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For the sake of all creation

August 5th, 2019

By Brenda Blackhawk

Every year, on the last weekend of July, my family travels down to Winnebago, Nebraska, for the annual Homecoming Pow Wow. I’ve recently returned from this 153-year-old Pow Wow, which is a celebration of the return of Chief Little Priest, the last great war chief of the Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk).

Pow Wows have lots of parts. There are drum and dance competitions, a wilderness run, traditional (and fusion!) food stands, and vendors selling goods. And a lot more.

As I stood in the bleachers around the perimeter of the arena, I viewed so much tradition. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely enjoyed the modern conveniences of a sound system, Wi-Fi, and an air conditioned camper instead of tent or tepee. And I saw just as many kids playing on their parents’ cell phones as I do here in the Twin Cities.

“Generosity embodied by traditional indigenous, tribal cultures is a stark contrast to the world we live in today.”

But Pow Wow has so many beautiful pieces of tradition woven throughout the entire event. This is one of the only places in the world where you can hear Ho-Chunk being spoken and sung. You can see graceful women perform the Swan Dance and the men dancing a very entertaining Fish Dance. There are shared meals, the laying down of tobacco, and lots of prayer. And then there are the Giveaways.

Giveaways are a traditional part of tribal life for many indigenous communities. The general idea is that you give away your possessions to others in honor of a loved one. In many tribal societies, leaders were identified by who successfully accumulated possessions and gave them away. Generous individuals, not the greedy, had the most honor and prestige.

A Giveaway during Pow Wow is a whole process! First, you hear a speech from the giver(s). Then, one of the drum groups plays an honor song and there is a line of handshaking and dancing around the arena, during which time the giver(s) lay huge bundles around the arena. These bundles contain a wide variety of items: cooking utensils, toys, blankets, accessories, food, clothing, candy, and even money. The giver invites specific groups (often veterans/families of veterans or children) to come forward and take something, and then open it up to everyone.

 

LAST SUNDAY’S COMMON LECTIONARY reading is known as the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21). In the story, a rich man who hoards his wealth is told by God that he is a fool for doing so, which to me sounds like criticism for those hoarding wealth instead of being generous with it.

As I read that story at staff devotions, I couldn’t help but think about the way that generosity is embodied by traditional indigenous, tribal cultures; how every year I sit and watch it happen at the Homecoming Pow Wow. It is a stark contrast to the world we live in today, where, according to the Oxfam International report, the top 26 billionaires of the world own more wealth than the 3.8 billion poorest people.

“Generous individuals, not the greedy, had the most honor and prestige.”

All peoples are Indigenous to somewhere and Indigenous, tribal cultures all share one common thing: community as a means of survival. We may live in a global community now, but I don’t think God sees the arbitrary lines we’ve drawn across the Creation. If that is so, maybe it is time for all of us to connect to our Indigenous roots, generously sharing what we have for the sake of the world.

Safe Harbors?

July 30th, 2019

By Grace Corbin

About a week and a half ago, an ecumenical group of 30 people ventured on a “toxic sites bus tour” of North Minneapolis. This bus tour, led by northside residents, brings people to some of most toxic sites for the water, air, land, and people in the State of Minnesota. The tour included Northern Metals Recycling, GAF, the site for the Upper Harbor Terminal project, and others.

Northern Metals, a metals recycling company right on the banks of the Mississippi River, was accused by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of contributing to poor air quality in 2017. Because of years of outcry from North Minneapolis residents, Northern Metals has finally agreed to move outside of the Minneapolis area by August 2019.

When we drove into GAF, a shingles roofing company construction site, I could immediately smell a difference in the air. It felt a thickness in my lungs when breathing in and, even though we were only there for 5 or 10 minutes, I left with a headache.

 

ROSTERED AND LAY leaders share in the responsibility of care for God’s creation. Often we assume that concern involves hikes in the woods and visits to the beach. But cities, too, are part of God’s creation. And, urban centers regularly are the recipients of environmental racism — the most toxic aspects of our society are dumped on those most considered expendable by the powerful. (This bias was also true in the days of the prophets, and they reacted strongly.)

“Often we assume that concern about God’s creation involves hikes in the woods and visits to the beach. But cities, too, are part of God’s creation.”

Upper Harbor Terminal

The recent toxic sites tour was intended to give people of faith an opportunity to learn about a new development coming to North Minneapolis  — the Upper Harbor Terminal. This site, originally used as a barge shipping terminal, closed in 2014 and is now in the hands of Minneapolis elected leaders. The city has long been discussing what to do with piece of land. Leaders almost came to an agreement that would bring an outdoor performance venue, new units of housing, retail, and maybe a hotel to the 48-acre space.

Development has the potential to benefit a community. Unfortunately when mocking up the development of the Upper Harbor Terminal, input of those most affected by the new development —  northside residents — was not sought. New development, when it comes to an area that is already disenfranchised, poses the threat of gentrification, the planned displacement of residents who have long lived in the area.

The impact of gentrification was seemingly not considered when looking at the new development. Northside residents have been pushing back against this development due to the lack of community involvement which has caused the city to take a step back and receive more community input mainly through a new advisory committee.

People of faith who care about environmental, racial, and economic justice ask, “What is our role in walking alongside northside residents in this development process? How do we live out our values of justice?”

“When mocking up the development of the Upper Harbor Terminal, input of those most affected by the new development —  northside residents — was not sought.”

These and similar questions will be discussed at a conversation about what positive input people of faith can have in the Upper Harbor Terminal development project on August 18. Come join us for an important conversation about the Upper Harbor Terminal and our stake in its just development.

A hunger for hope

July 22nd, 2019

By Eric Howard

Last week, 200 national faith leaders descended upon Minneapolis and Central Lutheran Church for the 2019 ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering. It was a rare sight to see so many Lutherans gathered under a shared conviction that faith in action could end hunger.

At the heart of the event was its theme: “Creative Congregations, Courageous Leaders: Organizing for Change.” This event title knit together data and stories, scripture, and action in an inspiring, sobering way.

My recent move to downtown Minneapolis has demonstrated to me that homelessness and hunger are more visible than ever. At a gathering workshop, I listened to stories from my neighbors who spoke of times when they were homeless and were refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety. Their experience isn’t unique.

“I listened to stories from my neighbors who spoke of times when they were homeless and were refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety.”

ELCA World Hunger compiled data and resources to help our faith communities understand and teach the realities of hunger from a local and global perspective. The core factors of hunger — housing, employment, food security, food access — were a central focus. To bring it home:

  • On a given night in January 2018, 7,243 Minnesotans experienced homelessness (US Department of Housing and Urban Development);
  • In Hennepin County, 128,620 people are food insecure, with the second highest county in our synod being Dakota at 30,470 (Feeding America);
  • In 2016, only one farmer’s market sold food to people in Scott, Carver, and Sherburne counties (USDA).

 

AS A GLOBAL CITIZEN, I got a different kind of reality check. Food insecurity around the world has steadily increased since 2015. Climate change, sudden migration, and unstable governments are all significant factors that increase food insecurity.

My immigrant roots sparked a question: Where have I seen this?

I think we’ve all seen it under the surface in recent news about immigration. Families are fleeing their country, making the audacious trek across North America to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Like the local homeless and hunger stories I heard, we hear of people at the border refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety.

Where do we find hope? As people of faith, we turn to scripture; as advocates, we organize.

The recent Gospel reading was the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of St. Luke. The story admonishes people to put aside their differences and “help those who are in need.”

“My recent move to downtown Minneapolis has demonstrated to me that homelessness and hunger are more visible than ever.”

In my experience, how we “help” can be as complicated as the issue itself. That’s where organizing comes in. The act of organizing has an uncanny way of waking us up from indifference and moving us toward meaningful solutions, … one story at a time.

Our stories keep us grounded; being made one body in Christ means “those who are in need” are us. May God hold this conviction as we address hunger one story, one relationship at a time.

 

Are you in the picture?

July 16th, 2019

By Bob Hulteen

Do you remember the first piece of art that so moved you that you couldn’t stop thinking about it for days? Do you know why you were so affected?

I remember my first encounter with “The Census at Bethlehem” by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder in my art history class at Concordia College. Now, this class met early every other morning (seemingly 5:00 a.m., if my memory is correct) and it’s surprising I recall anything. But one morning I was stunned by a particular painting mentioned by my professor.

“The Census at Bethlehem,” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15451995

I was first attracted by its religious title, alluding to Jesus’ birth but with a winter scene I recognized. (I mean, from my limited experience, if Jesus was born on December 25, shouldn’t there be snow?) I loved the grays and browns, the subtleties of color and shape.

“The biblical story of the birth of Jesus had never meant so much to me.”

And then I saw Mary on a donkey led by Joseph, heading toward an inn. Of course, I knew intimately the biblical story; but, it had never meant so much to me. For the first time – I hate to admit I was 20 and it was the first time – I realized that the biblical stories involved real human beings, not just props for God’s use.

In Bruegel’s offering, children are having a snowball fight. A pig is being slaughtered. A beggar sets a bowl out, hoping for life-sustaining contributions. Workers load branches onto a wagon. Travelers carefully cross the frozen river, carrying heavy loads. And among these “common people” was the Holy Family.

The pregnant Mary was real. Joseph was real. The inn keeper had a life outside of providing hospitality. The donkey had probably carried many people over many miles, fueled by hay grown by peasants (who are represented well in other Bruegel paintings).

 

I EXPERIENCED THE same excitement when I first saw the cover artwork of The Gospel of Solentiname, a commentary on the gospels by Father Ernesto Cardenal. He tells the story of the base Christian community movement in Nicaragua during a desperate, violent time.

What most caught my attention was the fact that these mostly illiterate peasants learning to read scripture with such passion that they could see themselves, their families, their work, and their ministry in the different stories, parables, and poems of sacred scripture. These laypeople could identify with many of the subjects Jesus talked about – day laborers, evicted small landowners who now were tenant farmers, those not invited to wedding feasts.

An internal page of a storybook excerpt of “The Gospel of Solentiname”

These lay theologians were encouraged by Jesus interest in their very “beingness.” And others like them flocked to this new reading of the gospel.

“This Jesus we worship loves real, complicated people.”

I have wondered if German peasants flocked to Martin Luther’s movement as the scripture was made plain to them in their own language for the first time. Did the expansion of Lutheranism across Northern Europe interact with movements of empowerment of the dispossessed?

The art of peasants of Solentiname and the paintings of Pieter Bruegel make me think so.

This Jesus we worship loves real, complicated people. People who pay taxes and participate in census-gathering, people who travel long distances for the protection of their children, people who grow grain to feed donkeys or to feed the world, people who shovel snow and have snowball fights with their children.

Our God doesn’t love abstract people or love them abstractly. God accepts and loves real people with real, messy, complicated lives. For that, I am truly grateful.

 

Postscript: I was able to see “The Census at Bethlehem” at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belguim, in 2013. It did not disappoint.

 

Remembering is what we do

July 9th, 2019

By Bob Hulteen

His name was Hailu Degaga.

A black, snaking bicycle cable secures a ghost bike to a stop sign kitty corner from my house. It’s where the 73-year-old Mr. Degaga was the casualty of a car-bicycle accident a year ago on July 7, only blocks from his apartment.

A young woman, perhaps his grand-daughter, with some regularity tends to this memorial. She brings fresh flowers, and tidies up around the white, spray-painted bike, as well as the similarly white cross that stands next to a yellow “Please Slow Down” sign facing 26th Avenue.

A ghost bicylce is permanently attached to a stop sign, reminding neighbors and travelers of the life of Hailu Degaga.

“What we choose to remember will help to define us.”

My daughter Korla cut a bouquet of yellow and purple perennials from our backyard on the anniversary of Mr. Degaga’s death. A year ago, Korla was aware that I was leaving the house on my bike at about the same time that she heard that an older man was killed on a bicycle on our corner. Perhaps the experience of concern for my welfare adds to her commitment to remember the life of Mr. Degaga.

Or perhaps it’s just her pastoral spirit as a follower of Jesus. Remembering is what we do!

 

THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER is a recitation of the story of our common faith — liberation, release, reconciliation, compassion, hope. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Christian movement is grounded on our recollection of God’s faithfulness. Our desire to remember is so thoroughly human.

And, what we choose to remember will help to define us. For instance, if our primary recollection of Moses are him bringing stone tablets down from a fiery mountaintop experience, maybe we emphasize the law; if it’s his leading a band of captive foreigners through a miraculously forgiving river, maybe it’s liberation.

Humanity found safety in an ark, a future even when it looks barren, freedom in a march, sustenance through trusting, a spy in an opposing court bringing protection, a birth in a foreign land, life abundant in death. We recite some version of these words each week as hear the Word preached and the sacraments celebrated.

“Our memories construct a litany for our lives.”

What do we remember – from our own experience or from the stories of the community? If we remembered Philando Castile on the recent third anniversary of his murder, it will change our perspective, our angle of vision, on the world. If we remember the life of the young Michael Brown on August 9, five years after his unnecessary death at the hands of a St. Louis police officer, we will be affected by that life lost, yet remembered. It was true 2,000 years ago; it is still true today.

Our memories construct a litany for our lives. We identify with the stories we remember and tell.

I pray that our choice of memories may most closely remind us of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, who brings release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind.

Adept at adapting

July 1st, 2019

By Pastor Craig Pederson

Two months ago the first of our two children was confirmed in the Lutheran faith. Our son Evan had successfully navigated three years of large-group classes, small-group gatherings, service projects, and the obligatory “faith statement” to complete the requirements for his confirmation program. On a lovely May Sunday morning, Evan then publicly affirmed the promises of his baptism along with 42 other young people in front of friends, family, and the gathered people of God.

Evan would not say that his confirmation experience was “the best ever” or “the worst ever” – as teen exaggeration sometimes goes. When asked on the way home from church that day how he felt about being confirmed, he said, “Alright. … I guess I learned a few things.” (He has also learned the art of the Scandinavian understatement.)

“‘Going it alone’” is out; “‘we’re in this together’” is in!

Ultimately Evan felt his confirmation was not an end point, but a beginning framework for the rest of his life. And I was reminded of his beginnings, and the privilege I had to seal him with the Holy Spirit and mark him with the cross of Christ when I baptized him 15 years ago.

It also got me thinking about how much has changed in the life of the larger church over the past 15 years. For example, the church I served (St. Paul’s in Northeast Minneapolis), in which Evan and our daughter Nora (two years younger) were baptized, is no longer a Lutheran church. The building was sold to a nondenominational church when the former St. Paul’s consolidated with two other Lutheran congregations in our neighborhood and started a new congregation (Grace Northeast). Grace Northeast has since moved twice and has adapted its mission and purpose to fit the assets and needs of its neighborhood.

 

CHURCHES ARE OFTEN seen as places that are slow to adapt and change. And we need not look very far to see examples of churches that seem “stuck.” But the longer I serve in my current position with the synod, the more I see churches who are honestly and realistically looking at how they might change in order to serve God more faithfully and effectively in their contexts.

Fifteen years ago at the former St. Paul’s, we engaged in about a year and a half of difficult conversations about membership and staffing and building and finances. That was followed by several months of exciting conversations about what we might do together with our neighboring churches. These types of conversations are happening with far greater frequency and speed these days. “Going it alone” is out; “we’re in this together” is in!

In the past six months, two different pairs of churches in our synod culminated their conversations with the sense that God was calling them to consolidate and “be the church” together: Christ English and River of Life in North Minneapolis are now “Christ the River of Life Lutheran Church,” and Prince of Peace and Wooddale in St. Louis Park have joined together and will determine their new name soon. I know of at least two other groups of churches who are discussing their shared futures together.

 

NOW I DON’T AT ALL MEAN to imply that the ideal for change in the church is consolidation. That is only one outcome of change and adaptation. There are many other examples of churches who have formed invigorating ministry partnerships while retaining and even growing their own identities as faith communities.

The point is that when churches openly and actively explore new ways to do ministry, the Holy Spirit often presents possibilities never considered before.

“When we affirm our baptism, we don’t always know what will happen next!”

When we affirm our baptism, we don’t always know what will happen next; we die with Christ and are raised to new life and new possibilities. That goes for us as individual children of God, and for us as the church together.

My wife Lisa and I were so grateful that Evan stuck with the confirmation program, even during those times when he didn’t fully buy in to the whole faith/Jesus/death/resurrection narrative. Now he’s open to how his faith and understanding might change and adapt in the future.

How is your church open to change and adaptation as you affirm your baptismal call together as the people of God? May the Spirit lead and guide us all into new life and new possibilities!

upROAR

June 17th, 2019

By Pastor John Hulden 

It seemed like a great idea at the time.

We’d have the Railroad Safety Guy (I don’t remember his name or his organization) visit our summer program for kids. This was more than 30 years ago at my first call congregation on the lower EastSide of Saint Paul — where active railroad tracks criss-crossed the neighborhood where we lived (called Railroad Island). So railroad safety was important.

The railroad safety keychain handed out 30 years ago.

We had the old-fashioned movie projector ready for Railroad Safety Guy’s short film. All the kids were gathered in front of the screen — the littlest tikes in the front, the bigger kids in the back. After Railroad Safety Guy talked a bit, and he handed out really cool key rings the shape of the yellow RR Crossing signs, the film started. It was a montage of deadly collisions. Trains smashing through cars. Trains obliterating trucks. Trains turning semis into accordions. The eyes of the 4 and 5 year olds in the front row got bigger and bigger. Smart volunteer teachers sprang into action. Soon after the film started, the teachers took their kids by the hand, and quickly ushered them away from the carnage on the screen.

Who was to know that the RR safety film might be a little too much for a 4 year old?

 

THIS IS THE SEASON of Vacation Bible School (VBS). And the growing buzz this year across our synod and denomination and the larger church is about the lessons of the VBS curriculum by Group called ROAR. From Group’s webpage about ROAR: “This epic African adventure engages the whole herd. At Roar, kids explore God’s goodness and celebrate a ferocious faith that powers them through this wild life.”

Who was to know that a VBS curriculum could be racist?

“The ROAR lessons include children role-playing slaves and mimicking an ‘African’ language using clicking sounds. More than not cool. Terrible.”

The ROAR lessons include children role-playing slaves and mimicking an “African” language using clicking sounds. More than not cool. Terrible. As an old white guy — which means I’m still learning about how deeply racism extends into our infrastructure, our society, our church, and my bones — this seems more than a micro-aggression. Group, the company, apologized, but not right away. It promises to do better, but it offered no specifics about changing their all white staff. (See a statement from Group here.)

The buzz on social media was soon an uproar — with many differing opinions and heated exchanges.

Yes, and, … some CYF (children, youth, and family) leaders I know and respect sprang into action. Just like whisking away young eyes from a carnage-filled railroad safety film, they made changes to ROAR.

Yes, and, … this is nothing new. Curriculums are helpful and difficult to write, and yet, faith formation leaders always need to make changes so the lesson plans work contextually, ethically, and theologically. Why? Because we do this for our precious little kiddos.

I recommend two people’s insightful perspective on this upRoar:

  • local ELCA Pastor Angela Denker’s blog here , and,
  • Irene Cho, Program Administrator for the Fuller Youth Institute, Twitter post here or her Facebook post from June 15 at 1:18 PM https://www.facebook.com/irenemcho.

 

Background:

Statement from Group:

Hello, Friends in Ministry! Thank you for calling to our attention some concerns with some experiences in Roar VBS. We are very sorry and apologize for any misunderstanding, insensitivities, or hurt we have unintentionally caused. Your feedback reminds us of the importance of humbly listening to those we serve.

To address these concerns, our team has created modifications and revisions to the curriculum. These are available today for you to download here: http://bit.ly/2F0UAQI

We are committed to redouble our efforts in future programs to create and vet materials that are inclusive, respectful, loving, and focused on Jesus.

Our heart is to immerse your kids in God’s love in a way that sticks with them forever.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at VBSTeam@group.com, and we’re happy to respond. We appreciate your direct communication and pray that your VBS will impact kids’ lives and bring them closer to Jesus!

–Group Publishing

Facebook post from Irene M. Cho:

June 15 at 1:18 PM ·

Okay final thoughts on the Group VBS curriculum hoopla, in particular for my white friends, colleagues, allies, learners:
A lot of white folks are asking why is this a big deal/problem. Indeed, at the end of the day this isn’t an overt horrid act like police brutality, toxic water in Flint, mass incarceration, etc. However, what happened with Group’s Roar curriculum absolutely IS microaggressive racism and that IS a problem.

GroupVBS incident is a small piece of racial injustice in this country. And here’s the thing, as Scripture says, it’s about being faithful in the small things in order to be faithful in the large ones. If Group won’t employ PoC in leadership, writing staff, publishing, how can it be faithful in accurately representing the Kingdom in such matters as content?

Now, does Group making this change impact the larger community? Because Group decides to change and alter their curriculum does it mean police will lessen profiling, brutalizing, and traumatizing black and brown people in their communities? Possibly not. However, this curriculum IS influencing young children. And when language is used to denote slavery as merely unfair and whiny or an adventure to discover, how do you think that influences the forming of children’s minds and perceptions? Especially since a majority of Group’s clientele are white children?

So is this issue as important compared to say clean water in Flint? Perhaps not. Yet… it IS because tiny little seeds are being planted into the minds and faiths of kids who may be mayor, chief, principal, president of an organization or country one day. So yeh, it’s pretty freaking important that profound seeds are planted and kids can develop empathy and love for one another.

So white folks, before responding with a “what’s the big deal?” reaction, maybe take a moment to think:
* Why isn’t this a big deal to you?
* Why is it so important for you to protect an organization instead of listening/hearing the outcries of the marginalized community speaking out?
* What’s compelling you to favor those who are white leaders over people who are black, brown, Asian, Indigenous, etc?
* How can you be a better listener in these moments instead of jumping into defensiveness?

Change happens not just from large scale movements but from the grassroots on small scales. How we perceive the world isn’t something that’s set in stone. We should be malleable and humble in knowing that we all have biases and we’re all learners until the day we pass from this earth.

Poolside prophecy

June 3rd, 2019

By Meghan Olsen Biebighauser

Here we are! This is the week when we transition from our school year schedules and routines to our summer lives. For families like mine, with two kids in school and daycare and a spouse who teaches high school, this is a big change in routine and structure for all of us. School ends on Friday, Sunday school is over for the summer (but worship continues!), and graduation celebrations abound.

As I write this, my kids are out swimming for the second time this weekend, wet swimsuits hang in both bathrooms of the house, there’s a pile of sandals by the front door, the list of yard work chores gets longer by the day (basically taunting us at this point), and we had to make an emergency run for more sunscreen.

It’s still early in the summer season, but children are already returning to the Powderhorn Park public swimming pool.

Summer in this city is magical and we totally deserve it after the winter we endured. After weather that more or less required us to be inside, cut off from even our closest neighbors, aside from the occasional wave of a mitten-ed hand when you both find yourselves shoveling out your car before dawn, now is the time to re-connect.

The opportunities now are endless: street festivals, cultural celebrations, food trucks, visiting the lakes, cycling everywhere, wading pools, playgrounds — so many opportunities to be out in the neighborhood.

 

FOR OUR FAMILY, LIVING here in the Powderhorn neighborhood, being out in the community means meeting folks from all over the world who also call this neighborhood home. Last night my spouse and I sat on the edge of the wading pool watching our kids play in the crowded water. There were easily four or five different languages being spoken by the families at the pool. (Our kids were definitely the monolingual minority.)

But as we watched all of our kids play together, you’d never know that language could be a barrier. The kids greeted one another when new families arrived, and moved seamlessly from silly made-up game to silly made-up game.  One minute they were swim racing (I mean, as well as you can in two feet of water), then a handstand competition followed by a biggest splash contest. They did it all.

“As we watched all of our kids play together, you’d never know that language could be a barrier.”

I can only imagine what it felt like to be present at Pentecost, the miraculous day that the church was born and barriers of language were torn down as the Holy Spirit became unleashed in the world. But, in moments like yesterday evening by the pool, it feels like a glimpse of Pentecost. Our sons and daughters and children are prophesying.

I hope you catch plenty of glimpses of the Holy Spirit running wild in the world as you’re out in your neighborhood this summer.

Ruined for life

May 21st, 2019

By Bob Hulteen 

Since moving to Minnesota in 1991, it has become my mid-May annual ritual to watch the last moments of the legislative session right up until the gavel is pounded at midnight. (Thank you, TPT, for the long hours of coverage of hearings and debates throughout the session, including its final moments.) While attendance at legislative hearings for me most often is dictated by specific issues being discussed, the last moments of the legislative session includes a curiosity about how the representatives and senators will treat each other in a public space.

Well, last night I watched as Rep. Connie Bernardo (a Lutheran from New Brighton, by the way) carried the higher ed omnibus bill; Rep. Liz Olson from Duluth (and a Luther Seminary graduate) led the debate with Rep. David Baker on a conference committee bill responding to opioid addiction in Minnesota; and Sen. David Senjem (a Rochester Lutheran) called to account unanticipated spending on a bonding bill. Sure, some legislators whined that they hadn’t been included in discussions in ways they would have wanted, and others preferred to blame the victims than look for solutions. But, all in all, they accomplished some important goals, even if it will take another day or two in special session to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed.

My examples above aren’t to imply that only Lutherans care about the common good. But it is valuable to be reminded that there are Lutherans who do feel called to the public square.

While listening to the debate in the Senate on TV last night, I could also hear chanting from outside the chambers in the cap rotunda. And, I am certain there were Lutheran friends there too, demonstrating through their presence a concern for undocumented people, unhealthy medical practices, underfunded schools, or declining farm supports. But they were present; they were motivated by faith to engage issues that affect people’s real lives.

 

BEFORE I COULD GET myself in front of the television on Monday evening, I attended a fundraiser celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), a national organization founded through the vision of one Washington, D.C., congregation. Literally, thousands of young people have been “ruined for life” by LVC. By coming into contact through their work of healing the nation, their communal living, or their commitment to sustainability, these young adults’ lives have been changed.

“Thousands of young people have been ‘ruined for life’ by the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.”

The gospel does that. LVC participants touch people’s wounds and they believe anew. They experience the struggles of vulnerable people and they can no longer live as if these folks’ lives aren’t valuable. Vocations have changed, thanks to LVC and organizations like it. For example, Jeremy Schroeder, an LVC alum, is now a city councilmember in Minneapolis and Ben Whalen, another alum, is on Richfield’s council. (Jeremy is currently a member of my congregation and Ben previously was active there.)

In the end, the test of our faith is how we treat each other. Like the elected officials, sometimes we do well; sometimes not. But we could all do better.

Thank God there are organizations like LVC that point us toward a gospel lifestyle. During its 40th anniversary, you might want to take a look at its impressive legacy.

Holding on to New Life

May 6th, 2019

By Deb Stehlin

In the last two months, if you’ve asked me, “What’s new?,” I’ve exclaimed, “I’m a grandma!” And then, I probably whisked out my phone to show you a photo. Last weekend, we got to host an open house so that people in my daughter’s and son-in-law’s networks could come and meet this tiny, new life.

Each person I greeted at the door offered a quick hello and then looked past me to survey the room. They had arrived with one goal: They needed to find the baby and hold him.

What is it about holding a new human life? Time stops. The vast universe collapses into this freshly created face. Before you know it, your breathing and the baby’s breathing take on the same cadence.

 

THE WAY MATTHEW tells it, after Jesus rose from the dead, some of the women who were closest to him had a similar goal as the guests at our house. When they encountered the resurrected Jesus, their instinctive response was “I have to hold him.” Without even thinking, they took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

Allie Carlson-Stehlin with her former daycare provider, Debby Shepard, and Deb’s grandson Axel.

I imagine that time stopped for them, too, and that the vast universe collapsed into these now-alive feet. These feet carried the one who is New Life. These feet still carried wounds.

“Each person had arrived with one goal: They needed to find the baby and hold him.”

Before you know it, Jesus breathes into them and their lives take on a new cadence. They now have power to carry the news about this New Life to all who will listen. They all have the vision needed to order life and community in a way that reflects God’s love and justice. The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come!”

I’ve been lucky enough to tell about Jesus to people who hadn’t heard it before. I’ve witnessed New Life be born in people as they take hold of this liberating story. Time stops. The vast universe collapses into the fresh creation that will become their life.

I know, because that’s what happened when someone told me. Maybe it’s happened to you, too.

Remember that moment the next time you hold a baby.

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