Thursday, December 20, 2007

On Break

I'll be in Mexico until the beginning of January. So until then, Merry Christmas!

P.S. This would be a great opportunity for the other authors to write...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Episcopal Diocese Votes to Secede

"An Episcopal diocese in central California voted Saturday to split with the national denomination over disagreements about the role of gay men and lesbians in the church.

Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173 to 22 at their annual convention to remove all references to the U.S. church from the diocese's constitution, said the Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman. The diocese, in a later vote, accepted an invitation to join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, a conservative South American congregation of the worldwide Anglican Communion."

Gracious God, have mercy your Church. Forgive us when, in our weakness, we reject our brothers and sisters in Christ. May you give us the strength to love as Jesus loved, so that all may be united in you.


Included in the list of "12 of the world's most influential spiritual leaders" is Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and President of the Lutheran World Federation.

The other 11 spiritual leaders being interviewed are (in alphabetical order):

o Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church
o Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), a Hindu spiritual leader
o Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic Church
o The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists
o Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent Shi'ite Muslim leader
o Michihisa Kitashirakawa, Jingu Daiguji (High Priest) of the Shinto Grand Shrine of Ise
o Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel
o Dr. Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention
o Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, Sheikh of Al-Azhar and a prominent Sunni Muslim leader
o Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the Sikhs' highest authority
o Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England

The show sounds interesting in and of itself, but I can't help but be pleased that a Lutheran voice is being given equal time in such a prominent mainstream discussion of religion.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christmas Bowl

Oregon Synod Christmas Bowl - sign up now!!
Let's have some fun!

Join Bishop David Brauer-Rieke online Thursday, December 13, for the first (and perhaps last) annual “Oregon Synod Christmas Bowl.” Here’s how it works:
  • Pull together your team - a few friends, your family, just you, the Outreach Committee, whoever you want.
  • Get the Christmas bowl out, fill it with eggnog, punch, Christmas cookies, Fiddle Faddle, or anything that sounds good.
  • Have a computer handy with sound and a broadband connection, like cable or DSL. (If you have such a hookup at your church you can have the party there, but you may prefer to meet at somebody’s house. Just invite a few friends over. Be sure you can turn the sound up so everybody can hear.) and be ready to log on for the fun Thursday the 13th.
  • Easy to follow directions will be emailed to you after you sign up.
    That’s absolutely all. Easy - fun!! Space is limited.

    Reserve your “Christmas Bowl” seat now at:

    Please forward this email on to your congregation, family or friends as you see fit. The more the merrier.

    Dave Brauer-Rieke, bishop

    Oregon Synod - ELCA 2800 N. Vancouver Ave.
    Suite 101 Portland, OR 97227 503.413.4191

Monday, December 3, 2007

Not "What Shall We Do," but "How Shall We Do It?"

The ELCA has just released its 2008 Election Guide. The Election Guide tries to present non-partisan advice for Lutheran congregations to approach political decisions as people who value Christ's teaching. The specific issues that it addresses are:

Domestic Hunger

Domestic Housing

Domestic Healthcare

Global Poverty and Hunger

Global Warming


Peace and Conflict

Most of these issues are fairly straightforward on a superficial level. For instance, Jesus says to fed the hungry, according the U.S. Department of Agricultural, in 2005, 35.1 million people lived in American households considered to be food insecure, therefore it is important to vote for candidates who say they will use their position in office to help eliminate hunger in America.

Great! The problem for me, however, is that I have never heard of a candidate who claimed that he or she was not interested in helping eliminate hunger and poverty. Where politicians tend to disagree is not on the goal, but how to achieve it. The classic example of this is should government directly give aid to the needy, or should it foster a favorable economic climate so that there are jobs for people who are out of work and extra income for individuals who can then donate to charity. The ELCA's Election Guide does implicitly and explicitly favor a few economic and scientific models, but not many, and not in depth.

As someone who has been raised to respect academic institutions and intellectual specialization, I naturally turn to economists and people with abbreviations after their names to tell me which out a myriad of theoretical models will best achieve the goals that I value. Unfortunately, the experts disagree on most theories. And, as a recent New York Times article reports, the most influential experts can be disastrously wrong.

The New York Times reports that for the past few decades the economists at the World Bank had been advising the hunger stricken country of Malawi to encourage farmers to pull themselves out of poverty by growing cash crops for export in exchange for money to buy food. This system had been failing miserably, and after a horrible harvest in 2005, Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika, ignored western economic advice and started subsidizing fertilizer for farmers to grow their own food. Mr. Mutharika's gamble paid off, and now Malawi is no longer accepting foreign food aid and even exporting food to other hungry nations.

I guess the point of all this is to ask how we as Christians decide which means are the best to achieve Christ's goals? How do we trust that the experts from whom we get our information are not overly biased (for surely they all are to a certain extent--and yes, I know the Word Bank is perhaps more biased than most)?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Atheist Society Only Possible under State Church?

After having stepped down from office, Tony Blair is reportedly planning to convert to Roman Catholicism. In a recent article, Washington Post commentator Susan Jacoby finds it ironic that the prime minister of a country with a state religion refused to talk about his religious beliefs during his time in office, while in the secular government of America, politicians risk political suicide if they don't articulate their faith. Apparently Blair's press secretary even responded to a question about Blair's faith by stating, "We don't do God."

But Susan Jacoby also notices a deeper irony about the separation of Church and State, apparently, "polls repeatedly have shown that only about 2 percent of the English attend services regularly, compared with about half of Americans. America’s separation of church and state, it seems, has encouraged the flourishing of religion."

To add an anecdotal account to this thought, we have two German students here at PLTS because while in Germany, where Lutheranism is the state church, the only time they felt the Spirit active in a congregation was when they visit the American Church in Berlin.

Susan Jacoby, with an openly secularist agenda, asks "Does the Christian Right, which wants to breach the wall of separation between church and state in the U.S., have any idea that religion itself has benefited from the nation’s secular Constitution?" Alternatively, one could ask if proselytizing atheists are aware that a state religion appears to be a death sentence for faith?

For me, however, the question becomes how does a religion which sees the need for change in society gain the power to change a nation for the better without getting so cozy with government that it loses its vibrancy as a prophetic voice from the edge?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oregon Bishop Writes to PLTS about Homosexuality Resolution

Dear Door Devotees,
Your Blog Master has invited me to write a little something as a bishop of the ELCA relative to the "Landahl Resolution" coming out of the August 2007 Churchwide Assembly. I am glad to do so. My name is Dave Brauer-Rieke and I am bishop of the Oregon Synod.
The so called "Landahl Resolution" "encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church." ( The ever present Lutheran question is "What does this mean?"
First it is important to recognize that this resolution was embraced by our Churchwide Assembly in the context of our Church's ongoing conversation over the rostering of Gay or Lesbian pastors in mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationships. The COB (Conference of Bishops) recognizes that this is a difficult conversation for our Church. We discern together within a triangle of justice concerns, traditional moral perspectives and the fragile gift of Christian unity. (This is my language, not necessarily that of the COB as a whole.) It is understandable that individuals and groups within the Church may advocate primarily from one perspective of another. This is actually helpful in our churchwide conversation. Our charge as bishops, however, is to keep the whole triangle always before us.
The Landahl Resolution is understood as a "sense" motion, not a legislative one. This is to say that nothing in the practice or policies of the Church has been changed here, but rather that what we have is the sentiment of the Assembly that we don't want to fall off the tightrope as our conversation continues. As a bishop I hear in this resolution that our Church doesn't want to solve this issue through formal, disciplinary actions such as those involving Pastor Bradley Schmeling. Rather, we want to continue down our chosen path of mutual conversation and discernment. Furthermore, we as a Church believe we are on a track to find greater clarity on this issue at our 2009 Assembly and so we understand the Landahl Resolution to be a time limited pastoral word. It extends from now until further, more permanent, decisions are made by the 2009 Assembly.
Individual bishops will undoubtedly interpret the nuances of this resolutions differently. This is as it should be. We are all committed to oversight within our diverse synodical contexts. However, our mutual commitment as bishops is to stay within the same ballpark for the sake of good order within the Church as a whole. The Landahl Resolution is not a call to disregard the current position of the ELCA relative to our expectations of rostered leaders. It is, rather, just what it purports to be; a call for prayerful and pastoral decision making while we continue to walk together in our discernment process.
My sense is as a Church we are weary of this discussion. Yet, I am impressed by our ability to walk faithfully and patiently with one another. My hope and expectation is that we will soon reach greater clarity for ourselves in this matter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Minstrel Police Officers

"Wearing blue camouflage fatigues and crooning about Islamic holy war, the five members of Hamas's Protectors of the Homeland police band are trying to boost morale in Gaza with an arsenal of anti-Israel numbers."
Ok, just to be clear, I in no way support the goals of this band. However, the headline of the Washington Post article, from which this quotation is taken, caught my attention and imagination: Hamas's singing policemen boost morale in Gaza.

I had envisioned jolly looking officers strolling around town with a guitar while singing songs about friendship, kindness, and good citizenship (kind of like this picture of a policeman in India). Instead, it turns out the policemen are more of a USO show designed to boost troops' spirit.

At first I was disappointed, but then I realized, even if the minstrel police officers I had hoped for don't actually exist, there's no reason why they shouldn't.

How nice would it be if, in the cities and towns of America and the world, a component of police work included going around and trying to make a precinct a more cheerful and welcoming place through music. Perhaps instead of feeling nervous in the presence of police officers, honest citizens would feel safe and comfortable. Perhaps communities would stop viewing police as outsiders to be distrusted, but instead as friends and helpers .

I don't know, perhaps this is a bit naive of me. Perhaps I should leave the enforcement of law to state policy makers, and instead encourage churches to do this kind of work...still, I think the world would be a better place if the neighborhood cop carried a guitar instead of a gun.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Evangelical Democrat Running for Govenor in Miss.

“I am a Democrat because I am a Christian.” – John Eaves

But of course, this simply begs the questions, "What does is mean to be a Democrat? What does it mean to be a Christian politician."

John Arthur Eaves Jr. "gave his life to Christ at age 8 and walked where Jesus did at age 9. Thirty-years later, he stood on the banks of the Jordan River as three of his own sons professed faith and were baptized. His wife's name is Angel. He is pro-life, pro-prayer, pro-Bible literacy and pro-guns. He's a Southern Baptist running for office." He also wants "to raise teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and provide our schools with the resources they need... cut the tax on groceries...make sure every child in the state has healthcare...fight against the moneychangers of big oil."

Regardless of what I think of John Eaves and his platform, I am always pleased when peoples' expectations are shaken. Candidates like this make people re-examine their stereotypes and the labels they use to define themselves and the ideologies they support and oppose.

Quotations are from John Eaves campaign site:

An interesting article about the political fallout of his campaign can be found in the Washington Post

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pills: To Push or Withhold?

"Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that pharmacists have a right to use conscientious objection to avoid dispensing emergency contraception or euthanasia drugs _ and told them they should also inform patients of the ethical implications of using such drugs."

This is a controversy which has been going on for several years. On the one hand, the Vatican and conservative group would like to make it illegal for pharmacists to distribute drugs that they consider to be morally objectionable. On the other hand, many liberal groups are pushing to make it illegal for pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for such drugs.

Having recently read Luther's Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, I find that Luther's handling of the reform of worship there to shed interesting light on the struggle to control pharmacists. In 1521 and 1522, a group of reformers under the leadership of Andreas Karlstadt decided to impose Luther's ideas by force. At the time Luther was in hiding and did not play a part in this, but when he found out about it, he went to Wittenberg and said the following to the reformers:

"In both [things which are necessary, and things which are a matter of choice], love must deal with our neighbor in the same manner as God has dealt with us; it must walk the straight road, straying neither to the left nor to the right. In the things which are “musts” and are matters of necessity, such as believing in Christ, love nevertheless never uses force or undue constraint. Thus the mass [as practiced at this time] is an evil thing, and God is displeased with it, because it is performed as if it were a sacrifice and work of merit. Therefore it must be abolished. Here there can be no question or doubt, any more than you should ask whether you should worship God. Here we are entirely agreed: the private masses must be abolished. As I have said in my writings, I wish they would be abolished everywhere and only the ordinary evangelical mass be retained. Yet Christian love should not employ harshness here nor force the matter. However, it should be preached and taught with tongue and pen that to hold mass in such a manner [as it is now] is sinful, and yet no one should be dragged away from it by the hair; for it should be left to God, and his Word should be allowed to work alone, without our work or interference. Why? Because it is not in my power or hand to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay and fashion them at my pleasure [Ecclus. 33:13]. I can get no farther than their ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force any one to have faith. That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart."

For Luther, the pastoral issue of including and loving all people (even those who hold views diametrically opposed to yours) trumps all. Reforms must be made, but never should a person be forced to act in a certain way.

I see a couple of implications as to how these ideas apply to the discussion of pharmacists filling prescriptions, regardless of whether or not to do so is immoral. First, those pharmacists who feel it is wrong to distribute certain drugs should not be required to do so. Second, those people who have been prescribed medication and wish to taken, should in no way be prevented from receiving their medication.

How would this work? Earlier this month in Illinois, a compromised was settled in which pharmacists can step aside and have someone else in their pharmacy fill an objectionable prescription, so long as there is always a way for a patient to receive medication.

It looks like both the Pope and the State of Illinois are taking a tip from Luther.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Muslims, Christians, and the Messiah

This past week, 138 Muslim leaders from around the world sent an open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, 24 other specific Christian leaders, and "Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere…." The letter is entitled A Common Word between Us and You and calls for peace, justice and understanding between Christians and Muslims. The letter points to the primacy of the commandments to love God and your neighbor in both religions as the basis for such a goal:
Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions—and whilst
there is no minimising some of their formal differences—it is clear that
the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link
between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament (pp. 13).

After citations and commentary on the the Qur’an [AalImran 3:64; Al-Mumtahinah, 60:8; Aal-‘Imran, 3:113-115; Al-Nisa’, 4:171] and Gospels [Matthew 12:30;Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50], the letter states:

We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with
them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here (pp.15).

While I applaud these Muslim leaders and give thanks to God for their invitation of peace and fellowship, what I found most interesting about the letter was its discussion of Jesus as the Messiah:

Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians
do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other
on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: …. the Messiah Jesus son of
Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit
from Him.... (Al-Nisa’, 4:171) (pp. 15).

It is certainly true that Christians have always disagreed on the nature of Jesus. If Muslims agree that Jesus is Christ ("Messiah" is "Christ" in Greek), and that he is the Word of God, are they (from a Lutheran perspective) any less Christian than Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Marcus Borg, or any other non-Trinitarian Christian? Should I even be asking how "Christian" someone or some religion is?

A Common Word between Us and You can be found at:

Bishop Hanson's reply can be found at:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Communion for Whom?

Who should communion be open to?

Should communion be restricted to:
1) Baptized and Confirmed Christians
2) Baptized Christians who have taken a first communion class
3) Baptized Christians
4) Anyone who believes the words "Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins."

In Living Tradition class led by Dr. Michael Aune on October 9, 2007, the issue of communion came up as it was briefly discussed on the last page of a reading written by Dr. Jane Strohl. This past Sunday, many members of this class had visited St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco where communion is open to everyone, baptized or unbaptized.

There appears to be some variation in communion practices throughout the ELCA. In some congregations, I have heard that crackers are mixed with grape juice and given to babies. Their point of view seems to be that communion is like baptism in that it is given to us by the grace of God, not out of any virtue or attribute of our own such as having attained a certain age. I would venture to say that in most, if not all Lutheran churches, a minimum of baptism is required for communion. Most seem to have a class beforehand, and some require members to be confirmed before celebrating communion.

As presented in class, some of these traditions go back to early Christian history where baptism and communion served as rites of passage for a group undergoing enormous persecutions.
They also likely go back to the heritage Lutherans share with the Roman Catholic Church.

When I first encountered the idea of babies receiving communion several years ago, I was shocked, but upon more thought have decided it is not so strange, though Luther might have objected in his day.

Luther writes on this sacrament in The Small Catechism that, "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto us Christians to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ himself." The Last Supper is described by Luther:

"Our Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you: this do, in the remembrance of me.

"After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of you: this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you, for the remission of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."
Responding to the question about what makes us worthy to receive it, Luther responds:
Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a good external discipline; but he is truly worthy and well prepared, who believes these words: "Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins." But he who does not believe these words, or who doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words: "FOR YOU," require truly believing hearts.
Do babies believe that the body and blood are given for them? I tend to think that babies believe that almost anything is given for them.

A traditional reason given for priests not being allowed to marry is that in the early orthodox traditions, the original disciples were all male. The disciples were all likely baptized, but it's unclear whether any females were at the last supper. Splitting with this tradition of male-only disciples, communion has been opened up to both males and females. We now believe in a priesthood of all believers.

What belief is required for this communion and how do we know that we truly believe? In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus says that our belief is to be like a child's. I think there's no more trusting belief in the goodness of Christ's gift of communion than that of a child's. Furthermore, perhaps baptism is not required either. Christ said to a confessing criminal hanging with him on the cross, "I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me." (Luke 23:40-43)

From my point of view, we do better to err on the side of generosity with Christ's love than to be stingy with Christ's love and forgiveness. I am reminded of the Parable of the Gold Coins in Luke 19:11-27, particularly verses 20-22. When asked what had been done with the coin given to him, the last servant says, "Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it hidden in a handkerchief. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take what is not yours and reap what you did not plant." In the parable, the master replies, "You bad servant! I will use your own words to condemn you! You know that I am a hard man, taking what is not mine and reaping what I have not planted."

Is it better for us to protect Jesus so that he is not profaned, or is it better for us to be overly generous with the love he has given us to share? Who should we open our communion to?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Evangelizing Lutherans?

Today in Dr. Aune's class, "Living Tradition," we talked about what Luther's The Bondage of the Will means for evangelizing. The concern raised was, "If we are to trust solely in God's mercy for salvation--a salvation in which human action plays no part--what then is the role of evangelism?"

This becomes a particularly difficult issue as many Lutherans perceive their Church to be shrinking, and wish to change that trend. However, as my classmate Jeremiah pointed out, if the Lutheran Church in and of itself is not necessary for salvation, should we care that it is getting smaller?

The ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod has responded to these questions in a bold manner. This September the synod launched a pilot program for a massive ELCA advertising campaign, placing ads on billboards, in newspapers, and on the sides of buses. The ads are simple. Some are statistical figures about how Lutherans provide humanitarian assistance. Some are simply the tools of service in the shape of the cross.
Through these ads, the ELCA seems to be saying that the Lutheran Church matters because it provides humanitarian aid.

More information about the ad campaign can be found at:

Whether or not you agree with these ads, or with advertising in general, I thought of a couple more ads that might send different messages.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Founder's Day Lectures

Last week professors Dr. Davidson and Dr. Balch gave their inaugural lectures on the theme "Reading the Bible: Identity and Adaptation." The message that I took away from their presentation was four-fold:
  1. That it is important to understand that the book we call the Bible is a collection of texts which were written by unique and differing communities as inspired expressions of themselves, and their understandings of life and God.
  2. That the list of texts that composes the canon of scripture is a source of cultural and ideological power has changed over time to match the communities which controlled it.
  3. That the theologians and theological traditions (Augustinian, Lutheran, Calvinist) in which we are embedded act as an additional canon because we instinctively read the scriptures through their lenses.
  4. That we are able to create a new canon by finding new ways to interpret the scriptures; and that not only are we able to do this, but perhaps we ought to do so in order to make a an ancient text inspired and meaningful for a modern audience.

In response to these lectures, former PLTS President Wally Stuhr questioned the two professors, who had just sworn to teach in accordance with Lutheran doctrine, as to how their ideas related to Lutheranism--whatever that may be. I feel that this touches upon a question that we as Lutherans must actively discuss as a community: What does Luther's slogan of "Sola Scriptura" mean when scripture is conceived as a living organism?

From this comes a host of other questions, not the least of which include:

  • Does being Lutheran require having the same scriptures that Luther had?
  • Can we reinterpret the interpretations of Luther?
  • Should we even be bound to Luther's ideas when he himself pointed solely to the gospels?
  • If it is possible to change canon through interpretation, should it be possible to change canon by adding new texts?

These are just some of the questions bouncing around my head. I hope to hear your insights!


With any luck this site can become a location for vibrant community discussion. We encourage you to post on whatever topic you feel needs to be talked about.
Are you concerned by the school's theological views as manifested in the social justice committee? Do you want to speculate about the implications of the upcoming conference of bishops? Or are you curious as to which side-dishes are going to be brought to the next First Friday? It's all par for the (Frisbee) course!
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