Category Archives: St. Olaf Blog

November Pastor’s letter

The Norwegians were in the news this morning.  Russian drones are threatening their air space.  They have put Russia on notice that they will not tolerate their presence.  Norwegian oil and natural gas are vital resources in the defense of Ukraine.  Russia not only turned off the natural gas line to Europe, they perhaps sabotaged it so no one else (the Norwegians?) could use it. 

Parish Administrator, Ann and I attended our bank’s annual community event last week.  Because it had been canceled the two previous years, they went all out this year.  Our bank is Northeast Bank, situated in the heart of the Ukrainian-American community and we were treated to a special performance of Ukrainian dance. 

As I made my way back to North Minneapolis, I couldn’t help but marvel at the melting of cultures that is occurring here in the United States.  But, I also couldn’t help being reminded as I passed the WIN gas station 10 blocks east (and across the river)  that there is yet a separation of cultures in the United States.  The Winner station has been nicknamed the “murder station” for the many murders that have occurred there.  It’s sad that the African-American culture is taking the brunt of this unintended harm. In the September issue of the Star Tribune, University of Minnesota Law School Professor of Civil Rights said it all in the title of his essay:  “In a segregated region, crime and police hurt the same people.”

Today, the Minneapolis City Council approved a new Department of Public Safety which many people see as an olive branch between the people who want to see the police defunded and those who, in the last election, felt a stronger mayor would help deter crime.  To me, this action demonstrated where we need to be as a culture moving forward with the problem of race.  I will again use the quote from Henry Louis Gates that I referred to in my last Pastor’s letter:  “None of us are responsible for what our ancestors did.  But all of us are responsible to work together to make this a better world.” (I hope you are watching his new documentary, “Making Black America: Through the Grapevine.”)

Again, as I have said before, though these are troubling times, they are exciting times.  The world truly has become globalized and a new movement of global cooperation for peace is bubbling up through the muck of human sin.  God is once again doing a new thing.  It’s just troubling to see so many people suffer as the world comes to its senses. Keep praying and stay in church.                                                             Peace….                        Pastor Dale

Advertisement

October Pastor’s Letter

All are invited to celebrate St. Olaf Lutheran Church’s admission to the National Register of Historic Places. All are welcome. An RSVP to sec@stolaflutheran.org would be appreciated.

Historic Designation Celebration

Sunday, November 13

9 – 10:30 am historical exhibits

10:30 – 11:30 am celebration worship

11:30 am – 1 pm reception with hors d’oeuvres

So, here we are in one of the inner cities of America, a “lodestar” of Norwegian-American heritage.  “Loadstar” is the word one of the gatekeepers of designation at the Minnesota Historical Society termed our designation on the National Register.  It’s not exactly what we were after when we first applied, but unbeknown to us, there was a 50 year demarcation line, defined by the civil unrest in 1967 most known for the riots in North Minneapolis following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Having passed that 50 year demarcation line, our designation could no longer be for the immigration history of the neighborhood, but rather, for its Norwegian heritage. 

Nevertheless, the immigration history of the neighborhood looms dominant over the Norwegian Heritage.  Immigrants outnumber Norwegians at St. Olaf and in the St. Olaf neighborhood.  Add in those who did not have an immigration origin, to wit, Native Americans and African-Americans, the outnumbering is higher. 

As American society tries to melt its many cultures into a homogenous whole, some European heritages are problematic because they involve resentments caused by colonialism. However, Norwegian heritage is fairly benign it this regard. Norwegian colonialism happened so long ago (the Vikings) that everybody is okay with it now. No one is clamoring to change the name of Minnesota’s football team!  After that, Norway’s colonialism was mostly in territories no one wants anyway -places like South Georgia Island, Fridtjof Nansen Land, and the Sverdrup Islands, all since abandoned as colonies. Norway does maintain a colonial claim on a section of Antartica, an area which could be colonized without displacing indigenous peoples. Penguins maybe, but not people.

The first Norwegians who arrived in the United States seem to be rather innocent of the colonialist expansion of the United States into its west, which displaced Native American people.  They responded to advertisements for free land in the United States, not knowing it was already inhabited. And, from what I can tell, they tried to befriend their Native American neighbors and didn’t participate in the later Boarding School movement that so traumatized Native American people.  (They started one school in Wisconsin.)

But, all that is beside the point.  As Henry Louis Gates says in his PBS show, Finding Your Roots, “None of us are responsible for what our parents did.  But all of us are responsible to work together to make this a better world.” On November 13, we will celebrate our historic designation with this understanding.            Peace….          Pastor Dale

September Pastor’s Letter

We must not neglect the suffering of the world.  For, when we do, we become less than human. As Christians, we believe that a big part, if not the biggest part, of being human is tending to the suffering of the world.  If we ignore the suffering of our neighbor, then we are neglecting one of our most fundamental human needs. 

During the pandemic, many people were forced to isolate.  For some reason, isolating became comfortable.  You can blame social media or the closure of public institutions, but as restrictions relaxed, people didn’t necessarily head back to the public gatherings of their pre-Covid lives.

I think you can probably guess where I am going.  As we approach Rally Day -and yes, I stick with that appellation – I am hopeful that people return to the public gathering of their churches.  One of the very good reasons I am hopeful for a return to the “pews” is for that human need to tend to the suffering of the world.  The ELCA especially does a good job of ferreting out the suffering in outer -and sometimes inner -pockets of the world and responding to it.  For example, ELCA Disaster Relief is responding to both the Ukrainian refugee crisis and the flooding in Kentucky.  But, Disaster Relief is only part of the picture.  We must also tend to the ongoing suffering of the world.

Again, Lutherans have many organizations to address the ongoing suffering of the world. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and Lutheran Social Services are just two of the Lutheran organizations that provide ongoing relief.  And, if you’re one who prefers to address the upriver causes of suffering, there’s Lutheran Advocacy Minnesota and the Synod Assemblies. And if you’re one who like to either do advocacy or address the immediate concerns of suffering, there are the ministries of your local church, which for the most part, get carried out in the neighborhoods around the church. 

Prior to the pandemic, I listened with interest to a Public Radio program on where people found meaning in gathering.  One woman exuberantly exclaimed it was her local brewery, because “where else do people gather weekly to sing together?”  Where else?  But, her brewery didn’t have the options for addressing human suffering that I laid out in the previous paragraph.  Based on her comments, I’ve searched for good drinking songs to use in church.  Voila!  Martin Luther’s “Mighty Fortress” was originally a tavern song. 

But, moreso, there is the context of meaning provided by your local church.  Christian worship celebrates the human freedom wrought by this man named Jesus who endured the suffering of the world for the sake of all of us. 

It is my hope that you all find a way to return to the regular practice of Sunday worship and Sunday School.  Indeed, I am convinced that a positive outcome for the world depends on it.

Peace….                                  Pastor Dale

August Pastor’s letter

            Correction.  St. Olaf was admitted to the National Register of Historic Places on June 2, not July 2, as written in the July newsletter.  So far, what is planned is a celebratory worship at 10:30 am on October 16, 2022 with a catered meal afterward, the main course being lutefisk and chittlins.  That should bring the cultures together in a fun way, but we better let them know there is some more traditional fare, such as meatballs and fried chicken, potato salad and greens…you get the idea.  I have sent feelers out to the Norwegian institutions in Minneapolis and so far, I have heard back from most of them. Seems the Bishop of Norway is in town that same weekend and we may be able to share him with some of the other organizations.  Augsburg College President Pribbenow agreed to be present in some capacity. The Council established a task force for further planning of the event, for which you may sign up on the table by the church office or by calling the church office.  A meeting will be convened soon.

            We got some other good news early in June.  Our risk of fire will be going down greatly.  The Fire Marshall did an inspection and found several items lacking.  While correction of these code violations will make our building safer, they are and will take time and money.  The CIA (Al Helgemo, Mark True, and Doug Johnson) have swung into action again and are tackling some of the DIY repairs.  Others are more complicated and will require a paid handyman. Still others are very complicated and will require specialized contractors and extra funding.  That’s where our historical status will come in handy.  Funding for construction is available from the State Historical Society and the Foundation for Sacred Spaces.  In the meanwhile, if you would like to help the CIA or if you know a good handyman, or if you would like to get involved in the grant process, please call the church office.

            We also are in the hunt for a Youth Director.  New Directions is also looking for a Program Director for Hockey and Figure Skating and the two positions could be combined.  College and a driver’s license are required for both positions.  Call the church office for a job description or to apply.

            As we move into the tail end of the summer, we will be looking toward Rally Day, which will be September 11 this year.  We are hiring for Vacation Bible School, August 1-5, and will take volunteers as well. The job description is available from the table by the office or by calling the office. Our goal is to get back to normal and have Sunday School for all ages next school year.

Peace….                      Pastor Dale

July Pastor’s letter

            On July 2, St. Olaf Lutheran Church was admitted onto the National Register of Historic Places.  The National Register is THE place where places of historical significance in the United States are listed.  THIS IS A BIG DEAL!

            It’s also a quandary.  What are we going to do with it? While the Norwegian history upon which the designation was made was significant in the state and in the community, the Norwegian presence in the community now is quite small.  Add to this physical diminishment the sudden importance of diminishing historically dominant cultures to increase the civic awareness of  the history of traditionally underemphasized minority cultures, which happened after the killing of George Floyd, and we really have a quandary.  The neighborhood is over 50% Black, 11% Asian, and only 18% Caucasian (2020 census data – no specific data on Norwegians).

But let’s call it a challenge! Let’s say it’s an opportunity to do exactly what is called for -uplift cultures which are historically less acknowledged.  Acknowledgement would be a good place to start.  We can acknowledge the original occupants of the land upon which the church was built – the Dakota Tribe. In 1852, the Dakota ceded much of Minnesota to the United States government by the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota.  Twenty years later, Augsburg Seminary (College) moved from Wisconsin to its present location in Minneapolis and 4 years later St. Olaf Lutheran Church was established as an outreach mission of Augsburg.  In 2016, the ELCA formally repudiated the “Doctrine of Discovery,” whereby the United States government claimed the land occupied by Native Americans.  A little too little, a little too late, but nevertheless, a step in the right direction.  That repudiation also committed the ELCA “to supporting the healing of survivors of Indian boarding schools, adoption, and foster care and their descendants while advocating for policies that will bring both truth and justice for Native American people.” That is a worthy task, considering our historical context.

However, the higher percentage of people of African descent in the St. Olaf neighborhood swings the priority of the historical context to that focus as well.  In 2019 (before the George Floyd awakening), the ELCA passed a Declaration of Apology to “people of African descent for its historical complicity in slavery and its enduring legacy of racism in the United States and globally.” The statement is quite long and is available on the ELCA website.  A companion study guide titled, “Now Is The Time,” was issued this year. 

The date for the unveiling of St. Olaf’s historical status has not yet been set, but in the meanwhile, stay tuned and stay steady in your support of this historically important church. 

                                                                        Peace….                      Pastor Dale

June Pastor’s letter

“What’s wrong with us?”  This was the cry of a promising young baseball player on the team my children played on at Folwell Park.  The team had just lost yet another game to conflicted base-running.  “What’s wrong with us” is also the cry of Americans who have lost yet another game to conflicted base-running.  That loss was announced by yet another mass murder, this time in an elementary school in Texas.

            Once again, the cries for better gun control are heard; but we all know that, like better umpires, gun control would only partially solve the problem.  There’s a deeper disfunction involved and we all know it.

            Just the divisiveness over gun control attests to the deeper problem.  Something’s out of control here and it’s frightening. 

            We pride ourselves in America as being a paragon of democracy, but mass shootings undermine our confidence in democracy.  It’s like we have too much freedom, if there is such a thing.  We’re willing to limit the freedom around guns.  What about media?

            In August, the movie, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, will be released in theaters. The movie is a comedy about a serial murder and is expected to bring in droves of teenage males.  The movie is rated R and the parental advisory lists violence and bloody images.  My question is this: why the bloody images? Do they enhance the humor?

             Extrapolate movie content to all media forms.  The mass murderer in Buffalo filmed the event live on Twitch, Amazon’s version of Facebook.  Twitch took it down within 3 minutes and urged anyone who had saved a copy to destroy it.  Wouldn’t you know it, it surfaced during youth group last week and not a one of the kids shielded their eyes from the horror. 

            In the United States, we rely on Parental Controls to be the bottom line for viewing safety for our children.  The fact that the video of the Buffalo shooting surfaced among a group of teens is an example of how poorly parental controls work.  Last month, the European Union passed strong legislation limiting socially destructive forms of media content.  Graphic violence was but one of these.  At the time of the passage, the comment was made that because of the emphasis on the Bill of Rights, Americans would be loathe to follow suit. 

            Before Cain kills Abel in the book of Genesis, God tells Cain, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7)

            Down deep, where our soul meets God, deeper than a bill of rights, we know what is right.  We can master the sin of apathy that allows the presence of destructive content in our social discourse.   Rachel wept for her children (Jeremiah 31:15),  but God promised to reward the hard work of her people to preserve their culture. (31:16) We can do the same.     Peace….          Pastor Dale

May Pastor’s letter

            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

April Pastor’s letter

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

March Pastor’s letter

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

January Pastor’s letter

            I hope you all had a blessed Christmas despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic.

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

Pastor’s letter December

                                             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 on Minneapolis

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

Pastor’s Letter October

            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

Pastor’s Letter – September

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