Category Archives: St. Olaf Blog
May is the month of Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, and Fishing Opener, not necessarily listed in order of importance to all people. There’s the old Minnesota joke about the man whose wife informed him that she would leave him if he left her home alone for another fishing opener. “Sure gonna miss you,” he replied.
Well, that’s good. We have our activities in life that give us pleasure and something to look forward to. Now, what about that future? The threat of World War and Climate Change are on our doorstep. “Even now, the axe is lying at the root of the trees…” (Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9)
So, why do I even have a concept of “future?” Is it just so I can plan the most pleasant outcome for myself?
Recently, I watched Ken Burn’s PBS documentary, Benjamin Franklin. I was reminded of how significant the American revolution was in world history. For the first time, at least in the Western World, it created a form of government that emphasized human rights. Sadly, though, Burns reminded us of the astonishing omissions of that revolution -the rights of slaves and indigenous people.
Burns also made sure his viewers were aware of Franklin’s interest in and respect for the existing governments of Native American people, especially the Iroquois Confederacy, which he used as a model for the confederation of the United States. The Iroquois Confederacy, more appropriately named the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, took into consideration not only the human rights of those present in society, but also of those future -the next 7 generations.
The “7 generations” concept is helping motivate climate change action by helping us balance our actions in the present with the needs of future generations. And yet, there is one important question about the 7 generations philosophy – how do we motivate ourselves to do it? Our incredible ability to compromise even our best intentions is notorious. The continuation of slavery in the United States after the revolution and the war in Ukraine are two examples.
What is needed is a shared belief system to complement the 7 generation respect for the future. The shared belief system of Christians is that God is working with us on forging a just and equitable future. This belief system is reflected in the ELCA slogan, “God’s work, our hands.” We can, and should, apply the 7 generation concept to our Christian hope. It’s not just about my future or my children’s or grandchildren’s future. It’s about the future of the next 7 generations.
Hope isn’t so much about personal salvation as it is about the future of the world. In a strange twist, once we commit ourselves to 7 generations, our anxiety about personal salvation disappears. We have work to do! A headline in the paper regarding the upcoming funeral service for Madeline Albright says it all: “She was a force for good.” Let us all be forces for good that will last for at least the next 7 generations.
Peace… Pastor Dale
Shock and dismay! These words describe my state of mind as we go into the Easter month this year. Shock at the witness of unchecked brutality unleashed by the Russian people. And dismay that human civilization has progressed so little toward the values of the Kingdom of God. I was living in a bubble, telling myself that all was better than it was. I had hoped for more.
I’m sure many of you share my sentiments, but others may have had a prior pessimism about human affairs. Certainly, perceptive people of color were more pessimistic. “Oh, now you notice,” one African-American person opined. She is referring to the genocidal events that have occurred throughout the globe in recent years which have received far less public attention and reaction. In an effort to make up for this lack, on March 21, Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, added the Rohingya people of Myanmar as the 8th ethnic genocide recognized by the United States since 1990. Others include Bosnian Muslims, Hutus in Rwanda, Hutus in Burundi, Kurds in Iraq, and Muslims in Kosovo, Darfuris in Sudan, and Yazidis by ISIS. And, of course, we people of the United States have our own skeletons in the closet and an understandable resistance to airing our own business to the world.
Using murder as a benchmark of human brutality, one might say the world has not progressed as far as we would have hoped toward living in peace. Even Christian nations like Russia, and historically Germany and the United States, engage in genocidal atrocities.
For Christians, the brutality of Jesus’ crucifixion is also a benchmark -a benchmark of God’s love for humanity. That God would so loved the world to send his beloved Son to undergo the worst brutality that human beings can inflict on one another is nothing short of incredible. And, of course, had he not risen from the dead, his death would have had the same effect on the overall picture as the death of every other victim of human violence, which is not enough or none at all.
But, he did rise, and because of that, we know that the end point of all this suffering is the end of it. One day there will be perfect justice and perfect peace. That is the promise of the Kingdom of God. I had just hoped that we were further along.
So, for this Easter, let us rededicate ourselves to following Jesus. This will not be easy because we would rather not have to make sacrifices. But, as Dietrich Bonhoffer pointed out during the greatest genocide of all time, there is a cost to discipleship. For Bonhoffer, it was his life. For Ukrainians who defend their homeland, it may be their lives. For our armed forces who die in the course of duty or training, it is their lives. For the rest of us, we need to honor those sacrifices and most of all, remember the sacrifice of Jesus, through which we have hope. And dedicate our lives to the progress of justice and non-violence in our stations in life.
Peace… Pastor Dale
Once again, Minneapolis has become the focal point for national concern over police brutality toward people of color. The killing of Amir Locke during a “no knock” warrant has put Minneapolis in the spotlight again.
One week to the day after Amir Locke was killed, DeShaun Hill, a 15 year old scholar-athlete at North High School died from what looks to have been a stray bullet from gang activity. His name is added to the growing list of children killed by collateral damage from the rising gun violence in the inner cities of the United States.
Agonized relatives and community leaders search for answers but answers are hard to find.
Something has gone awry with our culture and we are having difficulty figuring out what it is. Some Christians latch onto the simple answer that “no one goes to church anymore.” Others just cry out into the chaos with incongruent accusations. In one sense their cries make sense. The same sinful impulses in a rogue cop aren’t much different than the sinful impulses in a teen gone rogue.
But, behind the sinful impulses of these players in the tragedy are the evil impulses of the enormously wealthy. In his parables, teachings, and actions, Jesus taught about the evil of money and its opposition to the goodness of God. The Apostle Paul famously taught that the love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Large corporate entities are manipulating the masses to buy their products with little regard for the social consequences of either the quantity or quality of what we are buying. Most notable is the marketing of electronic media and media devices. A 4 year old can now access things which only adults should see or hear. The testimony of former Facebook employee, Francis Haugen, in October of 2021, brought the seriousness of the situation to our attention, but our insatiable desire for new products has made that testimony a distant memory. Any wonder that a 14 year old would join a gang and start carjacking automobiles for the lucrative profit received in a black market tolerated by a culture that doesn’t really want to know what is going on.
What’s missing in the United States is a culture of restraint. As the churches empty out, there is no countervailing culture moving in. What’s left for culture is a sort of no man’s land where the reality that exists in any one individual’s mind supersedes all other values. There was a time when all citizens knew that what they thought had to be normed by what the rest of the culture thought, and most of that was determined in churches and synagogues on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Hopefully, we will soon get to a point where we can gather once again, recognize a higher power, and affirm our common culture. There is much work to be done, of course. There’s historical revision, reparations, modernization, and a bunch more. But, let’s do it together. Let’s gather together in our places of worship and redefine what it means to be human and what it means to be citizens of the United States.
Peace… Pastor Dale
A pandemic can make one question the existence of God and the value of faith. But, doubt is the crucible of faith. A faith that has not grappled with some of the most difficult issues of life is shallow as opposed to deep and poor as opposed to rich.
What is causing me to doubt is not the pandemic, but the proliferation of social media. It is proliferating in an uncontrolled and unexamined way. Recently, the Grammy awarded singer, Billie Eilish recounted how pornography had damaged her brain. She began to access abusive pornography on Youtube at the young age of 11.
In my role as a “Youth Director” in the church youth program, I get a glimpse of what youth are viewing that parents and others who study youth from afar do not get. The youth are still careful about what they reveal to me, but sometimes in their need to fit in, they will not notice that I am listening when they are talking.
That is how I discovered that youth from decent families, whose parents wouldn’t suspect they were doing it, were vandalizing school bathrooms. In case you have not heard about it, the social media venue, Tik Tok, issued a “devious lick” challenge to children at the beginning of the school year to vandalize their school bathrooms.
I have long been concerned about the content of music that can attain an American Music or Grammy Award -even, in one case, a Pulitzer Award. Media awards have a character of authentication about them. If a song or an artist gets an award, then the message conveyed is that it must be socially acceptable. Many of this year’s grammy nominations contain lyrics that would shock the average adult and are readily accessible to children and regularly listened to by children.
But, the abuse of social media that has most caused me to doubt is the unvetted, uncontrolled, proliferation of “gangsta” rap. Of course, we would not want to see one of our youth become a victim of gang violence or perpetrate it. But, they are increasingly becoming vulnerable to it as it is readily available and creating a constant itch to “keep up with the peers.” The recent proliferation of carjackings is to some extent fueled by the lyrics of this venue.
Social media is not inherently an evil thing, as evidenced by the many good uses it is put to by persons and organizations. What is missing is the societal resolve to stop the proliferation of its evil uses. My concern is particularly that use among children. But, until we are able to do that, I can think of no better protection than to bring one’s children to hear the word of God in Sunday School, Confirmation, and Church and to center one’s family around traditional faith values. Despite their tarnished reputation these days, faith values still best lead families during confusing times.
Peace…. Pastor Dale
I had to take a second look to make sure someone hadn’t snuck up onto the piano bench with Soojung Kong. There was so much sound coming from that piano that it seemed like two hands couldn’t be making it all. But they were. Soojung is the organist at Christ the River of Life Lutheran Church seven blocks south of St. Olaf (also ELCA). She was playing the final piece (December) of Fanny Mendelsohn’s Das Jahr (TheYear), published in 1841. Fanny’s sole inscription for this final piece was: “Down from heaven I come.”
St. Olaf organist, Ed Enstrom, was sitting next to me and gestured toward the green hymnal in his hand. There on page 51 was Martin Luther’s famous Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above” (ELW 268) As the beautiful music filled the Gothic style sanctuary, I couldn’t help but feel the awesome mystery of the incarnation (God entering the world in the flesh.)
Will we capture this awe and mystery this Christmas season? There’s a lot working against making space for awe and mystery in our world today. I suspect that for a majority of the world’s population, even the idea of incarnation is a mystery. What is it? Evaporated milk?
Rather then extol what’s wrong with the world, let me extol what’s right with it. What is right with the world is love. The world was created out of love! In the November 17 issue of the Christian Century, Norman Wirzba makes the case that since we know what love is, it must have pre-existed the universe. Indeed, to say the universe was created out of nothing is actually affirming that it was created out of love. Call it God, if you will. But it is love. Love was blasted throughout the universe in the Big Bang of creation and is present in all the matter of creation, from nonliving matter to living matter, including human beings. Thus, to live fully as a creature in the created order is to live maximally with love.
Materialists would argue that love is just the driving force behind natural selection (evolution) Birds sing to facilitate procreation. But then why is there so much singing, more than necessary? And why is it so beautiful? Birds sing for love! It gives them great joy.
Birds are to be emulated. They show us how to live maximally with love.
They know they may become victim of a falcon, housecat, or transparent building, but they sing nevertheless because they know that love rules the universe and love will never die!
Humans are a special category of creation in that they are aware of good, evil, and death and are able to deviate from the path of life that love sets out for them. So, there is a God after all and God became flesh -incarnation -in order to get us back on the rails of the love express. Let us celebrate the awe and mystery of that event this Christmas. Peace… Pastor Dale
All eyes are on Minneapolis as Minneapolis decides the future of policing in Minneapolis. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, 9 of the 13 Minneapolis City Council members made a well-publicized appeal to defunding the police. This event started a national debate over the need for and value of police. The terminology morphed into “replacing,” rather than “defunding” the police and has now been brought before Minneapolis voters by those same City Council members as Charter Amendment 2.
Charter Amendment 2 has become a contentious issue in Minneapolis. Had crime and police staffing remained at the levels prior to the murder of George Floyd, the issue may not have been so contentious. But, police left the force and violent crime skyrocketed, with murders in Minneapolis now threatening to equal or surpass the notorious year of 1996, which gained Minneapolis the nickname, “Murderapolis.” This uptick in crime occurred not only in Minneapolis, but also in most of the major cities of the United States. And, some of the same dynamics are happening in those cities, too, but the focus is on Minneapolis, that starting place for both the civil unrest and the defunding movement.
St. Olaf has come out against Charter Amendment 2. Our position is derived from experience and theology. Most people in north Minneapolis have been at least inconvenienced by the lack of police presence and uptick in crime. Many have been more than inconvenienced. Some are in profound grief. As much as an ideal world would not need police, at this time in Minneapolis, they are needed. As for reform, most north Minneapolis residents have a lot of faith in Minneapolis’ first African-American chief, a chief who did the unprecedented in testifying against officer Chauvin, who killed Floyd.
But, we are also informed by theology. Every Sunday, we have public confession, acknowledging that without Christ’s redemption, we would not be able to apply ourselves to the common good. We accept Martin Luther’s resigned acceptance of the necessity of police. In a world affected by sin, without police, we would not be able to love our neighbor. I might point out that we experience that difficulty at St. Olaf. We operate several programs for children and youth in the neighborhood (St. Olaf was recently awarded a grant from the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention.), and are increasingly fearful that something will happen to a child either coming or going, or worse yet, at, an activity. Last week, a 15 year old boy was shot in the leg close to the church, an innocent victim of indiscreet shooting in the neighborhood. Luther also called the police and military “noble” professions for the danger they take on in doing their necessary work.
Those who advocate for Charter Amendment 2 adhere to a different viewpoint of human nature, sometimes labelled “humanistic,” in which the expectation is that human beings will by nature do the good and apply themselves to the common good. As religion fades from importance in modern life, this viewpoint of human nature is rising. But it’s good to advance an opposing, and well attested point of view.
Peace… Pastor Dale
The looming climate crisis has resurrected the use of the word, “apocalyptic.” In the most dire scenarios painted for global warming, the word, “apocalyptic,” has begun popping up again. I say “popping up again,” because I was recently reminded of the last time I remember the word being used so much -in the aftermath of the terror attacks of 9/11. The word is used to connote a sudden, unpredictable, and violent threat to the future of humankind.
Use of the word brings up the question as to how the world will end. But, this question is only relevant if there is someone to worry about it. It’s kind of like the old question if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?
So, a much more relevant question is how your world will end. Will it be an apocalyptic ending or will it be something much more gradual, predictable, and peaceful? More importantly, how does your comfort level with your own ending affect the way you approach life? Do you engage with the apocalyptic scenarios of the world or would you rather just see them go away?
Ironically, a person is probably better equipped to meet the challenges of an apocalyptic scenario if one has a sense of inner security. The example often give is of Martin Luther, who when asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow, is said to have quipped, “I’d plant a tree.”
Even more ironically, planting a tree is a direct method of reducing carbon in the atmosphere. So, the activity Luther selected to show his nonchalance in the face of overwhelming threats was one that was good for the world, even when there was no global warming. Trees are fundamentally good for life as we know it.
What I’m getting at here is the importance of faith. Faith provides a dimension to our lives that enables us to find happiness. Were it not for faith, we could only find happiness in very hedonistic and self-serving ways. Hence the adage, “Whoever has the most toys in the end, wins.” It’s not clear what you win, but the criteria for winning is tragically narrow. Everybody knows money can’t buy you love! That is a very wise saying.
Our Bible readings this past month have been showing the relationship between wisdom and love. But, the readings are clear that there is a difference between the world’s wisdom and a wisdom born of faith. If more people would adopt faith there would be a lot more wisdom to go around and maybe, just maybe, love would win the day, the year, and forever.
This is the kind of faith-based thinking and decision making that Jesus calls us to and that I am committed to as the Pastor of St. Olaf Lutheran Church.
Peace… Pastor Dale
What lies ahead for the human species? On August 9, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a “code red” on climate change. This intergovernmental body of scientists have determined that the adverse effects of Climate Change are no longer in a distant or even a close future. They are here now and will only get worse. Mitigation attempts at this point will only alleviate the acceleration of climate-induced disasters.
Adding to the anxiety caused by this report is the newly forming reality that the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay. Our wishes that the vaccines would put the pandemic to rest have vanished as masks go back on and social events become once more a public health concern (We will have to forgo our traditional Rally Day Potluck again this year.) However, as with the Climate Change warning, there is a slim chance of reversing the trend.
For a Christian, these developments bring into question God’s intentions for the human race. Martin Luther is famously quoted as answering, “I’d plant an apple tree.” when asked what he would do if he knew the world was ending tomorrow. For Luther, because God is good and apple trees are good, we can rely on God to act in our best interests. Luther’s confidence in the goodness of God for all time didn’t come from his musings on God the Creator. They came from his terrified question as to whether his existence mattered to God. He found the answer to this question in Jesus, pretty much confirming what the Bible said all along (See especially John 1.)
So, as Christians, we can follow Luther’s example and continue to work for what is good in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. St. Olaf actually has a tree fund (p. 4) you can use to have the Minnesota DNR plant that tree for you. It won’t be an apple tree, but it will be good for the planet (and us), nevertheless.
Shortly after the UN issued its Code Red, a friend of mine stopped by my office. He looked worn and troubled. “How’s Ben,” I asked. “I had to put Ben to sleep,” he responded. Ben was a cherished dog he had taken in after his wife died. “Have you heard about the Code Red?” he asked. I responded that I had. “I just hope Jesus will come again,” he said. “I’m not holding my breath,” I replied. Then I told him about Martin Luther and the apple tree. He is a gardener and looked visibly relieved. I’ll have to go over to his house and peek over the fence to see if a new apple tree has sprung up in his yard.
My friend is a gentle soul. I’m sure his vision of Jesus returning was a kind one. Not all are. Many Christians still believe in an ending of history cobbled together from various New Testament passages. This ending was popularized in Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins Left Behind series (1995-2007). In this myth of the ending of the world, unbelievers are left behind to be punished in a lake of fire for 1000 years while believers are raptured off the planet to be with Jesus in heaven. The trouble with this myth is that it discourages climate action and encourages activities which will hasten the end. This myth is thoroughly and scholarly debunked in the Lutheran scholar, Barbara Rossing’s book, The Rapture Exposed (2001). The Climate Change Action Group at St. Olaf highly recommends reading this book as well at Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited.
Peace… Pastor Dale
One of the new buzzwords in American society goes by the acronym “DEI.” DEI stands for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” Being a Caucasian male, one would think I am not included in diversity and in need of no special effort for my equity or inclusion.
But, I am a Senior Citizen. As a Senior Citizen, I receive benefits that other diversity groups in the hunt for equity can only envy: social security benefits, medicare, senior housing, senior discounts, and the like. I’m not going to lie. I enjoy the pampering. It’s nice to have others care for you just because of who you are.
And yet, I know many of us seniors harbor an anxiety within. The clock is ticking down and the question of how will we meet our death is not resolved? In casual social conversation, I have heard some seniors joke about stepping in front of a train -taking matters into their own hands. This is not a trifling concern. Legislation exists in some states (8) that allows seniors to end their lives if they so wish.
Often, feelings of purposelessness and uselessness lead to the desire to die. And yet, it is precisely the elderly, in all their seeming purposeless and uselessness, that make life worth living for others. Think of all the volunteer and paid effort of family, friends, and workers to care for the well-being of elders. But, it’s not like the elders don’t give back. Elders give back from the wealth of their experience. They have a treasure trove of life experience that younger people do not have, but need to learn from for their upcoming journey into old age. Research has shown that the elderly, when they have come to terms with the finiteness of their experience, have an ability to relax and take in the sentient aspects of life far better than younger people.
As I think about how to attract younger people to what they see as an anachronistic institution (the Church), I keep coming up with the value of elders. Whatever we do, as a society, it seems we will best serve the future of humanity if we are inclusive of our elders. This means that worship must be intentionally intergenerational. We must include the music and forms of music that elders are familiar with. In my experience, the elders are actually more flexible, for reasons indicated in the preceding paragraph, than the young. The visual memory of the “five old ladies” clapping away in the front pew as the younger folk kept their arms rigidly locked to their sides is a testament to the flexibility of the elders.
I think a lot about what the future of the Church and St. Olaf will look like, and as I do, I am reassured by warm memories of the intergenerational worship of St. Olaf. Let’s keep it that way. Peace…. Pastor Dale
The shootings of 12 children in north Minneapolis in 2021, 3 in the St. Olaf neighborhood in the past month, has raised a cry for churches to do something. To some extent, asking churches to do something is a little like clutching at straws. Before we can do anything, we have to feel safe in the streets. I had to duck bullets last Saturday as I mowed my lawn. A St. Olaf member’s grandson was paralyzed in a drive-by shooting. A 6 year old munching on a hamburger in the back seat of her mother’s car died from her injuries. The first order of business is to protect the people of the neighborhood and the church so that we can love our neighbor. Without effective police protection, we are immobilized.
And yet political leaders are paralyzed by the quandry created by the “defund the police” movement. Defund the police makes absolutely no sense when little children are dying. Community leaders have established a “both and” approach which makes more sense – both reform and fund the police. But, there is still resistance and what the community does not need now is well-meaning people from outside the community tipping the balance toward defund. We need protection now.
As a church of the ELCA, we recognize that we have more potential assets than many of the African-American churches that are being called on to do something. We have begun discussions with the leadership of the Synod and the ELCA to allocate more funding resources in north Minneapolis. These bodies regularly allocate funds to reach goals within the church. We are making the point that, since the George Floyd upheaval of last year, racial reparations are the most worthy goal at this time. Goals of church growth will only fail if the ELCA does not address this most pressing need.
We have gone ahead with several activities to address the shortfall of family funds and the need for families to have structured activities for their children. These are costly and we are in discussions as to why St. Olaf always seems to be off the radar screen of funding allocations for north Minneapolis. An interesting fact is that Shiloh Temple came to St. Olaf’s assistance a couple of years ago when we couldn’t get on our feet after the fall of the nursing home. Shiloh Temple is a prominent African-American church in north Minneapolis.
Churches are seeing a falling off of attendance and membership in the wake of the pandemic. This is not a helpful phenomenum because churches are essential to the fabric of human society. Going forward at St. Olaf, we plan to be more vocal about the assets of the Christian church. Recognizing that there were past offenses of the Christian church is an essential part of the process, but so is moving forward. (continued on p. 2)
(continued from p. 1) The assets of the church are timeless and time offers no direction but forward.
The church carries that most important asset -forgiveness, upon which the realization of lofty goals depends.
Without a deep and thorough possibility of forgiveness, efforts to establish justice and non-violence become frustrating and even hopeless. The possibility of forgiveness through the power of the resurrection of Jesus provides the potential for hope and hope is what we need right now. But, churches need to be aware that without thoroughgoing self-examination and redirection toward the goal of justice and nonviolence, which right now is racial reparations, resurrection power is essentially unavailable. It has to be employed toward those whom Thurman has identified as people with their backs up against the wall, for that is the context our of which Jesus came and which gives the resurrection its power. And with that power, I have no doubt that we will be able to move the needle of human morality toward justice and nonviolence.
Peace…. Pastor Dale
It would be remiss to not mention the racial concerns of the past month. The conviction of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd and the killing of Daunte Wright were events of international significance. Why?
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of details in both of these cases and not see the forest for the trees. People of color around the world see the forest. It is the forest of white Western civilization’s exploitation of people of color, be it through the legacy of slavery or colonization.
In his ground breaking book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond made the case that it was a circumstantial accident of history that propelled white Western civilization into its position of dominance which is only now being judged as immoral. As you all know, there’s a rush to tear down statues, rename buildings and lakes, and rewrite history books to set right centuries of exploitation.
It’s a widely known fact that, in the United States, Christian churches are one of the least racially integrated social institutions. This fact has made it difficult for Christians to understand what is going on. As long as we don’t rub elbows with each other in the places we consider most fundamental to our social well being, we will have a difficult time understanding the situation and accepting it is so that we can move on. In the meanwhile, in the absence of a strong unified Christian message, the Christian Church will continue to seem irrelevant to large numbers of people.
And yet, the Christian revelation contains the key to unlocking the future. Christians will have to swallow hard and admit that the Christian church was off track for much of its history. We will have to go back to the life of Jesus himself. Who was he and what was he doing on this earth?
In these troubled times, I am using Howard Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, as my playbook. Thurman was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In this little book, Thurman makes the case that the majority of the world’s people, past and present, live in conditions that can best be described as “back against the wall;” and that the Gospels can best be understood if we regard Jesus as a man whose back was likewise up against the wall -up against a wall of many different factions, wealthy landowners, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Romans. His book relates the stories and teachings of Jesus to his perspective as a man with his back up against a wall while at the same time a man receiving and transmitting divine revelation throughout. Although his book was published in the 1970’s, it is yet a relevant playbook for Christians to move forward in troubled times and I highly recommend it. (continued on p. 2)
(continued from p. 1)
In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, there has been talk of systemic changes. We will continue to address the immediate needs of people whose backs are up against the wall through our food and clothing shelves and assistance with housing, rent, taxes, and other community needs. But, we will also continue to address the underlying systemic problems that contribute to these needs and deny opportunity to those who need it. As a former teacher, I am best specialized to deal with the educational and psychological/emotional needs of children and youth and we will continue to work together with New Directions Youth Ministry to address those needs. And, of course, the religious education of both children and adults and the worship life of the congregation have the most potential to affect significant and lasting change.
Peace…. Pastor Dale
Am I a fool? I have college degrees in Biochemistry, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics. I believe in Jesus. There is nothing contradictory in believing in something invisible. Did you know Mr. Rogers had a sign in his office which read, “That which is essential is invisible.” (from “The Little Prince). I wouldn’t go that far because much that is visible is essential. Nevertheless, much of what matters in life is invisible to the senses and thus non-material. You have an interior life that you may or may not have tapped into. If you have not, I suggest you do. A good read is Rupert Shelldrake’s “Science Set Free.” The Apostle Paul was familiar with that which is invisible (and unexpected). He famously wrote: And, if you are into social justice, he also wrote of foolishness this way: “God chose the things the world considers foolish to confound the wise; God chose the things the world considers weak to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27) It was the Jesus event that effected this reversal of priorities. Again, Paul comments: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Building off my Facebook post, I would like to explain what is behind the troubling words I posted. I have lived in the inner city ever since my freshman year in college. My experience is that too often people who do not live in the inner city are the decision makers for the inner city. As we deal with police reform in the wake of the homicide of George Floyd, I’m sure we will see non-residency emerge as the major contributing factor to police brutality. Whether we will fix it is another matter.
St. Olaf Lutheran Church is an inner city church located in a community of poverty, and not coincidentally over 50% African-American. As a member church of the ELCA actively engaged in inner city ministry, St. Olaf should receive funding from the ELCA; but it doesn’t. The reason it doesn’t is because the funding decisions are made by people who don’t live in the community and are driven by their commercial instincts, which don’t often coincide with the activity of the Holy Spirit.
The funding decisions are made by the Minneapolis Synod and a representative from the ELCA.
The Synod established a North Minneapolis Area Ministry Strategy in 2013 which was supposed to give a voice to the churches involved, which included St. Olaf. However, we soon found that decisions in the strategy were coming down from the Synod and its Council and St. Olaf was not a favored site. Then all hell broke loose. The Synod intervened in what was not only our major ministry, but also our source of self-sufficiency –the St. Olaf Residence. As a result of their intervention, the Residence was lost. Over 100 vulnerable adults were forcibly moved from their homes, around 100 employees laid off, the community lost a major economic engine. To make matters worse, the Synod refused to help St. Olaf and has denied it funding since that time. They Synod did forgive an $8,000 loan, but the church lost over $65,000 on the failed sale and subsequent mortgage foreclosure.
Twice St. Olaf attempted to gain a hearing with the Synod, but were shut out. Another two times, St. Olaf attempted to bring its grievance to the Assembly of the Synod. The first time it was shut down in the Conference meeting. The second time was last February at the Conference meeting. The Conference effectively sidelined the resolution, but we were able to move it forward to the Synod Reference and Counsel Committee for approval to be aired on the Assembly floor scheduled for May 2020, which was postponed (canceled?).
Several years ago, the Synod established a Racial Justice initiative. Our racial justice representative (Rumen, my son) and I attend periodic meetings to move the agenda of racial justice forward in the Minneapolis Synod. But, this group is infected with the same cronyism that the North Minneapolis Area Ministry Strategy, now the North Minneapolis Parish, was infected with. At the last meeting, we were given another dose of medication to heal us of white privilege. After the meeting, Rumen and I went to one of the presenters, the Synod Vice-President, an African-American woman, and asked her, “When will the conversation move from exposing white privilege to dealing with institutional racism.” “Soon, I hope,” she replied.
So, when that happens, it would be nice to have more people, especially people of color, available to advocate for and with us. If you have a desire to help the ELCA look at the issue of institutional racism within itself from the perspective of a discarded, worthy inner city church, please join our team at St. Olaf. We cannot count on the stones to cry out for us.
As the grim prognosis of the pandemic grinds on, many people are asking, “Where’s God in all this?” “Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?”
God has three answers for prayer: “Yes,” “Not yet,” and “I have a different plan for you.” Considering that there is a vaccine on the horizon, it appears we are in the “Not yet” category now.
But, today’s Gospel lesson raises an important question. How do you get that “Yes” answer? Jesus told his disciples, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Doesn’t that sound like a “Yes” answer to prayer?
The catch is in that “in my name” criteria. “If in my name you ask me for anything.
Often our prayers fall up short in the criteria, “in my name.” Our prayers are often tinged with selfishness.
Often people will tell me they pray to win the lottery so they could give a lot of money to the church. “How much would you give,” I ask them. “Well, I’d save a little for myself,” they answer. “And the rest to the church.”
“Well don’t bother to pray, then” I tell them. “If it’s not 100%, your motive’s not pure enough.”
Think about it. It’s selfishness that stands in the way of God’s purposes. Just take a look at how selfishness is interfering with our ability to deal with this pandemic. Way back in January I inquired about getting a shingles shot. “We’re all out of masks,” the pharmacists informed me. Even back then, the hoarding had begun. But, the selfishness is at its most egregious at the corporate level. Unwilling to cut Executive salaries, many corporations are making employees take the brunt of the pandemic by massive layoffs and gobbling up the relief funds intended for small businesses.
But, this is nothing new under the sun. At the time Jesus made his invitation to ask in prayer, those same attributes of human civilization were at play.
Nevertheless, as now, many people regarded the teachings of their religion to be expendable. The “in my name” prayer criteria had the same level of accountability as before. Only the agenda would change.
As we try to establish a relationship with God that enables God to listen to us, it is important to understand Jesus important teaching about what he was doing. “I have not come to abolish the law,” he stated. “But to fulfill it.”
Now, he also summarized and condensed the law in his teachings to basically the Ten Commandments, which we teach in our churches. And yet, how often do we compromise those simple laws by interjecting our selfish motives into their interpretation.
“I don’t need to come to church. I can do that better at home. I’d rather not wait for marriage. What a silly outdated notion. I can’t afford a tithe to the church. My iPhone 11 bill takes too much of my take home pay. And on and on.”
It’s actually amazing that God pays any attention at all to us when we pray. Why would God expect anything less than 100% from us?
If you pledge 100% of yourself to 100% of God’s will then your prayer will be answered. Prayer must be pure, unselfish, and focused on the good.
Stephen’s prayer in today’s first reading has that quality: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
It is fitting that the first martyr of the Christian faith would be such a pure individual.
In contrast to Stephen’s purity was the defiled nature of the mob that stoned him. Lynch mobs represent the worst of human behavior. You might call a lynch mob “uncivilized,” but that’s not true. Throughout much of human history lynch mobs and the like have been integral to human civilization and have a distinct purpose within it. It is only recently that lynch mobs have ceased to function in this country, the last official one being in 1968. But, many would argue that they haven’t really ceased, that they continue in police shootings of Black individuals and the random shootings of Black people by white supremacists. I’m sure those of you who follow social media have by now become aware of the shooting of the jogger in Georgia which reminds us of the not so long ago shooting of Travon Martin in Florida.
In his teaching, Jesus was laying the foundation for a new civilization in which lynch mobs have no place and humans have no right to take the life of another human being except in the most narrow of circumstance.
Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples realized the reality of what Jesus was doing. They rightly saw in his crucifixion, the end of the lynch mob forever. By becoming the ultimate victim of the lynch mob and then rising from it, that activity of human misbehavior was forever blocked from legitimacy. That Stephen was so soon after lynched himself is evidence that the point is not easily absorbed by a humanity intent upon its own murderous intentions. That it is still going on informs us that we still have a long ways to go.
The disciples recognized Jesus as the foundational cornerstone of this new civilization. Heeding Jesus’ words that he hadn’t come to abolish their religious traditions, they hooked up his new revealed identity with verses out of their scriptures. Today’s 2nd lesson from the Epistle of Peter quotes the cornerstone idea from Isaiah and Psalm 118 in 3 separate references. Some of us remember the concept from the old camp song, “The cornerstone which was rejected became the cornerstone of a whole new world.”
And Stephen was the next foundation block, a block rejected, like Jesus, by the usual builders of civilization.
They not only rejected Stephen. They killed him. Just like they killed Jesus. And in his death, Stephen joined Jesus by virtue of the way he died. Likewise the victims of all the stonings, lynchings, crucifixions, and the like join Jesus and Stephen as foundation blocks in the whole new world.
And yet, Jesus is still a scandal to the world. There is an interesting play on words with the word, “stumbling block.” It can also be translated as a “scandal.” Jesus and his whole new world are still a scandal to the inhabitants of the old world who do not want to give up what they see as their rights and entitlements.
You will still see them lining up outside gun stores at the first threat to their way of life. And occasionally one of them will take the life of someone in frustration over the absence of that good old way of doing it -the lynching mob.
Jesus is a scandal. Jesus says, “The power of my new world is kindness and love, sharing not hoarding. And when push comes to shove, my power is perfected in yielding to the wickedness of humankind, not overpowering it with force.”
For, the Kingdom of God will come. The fact that lynchings no longer occur in this country is evidence that Jesus’ whole new world is yet on the march.
Some will not want to give the church credit for this progress, but they are wrong. Jesus told a marvelous little parable to explain how this would happen. You all know the parable of the Mustard Seed. This one follows right after: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Then, if you study history with this idea of hidden leaven, you will see the progress of Jesus’ whole new world.
The church is advanced through the actions of the pure folk like Stephen, not the charlatans who use the institution of the church to further their own ambitions. And believe me, there are many of these pure folk out there. You just don’t see them. They don’t make the headlines, but rather just quietly work for justice and serve the poor, all the while witnessing to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
This pandemic is an experience unlike any other we’ve ever had. Pandemics are not new to the world stage. It’s just that we haven’t experienced one. The last one occurred over 100 years ago.
As Christians, we have an opportunity to further advance Jesus’ whole new world as we work through this pandemic. Now is the time to witness to the world of the cornerstone values we live by -sharing not hoarding, generosity not selfishness, yielding, not fighting. And, like the early disciples, if we are true, if we are pure, we will encounter rejection and even hostility. But, the sacrifices we make to stay true to our belief in Jesus and pure in our motives will continue to lay the foundation stones for a whole new world. We may not see it in our lifetimes. Obviously, Stephen didn’t. But as he looked to heaven, he saw a vision -God, there in his reality and Jesus at his right hand -directing the affairs of man through the hearts and minds of all the simple believers who are the leaven in the bread.
Now is there any reason not to give your 100% to Jesus? What is it you are afraid to give up? I guarantee you you will lose nothing worth having and gain everything