.  If you go way back to the beginning of this blog, you will remember that the purpose of this blog is to convince a skeptical person to try to believe in Jesus.  In this regard, an Easter blog poses the most challenging communication task imaginable.  I am attempting to convince you, a religious skeptic, that Jesus rose from the dead as Christians claim he did.  Preposterous!  People do not rise from the dead!  And yet, that is the central claim of Christianity (Around AD 55, Paul (formerly Saul) of Tarsus, wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…and we Christians are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17ff)How true.  Paul offers proof of the resurrection, but it is all subjective –“I delivered to you what I received –that Christ…was raised on the third day and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, to me.”  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)   There are no objective, or scientifically verifiable accounts of Jesus or anyone else rising from the dead.  And yet, people like me, a scientist (BS Biochemistry, U of M, 1971) believe it. Go figure!

In Search of the Lost Chord

I know I haven’t written anything in my blog for a long time and I can understand why no one would be looking for a new entry.  But, here it is –just in time for Christmas.  In 1968, when the Moody Blues released the song, “In Search of the Lost Chord,” I sensed the spirituality of the song, but couldn’t conceptualize anything.  I now equate the Lost Chord with Jesus. The Lost Chord resolves the dissonance of creation.  Whatever is not right with the universe is made right by the resolving chord.  The Christmas story is the story of how that resolving chord came into the world.  When you think about it, the chord that resolves a dissonance in music is there from the very beginning –hence the Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word (logos).” Jesus freaks like to think about what that says about Jesus.  I like to think what it says about God.  Merry Christmas.

Stand Your Ground vs Turn the Other Cheek

Jesus taught to respond to violence and the threat of violence nonviolently.  We may no like this approach, but, as usual, Jesus had our best interests in mind when he taught us to turn the other cheek.  To return violence with violence only perpetuates an endless cycle of violence.  But, moreso, it keeps one’s conscience clean.  Killing in self-defense usually produces guilt because there is usually an alternative, such as turning the other cheek, which could have been employed.  There is, of course, the necessity to defend the innocent, but to reduce the amount of unnecessary violence, this is best left to sanctioned authority. People acting according to stand your ground laws are not usually sanctioned authorities or necessarily defending the innocent.  This type of law opens up too many possibilities to be effective at creating social order in which we are free to love the neighbor.  In the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida stand your ground law created a murder that would not have happened had not George Zimmerman gone out of his way against the advice of a civil authority (911 operator).  I was happy to see that Attorney General Eric Holder is looking into a federal review of stand your ground laws.

Happy Easter

It is nearing Easter, so I will tell an Easter story.  It will be a retelling of a story told to me by a youth pastor friend of mine.  It is a true story.  Eddie’s parents had more interest in him coming to church than he did.  He came to keep the peace in the family. But, he didn’t make it easy for my friend the youth pastor.  “Why should I believe in any of that make-believe stuff,” he would tell my friend.  “I don’t need your Jesus!”  One night, after the last youth had left the building, he heard a knock at the door.  It was Eddie.  His face was white as a sheet and he was sobbing.  “I had a little too much to drink tonight and I think I hit someone walking across the street.”  My friend was stunned.  He didn’t know what to say.  Fear rose up in his throat and he blurted out, “Jesus Christ, Eddie. Now you really need Jesus!”

There was no joy in Eddie’s Easter that year.  But, in his search for forgiveness, he found Jesus.  Of course, it was not the Jesus of the resurrection.  It was the Jesus of the cross.  Eddie needed a God who could forgive him the disastrous consequences of his carelessness (The pedestrian died.).  He found that God, not floating six inches above the tulips on a sunny Easter morning, but nailed to a cross under a black sky, muttering,  “Father, forgive them.”

Of course, had he not been raised from the dead, it would have been no different than the thousands of crucifixions, executions and slaughters before him.  But, this one was different because in this one God acted to end the power of tyrannical brutality.  That’s why you hear about it. Fortunately for Eddie, and for all of us, the forgiveness that deflected that power covered less egregious offenses as well. Happy Easter!


“How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isaiah 52:7) When I read this verse of scripture, I see sandaled feet of ancient messengers. Their feet were indeed beautiful when they brought good news instead of bad.  To his followers, Jesus’ appearance after his death was GOOD NEWS, so they named their message, “good news,” which we translate as “Gospel.”  We are accustomed to think of death as the end of life as we know it.  Well, good news! It is not.  We are accustomed to worry that the world is heading toward disaster.  Well, good news! It is not.  And, we are accustomed –at least some of us –to think we are not worthy of blessings.  Well, good news! We are!

The concept of resurrection is a stumbling block for many people.  It is a stumbling block because it is unscientific.  It emerges from an age when myth shrouded reality, or stated more crudely, when superstition reigned.  But, that is what makes it all the more remarkable –that it was a real event among all the superstitious and fake appearances of the dead, then and now.  Now, if you think the resurrection is a stumbling block, what about the incarnation? We are not as familiar with that word, but it means God becoming flesh (human) like us. The incarnation, too, can be a stumbling block because for God to become human sounds like mythology.  But, again, that is what makes it so remarkable –that Jesus was a real “divine” man among the many mythological and phony ones. But, the circumstances of Jesus’ divinity were like no other.  He was not numbered among the great people of the earth.  He was born into lowliness, in a barn, from oppressed peasant parents.  As in his death, his power was perfected in lowliness, and that has saved the world. Merry Christmas!

On the Freedom of a Christian

I have often heard people say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  Often, these are people I hang around with and with whom I share common spiritual sentiments.  When questioned, these SBNR folk (spiritual but not religious) usually say something about the restriction of spiritual freedom. The word, “dogma” is often used.  I am sympathetic with the desire for spiritual freedom.  But, I find the Gospel to nurture spiritual freedom rather than repress it.  I grieve that my friends heard a repressive Gospel somewhere.  The reason a church might use fear to manipulate people lies at the heart of why the Gospel is liberating.  The Gospel is liberating because it frees us from ourselves.  Our will is captive to sin, but faith in Jesus Christ provides the way to freedom. Martin Luther captured these contrasting ideas in his two treatises, “The Bondage of the Will,” and “On the Freedom of a Christian.”  Let me use the recent “Twilight” scandal for instance.  Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, had an affair on her boyfriend, co-star Rob Pattinson, which will likely break up the relationship though she has expressed her regret and apology.  Fans are upset. “How could she do such a thing?” they ask.  Fans adore the couple and painfully expressed their sadness and anger over her fling.  We crave the chaste, monogamous, committed relationship formerly portrayed by the couple because we are created with this expectation.  But, because our will is in bondage to sin, it can’t be counted on to follow through with what’s best for us –unless we hand it over to our creator and move forward in life with a partnership with God.  Within this partnership, the “restrictions” on our freedom take on the characteristic of being helpful, rather than harmful.  In this light, the “dogma” of religion, in this case, the dogma of  mutual, chaste, committed relationships.  Sad to say, this dogma is so necessary that Kristen and Rob will probably not be able to put their relationship back together, but forgiveness is available from God, if not from Rob, and Kristen will hopefully move forward with a new understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  This is the “good news” of Jesus Christ.


As I picked my donut off the tray and slid a cup of coffee into my hand, I felt nervous about how I was going to meet people.  It was my first day at Bethlehem Lutheran Church and I had stayed for the fellowship time just so I could meet people. I had decided to actually join a church and Bethlehem was it.  It hadn’t been too long before that I had first stepped into a church after a 5 year hiatus.  And now I was actually joining this thriving Christian community in south Minneapolis. But everybody was busy greeting their friends and I was anxious about breaking the ice. Then up sidled Rudy. Rudy seemed like he didn’t belong in a church. He was obviously rough around the edges –he broke the ice with an off-color joke, one of many I was to hear in the weeks to come.  “Hey, come on over guys! Meet the new guy!”  “Sledge hammer” would describe Rudy’s welcoming style. The church is anything but perfect, but people like Rudy keep it honest.  Unfortunately, I don’t have Rudy’s natural humility. I kept my distance for a long time -5 years.  I tried atheism, agnosticism, Eastern religion, even yoga.  All good, but all lacking.  None touched on the personal God of Christianity.  That God could love me as a person as if God were a person himself or herself was the most astounding thing to me. But, that only opened my heart to the recognition that God loves everybody like that.  And so I stepped back into church. Previously, I had regarded what they did in church as cartoonish and the people as hypocrits. But, seeing the Church as the place where people who love God gather, no matter how cartoonish or imperfect it may be, changed that and I matured spiritually that day.


God loves gay and lesbian people

I have conducted many funerals in my tenure as a Pastor at St. Olaf.  Sometimes there are unresolved issues.  At one funeral, a woman came up to the podium to share some memories about her mother.  She did not come up alone, but was accompanied by another woman.  Everyone knew right away that the other woman was her lesbian partner.  Many of us wondered, “What is she going to say? Will she have good memories to share or bitter ones?  Was she accepted by her mother or rejected?” I was relieved when she launched into some humorous memories of her mother.  Her mother obviously accepted her as a lesbian. Then she recounted how her mother had also accepted her partner, who had not been so fortunate with her own mother.  After the funeral, I ran into this woman as she was leaving the church.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in one of these,” she volunteered.  “Do you mean a church,” I asked.  “Yes,” she said.  “We’re not welcome here.”  “But, you are welcome here,” I said. “Just as God created you.”  I added this last sentence to let her know that the welcome wasn’t contingent upon her changing her orientation.  “Let me show you our newsletter,” I said.  I showed her where it says “We welcome all people, including gay and lesbian people.”  “We make this special mention because we are a “Reconciling in Christ” church.  A Reconciling in Christ church makes a special welcome to gay and lesbian people to help overcome the rejection they have previously experienced in churches. And I want you to know something.  Your mother was very much in support of this policy.”  She looked stunned.  “That figures,” she said.  “I just didn’t realize what it meant.”  I hope she and her partner find a Reconciling in Christ church where they live so they can have the benefits of a faith community as other Christians do.

The Grand Inquisitor

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.