Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The common good was not served at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.  The massacre of 20 first graders, six staff, and one mother, plus the suicide of the killer, bloodied any notion of the common good shining brightly in the morning.  

I wrote on my FACEBOOK that day (with slight modifications): 

America loves violence.  Violence is our candy. Military 
commercials during football games, violent video games,
violent movies, violent rap music, bloated defense budgets,
9,000 murders last year, 17,000 suicides (both by guns), 
more mass killings than any other nation outside of a war
zone, 40% of gun buyers do not go through a background
check, no mandatory trigger locks, automatic weapons for
sale, feel welcome to buy a 50 calibre rifle for a long distance
kill, shoot a deer with an AR-15 or AK-47, join the growing
militia movement and practice war games on the weekends
in preparation to overthrow the government, require teachers
to arm themselves as part of their job description.  Merry
Christmas!  Silent Night until the next massacre.  Remember
Herod's massacre of the innocents and confess that it is
commonplace in America.  We are the new Bethlehem. 
O come, O Come, Immanuel.  Save us.  Indeed, You have
come.  I pray we do our part to save Your world.  Peace!

Many people ask "Why?" The police and news media are searching for the answer as they try to gather information from a smashed hard drive or the drawers in the killer's desk.  What are the clues?  He had Asberger's Syndrome.  He had little sign of empathy for people.  He was shy, withdrawn, yet intelligent.  His mother liked guns and took him shooting so he could practice firing a Glock, a 9mm, and a Bushmaster Rifle.  Why?  So he could do in real life what he had practiced?  For bonding? Practice makes perfect.  

Why attack the most vulnerable?  Why kill first graders?  Why kill unarmed women?  Why kill yourself?  Man up!  Face the wrath of the legal system and moral disgust of a community, nation, and world!  But no.  He must have known that there is no justifiable answer that would pass the common good smell test.  

Fox News told its minions to not talk about guns over the weekend.  Zero gun trumpeters in congress came forth for the Sunday news-talk shows.  0-31.  True courage!  Have the facts of the fruits of bowing to the NRA god finally revealed its paucity?  Is there a glimmer of truth that unregulated guns violate the common good?  

I emailed our Senators, Franken and Klobuchar, and Representative Michelle Bachmann, and told them to support "common sense gun safety" (thank you Jonathon Alter for this new phrasing of the way forward).  I also contacted our pastor and requested a meeting to talk about what our congregation can do about guns.  He said yes.  

Listening to experts and studying the issue have led me to the following conclusions: 1) Jesus would not have packed a Glock, a 9mm, or a Bushmaster Rifle.  He would not have told his disciples to so arm themselves.  His intent about knives was for hunting and cooking, not for killing people; 2) The Second Amendment was written during a time when America was young and we had no real national army.  So, citizens, arm yourselves.  Yet, guns are part of our national culture and always will be; 3) It is rightly legitimate to place restrictions on guns for the sake of the common good.  All people have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." When guns interfere with this right, regulation is justifiable; 4) Availability of all types of weapons teases the desire for usage; 5) Many aspects of our culture teach the legitimacy of violence.  Violence is our candy; 6) Violence is not consistent with the will of God.  Violence is Anti-Christ!

What can we do?  Pray that we not use guns.  Pray for the victims and those who would have a propensity for killing.  Refuse to have guns in our homes.  Teach the nonviolence of Jesus.  Work for "common sense gun safety laws", such as: mandatory trigger locks, mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, mandatory locking up of guns in our homes, mandatory gun safety courses, elimination of expanded ammo clips, mandatory gun registration, banning sale of assault rifles, limiting purchase of guns, banning across state-line gun purchases.  Stir conversation in our congregations and communities.  Demand action from our elected officials.  Demand action from the NRA. At least.

Enough!  President Obama concluded his remarks at Newtown with this beautiful quote from scripture: "Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven [God]."  It is beyond time to make life safe and loving for all people.  We are all Children of God.  Now is the time to act!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Out of the grace of God, we create the COMMON GOOD by DOING GOOD.  Certainly, our attempts are fraught with sin, twisted motives, and outcomes that are mixed at best.  Yet, they are faithful efforts, and as Christians we are bound to try, called to try.  Faith without works is dead.  Faith active in love.  Not as we ought but as we are able.

Part III of the SEARCH will explore Matthew 6.  Within are Jesus' words for creating the COMMON GOOD by DOING GOOD. 


GIVE ALMS: We choose to give generously to the poor, not to be recognized or to earn an award, but because the poor have need of it for living.  We love concretely without gathering attention for ourselves.  Alms giving is not about us, but about the other in need.  Indeed, God's reward, God's blessing of the giver seems contingent upon the quietness, the secretiveness behind the giving.  Pride and publicity in giving darkens the giving.  Blessings arrive through the back door.  Giving begets giving.  The COMMON GOOD is GIVING.

PRAYER: We pray not to be seen, but to address God.  Prayer is an intimacy, a privacy, an intense focus on our relationship with God.  It is this intensity that engenders trust.  Out of trust comes God's action in response to our going to God.  Yet, prayer also stirs our response to God's beckonings.  Prayer excites action in both directions.

The Lord's Prayer is Jesus' ultimate prayer.  Other than Jesus' prayers from the cross, the Lord's Prayer is the only noted prayer in the Gospels.  The COMMON GOOD happens as we live out the petitions of the Lord's Prayer.  Significantly, the Lord's Prayer can be prayed individually AND corporatively. Its scope is broad, beyond "me and Jesus" to "all and Jesus."  The pronouns are plural, meaning we pray with the entire family of God.  We pray not just for ourselves and the faith community, but for the world. Intercession is part of its plea.  We yield to God's will and not to the doing of our own.  We ask for daily bread, not for poison; for that which gives life, not destruction.  We ask for forgiveness and humbly forgive others, refusing to hold grudges nor the facts of a blighted history halt reconciliation.  We ask deliverance from that which would deter us from doing God's will.  Doing the COMMON GOOD is DOING the Lord's Prayer in real time through words and deeds.

FASTING:  I am not a good "faster" in the traditional sense!  I love to eat!  Yet, I can say that I "fast" by denying my body too much junk!  I used to regularly eat Frito's and potato chips and  drink Mountain Dew and Pepsi by the quarts as a chaser, then top it off with a hamburger and fries. I stopped when I realized this regimen was negatively affecting my health.  Now, I eat salads regularly, enjoy soups, avoid gravies and fried foods, and drink ample glasses of water.  I do, however, indulge in a morning cappuccino or occasional Starbucks, Dunn Brothers, or Caribou mocha lattes!  Is this fasting?  I think it is showing a greater respect for God's gift of our bodies.  I had to learn to say "No" to certain in-takes and "Yes" to others.  I am not a purist nor a "vegan", but I am better.  We must take care of our bodies because they are not our own plaything.  God's body gift works best when we learn its rhythms and honor the proper fuels it needs to function as God would will.  Doing the COMMON GOOD means doing what is best for our bodies.

STUFF:  The NRSV uses the word "treasure." The admonition is to realize that people and things of this world may hinder our relationship with God and our ability to do the COMMON GOOD.  Asceticism is not the goal, but awareness of how our choices in gathering people and goods within our personal sphere affect our discipleship, and are therefore matters of concern to God.  Consumption may be the engine of our economic growth and satisfy personal longings, but it may also lead to an addiction of hoarding and obsession with possession, for our sakes alone.  "Stuff" may be a symptom of our narcissism, blocking our ability to care for the COMMON GOOD.  We become collectors and not protectors.  Compassion is sacrificed on the altar of consumption.  Christ calls us to weigh the cost of our possessions.  Do our possessions hinder our love for the other?  Do my "toys" shield me from generosity?  Doing the COMMON GOOD means shedding whatever stifles our doing justice.

THE SOUND EYE: What do we look at?  When we enter the Internet world, what sites do we visit?  When we go to a book store, what books do we lift to look?  As we walk through a mall, what stores do we enter?  When we watch television, what programs grab our attention?  How well could we do our jobs if our sight was impaired?  Most of what we learn happens through our eyes.  Our eyes are our life receptors.  Our eyes can nurture or poison our spirit.  We can choose what we look at.  Will we look at the hungry, the poor, the persecuted?  Will we look at the realities of life rather than be obsessed by entertainment visuals?  What is our visual balance?  Do we see the cross of Jesus in daily life?  Do we see the joys of life that beckon us to participate?  How we use our eyes reflects the COMMON GOOD.

TWO MASTERS: "You cannot serve God and wealth."  Serving the COMMON GOOD means putting wealth towards serving people's well-being.  Too often the focus is on profit before people.  People are the means for profit.  Profit means another home in the Hampton's, or southern France or Aspen, Colorado. It means a car elevator.  Focus on wealth creates them and us, I have and you don't. Focus on wealth creates power in the hands of the few, leading to oligarchy, plutocracy, and fascism, all which lead to despotism and oppression, poverty and injustice.  Wealth is created for everyone, to be shared, to provide enough for all, to lift-up equality and opportunity, to ensure quality health care, to educate, to nurture joyous living.  To serve God is to share the wealth.  Sharing the wealth is serving the COMMON GOOD.

WORRY NOT: If I am hungry, I will worry.  If I am about to lose my home, I will worry.  If my country is invaded, I will worry.  If I have cancer, I will worry.  We are human, we will worry.  The worry that Jesus is talking about is worry that crushes our faith, crushes our worship, crushes our efforts to make real the Kingdom of God, crushes our compassion, crushes our quest for justice and peace, crushes our engaging the challenges of today, crushes our hope, crushes our love.  It is Christ that gives us the grace to live each day to the fullest, in the midst of the shadows, among the cries of life, doing what we can because we know we are loved.  The act of pressing on gives witness to the COMMON GOOD, because we never give up, we are persistent, we have an audacity for life, today.  Out of the grace of God, we create the COMMON GOOD by our commitment to living fully for others, now.



Monday, November 19, 2012


What is the COMMON GOOD? Last week the focus was on Genesis 1-11.  This week the focus is on Jesus' SERMON ON THE MOUNT in Matthew 5.

It is right to focus on the COMMON GOOD as God-Jesus' foundational ethic because the Divine is about ALL.  Justice - peace - nonviolence are for ALL. As we are created for God-Jesus, so are we created to be brothers and sisters for each other, for ALL.  Faithfulness to God-Jesus means peace-justice-nonviolence towards ALL.  What does this mean concretely?  How can the quest for doing the COMMON GOOD become real? 

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

1.  Jesus takes the INITIATIVE to speak to the people.  Do we take the initiative to speak a word of hope and love? 

2.  Jesus begins with a word of grace: BLESSED.  Some say HAPPY, but BLESSED has more depth. BLESSED is God's goodness, God's character given to us at the beginning.  Why at the beginning?  Because we can now start the journey of discipleship fresh, forgiven, and free!  BLESSED is God giving the initial push, providing the initeria for continual movement of PJNV (peace-justice-nonviolence).  A basic law of physics says that a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  God-Jesus desires us to stay in motion for PJNV.

3.  We are BLESSED to provide for the COMMON GOOD.  We provide when we MOURN, are MEEK, HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, show MERCY, are PURE IN HEART, make for PEACE, accept PERSECUTION for God's sake.  To mourn is to show empathy.  To be meek is to be obedient to God's will and to listen to the other side.  To be passionate for righteousness is to seek to live rightly in our relationship with God and value relationship with each other.  To show mercy is to be kind and forgiving.  To be pure in heart is to love God, love each other, and love ourselves. To accept persecution is to give all for God and others in the pursuit of PJNV.

4.  Christ says: "You are the salt of the earth."  Salt gives flavor and provides taste to make eating more delightful.  Salt also preserves.  We are to preserve God's creation, all of life.  We are created to bring delight to life, not to destroy.  We cannot escape responsibility for life!  We are told: "We are...."  It is not a matter of us choosing to be responsible, WE ARE....  So, BE the LIGHT!

5.  Jesus says: "You are the light of the world."  God wills that we see the world, see each other.  To see is to understand, to acknowledge the value of the world, to bring PJNV.  "The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light."  The Light is Christ.  We are created to be the presence of Christ, to reflect Christ's Light.  We reflect Christ's Light as we be who we are created to be, as we use our talents for Christ's sake.  As a colleague once said: "Things left in the dark get worse."

6.  We are graced and called to FULFILL THE LAW.  God-Jesus give us guides, parameters for living, for discipleship.  The Ten Commandments are a piece of the Law.  We are to honor them, look to them, make them real in our daily living.  Yet Christ gives us the Greatest Commandment to guide us: love God, love each other, love ourselves.  

7.  We are given the gifts of FORGIVENESS and RECONCILIATION.  Christ came to mend our brokenness, and we are graced and called to be "menders" of personal and global relationships.  PJNV have their roots in forgiveness and reconciliation.  Indeed, there can be no PJNV apart from their reality.

8.  We are given the gift of HONORING MARRIAGE, respecting the commitments we make to our spouse, working to enhance the quality of the marriage relationship, being generous in forgiveness, honest in feelings, open in truthfulness, being willing to repent and change.

9.  We are given the reality of COSTLY PRICE.  There is a price to pay, a painful cost when relationships are broken.  Relationships are not to be taken lightly.  Share the suffering.  Risk sharing the price of brokenness.  When one suffers, all suffer.  Recognizing there is a costly price in relationships makes us more cognizant of commitment, and a willingness to try and work out differences.  Yet, when the flames of love are out and the reality of the end is clear, let us realize that we have injured each other and kneel for mercy from God and each other.  There is no room for pride and satisfaction, but a painful good-bye in hope of new life for each other.

10.  We are called to be TRUTHFUL and CLEAR.  Resolution to conflict necessitates clarity of motive, expression of grievance and of desired ends.  Put all on the table.  Be honest.

11.  Reject RETALIATION.  Retaliation brings only retaliation brings only retaliation brings only retaliation.  To paraphrase Gandhi: "An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind."  Instead of retaliation, RESPOND with a call for conversation, a coming together to eat and drink, tell our stories, share our grievances.  A Native American colleague says: "Transformation comes through sharing our stories."  Take violence off the table.  Make the other person feel the guilt and bear the sorrow of violence. 

12.  We are graced and called to LOVE THE ENEMY.  The enemy is the one who believes differently than us and acts counter to our beliefs and values.  Spend time with the enemy, try to become friends.  As Lincoln said to his Secretary of War who wanted to punish the South: "Do we not destroy our enemies by becoming their friends?"

Making REAL the COMMON GOOD is living in the grace of God.  The grace of God empowers us, calls us, and opens us to DO the COMMON GOOD.  In Matthew 5, Jesus gets specific about how to make the common good come alive.

And there is more....



Sunday, November 11, 2012


Much has been said and written about the COMMON GOOD.  I have been having a FACEBOOK conversation with friends about the COMMON GOOD.  What is the COMMON GOOD?  For me, the wide-ranging answer begins with the Holy Bible. Future blogs will focus on a Biblical revelation of the COMMON GOOD. I invite your comments to the conversation.

The COMMON GOOD is about God creating the world and being very pleased with the result. Chaos ruled before creation.  God created order to tame chaos.  Out of creative order evolved light, sun, moon, plants, water, animals, land, and human beings in the Image of God, male and female.
"And God saw that it was good."

The Biblical word for the place of creation, Eden, was SHALOM, meaning harmony and balance.  Eden and creation were not about war or competition, but living together, co-existing in a oneness of relationship.  Creation is described as being a GARDEN.  Gardens are places of sowing, growing, and harvesting.  Gardens are quiet places which teach patience and need tending.  People are to do the tending.  Hence, within this Eden, human beings were to have "dominion" over everything.  To have dominion is to be "care-givers," not exploiters for our pleasure or progress.    

Human beings were to live in relationship.  We were created for each other so each person would not be alone.  The Image of God is characterized by people living for the other in a relationship of naked trust, meaning no secrets, but transparency.

But we are not to simply do what we want to satisfy our curiosity or feed our appetites.  We are accountable to God.  We are to listen to God and obey God's Word to us.  We have a will, but it is a will bound to obedience which we all too frequently violate.  We tempt each other to violate God's will for us.

The story of Cain and Abel teaches us that we murder or snuff-out life because of jealousy or for what seems reasonable and right at the moment.  We learn that "Yes, we are our brothers and sisters keepers."  We learn that families are indeed imperfect, even families growing up within God's Voice.

Noah teaches us to obey God's Word if we want to survive.  Noah didn't take life, but protected life to insure its longevity. God is pro-life!  Animals are precious gifts.  God wants us to insure the natural world against extinction.  Again, we are the caretakers.  We are accountable to God, to the preservation of life.  Noah also teaches the universality of God's world.  Noah's off-spring populated the world.  We are all related!  All brothers and sisters!  No one is a stranger.

The Tower of Babel teaches us that God's Truth is global in purpose and understanding.  The Tower  teaches us that building towers in commemoration of our egos are gravestones.  The Tower teaches that pride divides and scatters, and is anathema to community.

So what is the COMMON GOOD according to Genesis 1-11? Harmony and balance, living together, caring for creation, valuing relationship, trust and transparency, recognizing that yes we are each others' brothers and sisters keepers, killing is counter to God's will, all the diverse cultures make-up our global family, each equal, welcome all people, celebrate all languages, learn from each other, live for the life of the other.  The COMMON GOOD is trusting that God's grace leads us into the future and we are called to obedience.

The validity of the COMMON GOOD as revealed in the first eleven chapters of Genesis is not lessened by the critical argument that these chapters are only literary creations, borrowed from other traditions.  They reveal THEOLOGICAL TRUTHS validated by God's grace and received in faith. 
Similarly, the COMMON GOOD is given by God's grace which we receive through faith.  Grace and faith define the character and reality of the COMMON GOOD.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Fork in the Road

Our nation is at a fork in the road.  This election cycle will dictate a significant philosophical direction for years to come.  Given the blurring of issues and numerous nuances and shadings offered up by each party and candidates, if we look at the balance we can notice the differences.

THE LEFT FORK:  Committed to maintaining the social safety nets of Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, keeping the Affordable Care Act and a lengthier unemployment support.  Support stem cell research.  Increase taxes on the upper 1-2% and lower taxes for the rest of us, including lessening of corporate rate.  Tax capital gains and eliminate off-shore tax shelters.  Address deficit through a balanced tax and cut method.  Cut defense so to address present day military needs, focusing on Special Forces and smaller strike units. Commitment to energy independence through development of alternative forms of energy such as solar and wind, while also developing new oil sources and "clean coal".  Support for truth of Global Warming.  Support for Planned Parenthood and women's choice on abortion are strong, as well as promotion and enforcement of the Lilly Ledbetter - equal pay for equal work act.  Tweak Social Security by increasing the income eligibility ceiling and perhaps increasing the eligibility age.  Do not privatize Social Security. Spend more on infrastructure development and education.  Internationally, work with other nations through the United Nations and Eurozone.  Get out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 yet continue to train Afghan forces.  Maintain strong relationship with Israel yet push for a two state solution.  Prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  Continue global trade.  Push through Dodd-Frank Reforms.  Support for gay marriage.  Repeal Citizens United disaster!  Everyone should get a fair shot at success.  Build the middle class.  More concern for the common good and sharing the wealth.  Support for education and expanding Pell Grants.  Opposed to voter ID/suppression methods.  Believes in Keynesnian economics which more trickle up, middle out economics.  Supportive of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

THE RIGHT FORK:  Tax cuts for everyone!  Increase military spending.  Lower corporate tax rate.  Eliminate some deductions (everyone gets a bucket to fill with their choice deductions).  Begin cutting back on Medicaid and food stamps by turning them over to the states through block grants.  No change in Medicare for those 55 and over.  Begin turning Medicare into a voucher program, giving recipients a choice of coverage.  Energy policy is "drill, baby, drill!" Continue developing coal with no conversation about "clean coal."  No support for Global Warming idea.  Lessen regulations for business and Wall Street.  Eliminate coverage for Planned Parenthood and NPR.  Oppose stem cell research. Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  No support for abortion.  Will move to overturn Roe v. Wade.   No marriage for gays.  Support Citizens United.  Anti-Lilly Ledbetter Act and will move to repeal.  Let the markets decide the welfare of the nation.  Maintain off-shore tax shelters. People left more on their own.  Strong Libertarian leanings. Supportive of voter ID/suppression methods.  Don't touch the upper 1%.  Believe in trickle down, supply side economics - Friedmann and University of Chicago economics.

Certainly, there are Christians on both sides.  Yet, I ask some good Lutheran questions in making a decision about which fork to travel: Which is best for everyone?  What will serve the common good? Which serves the poor and oppressed with the most compassion?  Which says we are our brothers and sisters keepers?  Whose interest is this supporting?  Who will benefit if this proposal is implemented?  Which will allow humans and the earth to flourish?  Which shows concern for the earth?  Which would please God?  Which reflects the Spirit of Christ?

I'm turning left!



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tyranny of the Right
Democracy in the United States is in peril.  The peril comes from the Right Wing Republican Party. For a party that espouses less government, less intrusive government, less expensive government so that people can have more freedom, all as the panacea for the ills within our nation, their actions actually create more intrusion, more poverty, and more division between the rich and most vulnerable, and less freedom.  Tyranny on the Right means fewer people have more power to take more for themselves at the expense of the other 98%.  Concern for the common good is not even on the table.

Let me count the ways. 

1.  It is the Republicans who have unanimously pushed unfair Voter ID laws which will disenfranchise millions of voters who have honestly voted in the past.  ALL the Voter ID laws have been created by Republican leadership without Democrat in-put.  A multitude of studies have consistently proven that voter impersonation, voter fraud is a canard, a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, where the purpose is to suppress Democrat votes.  Remember the Pennsylvania legislator who was caught on camera boasting that because of their new Voter ID Law, Romney would now win Pennsylvania. Now that's what I call real democracy!  Tyranny of the Right.

2.  The Republican tax plan calls for less taxes for the top 2% and increased taxes for the rest of us.  This is the Ryan budget which Romney says is the plan he believes is right for America.  Why?  So the "job creators" can create more jobs!  Well, tell me, how are those Bush tax cits working for you?  Aren't the "job creators" doing a great job for you by creating jobs overseas?  And how about middle class wages shrinking or staying level while the wages of the top 2% soaring to the moon?  How is that working for you?  How about the RWR wanting to eliminate even more regulations on banks and Wall Street?  How has that worked for us since the elimination of Glas-Steagall in 1999?  Forget about any conversation about opposition to "banks too big to fail."   How do you like American democracy becoming an oligarchy and plutocracy?  Who has the political power?  Tyranny of the Right.

3.  The Citizens United decision ceded the power of the government to the highest bidder.  The wealthy are the connected.  Power now belongs to the corporate boardroom, the big banks, the wealthy lobbyists.  Money controls the media and the message so the wealthy and powerful can shape a protective and deceptive message of "liberty and justice for all" while they pull the levers of greed and relegate the 98% to being pawns or puppets.  Tyranny of the Right.

4.  Romney chose as his running mate the person who: voted against equal pay for equal work, wants to slash food stamps, eliminate access to abortion care, speaks against birth control, wants to defund Planned Parenthood, cut Medicaid spending by $700 billion over ten years, increase defense spending, turn the highly successful Medicare program into a voucher system which will mean less quality health care, is against OSHA, spoke against the "Bring Jobs Home Act", is anti-union, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act which will cover tens of millions more people, wants to ban in-vitro fertilization, wants to privatize Social Security (2008) and sponsored Privatization of SS Bill in 1995, wants to cut or make deep cuts in Pell grants so fewer students can get low interest loans from the government and must instead go to private institutions and banks who will charge a higher interest rate.  Tyranny of the Right.

5. The Right Wing Republicans kowtow to big oil, big gas, big coal, all which increase our carbon footprint and stimulate global warming, for the sake of profit, yet putting the majority of Americans and people of the world at greater risk.  Tyranny of the Right.

6.  The Right Wing Republicans have taken pride in being the party of "No", preventing progressive ideas that would be more friendly to the middle and lower classes from becoming law.  Their purpose over the past four years has been to oppose Obama and put the nation at risk.  How's that for patriotism for a party that likes to wave the flag while in reality they spit on it behind your back.  They are not patriots, but tyrants, dressed in red, white, and blue.  Tyranny on the Right.

7.  The rights for women are seriously imperiled.  They want to overturn Roe v. Wade, cut funding for Planned Parenthood, cut funding for birth control, less health care for women and children.  Tyranny of the Right. 

8.  The Right Wing Republicans love of Jesus is belied by it disregard for the most vulnerable and neglect of the common good.  Even the Roman Catholic leadership derides Ryan's budget as being contrary to the ethic of Christ.  Meanwhile, John Hagee the Bigot of Texas, praises Republican principles.

9.  "Progressives are a cancer."  Paul Ryan.  Aren't there two parties in the United States?  Do you mean to say that progressives do not count for any good?  Only Republican ideology is valid?  Only one party?  Tyranny of the Right.

There is no talk of justice in the Right Wing Republican vocabulary.  I never hear the word in their speeches.  Only empty promises that are geared to protect the powerful and deceive the people.  Democracy in America is in peril.  Resist this tyranny!  Speak and act for justice!  Time is short.  

Peace with Justice!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Springsteen Inspiration!

I write listening to Bruce Springsteen's newest CD: "Wrecking Ball".  Great music even without Clarence and Danny and the full E Street Band.  The songs describe the present situation within the USA.  

I used the words to Bruce's first song "We Take Care of Our Own" for devotions at our latest Joint Peace with Justice meeting.  Describing the struggles of living today, each verse concludes with "We take care of our own, wherever this flag's flown, we take care of our own."  I linked it with Acts chapters 2 and 4 where Luke talks about Christians gathering and sharing for the common good.  I see it as more of a belief, a hope, a commitment we make as Americans, rather than as a political reality.  The political reality is that working together for the common good is nearly dead.  Instead we have special interests which heap loads of money upon politicians for influence.  But Springsteen holds out a hope that in our core, our Constitution, our ideals, our faith we do "take care of our own."  I like to believe that and will work towards that goal.  I believe this value is a central Christian ethic, with "our own" being everyone.

As you know, I was part of a group that had a teleconference with an aid from Michelle Bachmann's office.  As a result, I got a letter from Michelle saying "Thank you for taking the time...."  Then she said "I agree with you that the multi-faceted problem of poverty in America is one that must be addressed.  In 2011, 46.2 million people were counted as living below the poverty line, including 16 million children.  As you know, the federal government administers several large-scale assistance programs for the neediest among us.  However, it is also spending money at an unsustainable rate...."  

My interpretation is that because we cannot afford to keep spending, the neediest must pay the price so the "job creators" can keep producing jobs so the neediest can get their act together and get a real job and not be so much of a drain on the rest of us.  Protect and enable the "job creators" to provide opportunities for the rest of us.  Extend the Bush tax cuts, adopt the Ryan-Romney budget, privatize Medicare and Social Security, privatize prisons while the "owners" demand a 95% occupancy guarantee, expand defense spending, drill and frac, cut back on regulations for banks and Wall Street, refuse to prosecute banking and Wall Street thievery, allow banks to continue being "too big to fail", forget about global warming while we roast. 

I think this reality is the anti-thesis of Springsteen's "We take care of our own" and that of Christ.  This is not the way we "take care of our own."

A former Sky Ranch staff member, Mark Frickey, affixed on his Facebook a piece about THE AMERICAN PATRIOT'S BIBLE.  I haven't read it, but I catch the gist.  My guess is that it trumpets a Libertarian, individualistic, right-wing conservative, less government, less regulation, free market with no regulations, more military spending, you are on your own ideology.  Forget about the common good, but "rah, rah America!"

On the receptionist's desk in Rep. Bachmann's office were copies of the U.S. Constitution.  I picked one up because I helped pay for it.  I am often brought to tears when I read it, especially the first words: "We the people...."  I love the "We".  Yet, I feel it drifting away, no, being ripped away.  Why do I feel this Constitution is worth fighting for?  Because I think it goes a long way to freeing and calling us to "take care of our own."  Because it goes a long way in being consistent with the Christian ethic of the "common good."  Because I remember a revolution that produced its truth.  Because I remember an African-American woman, Barbara Jordan, standing delivering the keynote address at a Democrat Convention saying, "I am standing before you because of the Constitution."  Because even Ho Chi Minh copied parts of the Constitution for the constitution of Viet Nam. 

The theme song of Bruce's album is "Wrecking Ball".  One of the phrases is: "So if you've got the guts mister, yeah, if you've got the balls, if you think it's your time then step to the line and bring your wrecking ball.  Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you've got.  Bring on your wrecking ball."

Me think it is time to "bring on the wrecking ball" in order to "take care of our own."  Nonviolently, of course!



Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I was asked to participate in a teleconference with Rep. Michelle Bachmann this Thursday in her office.  Yes, THE Michelle Bachmann.  I have been pondering what to say as the participants have been informed that this is primarily a "listening session" on the part of the congresswoman.  

Rep. Bachmann is a former Wisconsin Synod Lutheran who now attends a nondenominational church. I have no doubt she is a sincere Christian who bends to the Far Right, think Tea Party, in her politics.  Yet, she is our representative who has a mouth and a following.  Thankfully, we live in a country that still has whiffs of democracy, meaning she still has to listen to her constituents, even those from the Far Left who happens to be an ELCA Lutheran.  What should I say?  I think it will be part sermon because I will speak as a Christian and we have common ground, and part policy comment.

First the sermon.  I will urge her to remember Romans 13:1-7.  Paul writes of the function of government as being "God's servant for our good."  There is a legitimate place for government, and that place is to provide for the common good.  The issue is not more or less government, but the proper duty of government to do its proper job for the sake of the good of the people.  Less government is not necessarily good government.  The government has a duty to "order" society in a manner insuring equal justice and opportunity for ALL.  Interestingly, Paul frames these verses with urgings to "love."  I would suggest that the duty of the government is to facilitate love for and among the people.  

I will lift-up sections of Acts 2 and 4.  The verses focus on the people of God gathering to pool their resources and share with each other according to need.  Call this socialism or in the words of Jose Miranda of Liberation Theology fame, COMMUNE-ISM!  God wills everyone to have enough to live. We all have a responsibility for each other.  Ayn Rand selfish individualism is contrary to the Spirit of Christ and the purpose of the Church.    

I will refer her to the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21.  This guy was a first century CEO who had done well.  He probably had a villa over-looking the Sea of Galilee and an early version of a yacht in his private harbor.  He was wondering what he was to do with his wonderfully abundant crops.  He decided to build new and larger barns to hold all of his wealth.  He decided to keep it for himself so he could "relax, eat, drink, and be merry."  Luke writes that God called him a "fool" and told him he was going to die that night, meaning he would not have any use for his new barns and wealth.  "So it is with those who store up for themselves but are not rich towards God."  To be rich towards God is to be generous towards the common good.  Unharnessed capitalism is anathema to God.  No one has the right to suck wealth and resources out of the world and leave the rest of us breathless.

I will speak of the "Blessings and Woes" in Luke 6:20-26.  The poor, the hungry, the weak are blessed. On the other side, the rich, the full, those who laugh are given the "woes."  In Luke's Sermon on the Plain, greed is not good.  The greedy are given the "woes."  Greed is the greatest sin in our society and is the prime reason for our economic disparity.

Finally, I will tell of Jesus' version of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.  Jesus is saying that the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the naked, the poor are "members of my family."  Jesus zings us with "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."  Jesus does not mean life to be a joust of survival of the fittest.  The faithful life is about caring for ALL.  People before profit.  Or, profit for people!

Then I will turn to policies.  I will urge her to support and improve on the Affordable Care Act.  The ACA is a strong yet incomplete step towards health care for ALL.  Don't waste time getting rid of it.  The vast majority of parents like being able to keep their children on their insurance until they turn 26. People like not having any pre-conditions eliminating them from coverage.  People like having no limits on coverage.  Seniors like the closing of the donut hole, giving them cheaper drugs.  I will urge her to support a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, to urge conversation with no pre-conditions, to halt settlements on the West Bank, to not blindly bow to the injustices committed by Israel against the Palestinians.  I will urge her to not privatize Social Security and not cut benefits because Social Security doesn't add one cent to our national debt.  Quit stealing from the Social Security Trust Fund.  I will urge her to improve on Medicare and health care reform by instituting the health care models of the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.  I will urge her to reject the Ryan-Romney budget because it unkindly and unjustly harms the middle and lower classes and makes the rich even richer.  I will urge her to support legislative humility, to work with those across the aisle, to compromise, to unite the best of our ideologies for the sake of the common good.

Pray for us.




Thursday, June 14, 2012

Recently, I was asked by the President of the local League of Women Voters to write a Biblical piece on the Voter ID Amendment which will be on the November ballot in Minnesota.  If passed, it will become part of our state constitution.  The LWV is adamantly opposed to the amendment.  Likewise, the St. Paul Area Synod in Assembly voted 2-1 to oppose the amendment.  The theological piece is part of the opposition argument.

The Response

Holy Scripture and Church practice provide guides for addressing voter rights.  The guides are value-based theological themes which can be related to political realities.  It is proper to make this relation- ship because Holy Scripture and the Church are given by God to guide and provide how Christians are to affect the world.  Christ came to transform the world, and the Church, the People of God, are called to make real this transformation.  It is called the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is the justice of God.  This is the practical application of Christian values to life.  What are some of the key theological themes which can inform our decision about justice in our voting procedures?

Holy Scripture places exceedingly high value on the value of the person, the dignity of the person, the civil and human rights of the person, the gifts of the person.  Paul writes of the Body of Christ.  Paul writes that we all are one in Jesus Christ. Jesus invites disciples to "Follow me."  We read of "showing no partiality."  Similarly, churches are called to welcome all into the fellowship.  The Gospel has an open door policy, an inclusive spirit.

Actions contrary to Christ';s Spirit of inclusion ought to be countered and rejected.  Examples are that of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, corporate-funded, right-wing organization which is pushing Voter ID laws in all 50 states.  The purpose is voter suppression.  The founder of ALEC says: "I don't want everyone to vote."  Voting is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.  Men and women have died for this right.  In our democracy, we ought to promote ways to rightly include eligible voters, not devise ways to exclude.

While having an open door policy, there is room for verification.  In the Book of Numbers, one of the reasons for the detailed census and collection of names was for the purpose of the military draft.  In the birth story, Mary and Joseph were to go to Bethlehem "to be enrolled", to register for the census and to be taxed.  Paul writes in Romans that one of the purposes of government is to ensure good order.  Verification is one way to insure good order.

Similarly, all churches have membership roles.  In order to vote you need to be a "verified" member of the congregation.  Usually, this means you need to be Baptized, have received Holy Communion, and have contributed financially to the ministry of the congregation.

Voting rightly needs verification.  It is proper that only citizens can vote.  Citizens have "skin in the game."  

Becoming a follower of Jesus must be easy.  When Jesus approached would-be disciples, he said, "Follow me."  He didn't ask them if they had a Ph.D. in theology.  Jumping through hoops is non-existent, other than to say "Yes." 

Joining a congregation is a matter of saying"Yes."  There may be classes, or the official letters of transfer, but the process is quite simple.

Voting ought to be easy, accessible, and respectful of time.  We need to eliminate barriers for those who may have physical, occupational, or mental limitations.  For many, for millions, the demand for a photo ID places an unfair burden on voting.  Many will be excluded due to the financial hardship of providing documentation.  Demanding restrictions so close to an election is exclusionary.  Some groups will be restricted because they are students, elderly, handicapped, homeless, or unemployed veterans, mostly because they may not have an up to date address on their voter ID card.  We must remember, voting is a right, guaranteed by the Constitution.

Honesty in relationships, factual integrity, speaking the truth in love are sentinel values in the Christian lifestyle.  Jesus is referred to as being "the Way, the Truth, the Life."  Jesus is critical of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Amos tells it like it is when he writes of the "three crimes and four" of various tribes and cities.  Prophets do not dodge the truth of what is happening.  Proverbs says, "Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence."  Congregational life is hyper-sensitive to people telling the truth.  The media is rightly quick to reveal the hypocrisy and deceit within the church.

In voting, overwhelmingly, accusations of voter fraud are a fraud.  The truth is scandalized.  In Minnesota, there is no evidence of voter impersonation.  Nationally, instances of voter fraud or voter impersonation are nearly zero.  This in comparison to estimates of the Brennen Center for Justice that nearly five million people may be disenfranchised by these voter ID/photo ID laws if enacted.  Ari Berman of THE NATION magazine says 11% of the eligible voters will be restricted or suppressed.  This voter ID/photo ID campaign is a canard, a solution in search of a problem.  The perpetrators of this  fraud are purposefully trying to deceive the public to suppress votes.

The Greatest Commandment says we are to love God, love the neighbor, and love ourselves.  The followers of Jesus are to serve "the least of these."  In the Book of Acts, chapters two and four, we read of the People of God pooling their resources so that everything they owned was held in common for the common good, to be shared each according to each others' need.  This is the ministry of the Church: to care for the stranger, to reach "beyond the walls" of the congregation into the community.  We are accountable to God and each other through our actions of love and justice.  Discipleship is commitment to the common good.  

Through voting we are exercising this accountability to the common good.  We vote for ourselves AND we vote for the betterment of all.  Voting is not just about ME, but about WE, about THEE.  To not vote means we do not care about ME or WE or THEE.  We owe each other our vote.  We owe our nation our vote.  To construct barriers to voting is unjust and counter to the spirit of the common good, counter to the Spirit of Scripture and Church practice.

Christians are called to be good citizens.  A good citizen votes.  Voting is a vital expression of our faithfulness.  When we vote we obey God's call to love each other and do justice.

Blessings and Peace!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pastor Dan's Sermon Supporting Marriage Equality

Recently, Rev. Dr. Dan Geslin, pastor of Sixth Avenue UCC in Denver, sent me a copy of his Mother's Day sermon in support of marriage equality.  He said to feel welcome to pass it on.  I think it is an exceptional Biblical conversation exploring the meandering history of Biblical marriage, and the difficulties one encounters when saying you "stand for Biblical marriage."  I commend Dan for his Biblical examination of the issue, the courage to preach it, and for permission to pass it on.  Thank you, Dan. You can read and enjoy Dan's sermon by going to: pastordan@sixthavenueucc.org.

Last Friday and Saturday, the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA voted to NOT support a Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. While grateful that the assembly voted to oppose the amendment, it needs to be said that Minnesota already has a state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.  So, our backsides were covered!  This being said, the tenor of the speeches was strongly in the spirit of equality and respect for loving marriage relationships.  The conversation was aided by the speech of Pastor Anita Hill, an ELCA pastor whose marriage several years ago was blessed in the church, causing a real stir.  She said (paraphrase): "I know we are all tired of dealing with this issue.  Frankly, so am I.  But marriage and love and relationship all go together in Christ." The vote was 2+ to 1 in favor of opposition to the amendment.

Finally, if you have a sermon or would like to write a piece for the Colorado Confession Blog, let me know and we'll make it happen.  The CC Blog is meant for everyone to share how each of us is moved by the spirit of the confession.  FEEL WELCOME!  Send it to: coloradoconfession316@gmail.com.

Blessings and Peace!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012


What good are resolutions?  Resolutions are decisions.  To decide is to act.  Resolutions are decisions to act.  This flow is consistent with the Gospel text from John where we read the call to "bear fruit or be cut down."

I am part of a committed group called the Joint Peace with Justice Committee.  We are sponsoring two resolutions and endorsing a third for our synod assembly to debate and vote upon.

The FIRST resolution calls upon congregations to provide the opportunity for youth to engage in prayerful, theological, and real conversation about issues relating to joining the military.  We believe the church has been neglectful in providing vocational guidance in this most life-altering decision. The JPJC would provide resources to congregations.

The SECOND resolution urges people to vote against a Voter ID Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Here again, the JPJC would provide resources for conversation and decision-making.

The THIRD resolution urges opposition to a proposed amendment to the state constitution stating that marriage is between one man and one woman.  This amendment would prevent gay marriage and perhaps civil unions. Again, resources will be provided.

Some say that resolutions are like blowing in the wind, signifying nothing, only words with no punch, producing little if any change.  Certainly, there is ample evidence of these truths. But there is also the positive side, the side that makes a difference.  What do resolutions do to "bear fruit"?

FIRST, resolutions create AWARENESS.  Call it consciousness raising.  Change happens only when we know the need for change.  Resolutions lift up, shine light, reveal a situation or problem.

SECOND, resolutions lay out the CASE for response.  Reasons are given as to why the issue is important to address.  Resolutions do the thinking and make the argument.  Resolutions area like teach-ins.

THIRD, resolutions CONNECT the Biblical Word with life issues.  Resolutions make clear that the Word is not only about God-Jesus-Holy Spirit and "spiritual things", but also about real life. Resolutions provide the theological backing for a real-life response.  The Church has a particular point of view.  The Church is Church only because of the Word.  Yet, the Church is in the world.  The connection needs to be made.  Resolutions go beyond personal opinion and engage us with ultimate God-in-life issues.

FOURTH, resolutions STIR the church. The church worships securely, comfortably within walls as the people sit and stand in unison.  Resolutions say there is an edge to the Christian life.  The Christian life is not simply about me, but we and they.  Resolutions make the Church twitch and become nervous, or angry, or excited, and step out of our comfort zones.

FIFTH, resolutions give the People of God the opportunity to VOICE their faith, their conscience, their opinions, their convictions.  People can go public and have "here I stand" moments!  The people can "preach" and make real the Priesthood of all believers.

SIXTH,  resolutions call us to ACT.  Resolutions call us to transform the world!  To act beyond the walls!  To make real the Reign of God, the Kingdom of God!  The Church is called to make a difference, to confront the status quo, to stand with the vulnerable, to feed the hungry, to protest injustice, to make for peace.

I think of the social statements of the various denominations.  Yes, I take issue with many; but there are also many I truly celebrate.  All of them probably arose from resolutions.  They are all attempts at giving witness to Christ in the world through the Church.  They are all calling the Church to be the Church in the world.  They all say that Christ has a stake in the world, and so do we as followers of Jesus.  Indeed, we are called to be living resolutions!

A colleague once said: "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."  Resolutions provide the calling and opportunity to stand for something, to stand together, to stand with others, to stand with Christ.

Have you ever authored a resolution?  Have you ever worked with a group to write a resolution?  Have  you ever spoken to a resolution?  Try it sometime!  Christ speaks and acts through us.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012


My interest in Native Americans began with John Wayne in the movie "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".  He played a near retired cavalry Colonel Nathan Brittles, riding out on one last campaign to settle down a tribe of Indians.  Then came the television series, "Rin Tin Tin" with the dog, a boy,  and Lt. Rip Masters, riding around trying to keep the peace while demanding the Indians "know their place."

Then came college.  As a student at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, I became active in a group who spent weekends on the Neegonee and White Earth Indian Reservations in north central Minnesota.  I worked not with savages who needed to be tamed, but a people in poverty, stripped of culture and dignity.

Over time as camp director for 17 years, I developed ministries with the Native American people on the Upper and Lower Sioux Reservations in Minnesota, The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and Pine Ridge in South Dakota.  At Sky Ranch, we were fortunate to have a Native American on our camp board, Joe Brown Thunder, who taught us the power and grace of the Talking Circle.  We developed an area called Villore', consisting of tee pee poles from South Dakota, poles used as part of a Columbus Day demonstration of genocide on the Augustana College campus in Sioux Falls.  In Villore' we told a part of the tragic story of this near annihilation of a people. Villore' means: Village of Reconciliation.  Also, thanks to the efforts of a staff member, Erik Evenson, we developed an area of camp known as Oyateyamni, meaning "One Circle People".

And now, I am working with a great group of people concerned about Native American justice.  We are part of the Joint Peace with Justice Committee of the two Twin Cities ELCA synods.  Recently, we sponsored a Council of Conversation, bringing together Native American and White leaders.  The purpose: TO GIVE VOICE TO ISSUES OF JUSTICE AND INJUSTICE WITHIN THE NATIVE AMERICAN AND SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES.

The theological foundations opening the council were: ""Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream", Amos; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied", Jesus; "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we all are one in Jesus Christ", Paul.

The Council of Conversation focused on the areas of: ISSUES, SOLUTIONS, PRIORITIES, and ACTION.  The methodology followed the Talking Circle or Talking Feather style: people sitting around a table, one person talks for a couple of minutes with no interruption or discussion, then the next, until all have spoken, uninterrupted.  The focus was on the dignity of every one's voice being heard and valued.

What did we learn?  ISSUES: About 50 were mentioned, with the dominant being poverty, racism, tribal council corruption, the need to learn the history of the people and what happened, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the need for education, equal justice under the law, and sovereignty.

SOLUTIONS: Learn the truth of what is happening, de-colonization, education, work with people already in the trenches, deal with corruption in tribal councils, fair allocation of casino money, fair employment practices on reservations, economic development on reservations, getting beyond POW feeling on reservations, fair wages for casino workers, teach truthful history, nurture spirituality.

PRIORITIES: Poverty, education, addressing tribal government, nurturing healthy people, directed funding, insuring genuine democracy.

ACTIONS: Develop grass roots leadership, form action team, have conversations on reservations to give more people voice, begin addressing PRIORITIES.

I recall two strong comments that seem to crystallize the morning: 1) When asked what happens to all the money generated by the casinos?  Jim Randolph, former Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals said, "You don't want to know."; 2) After a passionate plea, during which Curtis said, "I've had enough of seeing my people die", he said, "Truth is the new hate speech."

It was heartening that of the 25 people attending, 50% of us agreed to sit on the ACTION TEAM.  Now the real work begins.

I am grateful to people who have helped me move beyond John Wayne.

Blessings and Peace!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week Ethics

Holy Week is about costly grace.  Implied within the grace is the ethic.  If one desires to understand the character of Christian discipleship, the events of Holy Week are seminal. Initiated by Jesus, Christ's actions serve as models for the actions of obedient followers.

The Gospel of Luke is most appropriate for laying open Holy Week ethics, because it is the most socially conscious, justice oriented Gospel.  Furthermore, Luke is the dominant Biblical source for Liberation Theology, the theology which stresses social justice and societal transformation.

PALM SUNDAY: Some call this moment Passion Sunday, preferring to read the texts covering the events forthcoming: the cleansing of the Temple, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  However, Palm Sunday needs to stand by itself.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a stallion.  A donkey is a humble symbol, of an animal used by the common people for carrying loads and transportation, kind of like a pick-up truck or a car.  Roman generals and political figures rode on stallions to trumpet their  power and prestige, with a tinge of fearful respect.  Not Jesus.  The message is "I am with you.  I enter your life.  I share your burdens.  I understand the common life."

Jesus confronts the politically and religiously powerful on Palm Sunday.  Jesus does not avoid the powers.  Jesus accepts conflict as part of his faithfulness.  Jerusalem is  the center of religious and political power.  He has come to transform these powers with the power of love.  He is not  afraid.  He stands up for reforming the world.  Jesus enters the maw of the world.  It is like MLK, Jr. going to Washington, DC with a message of freedom, or Gandhi walking to the sea to pick-up a pinch of salt in defiance of unjust laws.  Jesus is not silent.  Jesus has courage.  What situations beg my courage? What places demand a visit from me?  Am I willing to accept conflict as part of my witness?  What people and places do I avoid, but which beg my response?

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE: Just as Luther believed the church needed reforming, so did Jesus believe the Temple needed reform.  Jesus directly confronted the religious elite and their practices.  The Kingdom of God is not about buying and selling your way into God's favor.  It is not about having levels of holiness.  It is not about specified holy places reserved for the professional holy men.  On the contrary, the Kingdom of God is about what Christ has done for us, about all people being welcome and included, about loving God and your neighbor, about all people being part of the priesthood of all believers, about holiness being God's gift for everyone, about all people being created in the Image of God, about equality before God.  Jesus came to reform and transform our relationship with God.  Jesus confronted the religious leadership and challenged long-standing religious practices with a new message of grace and welcome.  There are no more forbidden places in the Kingdom, no more hierarchy.  We are ONE.  How can I be a reformer?  What needs to be said to our church leaders?  What beliefs and practices of our Church need reforming?  What or whom do I need to denounce?  What or who needs my critical words?  How do I feel about being critical?  Am I an instrument of change?  How can I become God's instrument for renewal?

PAYING TAXES:  The religious elite try to manipulate Jesus into making a political error that would justify his being arrested and tried for breaking the tax laws.  They wanted to send the I.R.S after him for tax evasion!  Jesus' response?  A degree of taxation is appropriate for the functions of the state, and so is generosity to the poor, to the specific ministry of the church.  Share your wealth for the common good and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, and do not try to hoard all earnings for your own pleasures and needs.  Look outward to support wider responsibilities and needs.  Jesus linked the purpose of government with the building of the Kingdom of God.  Government has its proper place. Yet, Jesus also stressed our personal giving on behalf of Christ's ministry through the church, through each of us.  What can I say and do about our nation's tax code?  What is a fair tax?  What constitutes a "just budget"?  How can I hold the government accountable for who my/our tax money is spent?

THE WIDOW'S OFFERING: Jesus praises the generosity of the poor widow, contrasting her giving with the proportionally less giving of the wealthy.  If you have more, give more.  Be generous for the sake of the common good, that all may have enough.  Wealth is for the good of all.  Hoarding and greed are anathema to God and destructive to life.  Do I tithe?  How generous am I?  How generous is our congregation?

MAUNDY THURSDAY:  A time of service.  Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and gives us the Lord's Supper.  Jesus touches the dirtiest parts of the body.  The leader, the teacher, the preacher, the healer, the one whom people have come to see and hear, is now, again, the servant to the least parts. Then, the ultimate gift of himself in the bread and wine: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin."  Gifts.  For us.  For life.  For love.  Servant.  No shame.  All of us are worthy of grace.  How can we serve?  Who are the poor in our midst?  How can I serve my family?  Is my comfort zone too comfortable?  Is it time to break out of my comfort zone?

THE BETRAYAL:  The soldiers come to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus.  One of the disciples takes his sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest's slaves.  Jesus says, "No more of this."  "[And Jesus] touched his ear and healed him."  The Kingdom of God, the Reign of God is not about inflicting violence upon others, but accepting violence onto oneself.  How do I inflict violence?  What do I need to change?  Is my Christian witness violent?  How violent are my thoughts, words, and deeds?  Do I need Christ's healing of my heart?

THE ARREST OF JESUS:  Have I ever been arrested for my witness?  Is it about time to break the law?  Do I do enough to be arrested?

JESUS BEFORE THE COUNCIL, PILATE, AND HEROD:  If I were brought before religious and political leaders because of my criticism of some of their policies, what would I say?  Pick a policy that would be counter the religious and political status quo.  How would I defend my position?  Would I remain silent and let the chips fall where they fall?  When is it time to keep silent before authority, and when is it time to shout?  Who are the councils, the Pilates, the Herods of today?  What would I say to them?  

GOOD FRIDAY:  Death is good because it is not the end, only the door to life.  Jesus giving his life for us.  Our substitute.  I will take your place!  I will take your sin!  I will forgive you even before you ask!  I will welcome you into the Kingdom of God, simply because I love you.  Your burdens and past will not exile you from my Kingdom.  Be not afraid of death.  As I give myself for you, now you give yourself for others, for me.  For whom, for what, will I give my life?  Is my life faithfully purposeful?  Am I willing to incur the wrath of authority and suffer the consequences?  Am I willing to be crucified for Christ's sake?  I willing to forgive those who would do me harm?  Who do I need to forgive?

Holy Week is about costly grace.  Implied within the grace is the ethic.  Jesus' actions are vivid examples, models of God's love for us.  We can learn "how to" lessons of discipleship, ask deeper questions from Christ's most Holy Week, and be inspired to "do likewise."  Yet, underlying the practical modelling, is the greatness and gentleness of grace.  Discipleship is not easy.  It is this grace that frees us to faithful, obedient living.  It is God's grace in Jesus  through the Holy Spirit that guides and provides.  It is out of this grace that the Christ ethic bursts forth through each of us in surprisingly fresh ways, yielding to each day being one of endless days of endless Holy Weeks, making painfully real the Kingdom, the Reign of God.

Blessings and Peace!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life in a Toxic World

In a toxic world, we are created and called to GO TO GOD and COME TO JESUS.  The promise of God in Christ is that God/Jesus will  RESPOND, and the response will be life-giving.

"Toxic" has become a frequently used word to describe the condition of our politics, our church, and our world.  Gridlock in state and national politics, passage of Taliban-like laws relating to women's health, voter suppression laws, passage of right-to-work laws which harm the middle class and further stifle unions, corporate high-jacking of our electoral process, unemployment and foreclosures, poverty and racism, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, continual wars, rifts in the Church, and the list extends ad infinitude. Where do we find life and hope?

Our congregation's Lenten series focuses on Old Testament texts.  I was asked to preach on a text from the Book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 1-9.  This text provides life and hope through the rhythm of GOING TO GOD, COMING TO JESUS, and God RESPONDING.

The people of Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for decades.  Nearing Canaan, they encountered a Canaanite tribe and snakes.  Here's what happened and how life and hope surfaced.

1.  A Canaanite tribe attacked the People of Israel, killing some and taking others captive.  The Israelites CALLED OUT to God, asking that God deliver them, promising they would destroy them and their towns.  God said yes!  The Israelites were victorious!  I do not subscribe to the notion that God wills the killing of people.  Considering that the Book of Numbers was written hundreds of years after the occasion, Old Testament historians had a theological axe to grind, and tended to kowtow to the warrior god as doing the will of God in order to justify the invasion of Canaan and the settling into their new Promised Land.  Furthermore, there was considerable nationalistic hubris throughout the Exodus narrative, resulting in justification of invasion violence.  The larger point in this story is that the people of God CALLED OUT to God and God RESPONDED by giving them strength to act because God sides with the oppressed, the alien, the stranger, the abused, and God had a made the promise of a Land. God was assuring the People of God that they were not powerless, but powerful because of God's grace, that God would guide and provide for their new home.

We are created for action, to step-up, and stand-up in the face of unwarranted violence.  I recall what MLK, Jr. once said: "When your back ain't bent, nobody can ride you." The strong response to the Trayvon Martin tragedy is consistent with the action within these verses in Numbers.  Historically, the march from Selma to Montgomery which we celebrate this week, was a push-back against injustice.  Going to God and Coming to Jesus about these issues invites the action of God to transform the injustice into hope and life.  Similarly, our calling out, followed by God's response, ignites our further response. Today, we are left with the question of what parts of life need our push-back, our invoking the action of God?

2.  The people complained, CALLED OUT to God and Moses, because there was no water, no food, no food they liked.  Complaint is not lack of faith.  The prophets complained about the lack of justice. Job complained about his misfortunes. But in this text, complaint was linked with lack of faith, denial of God's grace, and disobedience.  They "spoke against God and Moses."  They had the integrity of their honesty.  It was perhaps natural that the people felt betrayed.  They had trusted Moses and God that they were to be led to a new home land, but with all this suffering?  But there was a breakdown in faith and they began to follow their own whims.  Therefore, God RESPONDED by sending snakes to bite and kill  them.  Here again, I do not subscribe to God sending snakes to kill people.  In the desert, snakes happen!  This is a metaphor based on reality, telling us that disobedience and turning against God is sinful.  Where there is sin there are pain, consequences, and accountability.  Sin is a fracture in relationship.  In the OT, the snake was a symbol of evil, lying, deceit, Satan, of the fracture in our relationship with God and each other.

David Brooks, editorial writer for the New York Times, recently wrote an article entitled: "The Monster Lurking in Our Souls".  He was writing in response to the tragic shooting of Afghanistan civilians by Staff Sargent Robert Bales.  Bales was a model soldier and husband.  But he snapped.  Brooks writes that all of us have our dark sides, quoting John Calvin, who believed that "babies came out depraved", G.K. Chesterton that "The doctrine of original sin is the only part of Christian theology that can be proved", and C.S. Lewis saying "There is no such thing as an ordinary person.  Each person you sit next to on the bus is capable of extraordinary horrors and extraordinary heroism."  Crying out to God, to Jesus, in confession is proper Christian discipline.  The People of Israel CALLED OUT to God in confession, and God RESPONDED in mercy.

Complaint is a valid response to many of life's rhythms.  Yet, while we complain, can we still bend our knees?  Can we chant our kyries in obedience?  Kyries invite God's merciful response.  Kyries sing our vulnerabilities.  Kyries express trust in God's grace in our powerlessness.  Complain, yes!  But complain and believe!

3.  Suffering from snake bites, the People of God CALLED OUT to God and Moses, confessing their sins, and asking God to remove the snakes from their midst.  God RESPONDED by promising that if they were bitten in the future, they were to look upon a bronze snake that Moses was to construct, and they would live.

It is important that our CALLING OUT be specific.  Why are we calling out, coming to Jesus?  It must be because of this and that, this person, that situation.  Calling out needs focus.  God wants us to acknowledge the truth within our hearts, so that in calling out, we too have "skin in the game", that God's response also commits us to response through God's grace.  Calling out is intercession involving the unity of God's action and our action.  Certainly, God can transform by God self, but we are God's faithful servants and called to be God's instruments.  As we call out to God, come to Jesus, we are also calling out ourselves.  Obedience to God couples with obedience to ourselves.

As we live in our toxic world, we are given the GRACE to CALL OUT to God, GO TO GOD, COME TO JESUS, in the confidence that God in Christ will RESPOND in ways that grant hope and life!  Living in our toxic world necessitates that we CALL OUT to God, because in our CALLING OUT, our GOING TO GOD, COMING TO JESUS, we are RESPONDING to God's grace, practicing obedience, living intentionally, straightening our backs to face the world, and insisting upon peace and justice, equality and dignity, with the strength of the promises of God's RESPONSE.  CALLING OUT takes faith, humility and courage, how God responds may not always be nice, the journey is fraught with hope and peril, suffering is on the table, and expectations may at times seem out of reach, but the Promised Land is real, we are beckoned, we are focused for discipleship, and life and hope are guaranteed!

We are created and called to GO TO GOD and COME TO JESUS!  In this is life in a toxic world!

Blessings and Peace!


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Theology Over Ideology

Christians are called to believe, think, and act THEOLOGICALLY.  Our theology is to shape our ideology, not the other way around. THEOLOGY is about living in and out of relationship with God, being shaped by God's grace to do God's will.  IDEOLOGY is about living in and out of political and social values shaped by culture, philosophy, and personal bias, for the purpose of doing our will.

I belong to an ecumenical progressive ministry called ISAIAH. Its purpose comes from Isaiah 58: to be a "repairer of the breach, a mender of cities."  Towards this end, ISAIAH is committed to addressing major issues such as education, budget, voter ID by impacting legislation through influencing our state legislators.  This means lobbying.  No, we don't bribe, get big bucks, or kickbacks!  We visit, have thoughtful conversation, listen, and share our views.

Recently, I was part of a lobbying team which visited two Republican legislators.  One visit was particularly illuminating.  We shared our views on an education proposal for equal access and opportunity for all.  Finally, the legislator said, "I have noticed that the proposals of the Joint Religious and Legislative Council (another progressive ecumenical ministry) and ISAIAH tend to be similar to the DFL ideology."

At this I jumped in, saying, "It is not about ideology, but theology.  I notice that you have a Bible on your lamp stand.  ISAIAH understands the Bible as God calling us to insure equal access, equal opportunity, equal justice for all people.  ISAIAH welcomes all people towards this effort, Republican and Democrat."  I also said, "Jesus takes sides.  Jesus wills that all people have enough for life, that there be dignity, access, opportunity, justice, and life for all." I tried to lift up THEOLOGY over IDEOLOGY, and to say that THEOLOGY must shape our IDEOLOGY, that THEOLOGY brings Christian folks together politically for the sake of the common good.

It was a time of witness as well as policy conversation.  The tone changed from confrontation to contemplation, from argument to listening, from IDEOLOGY to THEOLOGY.  In the end I felt a union of concern and spirit.  Will his votes change?  Yet, we witnessed, listened, and advocated.

At a recent ISAIAH training session, we focused on how to lobby, how to advocate, how to move the conversation beyond ideology to theology.  Part of the answer is to focus on VALUES.  Hence, we have developed GROUNDING QUESTIONS, asking: Will our leaders

1) CREATE racial equity in our state?
2) UNITE us rather that divide us?
3) CREATE prosperity for all rather than concentrating on wealth?
4) EXPAND participation and power in public decision making?
5) MOVE us from gridlock into working together creatively?

It is ISAIAH's belief that addressing the various issues of our time through asking these questions can lead to common ground for the common good.  Why? Because these questions are VALUE QUESTIONS which lead us to conversation about the state of our common humanity and what we can do together to provide for ALL.

I think these questions put THEOLOGY on the table, and direct the conversation towards actions which unite for justice and the common good, rather than create an IDEOLOGICAL barrier of gridlock and abuse of power.

THEOLOGY shapes IDEOLOGY.  The power of the Church is its THEOLOGY and reliance on the Word, in which Christ is proclaimed, who in turn transforms life and politics.


Ron Letnes

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lessons of Lent: Temptation or Obedience?

We have begun our Lenten Journey.  We are marked by the Cross of Jesus.  We are presented with the Lessons of Lent: Temptation or Obedience.

The Temptation Story in the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 presents us with two opposing choices:   God in Christ (OBEDIENCE), or Evil (Satan, Leviathan) (TEMPTATION).  Our response indicates how we will respond to today's challenges.

Obedience to the TEMPTATIONS of Evil-Satan-Leviathan are, according to Matthew: 1) Eating well, filling our bellies, enjoying a satisfying meal, becoming obese physically and personally; 2) Celebrity, doing magic to the applause of spectators, glorying in fame; 3) Power and wealth, political influence, villas by the sea, mansions beside the lake, private jets, and all the perks of position.

On the otherhand, OBEDIENCE to God and the Way of Christ are: 1) Food for the stomach, mind, and heart: FOOD OF THE WORD; 2) Refusal to focus life on fame and self-glory; 3) Choosing to worship God, to place God in Christ at the Center of life, trusting that God will guide and provide according to God's gracious will.

What follows this story is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  The Way of OBEDIENCE is the Way of the Sermon on the Mount.

OBEDIENCE to the Word, to God, to Christ, to the Cross calls us to compassion, empathy, justice, mercy, peacemaking, nonviolence, suffering for others, love of enemies, honoring marriage and relationship, inclusion, celebration of diversity, seeking reconciliation, forgiveness, generosity, prayer, humility, creation care, concern for the common good, and discipleship.

Yielding to TEMPTATION brings greed, profit at the expense of people, war, violence, abuse of power, self expression for the sake of self, waste of resources, environmental scourging, arrogance, abuse of bodies, racial and gender prejudice, economic inequality, neglect of the least of these, pre-occupation with pleasure to the exclusion of concern for the common good, and purposeful infliction of pain for the sake of self protection and love of power.

Specifically, the TEMPTATION side is exemplified by the rush to institute VOTER ID laws in order to exclude the votes of the most powerless and vulnerable.  RIGHT TO WORK laws will further depress the earning power and safety net of the middle class.  Prevention of GAY MARRIAGE will deny the civil rights of gender choice.  The TABOR amendment (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) will strangle budget and tax reform and funnel more money to the upper 1% to the detriment of support for education, infrastructure, and health care.  Intrusion into WOMEN'S HEALTH ISSUES such as contraception and abortion rights, through invasive procedures is a violation of privacy and the dignity of choice.  Further TAX-CUTTING for the upper 1% and failure to hold businesses financially accountable for OFF-SHORING their wealth, will lead to more education cuts,  infrastructure neglect, more unemployment, continued erosion of the middle class, and continued rise in poverty. Chipping away at OBAMACARE will prevent more people from receiving necessary health care.  Eliminating REGULATIONS and preventing the VOLCKER RULE from going into effect will further unplug the dam of careless speculation which led us into this economic hole.

TEMPTATION is about ABUSE OF POWER for the sake of the POWERFUL.  Temptation scraps the Sermon on the Mount.

Yes, we all yield to temptation.  Yes, we all have mixed records of obedience.  Yet, God's grace calls us  to yield to John the Baptist's call for repentance, and repentance opens us to obedience.  Again and again and again.  We can start over.

Lessons of Lent.


Ron Letnes

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bonhoeffer's Church of the Word

The focus of my last blog was Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.  I described the church using three adjectives: performance, production, and personality.  It was Christianity lite, a half-a-loaf blend of money, success, and material American culture, mixed with the spoken and musical Word.  No doubt spiritual needs were addressed and Christ was presented and celebrated.  But the depth of Christ and the Cross were shallow.  Here is where I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer helpful.

In his sermon on 28 May, 1933, delivered at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, Bonhoeffer focused on Exodus 32: 1-7, 9f, 15, 30-34.  He contrasted the Church of Aaron with the Church of Moses.

He describes the Church of Aaron, the PRIESTLY church thusly: 1) It is IMPATIENT.  We want visible results now because we are anxious, because we are fearful that God has forgotten us.  We refuse to live by God's time because our lives are in peril and we need reassurance NOW;  2) It is about ME.  Give me satisfaction.  Prove to me that God is alive.  Satisfy me.  Bless me.  Give me peace.  3) It demands SPLENDOR.  We want pizzaz!  We want lights and gold and sparkle and fashion and flowing robes and make-up and smoothness and comfort and ease and glory and positive feelings and cameras and....  Bonhoeffer writes: "Bring precious adornment, gold, jewellery, bring it as an offering.  And they will come, without exception.... The human race is ready for any sacrifice in which it may celebrate itself and worship its own work.... The church of Aaron is lavish with its god.... Who would want to stand aside from this pious joy, this unparalleled exuberance, this achievement of human will and ability?  The worldly church now has its god, come, celebrate him, enjoy yourselves, play, eat, drink, dance make merry, take yourselves out of yourselves!  You have a god again.... The worldly church celebrates its triumph, the priest has shown his power.... then the orgy begins." This is the church of the world.

The church of Moses, on the other hand, is a distinct contrast according to Bonhoeffer. It is the PROPHETIC church: 1) The church TREMBLES for the people because it is disturbed at their godlessness; 2) The church of Moses is a PROPHETIC CRITIQUE, sounding a discord amidst the glory and partying.  The church of Moses has notes of darkness, fear and threat at this idolatry of self glorification: "The living God has come among them, he rages against them." 3) Relief comes through the SUFFERING CHRIST who makes intercession for us, forgives us, in his Cross.

Bonhoeffer writes that the church is always the church of Aaron and the church of Moses "at the same time". There is a consistent tension between the "oughtness" of the church and its "isness", between its brokenness and its holiness, between its worldliness and its sanctification, between its PRIESTLY and PROPHETIC character, between its sinfulness and saintliness, between being guided by the Holy Spirit and by its own agenda, between success and obedience.

The Colorado Confession always poses the question: What does it mean to be the Church of Jesus Christ today?  May I suggest lessons from Lakewood and Bonhoeffer.  The Church of Jesus Christ: 1) Waits on God and refuses to yield to satisfying its own desires.  Our immediate satisfaction takes second place to patient waiting; 2)  Trusts that we are safely in the hands of Jesus at all times; 3) Places the Word in the center instead of pleasure; 4) Affirms faith before sight; 5)  Replaces glitz with the Cross; 6) Focuses on the Lordship of Jesus rather than the personality of the priest; 7) Defines success as suffering for others; 8) Allows itself to be consistently critiqued by the prophetic Word, embracing discord; 9) Replaces blessing with freedom.  Blessing is for me and freedom is for ALL; 10) Thee instead of me; 11) The Lord's Supper and Holy Baptism trump production, personality, and performance; 12) Commits itself to peace and justice for others through the Cross of Christ rather than worshipping at the altar of blessings for me; 13) Obedience before dancing; 14) Engages the world in the light of the cross rather the cross through the  darkness of the world; 15) Affirms  grace alone, faith alone, and Word alone, rather than glitz, success, and personality.

We of the Colorado Confession are presented with questions: What is the character of our congregations?  What church do we create by our words and deeds?  How do our congregations reflect Christ?  How relevant are Bonhoeffer's distinctions for the church today?

The church, the congregation, is the Body of Christ in the world.  This truth makes me shudder, but also gives me hope.