2005 Web Writings

Some Blogging from 2005

I blogged a bit in 2005, and here are some blog entries from way back then:

January 3, 2005 (blog entry)

The Bible begins with a poem of creation.
I am not as concerned with the details of Genesis 1-11 as science or history — How long is a day to God? To whom was Cain married? — as I am concerned with the meaning. God creates the universe, and it is good. God creates humankind, and we are “very good” – but how quickly we mess up. Humankind (“Adam”), male and female, is made in God’s image. As I understand that, being made in the image of God is a rich concept: we are relational, loving, reasoning, creative beings, given responsibility as stewards of the creation of which we are members.

Recently, my four-year old son asked a great question at the dinner table. “Where are we before we are born?” My wife and I thought about it for awhile, and then she asked him, “Where do you think we are before we are born?” He answered, “In God’s heart.” Perhaps that is why God said, “Let us make humankind in our image…”

The first three days of reading through the Bible in 365 has taken me from the Creation, to Adam and Eve in the garden, to their eating the forbidden fruit – the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (don’t be too hard on Eve – she was seeking wisdom – Gen. 3:6). Cain kills Abel, and the downward spiral of violence in the world ends only with God obliterating the world with a flood, save for Noah and his family. God makes a covenant with Noah and all of creation, laying his (rain) bow in the sky and vowing never again to destroy the whole world with a flood (and only then does God allow people to eat meat). Then, after some genealogy, the three days of reading end with the tower of Babel – an anti-urban, anti-empire kind of story.

The whole mythic prelude to the Bible, the pre-history of the peoples of the Bible and all the world, is compressed into these few pages. The essence seems to be this: God is the Creator, we are creatures in God’s image. Humanity is sinful, disobedient, violent almost from the beginning. God cares, and decides to do something about it, to deal with sin and violence – first with violence of God’s own (and we have had a glimpse of the violence of the primordial waters in the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean). The rest of the Bible may be seen as God striving against sin and violence through other means.

February 5, 2005 (blog entry)

Greetings. I have not written anything for a long time. I will soon be up and writing again, but without a promised agenda for this blog. I am catching up on my journey through the Bible by listening in the car on tape (and online), but it was unrealistic to think I would journal about that regularly – too much else to do.

One thing about listening to the Bible is that every verse and every part of the Bible has equal weight. When I read the Bible on my own, I tend to focus in on the New Testament, or when I read the Old Testament, I focus on key stories, prophets, and Psalms. Listening forces me to hear it all – even the parts I’d rather skip or skim.

Just today I was listening to lengthy descriptions of ritual sacrifice in Exodus. Now, animal sacrifice is not a part of my religious faith or practice, but it is a part of the background, the pre-history, of the Christian faith and of all modern religions. When I preside at the Lord’s Supper tomorrow, I am NOT sacrificing anything. Christ sacrificed himself once and for all on the cross; we do not reenact that sacrifice. Still, the OT background of sacrifice does illuminate or foreshadow the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, and it also raises the question for us today: What are we to sacrifice for God today? A sacrifice of the heart? A sacrifice of obedience? A sacrifice of faith?

As the season of Lent approaches, I am planning to write regularly. That will be my Lenten discipline this year. God be with you. Eric

March 6, 2005 (blog entry)

“I am the church, your are the church, we are the church together…”

I just discovered my friend Jim Wilson’s blog The Kingdom Works. Jim and I have very different perspectives on theology and politics, which, frankly, makes friendship interesting and challenging in a positive sense.
I am perhaps an unusual blogger, since I started a blog before I had spent any time reading them. So, I am trying to do a little more blog-surfing to see what’s out there.
Jim’s blog directed me to an article on how an Anglican converted to the Catholic faith, which also directed me to another article that harshly critiques it from a Lutheran perspective.

I am not interested in being polemical or anti-Catholic or anything. This all got me thinking about the nature of the Church. The basic Lutheran definition of the church is “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel” (The Augsburg Confession, VII). Although this definition comes out of the Lutheran church, it was put forth as an ecumenical proposal. Where you stand in any hierarchical relationship is not essential; to what particular body of Christians you belong is not essential. Whether you belong to Paul, Cephas (Peter), or Apollos is not essential (1 Cor. 1:12). Wherever you see the good news of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ proclaimed, and wherever you see the holy things of God (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper) taking place in a gospel way, there is the church.
Every church is an assembly of believers, a congregation of followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. When I think of our congregation here on the Iron Range, with our friends in the Roman Catholic church a block away, and a Serbian Orthodox church down the road, it is incomprehensible to think that one of us is closer to God, more orthodox, more ‘church’ because of the hierarchical structure of which we are a part. That seems irrelevant to whether or not the gospel is preached and received in the local congregation. Such human structures aid in the preservation and passing on of the good news of Jesus Christ; they neither create it nor bind it. Nor is our Lutheran church any further away from the apostles than a Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, simply because we do not reside in their hierarchical structure. The Greek Orthodox Church has preserved much of the tradition of the early Greek church; the Roman Catholic Church has preserved much of the tradition of the Western Latin church. Both have rich, deep traditions of doctrine and piety. As a Lutheran, I have no problem recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow churches; but the Holy Spirit is not bound to them. The questions for any congregation are: Is the good news proclaimed? Is the good news communicated in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of communion?

March 10, 2005 (blog entry)

I am rather an odd Lutheran pastor, having been Lutheran for only about seven years. I consider myself a neophyte in the Lutheran tradition. I have much yet to learn – and unlearn. The gift of the Lutheran tradition to the wider Christian church is an uncompromising emphasis on grace alone, faith alone, the word of God alone, Christ alone – we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible – and not by anything we do or decide. Even faith, trust in God, is a gift.
A different focus for this blog may be to explore the Lutheran tradition as the lens through which I see the word of God and the world. (I am getting back to reading/listening to the Bible in a year, having gotten stuck in the last chapters of Leviticus for awhile.)

March 12, 2005 (blog entry)

Inter-Communion: two perspectives

My friend Jim posted an interesting article by a Roman Catholic Father today, and I commented on it. Below is what I wrote on Jim’s blog.

The issue about inter-communion for me as a Lutheran is not so much a problem of being excluded – last year I attended a RC church with a friend of mine, and went up to the priest and received a blessing rather than holy communion, which was wonderful – I receive communion weekly at my own church, so I don’t NEED to receive it elsewhere. We have a good relationship with our neighboring RC church, and work together in many ways.
It is really a difference in eccelesiology, as Fr. Tucker’s statement reveals. As a Lutheran pastor (of the ELCA, not the LC-MS), I give communion to every Christian who wishes to receive it. For ME to deny someone communion because they are not a part of my church body, because they do not fit into my hierarchical structure, would be an insult to the Holy Spirit, who blows wherever it wills and creates faith in the hearts of many people who do not share my denomination. I understand the difference between a Lutheran and RC ecclesiology, and I am not complaining about being excluded, just offering a different ecclesiology.
I am also not so sure that a multitude of denominations is an evil. Let me quote from the Augsburg Confession VII: “It is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere.” That is the difference in ecclesiology right there. So, there are Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Orthodox and more. As long as we have the same gospel, and the same sacraments, that diversity can be a gift to the world.
I also disagree with the image of the RC church as the mother church, and all other churches (including the Orthodox church!) as her rebellious children. But again, it’s a difference of ecclesiology, and the question is, which ecclesiology is closer to the gospel truth.

March 23, 2005 (from discussion on editbarn)

I love this discussion!
Yes, I’m a pastor, but that emphatically does not mean I have all the answers. I never even got all the way through the 40 days of purpose!

I vaguely remember an old Jewish tradition that you had to be 30 before you could read parts of the Bible. A lot of the mythic stories of the Bible really should not be taught before children have the capacity to think abstractly and metaphorically… but of course, those stories are everywhere in our culture, so we have to deal with them. Our boys had some serious questions about the angel of death after watching the Prince of Egypt! I guess I try to be honest with our kids when they ask, and tell them what I think: some stories are historically true, and some are true in a deeper sense, like the story of Jonah or Jesus’ parables. Some, like Noah and the ark, show God trying one way of dealing with a problem (evil & violence), and realizing it didn’t work (fighting violence with violence).

In my family, I see the benefits of being a part of a church community, even when you don’t agree with everything, or even when you have doubts (which is just about all the time). It gives children a faith foundation in their lives, no matter what direction they head in life. It also widens our children’s circle of caring adults in their lives, exposes them to sacred music and scripture, and opens up opportunities for discussion and sharing as a family.

About church membership, I resonate with Kris. Thinking about our church, we have a bunch of retired miners, etc., who are building our new church building. Many of them have become active and connected in the church as they have found a task worth doing and a group of friends to do it with. Like us, they are not super-spiritual or pious (which is very refreshing), but they are connected with a larger purpose, and they never miss a chance to be up at the work site. That sort of solidarity can come in other venues (I see it in Habitat for Humanity), but I see it on a large local scale in our church choir, our builders, our quilters (a group of older women who make 150 quilts each year for refugees), etc.

One more thing: the church is a human institution, an organization of sinners. There is a great deal of diversity in it. But Tom DeLay does NOT speak for all Christians! He certainly does not speak for our church.

April 1, 2005 (blog entry)

Becoming Lutheran, Part 1: personal reasons

Both my wife and I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant church. In the summer of 1995, we were married, and in the fall moved to Princeton Theological Seminary, where I began the M.Div. program. A year later, we were Lutherans. How did that happen at a Presbyterian seminary?

We have nothing but good memories of our time at PTS, we met good friends there, and I received a good education. Our first Sunday in New Jersey, we went to a local Episcopal church where no one talked to us, even during the fellowship/coffee an’. Our second Sunday, we happened upon a welcoming ELCA congregation – friendly, open, and a woman from the church, Ricarda, even brought a loaf of bread to our apartment Sunday evening and welcomed us to join a small couple’s group. So, the first reasons for becoming Lutheran were good fellowship and fresh baked bread.

But why not Presbyterian? Since I was at a Presbyterian seminary, the rational thing to do, from a career perspective, was to become a Presbyterian minister. A big personal reason that I did not become Presbyterian was that I was never invited. Again, this is not meant to throw a bad light on the friends we made at PTS, nor to imply that the seminary itself was not a hospitable environment. But I often encountered the unspoken message that I was an outsider to the great tradition of Presbyterianism and Princeton. I had no PTS or other ecclesiastical connections. Often, when I shared that I was from the Covenant church, that was the end of the conversation. The only professors at the seminary that I found approachable, interestingly, were Lutheran. So, I tended to take their courses and attend meetings of Lutheran students and professors on campus. There was more of a Minnesota nice, hospitable climate at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and the “Luther League” on campus. So, we became Lutheran…

April 2, 2005 (blog entry)

Becoming Lutheran, Part 1 continued

My friend Jim wrote this comment about yesterday’s entry: “The Episcopal Church blew it, but maybe all the friendly people were away at the Hamptons that weekend.” That was about it. The Episcopal church we attended that weekend was an immensely wealthy congregation with a beautiful gothic building – they could probably smell that we were neither old money nor new. Later on, we attended my cousin’s Episcopal church in a different part of Princeton, and it was much more down to earth and ‘friendly.’ But by then, we were already on the way to becoming Lutheran.

Of course, these personal, gut-level reasons for becoming Lutheran are not the whole story, as part 2 will make clear. But I start with the personal side because it would be false to pretend that our motivations for becoming Lutheran were purely theological or rational. We originally planned to remain in the Covenant, but the nearest Evangelical Covenant church was over an hour away, so we were looking for a local church to attend regularly. I want to lift up the importance of relationships in the church: Prince of Peace Lutheran became our home church in Princeton largely because we built relationships, became a part of an intergenerational small group (which included retired – though active – Lutheran scholar Karlfried Froehlich and his wife Ricarda, and several younger couples), and felt at home – theologically, liturgically, spiritually, personally.

A further question at this point is, Why did we not remain in the Covenant Church?

May 27, 2005 (blog entry)

On Baptism, Eucharist, and Hospitality

Here is a comment I made on the Lutheran Confessions blog:

As a matter of practice, we do not commune the unbaptized in our church — but I also do not require those who come up for the Lord’s Supper to display their baptismal certificates with a picture i.d. We practice open communion, which for us means we welcome all baptized Christians to come to the table. But in the case of our many visitors, we take their word for it that they are, in fact, baptized. A dishonest person could potentially take advantage of the situation and take communion w/o being baptized, but that is not a problem in our congregation, as far as I have seen (wouldn’t it be great if more non-Christians were, indeed, trying so hard to enter into fellowship with Christ!). I would rather welcome all the baptized to the table (and risk communing a fraud) than turn a fellow Christian away from the Lord’s table. If I know someone who comes for communion is unbaptized, I’ll bless them and try to get them bathed in the waters of life.

Related questions: What is required of our baptismal candidates? What process do baptismal candidates (or their parents, if they are young) go through? God’s grace is free, of course, but do we regard it as cheap when we baptize children or adults off the street, with no requirement to be a part of the body of Christ before or after baptism? How do you or your church administer the baptismal process?

June 18, 2005 (blog entry)

Here’s a comment I wrote on my friend Jim’s blog yesterday, along with an added comment at the end.

Jim – Not to be too contrary, but I think you spelled ‘contrarian’ wrong.
Here’s a little background on your biblical obversations (er, I mean observations…).
The word translated as ‘God’ in Genesis 1 is ‘Elohim,’ which literally means something like ‘gods.’ For some reason, God is often referred to in the Older Testament by the plural form of ‘god.’ Makes me think of the Trinity, but it may be something like a royal plural.

But God is also referred to by a name in the Old Testament, ‘Yahweh.’ The original authors no doubt meant the proper name to be pronounced, but as time went on, the religious consciousness of Israel decided that wherever ‘Yhwh’ was printed in the text, they would substitute ‘Lord,’ adonai, when read aloud. That is how the mispronunciation ‘Jehovah’ came about – they inserted the vowels of adonai into Yhwh, and when German scholars transliterated it, they got Jehovah.

Anyway, whenever you read ‘the LORD’ in all capitals in the NRSV translation, what is actually in the original is YHWH, and in Genesis 2 it is Yhwh Elohim.

In the Newer Testament, the Greek word for ‘Lord’ is used for God, for Jesus, or (without a capital ‘L’ in English) for any human lord. What is really amazing is that early followers of Jesus called him ‘Lord’ in as strong a sense as God (remember Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”). For me, it is not a question of Elohim being the Father (only) and YHWH being the Son (only) – for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One God, one Elohim, one Yhwh, in three persons… but that is a discussion for another day.

Thanks for writing regularly and thoughtfully.

Here’s an added thought or two:
Check out Exodus 3, God meeting Moses in the burning bush. There, you’ll find God referred to as both Elohim and Yhwh. You’ll also find an explanation for God’s name, Yhwh.

In verse 12, God promises Moses that “I will be [‘ehyeh’] with you.”

In verse 14, God says to Moses, ‘ehyeh asher ehyeh,’ usually translated, “I AM WHO I AM,” but (as an imperfect) is perhaps better translated, “I will be who I will be.” God is “I will be with you.” It brings to mind Immanuel, God with us, a God who promises and acts, a God who chooses a people as God’s own, a God who becomes flesh and dwells among us, a God of Resurrection, a God who is coming rather than statically being.

July 26, 2005 (blog)

This blog is being reformatted as a sermon repository and blog. Please be patient.

My five year old son came back from his Lutheran Day Camp a couple weeks ago, and explained how he learned the real meaning of Easter.

“Easter is not just about the Easter Bunny and eggs. Easter is about how Jesus died on the cross waiting for the Easter Bunny.”

Our seven-year old corrected him. But, I suppose, if bunnies, eggs, and springtime are symbols of the Resurrection, he was not too far off.

August 2, 2005 – blog

On Conviction and Action

I just read a post on my friend’s libertarian-oriented blog. I am not a libertarian, though I am all for liberty, and share some concerns about the threats to freedom in our complex, divided nation.

I heard some sociologist speaking on NPR, going through statistic after statistic to demonstrate that Americans’ involvement in every kind of civic activity – local politics, service organizations, neighborhood groups, church attendance, even picnics – has decreased in the last few decades. People are just too busy, it seems, with work and television to get involved. One result of this is that we abdicate our critical reasoning skills to ‘professionals’ who do our thinking and decision making for us. How can democracy last in such a context?

I spent some time this summer with an old friend who is politically active on the local/state level, and he convinced me of the need to get involved in politics, as the life of the polis, our community. To be an agnostic, politically speaking, is to abdicate our moral responsibility to act for the good of our community. If my neighborhood, my town, my state, or my nation is going to pot and I’m not doing anything about it, then I have no right to complain that someone else isn’t fixing the problems.

Augie’s post also reminded me of Yeat’s saying, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For democracy to be sustained, those of us who are for freedom, individualism, and the common good need conviction and passion. I just finished listening to Dr. Zhivago (unabridged) on tape. A theme of Pasternak’s book, it seems to me, is the necessary complexity and richness of life in a society made up of free individuals, and the diminishing of human life in an authoritarian, ideologically and technocratically ordered society.

Still, there is something to be said for the Socratic definition of wisdom. While I do not lack conviction and strong belief, I am conscious of my limits. For example, even as I strongly opposed going to war in Iraq (and still think it was a mistake), I keep hoping to be proved wrong, hoping that good can still come out of the evil situation. Even though going to war there was a costly mistake, in terms of lives, money, and geopolitical capital, I do not follow the libertarian position (as I understand it) that we should immediately pull out and let the civil war begin. We caused the mess there, and we should do something to help stabilize the situation and then leave ASAP. (And, yes, I support our troops there, who are risking their lives obeying orders and generally trying to do the right thing in an almost impossible situation.)

Here’s a quote for today from Bertrand Russell: “When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.” I take this as a true description of how we operate noetically. At my age, my faith, my convictions, my beliefs will not be reversed in a day by reading or experiencing something new. I will probably never become a libertarian, because the beliefs which I find in myself are different. That is not to say that my horizons are not constantly expanding by what I read or experience, but my basic convictions, my faith, my foundational beliefs, are not likely to change completely. It is unlikely that I will ever read Ayn Rand’s books – life is too short!

December 29, 2005 (blog)

Chosen by Grace!

I just gutted a year’s worth of sermons from this blog, so there isn’t much left to it. From now on, I may post an occasional sermon, but I feel weird leaving them up for too long. A sermon is “local theology,” crafted in the trenches of ministry in a congregation, for the congregation. This blog is just not a good permanent home for sermons.

All fall, things have been busy, much too busy for blogging.
First, we moved into our new church building. Check it out here. It was a tremendous task, and an awesome joy to celebrate.
Second, I was in the call process all fall, traveling and interviewing at various churches. It was really my first time in the interview process, since I was called as associate pastor to my internship church without a break in service. It has been a wonderful 6 1/2 years of ministry at United in Christ, but, with our move into the new building, and our senior pastor retiring, it is time for me to move on – and what a perfect time for me and my family to start anew in another church community.

After interviewing in other wonderful, faithful congregations in other communities, my wife and I were driving to Detroit Lakes for the interview and re-reading aloud the Congregational Mission Profile of Grace Lutheran Church. As we read together, we both had a feeling of peace about the upcoming interview – it seemed to be a perfect fit between myself and the congregation, as well as a church and community in which our family could take root and grow. That sense of being called to Grace – a gift of the Holy Spirit – grew during and after the interview. We felt welcomed into a warm church family.

After prayerful consideration and discernment, it is with great joy that I have accepted the call as pastor to Grace Lutheran Church. I have promised “to fulfill this pastoral ministry in accord with the standards and policies for ordained ministers of the Evangelical Church in America,” and to be “diligent in the study of Holy Scripture, in use of the means of grace, in prayer, in faithful service, and in holy living” (quoted from the Letter of Call).
I look forward to helping the people of Grace live out our common mission, “Grace by grace, seeking to be God’s faithful people,” in the years ahead.

I hope have some time to blog in the near future, but perhaps not before we move in mid-January.

Grace, love, and peace.

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