1 2 3 12

Our new religion

December 3rd, 2019

By Pastor Craig Pederson

I’m writing this blog near the end of another Black Friday weekend, which seems to get more “biblical” every year. By that I mean that the seven days it took for God to create the heavens and the earth don’t really align with our chronological understanding of a “day.” Likewise, Black Friday is no longer just one day on the calendar – it’s an event, an experience, a season unto itself. It starts several days ahead of the Friday after Thanksgiving, and extends a few days after, ending with the arrival of its commercial friend, Cyber Monday.

This Black Friday phenomena was created by retailers driven to give us prime opportunities to get everything we could ever want for the best prices possible – and also driven to get their net earnings out of the red ink and into the black as soon as possible (thus “Black” Friday). It feeds our need and longing and desire to ensure we have enough – enough of the material things that we hope will give us comfort, enjoyment, security, and meaning.

Black Friday provides a strange contrast to the season of Advent we observe as Christians. Advent teaches us to wait, to prepare for the One who is coming, the One who will bring comfort and joy and meaning. Black Friday and the holiday shopping season teach us that the best time to get what we want and need is right now – so don’t wait, and don’t be left without the things that will complete your life.


WHETHER WE ARE IN the midst of the holidays or not, what really motivates our pursuit of “enoughness?”  Episcopal author David Zahl asserts that religious faith decreasingly fills that role – at least religious faith as we know it now. The title of his new book is long, provocative, and highly descriptive: Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.

Zahl says religion is not disappearing; it just looks different. Zahl defines religion as “that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.”

“David Zahl makes an interesting move, saying that our pursuit of enoughness is essentially the same as our pursuit of righteousness.”

And then Zahl makes an interesting move, saying that our pursuit of enoughness is essentially the same as our pursuit of righteousness. “The theological and psychological term for the energy we expend for the sake of feeling righteous is self-justification, and it cannot be overstated as a motivation in human affairs.”

Yet rather than finding righteousness through faith-based doctrines, rituals, and practices learned at church, Zahl says:

[Polls] tell us that confidence in the religious narratives we’ve inherited has collapsed. What they fail to report is that the marketplace in replacement religion is booming. We may be sleeping in on Sunday mornings in greater numbers, but we’ve never been more pious. Religious observance hasn’t faded amidst ‘secularization’ so much as migrated—and we’ve got the anxiety to prove it. We’re seldom not in church.


PEOPLE INCREASINGLY PURSUE enoughness through secular endeavors they can pour themselves into:  political causes, fitness courses, parenting methodologies, food and drink philosophies, professional advancement, personal improvement plans, and yes, material acquisition. These endeavors produce results that feel more controllable, tangible, and immediate.

But complete enoughness is ultimately unattainable. The goalposts move, the measurements change, our appetites grow, and we just can’t quite get there.

I’m not entirely finished with the book, but Seculosity has made an impact on me this year. As I found myself aimlessly pouring over Black Friday ads, pondering endless vehicle commercials, glancing at new home listings online, perusing new fitness classes at my health club, and hearing about all the music lessons and personal sports workouts that other parents are arranging for their kids, I asked myself, “Am I doing enough? Do I have enough?”

And I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to have all of this in the proper perspective, right?

“David Zahl defines religion as ‘that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.’”

Dear friends, in this Advent season of preparation and waiting, I encourage you to claim/reclaim the power and promise that God says we are enough. Reaffirm that your church is a place where tired, anxious, overworked souls can hear the good news that they are enough. One is coming to reveal that this is so.

Of this One it is said, The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth . . .” (Isaiah 11:2-4). 

Blessed Advent and Christmas season to you all!

Abide with me

November 25th, 2019

By Pastor Deb Stehlin

For several months (yes, months!) Pastor Jorge Espinoza has been abiding at a mobile home park in Chaska. With others, he organized a summer soccer league, put on a day camp, and tutors children. After months of gentle, loving presence, a man attending an event Pastor Jorge organized with residents asked him, “Tell me about your church. Who are Lutherans?”

Pastor Jorge trusted the slow work of God, and the power of showing up. And, finally, after a while, people became curious.

For three years (yep, years!) Pastor Marissa Sotos has been abiding in the North Loop neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis. She inhabits coffee shops, rents a co-working space, hosts “Tuesday Topics” at a local bar/restaurant, and holds dinner church at an event space every month. Oh the joy, when people say yes to an invitation, because participants know it is a safe space for millennial and queer people who aren’t quite sure about church. Oh, the slow work of God, and the power of showing up!

For decades (uh huh, decades!) Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee has been abiding in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. She’s the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Congregation, the last Christian church in that area. She’s a trusted colleague of the imams, chats with neighborhood moms while their kids enjoy homework help with Augsburg students, and is a gentle, loving presence at community meetings and events. After decades, the mosque and Christian congregation are wondering about ways to serve the neighborhood together. I marvel at the slow work of God and the power of showing up.


THESE FAITHFUL LEADERS are teaching me the value of patience, deep trust in God, and the power of love. This is not easy work in a culture that has been shaped by corporate executives who are pressured to produce a return on investment each quarter, and movies that solve big problems in 90 minutes.

In the story of Paul, Timothy, and Silas in Acts 16, it takes only four verses to tell a story of a journey in which they try to bring a message of God’s love to new places, but are prevented in three different regions. Because the story is so compact, I always assumed that it all happened very quickly. But what if it took a very long time? What if they abided, and abided, and abided in each place?

Eventually, Paul was given a dream which led them to a river where they met a group of women including Lydia, who asked, “Will you come and abide at my home?”

Oh, the slow work of God and the power of showing up!

Football: It isn’t fair

November 11th, 2019

By Pastor John Hulden

Are you tired of hearing and reading and talking about the demise of the church? Well, let’s talk about football instead.

I like watching football. I’ve never played it — well, I guess I played a couple games of flag football at seminary. I’m also in two fantasy football leagues. One includes my family. (I have the most total points, but I’m 5-4 — life isn’t fair.) The other one involves my colleagues at work. (I’m in eighth out of ten places; Jeni sits on top of the leader board, despite her nonchalant attitude to the exciting world of fantasy football — again, life is not fair.)

What a great weekend for Minnesota football. The University of Minnesota’s Golden Gopher football team defeated the fourth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday. (What’s a Nittany?) It’s the first time in ages the Gophers beat a ranked team; the squad is still undefeated late in the season and has garnered national media attention. The game on Saturday was well-played by both teams; the lead went back and forth; and I have to remind myself that it was played by talented young men in their teens and early twenties. Another rare occurrence for U of M football: The students stormed the field after the clock hit 0:00.

“I have to remind myself that the game was played by talented young men in their teens and early twenties.”

Then Sunday night the Minnesota Vikings won a game they often don’t win — on the road, against a team with a good record. This game was filled with acrobatic catches by both teams. Another see-saw battle, with a diving pass deflection by “our” middle linebacker that sealed the game for a Vikings win.

But I struggle with my football-watching hobby. It’s a violent sport. Players I grew up watching — in the pros, even a college classmate — suffer from brain injuries, sometimes causing their early death.


AND THEN THE Sunday New York Times included an investigative report on … wait for it … the demise of football — even in Texas! The article went into detail about what the powers-that-be are doing to try to reverse the trend. As an example, the Times printed a 2008 team picture of the high school football team from Maiden, North Carolina, next to its 2019 team photo.

From the Times article: “Football has long been a fundamental part of the American identity, and it likely will be for years to come. But it has become mired in controversy over safety, and it has to compete harder each year with the popularity of other sports. In Maiden and elsewhere, the joyous Friday nights and Saturday afternoons remain, but they are different now.”

I remembered the 2016 editorial by Lord of Life in Maple Grove’s Pastor Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren comparing the cathedrals of century ago (e.g., Central Lutheran in Minneapolis) and the cathedrals today (e.g., US Bank Stadium). “Sports and religion have switched places in American culture,” observes Pastor Peter. “Is that OK?”

“I have to admit that, when I saw the side-by-side pictures of that high school football team, I couldn’t help but think of side-by-side confirmation pictures in church fellowship halls and basements.”

But this New York Times article shows up with facts and figures about football in decline in the U.S. Does this mean that American football might just be a phase?

I have to admit that, when I saw the side-by-side pictures of that high school football team, I couldn’t help but think of side-by-side confirmation pictures in church fellowship halls and basements.

Change is hard. Church is different now. The way we do church is different now. The way we do confirmation and faith formation is different now, too. And I hadn’t thought of this before, but even football might not last.

But keep this in mind — the apostle Paul started around 14 churches 2,000 years ago. Where are they now?

Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, somehow we feeble faithful Christians have figured out how to pass on the faith to the next generation.

Keep up your good work, you followers of Jesus, and keep the faith, oh readers of churchy blogs!

A Tumblin’ Down

November 4th, 2019

By Pr. Craig Pederson

It happened 30 years ago, yet the image will be forever etched in my mind. It was the summer of 1989, and I was frozen speechless in front of the TV as a solitary figure stood defiantly – and for all he knew, sacrificially – staring down a military tank just a few yards in front of him.

This shocking scene took place in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. That year global resistance to communism was surging. Demonstrations and protests by the oppressed, along with international diplomatic pressures on communist governments, were teaming up to provide a tangible threat to its continuing existence as a viable economic and political system.

Two years earlier, on a trip to the Soviet Union with my college choir, I experienced in person a different town square that became the epicenter of another challenge to communist rule.  Red Square in Moscow provides a dramatic foreground to the Kremlin, the seat of Soviet power. When I was there, a government reform movement of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) had been initiated by President Mikhail Gorbachev a few years earlier to counteract growing unrest, but it was not at all clear where that movement might lead.

“What started as a handful of protesters gathering regularly for prayer and support grew into hundreds, then thousands, and spilled over into other cities as well.”

In another part of Soviet Union, seeds of restlessness were also taking root. In East Germany, demonstrations by the tired, frustrated, and oppressed citizens of German Democratic Republic (GDR) government were on the increase. But these demonstrations were different: Rather than loud chants, provocative signs, and violent clashes with law enforcement, these demonstrations featured prayers, lit candles, and nonviolent assemblies.

The seat of these protests was in Leipzig at the St. Nicholas Church. What started as a handful of protesters gathering regularly for prayer and support grew into hundreds, then thousands, and spilled over into other cities as well. Law enforcement who were prepared to clamp down on the protesters saw their nonviolent approach and simply let the gatherings continue.

With a weakening economy, growing political isolation, and a clear will of the people to bring about change, East Germany was vulnerable. Eventually the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989 – without violence or civil unrest. And, while much of the focus of that momentous occasion was on Berlin, it was clear that Leipzig provided the spiritual heart of the movement that became known as the “Peaceful Revolution” in East Germany.


LITTLE DID I KNOW that 30 years after that historic event, I would be in relationship with the Leipzig church that inspired the movement. The Minneapolis Area Synod is a global companion partner with the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Church District. The partnership was birthed out of relationships formed during visits by church groups from our synod to churches “behind the wall” in Leipzig and elsewhere in East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

Initially, the partnership focused on ways to support our Leipzig partners through enormous governmental and cultural changes following the fall of the wall. In more recent years, it has explored ways to be the church together in our increasingly secularized societies.

“The Minneapolis Area Synod is a global companion partner with the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Church District.”

Over the years, we have also enjoyed travel exchanges between pastors, church groups, youth groups, and social service agencies who have observed, interacted, and learned from each other. In the fall of 2017, Bishop Ann Svennungsen was accompanied by a group of young and emerging pastors from our synod to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

Three years ago, we were blessed by a pastoral exchange when Pastor Morrie Wee from our synod served the parish churches of Leipzig, while Pastor Helge Voigt from that parish came to our synod, serving primarily at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis. If you had the opportunity to meet Pastor Helge, you know he was a warm, enthusiastic, and eager servant of the gospel and lover of Christ’s church. Sadly, Helge passed away this fall after multiple battles with cancer.  Morrie Wee represented us at his funeral with words of gratitude and Resurrection hope.

“Helge’s faithful witness was joined with thousands of others to share Christ’s message of love and peace in a powerful way.”

Helge was one of the protesters who gathered in Leipzig back in 1989. His faithful witness was joined with thousands of others to share Christ’s message of love and peace in a powerful way.

This month, you can join with peacemakers from around the world to lift up the messages of nonviolent change and honor Helge’s faithful legacy by celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The ELCA has produced a wonderful resource called “Breaking Down Walls” Toolkit for use in congregational or small group settings.

As long as there is injustice, “breaking down walls” is a call we still must heed.

Faith seeking hope

October 21st, 2019

Faith seeking hope

By Craig Pederson

“What gives you hope as you do this work?” That was the question we reflected upon to begin the most recent meeting of our synod’s Muslim Solidarity Task Force. This remarkable group of Christians and Muslims – both clergy and lay leaders – was formed as a result of the 2017 synod resolution encouraging congregations to develop relationships with Muslim neighbors and calling for the synod to develop resources in assisting them to do so.

The 2017 resolution acknowledged that Muslims were facing increasing challenges and fears in our communities. Now, two years later, those challenges and fears seem to have only ramped up with a federal policy banning travelers from select Muslim countries, public rhetoric disparaging Muslim nations and American Muslim elected officials, and the term “Islamophobia” entering our common vernacular.

“This interfaith work can be both a rewarding and difficult journey.”

Interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding represent some of the most important work we do as a church. This was affirmed by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly with the passage of “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment.”

This interfaith work can be both a rewarding and difficult journey. As we went around the table to share what gave us hope, we heard a story of support for a local mosque, and another story of a pastor who recently asked for help in how to take the “first step” in this process.

Then we heard from one of our Muslim siblings, who after a long pause, said, “It’s hard for me to find hope right now.” She talked about the nightly angst of waiting for her 21-year-old son to come home: “He’s a black Muslim young man with a target on him,” she offers. “He tells me not to worry, but how can I not?”

After another pause, she shared a sign of hope: “A few friends have reached out to me to say, ‘Where have you been? We haven’t seen you on the street or at the store much these days.’” These friends offered to go with her to the store and to walk around the neighborhood together so that she would not feel isolated.


SOMETIMES THE FIRST STEP in showing solidarity with our Muslim neighbors is simply to be present with them – publicly present, with humility and openness to understanding their gifts and their struggles.

To that end, a great opportunity is coming soon. The Muslim Solidarity Task Force will host an “Allies and Friends Workshop” on Saturday, November 9 (8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.), at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Bloomington.

This is the second workshop offered by the task force; the first one back in February welcomed nearly 150 people and provided a rich experience of learning and dialogue. Next month’s workshop will offer two tracks: One for newcomers to this work, and another for those who are seeking more advanced connections and resources.

“The 2017 synod assembly resolution acknowledged that Muslims were facing increasing challenges and fears in our communities.”

In our increasingly pluralistic and religiously diverse culture, Christians are learning new ways to not only serve our neighbors, but also to simply “be” neighbors and experience the gifts and assets of others. I encourage you to read the “Declaration” and to attend the “Allies and Friends Workshop” – to enhance your experiences and to bear witness to the hope that our God graciously provides.


Reflections on sanctuary

October 7th, 2019

By Eric Howard

I was four years old when I became an American citizen. Those first few months were a lot to take in; I remember navigating feelings of confusion, fear, and doubt. I was an adoptee from Mexico with a new family in a new country having to learn a new language.

It was also a lot to take in for the American family that raised me. Making room for a new family member is no small endeavor. I can’t describe the depth of energy it took my family to navigate our immigration system and to finalize the adoption of (eventually) three children. It couldn’t have happened, though, without infinite determination, compassion, generosity, and a commitment to go through tough times.

These are American family values. I turn to them when I hear the immigration debate play out on television, on the streets, and in pews across denominations. Woven into the debate is the sanctuary movement and stories of churches and cities across the country taking part in this powerful call to action.


AS A CITIZEN, my perspective on “sanctuary” for a refugee family is woefully limited. I cannot imagine the depth and range of emotion immigrant parents feel every second in this time of great uncertainty.

Adoption, though, offers clarity on how radical hospitality can look when you not only see but also embrace a new family as your own. I received countless messages of belonging, and I was told repeatedly that there was always room in the family.

This is what came to mind when the ELCA took a historic step to become a sanctuary church body at its 2019 Churchwide Assembly. (Bishop Ann Svennungsen has offered some reflections the meaning of this action).

“I turn to American family values when I hear the immigration debate play out on television, on the streets, and in pews across denominations.”

Through my experience and family values, I see the memorial as a reignited call for three things as individuals and church communities:

  • First: Don’t just see, radically embrace, all families as our own, especially those vulnerable to deportation. I hope that, through our different expressions of hospitality, we will approach the unknown people from a perspective of the family values of compassion, generosity, and a commitment to hospitality.
  • Second: Lean into uncomfortable conversations; ask curious questions. I get it; leaning into tension can be tough. Most of us are not experts and many of us may feel underprepared to take new, meaningful steps to support migrants in this sanctuary movement. My question is always this: If we can’t have tough conversations in our faith community, where else can we have them?
  • Third: Stay engaged; refrain from indifference. The ELCA memorial called for strategies and practical tools for education and discernment in the coming years. Staying engaged with your energy, prayers, and imagination is so important to make sure this action feels genuine for your people in your setting.

Lutherans are now fueling a movement that people of faith have been engaged in for decades, and we are rekindling a fire sparked at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly when we adopted the Strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). Embrace this moment with infinite determination, compassion, and generosity.

And the youth shall lead them

September 30th, 2019

By Meghan Olsen Biebighauser

This past August, 25 elementary-aged students from three Minneapolis congregations came together to spend a week building community. Literally.

Equipped with stacks of cardboard boxes, duct tape, markers, paper, and anything else they could get their hands on, the students carefully constructed an entire city on the floor of University Lutheran Church of Hope’s (ULCH) fellowship hall. They voted to name their creation Redfull City.

“The first step was to do some deep, holy listening to one another.” 

While they worked, we talked about God’s desire (and the synod’s mission statement) for all to “live in just and healthy neighborhoods.” As it turned out, though, just like our own neighborhoods, Redfull City was facing some systemic inequities. Some neighborhoods of the city were cut off from resources by natural and human-made barriers, and when disaster struck Redfull City shortly into our week together, those same neighborhoods were disproportionately impacted.

After a field trip to the Mississippi River, students returned to Redfull City to find that the rapid development of their city had a destructive impact on the Redfull River, which ran through the heart of the city. Sadly, the river had become polluted, animals were dying, and some neighbors were left without potable water in their homes. Campers were devastated by this problem, and even more upset to learn that their actions, even though they were unaware of the impacts, had caused the situation. But rather than becoming defensive, the residents of Redfull were ready to learn.


SINCE SOME RESIDENTS of the city were being more impacted than others, the first step was to do some deep, holy listening to one another. Nick Tangen, minister of faith in community at ULCH, shared the story of Nehemiah listening closely to those in his community to learn about what was important to them and what forces were preventing them from living in a just and healthy neighborhood.

Then the campers learned everyone’s favorite community organizing tool: one on ones! They paired off and asked one another bold questions about what was important to them about the community they built together, what the health of the river meant to them, and how they were suffering as a result of the river’s degradation.

“Nick Tangen shared the story of Nehemiah listening closely to those in his community to learn about what was important to them and what forces were preventing them from living in a just and healthy neighborhood.”

Ecumenical Water Initiative leader Anthony Galloway and eco-faith leader Allyson Green encouraged residents by leading the chant: “Don’t just pray about it, be about it!” They taught the community about the importance of buffer zones to protect the river from nearby development.

In order to secure buffer zones for Redfull City, however, residents would have to meet with their state senator in order to request her support. As it turns out, Redfull City is in Sen. Kari Dziedzik’s district (who knew?!) and campers got to work preparing for their meeting. Residents learned about power analysis – how we display the power we have as a community in relationship to those with power over policies.

Petitions were signed. Chants were learned. Speakers were prepped. Prayers were written. Murals were created. And then, the day of the big meeting arrived.

It wasn’t easy. Residents shared heartfelt stories about Redfull city and the life they envisioned there together. They shared with the senator about how their cultural or theological identities call them into deep care for creation, and for water in particular. They were brave – more brave than many adults would be speaking truth to power. And ultimately, they were successful. Redfull City was able to create buffer zones to protect their beautiful river.


I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT each of these campers this week as I’ve followed along with the Global Climate Strike, led by students worldwide. I’m not sure whether the campers from Redfull City will become youth activists or organizers like the students organizing the strike. I’m confident, though, that they left Redfull City knowing that this is the call of the gospel, the work of the church; and we need their leadership, vision, and courage.

How is your congregation following the lead of young people?

You Guys!

September 21st, 2019

By Pastor Deb Stehlin

As you might expect, I do I lot of thinking and reading and talking about evangelism. (I serve as director for evangelical mission.) It feels good to share what I learned in my work as a church planter. I continue to learn even more from my gifted colleagues. I read as much as I can. But in the last few months, I learned the most about evangelism from the Minnesota State Fair.

What’s so glorious about the state fair? It serves as a 322-acre platform for people to proclaim, “You guys!”

“You guys. I made this kayak out of sticks and Saran wrap. And it really works.”

“You guys. I grew this thousand-pound pumpkin. Isn’t that marvelous?”

“You guys. I have figured out how to make the perfect blueberry pie. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?”


FOR ME, EVANGELISM is about two things. The first is bearing witness.

Pastor Deb shares the wonders of the butter sculptures with her grandson.

The state fair is full of people who bear witness. They are there for the express purpose of telling and showing something that’s important to them. Their joy overflows so much that they have to tell others; they believe that what they offer will be a gift to their Minnesota siblings – some who never realized until that moment that, yes, indeed, stick-and-Saran-wrap kayaks, half-ton pumpkins, and blueberry pies are pretty darn amazing.

“Part of evangelism is inviting someone to experience what you’ve found in Christian community.”

I think we all know how to bear witness. I believe we can all learn to bear witness to the love and justice of God. It goes something like this: “You guys, you are loved and accepted by God — and we know this because of Jesus. You guys, Jesus offers us an upside-down way of living that embodies God’s love and justice. You guys, there is life after death, and healing for our brokenness, and an alternate story to live by.”

The second part of evangelism is inviting someone to experience what you’ve found in Christian community. I think we all know how to do that, too.

A woman at the fair was demonstrating how to cook with crickets. She was so excited to share what she knows about how nutritious crickets are and how it’s a sustainable way to provide important nutrition. On this day, she was showing how to make brownies with roasted cricket meal. And she made an invitation: “These brownies are so delicious, and they offer [insert long list of nutrients here]. Would you like to taste one?”

As amazing as cricket brownies and kayaks and pumpkins are, what we bear witness to and invite others into is even better. Let’s encourage one another to bravely and graciously bear witness and invite.

Someone did that for me, and it changed my life.

Baptisms from Jordan to Minnehaha Creek

September 18th, 2019

By Bob Hulteen 

As Jim Rice, my friend visiting from Washington D.C., and I crossed the parking lot at Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, seeking the path down to the rocks that mark the source of the Mississippi River, we were welcomed with flies that seemed angry about the coming weather change even though this day the sun was beating down hard. We decided to seek shelter in the welcome center of Itasca State Park, and soon we were reading about the controversy over who “discovered” the headwaters, as well as learning that Mary Gibbs, at 24 years of age, was appointed the first female park superintendent of a state park in the nation.

JR located our spot on a paper mâché map of the Mississippi on what must have been a 20-foot table. We remembered that that same river runs blocks from my house, and that he and I had also stood on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi in both Saint Louis and New Orleans. This river united JR and me through the time and space of our friendship.

Contemplating that feeling of water as a unifying force, I recalled the 2016 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. Bishop Ann had invited the dean of each of the 12 synod conferences to bring a jar filled with water sourced from a river, lake, or creek within the boundaries of each conference — from North Minneapolis to Rum River, from Western Parks and Lakes to the 394 Corridor. During the assembly’s opening worship, the deans had brought their jars down to the empty font and poured out a portion of its contents, mingling together trickles from various watersheds of the synod into one baptismal pool. The image was both symbolic of our congregations gathered and a tangible glimpse of the various “shades” of water in the watersheds, requiring our attention as disciples of the One who Created.


IT IS BECOMING MORE COMMON during baptisms, I think, for congregations to include the names of waterways and watersheds important to the baptizing family in the liturgical story of God’s faithfulness. In my home congregation, as the family stands in the center aisle of the sanctuary, we hear Rio Grande or Lake Superior or Minnesota River or Red River of the North, as the infant strains to watch the water being poured into the font. We know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Mixing our own story with the Biblical story reminds us all of God’s love for Creation and for each individual created.

Mixing our own story with the Biblical story reminds us all of God’s love for Creation and
for each individual created. 

I had the honor of attending the installation of Pastor Regina Hassanally as bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod last weekend. It was a service filled with beautiful music, inspiring words, and triumphant images, even as we together admitted the challenges that were facing the new bishop. The altar was filled with young ones of the children’s sermon and the receiving line was long, offering some sense of continued calling.

On the 75-minute drive back to the Twin Cities, I thought about the various watersheds I was driving through from Owatonna. Wouldn’t the naming of watersheds be a great addition to the installation of each bishop in the ELCA? “From Zumbro Falls to the Root River; from Lake Pepin to the Cannon.” Such connection to water would re-enforce the commitments of our baptism even as our new bishops are beginning their new calls. God’s promises in baptism then become the assurance of God’s presence in the ministry of the bishop. Recognizing our connection to the created order even as we celebrate new leadership and new opportunities could be a watershed moment for our church and for the world.

Between a Rock and a Healing Place

August 30th, 2019

By Emilie Bouvier

Early in the 20th century, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson complained, “The world is going to pieces and people like [Ansel] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks!” In a desperate retort, Adams replied that a rock was more socially significant than a line of the unemployed. Now that’s a bit far perhaps, but I think there’s something in this claim worth exploring – that rocks, in fact, have a lot to say.

Why and how might rocks be socially significant? If we stop and start to dig into it, we find that rocks are a part of a whole lot of systems – narrative systems of history, story, and place, as well as concrete ecological systems, the literal making and un-making of the landscape and the patterns of the life it holds. As we start to draw these circles of systems that hold these rocks together in their function and meaning, we start to situate ourselves in these same systems.

Siting in the fireside room at Holden Village, I can point these out from my vantage point in the Cascade Range. This valley was formed by glaciers tearing through rocks, sending them tumbling against one another. Deep gullies between peaks became places waters pooled and ran as glaciers melted, designating the many tributaries and flows of the watershed.

The buildings of the Holden Village itself are the vestiges of a mining operation, an extractive process that placed the value of the mineral resource above all else, leaving behind the powdered rock of tailings as a scar on the landscape. These same rocks are pieces of the lost homeland of the Chelan Tribe, tied to the violence and ugly threats that wrested the land from that community.

These systems we trace in the rocks are not apart from us; we are deeply embedded in them.


Still, by Emilie Bouvier

STILL, CARTIER-BRESSON’s critique – “the world is going to pieces and people like [Ansel] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks!” – hits me in the gut pretty hard; I can’t lie. I mean, here I’m taking a leave of absence from the environmental justice organizing that I deeply care about and believe to be the most effective means for change in order to gallivant off in the mountains photographing the landscape.

Now bear with me, but at risk of self-justification, I do think there is something to be said for creating art that can unpack and support this risky and hard business of social change. Sharing some of my images with the community this summer has reassured me of this.

“As we unpack the photograph visually, we name the tensions and layers, the joys and traumas held in the land, and how they relate to our lives.”

One image in particular, Still, has been a beautiful springboard for conversation about land history, justice, and place. When I put the photograph up on the screen and start by just asking people what they see, the room fills with comments about tension and feeling unsettled, even as the image itself is simple and quiet. They notice the scars, the movement and death of the two trees offset, the abruptness and separation created by the lines, and the sunlight filtering through the branches. As we unpack the photograph visually, we name the tensions and layers, the joys and traumas held in the land, and how they relate to our lives.

I think the rub we find in Cartier-Bresson’s complaint is that photographs do their job when they stir us out of our comfort, confronting us with a truth that somehow alters us or motivates us to live differently. My deep hope is that we might look at rocks, land photographs, and even the wild edges of our own street corners and backyards in ways that help us better trace and tell our histories and systems, so that our actions might be ones not of destruction, but of healing.

Footnote: Author Emilie Bouvier says, “I’m indebted to the scholarship of Lucy Lippard for her reference of the Cartier-Bresson and Adams quotes in her book Undermining: A wild ride through land use, politics, and art in the changing West, to which I owe many broader insights have supported my own thinking as well.”

1 2 3 12