31 March 2016

April Newsletter Article: The Liturgical Year from Advent through Lent

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
“Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
By the time most of you are reading this article, we will have moved from the meditative, reflective season of Lent into the celebratory season of Easter, in which we spend seven weeks proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus with joy and passion. (Yes, I said “PASSION” - consider it an invitation to grow spiritually this Easter season.) But how do we get there in the church calendar? Why is it so early this year and so late in other years? Today I’m going to take a moment to walk you through the “first half” of the liturgical calendar observed by a substantial majority of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

01 March 2016

March Newsletter Article

Beloved in Christ,
Stepping away from our series on worship to give you some snapshots of things going on at St. Petri that deserve some extra attention.

09 February 2016

Doctor Who and Peace that Must be Dared

Three weeks ago I attended a retreat at Carol Joy Holling Camp and Conference Center led by Andy Root, a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Andy and I are both Gen Xers, and we share a particular affinity for the life and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so when I received a flyer about the retreat from my friends at Carol Joy Holling I signed up right away.

While we were at the retreat, I was also bingeing on Series 9 of the new Doctor Who. This happens a lot in recent years: the series usually debuts during college football season, and as a pastor who loves football, has two kids, and only gets a limited amount of time to enjoy things on any given Saturday, it is unfortunately the Doctor who gets relegated to the vagaries of the DVR (though, of course, the relativity of the time involved makes that relegation more than a little ironic and humorous). This year was no exception. I was finally working my way through the series when we arrived at Carol Joy Holling, and the first night of our retreat was also the night I enjoyed episode 8, "The Zygon Inversion." Having just come from an evening meal where Andy and I enjoyed a robust discussion of recent Bonhoeffer biographies, I already had Herr Dietrich on the brain when I watched the Doctor's epic anti-war speech unfold on my laptop. I'll post a quote here and then the following scene from YouTube, and then tell you what I'm on about.
THE DOCTOR (speaking to 'Bonnie' - who is actually the Zygon leader Zygella disguised as Clara Oswald, the Doctor's companion): These things have happened, Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You're not superior to people who were cruel to you, you're just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people, who'll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive. Why don't you break the cycle? (Emphasis mine)
Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=53&t=23619

In 1934, at an ecumenical conference in Fanø, Denmark, Bonhoeffer preached a sermon in which he said the following:
How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself.
I couldn't help but hear the words of Bonhoeffer echoed in the Doctor's impassioned plea for Zygella (and her human counterpart) to "break the cycle!" There has always been something of an anti-war bent to the Doctor, and at times the series has featured moments of great theological and ethical import buried underneath fantastically good television, but this is one of the moments where this watcher felt as if Stephen Moffat and the other writers of the show were channeling a particular theologian, whether consciously or unconsciously. The similarity to Bonhoeffer's argument, and the terrible experiences of the battle-weary Time Lord and the world-weary theologian and pacifist conspirator against the Third Reich, seem to come pouring out of the TV screen into our minds and hearts.

Forgiveness is always a risk. Peace is never certain. But as the Doctor points out, the war that seems to be such a certain guarantee is also uncertain, and in addition guaranteed to be painful, costly, and in the end resolved in only one of two ways: genocide, or diplomacy. Since no one wants to be a genocide, why not engage in the diplomacy before resorting to violence that's going to lead you back to diplomacy in the end anyway?

This is, honestly, one of the things I love about Doctor Who. Leave aside the comical costumes and the iffy (if improving) special effects. The epic storytelling and the dedication to playing out the ethical consequences of one's decisions are an invigorating contrast to the rampant jingoism and chest-thumping machismo of what passes for governance in much of contemporary American life. Hearing what appears to be the Doctor channeling a beloved theologian of mine was music to my ears, and worth noting and sharing with anyone else who cares to hear about it.

31 January 2016

February Newsletter Article

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In a few short days, the season of Epiphany will come to a close and the liturgical season of Lent will begin. I am one of those people who finds the season of Lent to be an annual challenge and blessing – it is a time in the church for heightened awareness about our sin, God’s mercy, and the life of Jesus in which that mercy overcame that sin.

28 January 2016

2016 Books: The Prophet by Michael Koryta

One of the most enjoyable reading experiences is taking a chance on an unknown author and being very happy you did. In some ways The Prophet was about what I expected: a murder mystery with some interesting plot twists. What I didn't expect was Michael Koryta's excellent investigation into high stakes Ohio high school football and how that sidebar added a bit of punch to the story. Granted, being a former player myself and a student of the game for most of my life, I'm a bit pre-disposed to think well of good football writing, but I believe the casual reader will also enjoy learning a bit about the game in the course of enjoying a well-conceived murder mystery.

The main point of the novel is the relationship between brothers Adam and Kent Austin, both of whom live in their hometown and carry the burden of their sister's murder in very different ways. Their relationship overshadows everything in the novel, even the murder which brings about the action that makes up most of the plot, but it's so well written that the reader will enjoy the curious experience of being distracted by the action instead of the interior monologue as is common in the genre.

No heavy lifting required here - just a good book for a trip, something to read in one long pull and savor all the way down.

26 January 2016

2016 Books in Review: Gatefather by Orson Scott Card

The Mither Mages trilogy started off wonderfully with The Lost Gate and continued well with The Gate Thief. These first two volumes were the usual Orson Scott Card mix of philosophy, theology, fantasy, science fiction, and excellent characterization of the main actors in the plot. This series in particular leans more toward the theology and fantasy side of his spectrum, a curious mix of American Gods and original themes that make for interesting reading. Or listening, which is what I did for the first two volumes (is it me, or do some of you read all of OSC's work in Stefan Rudnicki's voice?).

08 January 2016

2016 Books in Review - Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

The third book in Ken Follet's massive Century trilogy is, well, long. It has to be - it covers events from the beginning of the Cold War to the election of Barack Obama, ranging from the American Deep South to the coldest reaches of Siberia. It's everything you expect from a Follett historical novel at this point, which is at the same time enjoyable and a touch predictable, if surprisingly so.

05 January 2016

Exposing Dan Skogen

Last week I was made aware of a minor social media kerfuffle between my colleague Clint Schnekloth and Dan Skogen, the man behind the "Exposing the ELCA" blog and Twitter feed. Like Clint, I've known about Dan for quite some time, particularly because he lives in the part of Iowa we call home and has been trolling synodical staff and pastors in our neck of the woods as long as I've been here. Clint's blog does an excellent job of laying out the various options of dealing with Internet trolls, so I'll invite you to take a look if you want to see the entire backstory.
Lutheran Confessions: Exposing "Exposing the ELCA": Meet Dan Skogen. He's the voice and face behind a blog titled "Exposing the ELCA." Well, he does more than blog. He tweets, tr...
Like Clint, I'd been doing my best to mostly ignore Dan for at least six years. Usually that's the best response to trolls and others working out their pathologies through the means of social media. In fact, just this week I recommended that fellow Iowans ignore the ridiculous "halftime show" the Stanford Band performed at the Rose Bowl. It was so obnoxious and insulting that anyone with an ounce of decency wouldn't believe anything about it for a second. In the same vein, the posts at ExposingtheELCA.com are so thinly connected to reality that anyone with the ability to critically engage what he says about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America can see his agenda for what it is - and adjust their expectations for truth and decency accordingly.

23 December 2015

January Newsletter Article: Worship 101

One of the things I have most enjoyed about my work as a pastor over the years has been the office of teaching - an office that I don't nearly utilize enough. I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while doing some office work and decided this year I would use this newsletter space to do some teaching; specifically, to teach about Lutheran worship and what we're about when we gather together, be it Sunday mornings or any other occasion.

To begin, the word "worship" itself points to a particular activity within time and space, so far as Lutherans understand it. "Worship" is a derivation of the Old English weorthan, from which we also take the word "worthy". We "worship" when we reserve time and space for contemplation, explication, and adoration of "the thing that is worthy" - as Dr. Luther put it in The Large Catechism, "the thing upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god." So, for a person like myself, fall weekends become a time to be careful about where I invest my heart and my time. It would be incredibly easy for the time between Cornhusker kickoff and the final snap to be the most important time of my week - and so to take for myself a god who carries a football and wears scarlet and cream. I know, I know - some of you could argue this has already happened, and will happen again. You're probably right, so let's just move on with the acknowledgment that we're all going to fall short when it comes to worshiping our true God, shall we?

In the earliest years of the church, the followers of Jesus worshiped as faithful Jews in the synagogue, but gathered regularly for a meal that commemorated the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his friends on the night before his betrayal and crucifixion. Over time, Christians and Jews diverged, and Christians merged reading and teaching from the Hebrew Bible, letters from apostles and other Christian evangelists, and the love meal into one event. After Constantine I made Christianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire in 313 AD, the pattern of worship that had developed organically over the previous centuries was generally solidified into something that would be recognizable today in "traditional" liturgical churches like ours.

"Liturgy" is another term with a more diverse meaning than one might have suspected. It comes from the Greek leitourgia meaning "work of the people" or "public work" - and this work can take place in many different ways! It's a misnomer to say that there are "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" churches; it might be more accurate to say that some churches prefer a more structured liturgy while others tend toward a free, extemporaneous liturgy. There are also gradations within the trends, as many of you know well. Liturgy tends to be an anthropological phenomenon in every congregation around the world, with strains and influences from sources most people would struggle to even remember. One example would be the klokker or "song leader" common in many Norwegian congregations in America from the 1800s through the 1950s - other churches would not have known what this position was or how it worked in worship, but it would have been second nature to most Norwegian churches in this part of the country at one time. Another is the development of monthly communion, mostly due to the scarcity of ordained ministers for frontier churches: what was once a concession to geography and travel requirements became standard practice and, for some, a preference to be defended, even though the early church celebrated communion weekly and would have been mystified by the idea that you could make the meal "less special" by celebrating it more often. Ethnic and ecclesiastical history, regional trends, cultural changes - these and many other influences have shaped Lutheran worship in the United States since the first Lutheran churches were established in the colonies almost 300 years ago.

Today, when Lutherans talk about worship, we generally value a great deal of flexibility around what we consider essential: preaching and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. The 7th article of the Augsburg Confession states, "it is enough to agree on the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments...it is not necessary that human traditions, rites, and ceremonies be everywhere alike." We have central principles about worship which we hold in common, but how those principles are lived out tend to be determined by local congregations as seems best in each context. There are Lutheran churches whose worship is barely distinguishable from the highest, most richly ceremonial Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches, making use of incense, fully chanted liturgies, ceremonial dress for pastors and lay ministers, and much more. There are Lutheran churches whose worship is barely distinguishable from the most charismatic Baptist and non-denominational churches, with raised hands, loud music, shouts of joy and affirmation in preaching and singing, and not a note of chant to be heard above the organ, drums, and choir. What makes the worship in these churches "Lutheran" is NOT a traditional liturgy, but the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the celebration of our sacraments. For Lutherans, everything must serve the Holy Spirit's work to justify God's people by faith alone apart from works of the law: that's "Lutheran" worship at it's core.

I'm looking forward to the rest of this series this year, and I hope you'll help me by offering questions you'd like me to answer about different aspects of our worship life together. Most importantly, I hope this series enriches your experience in worship at St. Petri and at other houses of worship this year, and that through that enrichment you may find it easier to discern the Spirit's work in your life. I hope to see you in worship soon!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

01 December 2015

The Author A-Z Tag

Something fun for today. Got the idea from my "little sister" Brittany at her blog.

The Author A-Z Tag was created by Jen Campbell on BookTube. The premise is simple: go through your shelves, choosing an author's surname for each letter of the alphabet and highlight one book. If you don't have an author for a letter, choose one from your to be read pile.