Category Archives: First United Lutheran Church

Life Among the Ruins

screen480x480I will admit that the past few days have left me with a mix of emotions from depression to anger and back again. Yesterday, it was anger mixed with just plain grouchiness. Plus I was stressed because I wasn’t getting enough work done due to (see above).

Then a wondrous thing happened. About forty young people arrived at church along with their teacher to learn about Lutherans. The  group was from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution. The class is “What Is Catholicism?” and is a requirement for all students. So it was a pretty mixed bag of Catholics and Protestants (no Lutherans, though). They were visiting various Christian churches and our place on the schedule followed a field trip to an Eastern Orthodox church.

Their teacher had emailed me earlier to confirm and had warned me that his class was feeling pretty upset by the election results, so we might want to deal somehow with that. So my colleague, Anders Peterson from Middle Circle, and I set up a space with a few candles and planned some songs and readings that we could use, depending on the needs of the group.

The students arrived with the kind of energy that only young college students have. Once we got them all settled in, we read a statement and call to action from The Charter for Compassion:

the invitation has arrived
to step into our courage
and our full humanitycharter_brand_transp_orange_medium
from this day forward
the harm can only unfold
and multiply and spread
with our silence
with our consent
with our participation
we will not be silent
we do not consent and
we will not participate
in legitimating violence, lies and division
the love that we are
the love that connects us all
the love that bends history
even in this dark moment 
towards liberation 
We are one 
we are many and
we are one
it is time 
dear friends 
the revolution of love
must be completed 
And it is only possible 
if on this day
we commit our lives 
to walking the hard road 
because there is now only one way forward 
So it was a good time of camaraderie and healing. But then it also became a real example of  how intrafaith conversations can work. I told my Lutheran faith story; Anders told his. Then we asked if the students had any questions. And they did.
For example, they wanted to know:
  • the process used in Christian-Jewish dialogues that led to repudiation of anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther and expressions of sorrow and repentance
  • the differences in Communion practices between Lutherans and other Christian churches – what kind of bread, for example
  • who was allowed to receive Communion
  • our understanding of baptism
  • why we don’t use the Nicene Creed (which is a First United decision, not a pan-Lutheran one)
  • could Lutheran ministers get married

There were many nods of agreement, but there were also a few exchanges of differences, for instance in the use of the Creed.

But it was all done with good will, curiosity, and respect. A real intrafaith encounter! It warmed my heart on an otherwise bleak day. People of differing backgrounds and practices coming together to learn about one another can only contribute to peace in the world.

A revolution of love! Yes!

peace_sign_button-rb0034827ad574947b408515573ac7bfd_x7j3i_8byvr_324

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Is Religious Diversity Making Us Less Religious?

imagesAccording to a recent article in the Christian Century (Sept. 28, 2016), one reason America has become less religious is our religious diversity.  It goes on to say:
Although religious pluralism is not necessarily the cause of declining religiosity, it does expose people to ideas and prices that challenge their faith. 

All I have to say is, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

The story of Elsie (see blog post from December, 2015) is a perfect illustration of the above quote – and further rationale for engaging in the intrafaith conversation.

This is not simply an interesting add-on to the work of ministry today. It is integral to the message we preach and preach, the mission we promote, and the church we want to become.

A big thanks to all of you who are reading the book in your churches and passing it along to friends.  Keep the movement going!

Not That Kind of Christian!

backto3It’s a tough time to be a Christian. More and more, we’re being forced to choose what kind of Christianity we shall be identified with. Evangelical, fundamentalist, progressive, traditional, conservative, liberal: the labels aren’t that simple.

In this presidential election campaign, a rift has split evangelical Christians. The candidacy of Donald Trump has required many evangelicals to do theological gymnastics to defend their candidate. Even after the release of the video which graphically revealed Trump’s ugly, misogynistic character, his defenders stood fast. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council, said Trump is “still the best candidate to reverse the downward spiral this nation is irotaten.”

But other evangelicals disagree. In a letter published on September 28 (so even before the video was made public), about 100 evangelical Christian leaders, including Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis, condemned Trump’s candidacy. Some snippets from “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump:
Wallis and AOS book, 2.jpgWe believe that racism strikes at the heart of the gospel; we believe that racial justice and reconciliation is at the core of the message of Jesus.
We believe the candidacy of Donald J. Trump has given voice to a movement that affirms racist elements in white culture – both explicit and implicit.
We . . . simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled.

Although I don’t agree with all of the theology expressed in the letter, what I like about it (besides its condemnation of Trump) is its unapologetic Christian witness. They clearly do make the disclaimer of “not that kind of Christian”:
A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of “evangelical” with mostly white, politically conservative, older men. We are not those evangelicals. The media’s narrow labels of our community perpetuate stereotypes, ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians.

But they also clearly say what kind of Christians they are. We progressives often fail to do that. We’re very good at saying “not that kind of Christian!” but not always so good about putting our beliefs out there. So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, here’s my declaration:

As a progressive Christian, I am a follower of Rabbi Jesus, who consistently taught that the realm of God is near, within us and around us. My role as a citizen of my community, country, and world is defined by the example of Jesus, which includes boundary-crossing, inclusivity, and prophetic witness in the face of oppression. It is also defined by the teachings of Jesus, which include compassion, forgiveness, and concern for the “least of these.”

I also believe in the mystical body of Christ, which I do not see as limited to Christianity. One might call this the Cosmic Christ, the Tao, the Universe, or Buddha Nature. In this body, in which all things are interconnected, there is no separation between divinity and humanity, humanity and the rest of creation, male and female, body and spirit, etc., etc. My connection to this great web of life is what gives me the inspiration and ability to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Therefore, as a progressive Christian, I cannot condone the misogynistic behaviors, the racist rhetoric, or unethical business practices of Donald Trump. I just can’t imagine what Jesus those evangelicals who continue to make excuses for him follow.

I am unapologetically (not arrogantly, exclusivistically, or obnoxiously) Christian – just  not that kind. 13722038_975213099262133_1521863844_n

 

 

 

 

9/11 and the INTRAfaith Conversation

img_1470I returned to the Jersey shore this summer. I hadn’t been there since 2001. In fact, I was in Ocean City on 9/11/2001. As I watched the towers fall on TV, I could see fighter planes and helicopters flying up the coast. It’s not something you forget. Of course, others have more horrific and tragic stories to tell. But for those of us who were old enough to be aware of what was happening at the time, we’ll always remember where we were on that day. And we should remember: those who died, their families, the first responders, the ongoing after-effects of trauma.alg-flag-jpg

But we should also remember other stories. In Ocean City – and I’m sure in many other
places as well – there was a run on American flags. A friend who was staying with me that week was determined to get a flag to hang off our balcony. I was conflicted about it. I didn’t want to hang a flag off my balcony; I’m not a big fan of flags in the first place. So I was quietly thrilled that every store was sold out.

I also remember overhearing conversations that included words like “rag-heads” and “towel-heads” and references to the Qur’an that were either completely false or taken out of context. The first hate crime reported as a result of 9/11 didn’t happen until the 15th, but the seeds were being sown.

I was due back in the pulpit on September 16. Obviously, I’d have to talk about 9/11. I decided to try to make the service a combination of remembrance, lamentation, and confession. The remembrance and lamentation parts were fairly easy to do, and there were lots of resources being sent out for use that Sunday.

But I was determined not to let us off the hook for our part in the rise of global terrorism. Simplistic answers to “Why do they hate us?” make my blood boil. “Because they hate our freedoms” isn’t an informed answer. We Americans are famous for our ignorance about history, geography, and geopolitical affairs. It takes only a scratch of the surface to find reasons for resentment of American arrogance throughout the world. Even our remembrances of 9/11 will usually neglect to mention the acts of violence and terrorism experienced by people of other countries each and every day.

Do I condone terrorism? Absolutely not. Do I understand it. Definitely yes.

So on that Sunday I tried to gently insert some reminders of our own American culpability. I don’t know how well I pulled it off. I do know that at the end of the service, one member asked if we could sing “God Bless America.” I didn’t handle it well. Following Nancy Reagan’s advice I “just said no.” Looking back, it would have been an opportunity to suggest singing “Finlandia” (“This Is My Song”). Here it is, sung by Joan Baez.

This is my song, O God of all the nations, joan_baez
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

So what will we do this Sunday? Will we have only remembrances and memorials? Or will we acknowledge the ongoing interfaith and intrafaith work we still have to do in knowing and understanding ourselves and our neighbors?

 

Pluralism Summer Week 10: Mark Carlson, Lutheran Office of Public Policy–CA

martin-luther-1No, our Pluralism Summer speaker this week is not Martin Luther! But as a Lutheran pastor, I would be remiss in neglecting the contribution of Luther to the subject of religion and politics. While his Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms may not seem to be the sexiest topic for a summer interfaith series,  in reality it was – and still – is a controversial subject. How many times have you heard (or said) that the church is no place to discuss politics? Well, Luther did draw a clear line between spiritual and secular authority and said that the two realms should never be confused.

The trouble is that his writings on the subject particularly in Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed have been interpreted in various ways. Critics claim that Luther paved the way,  not only for the secularisation of society but also for what would become the ideology of National Socialism in 20th century Germany.That’s a hard pill for a good Lutheran to swallow. And coupled with Luther’s unfortunate anti-Semitic writings, a double dose of history to be reconciled.

Fortunately, other interpretations have prevailed. David Lose, for example, currently president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, in an article entitled “The Ambidextrous God: Luther on Faith and Politics,” asserts that “Luther expects that we ask, not whether God is at work in the political institutions of our world, but rather, and always, how.” No unmoveable line between the two realms there.

19307_10203771415674714_8834993001436362622_nHaving heard from other traditions on the subject of the intersection of religion and politics, it is certainly appropriate to hear from someone working in both realms. In fact, it is an intrafaith conversation, since we’ve heard from other Christian traditions, such as Mennonites and Quakers. There are differences.

So Mark Carlson, director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy-CA in Sacramento, part of the political advocacy ministry of the ELCA, will be at First United this Sunday to take on the job of telling us how he sees God at work in the political institutions of our world.

Or not – and what we can do about it.


Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers. 
We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation. 

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

A few words about our service:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we believe that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome

Pluralism Summer Week Nine: Elaine Donlin Sensei, Buddhist Church of SF

elaineI’m happy to announce a return visit from Elaine Donlin of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, which is the oldest Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhist Church in America. Elaine is an ordained priest and a Minister’s Assistant and has been teaching the Essentials of Buddhism since 2008. She serves as Buddhist Community Clergy for several SF Hospitals, as well as, partners with the SF Zen Center to provide Meditation and Buddhism in the SF County Jails. She is also a founding member of the BCSF LGBTQQ group.

Elaine has become a good friend of First United. She and Rev. Ron Kobata were in attendance at our big anniversary celebration back in April. Elaine has also shared with me some resources she’s been using in intrafaith conversations in the Buddhist community.

I’m looking forward to hearing about how her practice informs her politics and her work in the world.
Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.

A few words about First United:
Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome!

 

Pluralism Summer Week 8: Society of Friends (Quaker)

laura headshotNext up in our summer of “religion and politics” is Laura Magnani from the Quaker tradition. Laura is director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program in California and has worked on criminal justice issues for over 35 years. She wrote “America’s First Penitentiary: A 200 Year Old Failure in 1990” and co-authored the AFSC publication, “Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System” in 2006. She is also a  nationally known expert on solitary confinement. We are honored to have her as a speaker in our summer series.

A few words about First United:effc5190d0f805a4130997d6703a5eef

Our 5:00 service is decidedly interspiritual. This means that, while we are rooted in the
Christian tradition, we beleive that  spirituality is at the heart of all the world religions. This shared spiritual heritage enables us to go beyond the differences in our theological beliefs and traditions. In other words: all are welcome!

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

We believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.