The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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April 24, 2009

The end of the day

Yesterday I got home from work before my husband. Odd. Usually this train-commuter is in his sweats, making headway on the crossword when I come up the stairs about 6:15. But he wasn’t home then or at 6:30 or 6:45. I called his cell and he answered—on the train.

“There’s been a fatality,” he said. “We don’t know when they’ll have the tracks cleared.”

He walked in about 7:30. The passengers hadn’t been told what had happened. Just that the police had finished. “How was it on the train all that time?” I asked, wondering how restless the home-bound workers had gotten. I often hear about the noise, yakking on cell phones. About general grumpiness.

Not last night, my husband reported. No talking. No complaints. Silence.

Was it an accident, a driver impatient to cross the tracks and get on with her evening who maneuvered around the lowered signal bars? Or a suicide, someone darting in front of the powerful engine long past the time when breaks could be applied? Both happen.

The first thing my husband looked for in the paper this morning was the 2-inch story that would tell us. Not there. So much news isn’t printed anymore as the pages in our daily paper get ever fewer and the staff of reporters ever smaller.

I suspect other riders were looking, too, to learn more. Maybe even a name. In their silence last night, they had held vigil, of sorts, for someone whose life had come to the end of the day.

And today, this first beautiful gift of Chicago spring with temperatures in the 70s, there are family and friends sorrowing. There is no way to let them know, but the commuters last night cared.

God’s peace to all.

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March 20, 2009

Miracle at 6:44 a.m.

That’s the precise time of the vernal equinox occurred here in Chicago: Spring!

True, the temperatures are still in the 30s. But the sun is bright in the morning’s blue sky. The tree branches, the smallest ones, are thickened and dark red with promise of new leaf. And the first robin of the season has predictably perched on the edge of my office cube. (It’s a Beanie Baby named Early “born” March 20, 1997, at the height of that particular stuffed-animal craze, but a gift from a friend who shares my eagerness for spring.)

We’re taught in Sunday school that the rainbow is God’s sign of promise for care of us and all creation. And it’s such a popular symbol, starting right away with the crayon set. I admit when a real one appears, it’s always amazing, astonishing, powerful. Unexpected.

Spring isn’t like that. It’s so subtle it’s sometimes disguised in late snowflakes. But it is predictable. Anticipated. Expected. And that makes it a sign, too, of God’s promise for care of us and all creation.

The question is, do we participate in this care? There are signs. I read a story yesterday about a pastor in Gaithersburg, Md., who is leading her congregation, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church , in a “carbon fast” this Lent to call attention to environmental stewardship. A week after Easter, on Earth Day, the congregation will break ground for their garden where they’ll grow vegetables for a food pantry and their own use, too. “The fast is to prepare” for the garden, Pastor Sarah Scherschligt said. “More important than preparing the soil of the ground is preparing the soil of your heart.”

Spring. That’s actually what the Middle English word “Lent” means. I remember being surprised when I first learned this years ago. How ordinary. How understandable for God’s people who count on the promise of new life and who are called to prepare soil and soul.

Psalm 51:10 is my song of spring, my prayer for Lent: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

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February 27, 2009

Leaning into Lent

In the flurry of predictable, if not obligatory, articles about the start of Lent that appeared in newspapers this week was one that intrigued because it paired the traditional “giving up” practiced by Christians with the required “giving up” that our contracting economy has forced upon many Americans.

Adrianne Meier, vicar at Augustana Lutheran Church in Hobart, Ind., told the Post-Tribune that “...as people think about what they want to give up, they are thinking about what’s most important.” Excesses tend to stuff us—whether it’s too much cake or too many swipes with our credit card. And such indulging leaves us feeling fat.

But if not having enough to indulge pushes us past thinking about “giving up” to considering what’s core, what’s most important, then this already lean Lenten season may become one of real discovery.

How about you? In giving up, are you finding what’s most important?

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February 13, 2009

No church for Lincoln

Yesterday was Abraham Lincoln's 200the birthday, which got some press here in Illinois—mainly in the newspaper book section, as several historians makred the occasion with new tomes.

I read one of these Sunday, a review of Adam Gopnik's Angels and Ages, tracing the parallel lives of Lincoln and Charles Darwin who both were born Feb. 12, 1809. I was stopped in my perusal by this paragraph, a quote from Lincoln when he was attacked—in 1846 while running for Congress—for being a heathen:

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures: and I have never spoke with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular."

That was it. End of public discussion. Now compare this with the seemingly endless inquiries into the faith life and congregational affiliations of candidates for public office in the 2008 election. Makes me ask, Could Lincoln have been elected President in 2008?

It's all just a bit ironic to me, remembering my public grade-school days here in Illinois in the 1950s. We gave a nod to George Washington as "Father of Our Country," but it was Lincoln we loved. We carefully cut his craggy silhouette out of black construction paper and memorized the Gettysburg Address. We lived in the "Land of Lincoln" and were proud of it. He was our patriot. Our saint. But we never questioned his faith.




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February 6, 2009

'A man of Lutheran virtues'

That’s how Garrison Keillor described John Updike Wednesday in a column about the novelist who died last week. Read it all, but first guess just what Keillor—whose business, you could say, is built on knowing Lutheran virtues—listed.

OK, here’s Keillor’s list: “cheerful, hardworking, self-deprecating, ever grateful for opportunity.” Whether or not you know Updike and his books, do you think Keillor has it right with this summary of “Lutheran virtues?”
Would you add, or drop, something?

I’m remembering others who, like Keillor, describe themselves as appreciators of Updike and, particularly, as a man of faith. Stephen Paulson, writing our Easter feature in 2001 , takes off from a poem Updike wrote 41 years earlier, beginning his article on the Resurrection: “Leave it to John Updike to teach us something true about flesh—and the limits of his craft. In Seven Stanzas at Easter, he nearly leaves writing altogether to mount the pulpit and declare Jesus Christ’s victory over death.”

And Norman D. Kretzmann , Updike’s pastor who remembered that the writer told him he’d joined Clifton Lutheran Church in Marblehead, Mass., because it “nurtured the roots of faith he had grown up with in Pennsylvania.” It was at that church that Updike entered Seven Stanzas... in the congregation’s Religious Arts Festival and won the $100 top prize, which he donated back to the congregation. Sounds like something a “man of Lutheran virtues" would do, don’t you think.

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