The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A private matter

A tall, nonfat latte with hazelnut, a good book and some alone time. Private time. I entered the coffee shop with a copy of Walter Wangerin’s latest book under my arm. I could almost taste the coffee, relish the comfort of an easy chair by the fireplace and the time I rarely spend quietly, reading. Opening the door, I flipped the book over so the title wouldn’t show — JESUS — in a tall uppercase font that occupied nearly half the book’s cover. No one needed to know. It was a private matter.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was about to repeat a process dating back two millennia. Like Peter, I would deny Jesus three times before fully understanding what had happened. There would be no cock crowing in 2006, but the process was as automatic, as insidious, as it had been when Jesus predicted it and Peter refused to accept the possibility. And Peter wept.

“At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ ” (Mark 14:72).

As coincidence would have it, the chapter I turned to that night in the coffee shop told the tale of Peter’s denial. It gave me cause to reflect on what I’d just done—and why. Isn’t it easy to deem something private to avoid public accountability? How strong is a faith that won’t stand up to public scrutiny? I felt ashamed. I didn’t weep or writhe in the dust the way Wangerin depicted Peter, but I spent a few moments taking a mental inventory of those around me, engrossed in their conversations and books and lattes. I turned the book over, propped it up on my lap for all to see and went back to reading.

Our sermon that week was on outreach and evangelizing our belief. The paragraph on the back of the weekly bulletin echoed those themes. If we are to live out our faith, the pastor said, we have only to go out into the world Christ-like, with a living faith. I was being reminded, over and over again, like Jesus to his “Rock”—yes, you will deny me.

“But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about’ ” (Mark 14:71).

A book under the arm is one thing, but a cross of ashes on the forehead is something else. Ash Wednesday was quickly upon us. I could attend an early morning service and endure a three-hour staff meeting with the mark of the cross emblazoned on my skull. This, in a corporate setting where words and thoughts are carefully meted out and sanitized so as not to offend. Or I could go to the evening service and avoid the entire situation — deny my faith yet again. That is, until we stopped briefly on the way home from the service at a grocery store and began to get — the look. Up and down the aisles, as if in slow motion, heads turning with brief puzzled glances toward the darkened bit of earth on my forehead that reminded me of the dust from which I came. A private matter.

“But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean’ ” (Mark 14:70).

I ended my journey through the book of Mark and the book of Wangerin in another early morning staff meeting. This time I brought JESUS with me, front cover facing up, and handed it to a friend in faith who sat beside me.

“Here’s the book I promised you,” I said, sensitive to the interest and shifting attention I provoked around the conference table. “It’s very good. I think you’ll enjoy it. I did.”

“Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ ” (John 21:17).

This week's front page features:

Global service has a ripple effect: Lutherans put to work leadership skills gained internationally. (Photo at right.)

'Sparky' Anderson: World Series manager and honorary Lutheran.

What's the future?  Identity and mission can lead to renewal.

Light side: Honest answers.

Also: Bach beyond words.

Also: On being Lutheran.

Also: What about unconditional love?

Check out these articles at our front page > > >

This week on our blog:

Amber Leberman blogs about having the plug pulled on her Internet connection, and how it forced her to remember the Sabbath.

Kathleen Kastilahn (right) writes about last week's World Water Day and those denied access to this necessity of life.

Julie Sevig blogs about her new favorite album. (Hint: It involves a monkey and a man in a yellow hat.)

Sonia Solomonson writes about the burdens caregivers carry and the blessings they provide family members.

This week in our discussion forums:

Most readers of The Lutheran will get their April issue in the mail this week. As we do every month, the staff of The Lutheran invites you to share your reactions to the issue in our discussion forums.

What did we do right this month? What stories inspired you? What did we cover that you'd like to see more of in the future?

What needs improvement? What stories did you skip? What did we cover that you'd like to see less of in the future?

Join the discussion > > >

Tell us! Why you stay, or why you’ve left …

Are you someone who has deep disagreements with the church and remain connected to it anyway? Tell us why. Or are you someone whose sharp disagreements with the church caused you to leave? Tell us why. This can be why you as an individual or family stay or left, or written from a congregational perspective.

Please send your 300- to 400-word responses to Julie Sevig by May 1.

Or respond on-line > > >

Looking for a speaker?

Is your congregation, synod or organization planning an event? Do you need a speaker? The staff members of The Lutheran would love to bring our perspectives to your organization.

We've traveled around the world, reporting on what's happening in the Lutheran church, and we keep our finger on the pulse of the ELCA in our daily work.

We've given sermons, participated in panels, led adult forums and prayer breakfasts, and given workshops.

Call us at (773) 380-2540 or e-mail us to find out how we might meet your needs.

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