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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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March 25, 2010

Heeding the signs

©istockphoto.com/nodmitry My body fat had a party after I stopped playing volleyball almost two years ago. In January, I began in earnest to send the partiers home. Some people look at me and say, “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.” My reply: “Thanks, but I see myself naked.”

I believe God sends us all signs that we need to start paying attention to our health. At my yearly physical my doctor told me that I “may want to do some aerobics in addition to yoga.” Your parents pull out their overflowing “weekly pill reminder” box (could that be me one day?). The Board of Pensions’ wellness test notes that your BMI is too high—as does the Wii (please stop saying “Uh-oh” when I step on the board). The tin lid won’t come off the can of Pirouette cookies (is someone telling me I don’t need this crème-filled, sugary deliciousness?). Or you have to lay on the bed to zip up your jeans.

But it’s up to us to pay attention to the signs. And it’s easy to ignore them, especially if exercising isn’t your thing. When I want to sleep in instead of exercising, I use this motivation: I pat my wiggly belly or stand in front of the mirror for a second. Yep, I see myself naked. Time to work out.

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June 9, 2009

Does Twitter work during worship?

You hear it often before meetings, cultural events and worship: Please turn off your cell phones. But some churches are urging worshipers to keep their phones on to “integrate text-messaging into their relationship with God.”

Bonnie Rochman writes in Time that people can text questions about the sermon that pastors will answer later. Or they can tweet in real time and hope another congregant will offer insight. Some use Twitter to take notes. At one church a pastor preaches while another taps out, “In what way do you feel the spirit of God moving within you?”

Parishioner Robbie McLaughlin—who is “caught up by the way it transformed how he worshiped”—likes to see what God is doing in other people’s lives during the service.

The Time article notes: “If worship is about creating community, Twitter is an undeniably useful tool. The trick is to not let the chatter overshadow the need for quiet reflection that spirituality requires.”

So, is Twitter a useful, way cool worship tool? Does it build community? And a relationship with God? Or should Twitter be turned off during worship?

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May 12, 2009

A little happiness

One co-worker had a day of phone calls that delivered distressing news of friends with health issues and job layoffs. Another friend made it through job cuts ... but had to tell co-workers they were being let go. The newspapers are filled with news of the recession, the flu epidemic, disasters, shootings, accidents and more. The Lutheran isn’t immune as the staff worries about circulation and ad sales while trying to keep the ELCA connected. But who is immune?

All so tiring ... and so easy to forget the good things in life and the blessings God gives us.

Chicago Tribune
columnist Mary Schmich has a solution to the “bad news funk”—a game she calls “What’s making you happy today?” Not “Are you happy?” which leaves room for “rumination, equivocation and existential dread. ... What’s making you happy today? is easier. It presumes that even the gloomiest days offer some hope and spark, and I have yet to meet anyone who can’t find an answer.” One person even thanked her for taking the time to ask, saying, “It is always nice to reflect on good things in your life.”

Schmich guarantees if you ask someone this question, you’ll both feel better. So “What’s making you happy today?”

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April 28, 2009

To give ...


or not to give electronically. An article in the Reading [Pa.] Eagle noted: “A sampling of Berks County churches and synagogues found only a handful that employ electronic giving, in which congregants can elect to have offerings deducted automatically from checking or savings accounts or charged to credit cards.”

But participation in electronic giving is low. For example, Trinity Lutheran Church, Reading, has used Thrivent Financial for Lutheran’s “Simply Giving” program for about five years. Six members signed up. Sue Rigby-Moore, Trinity’s financial administrative assistant, said: “I think of lot of our older members just feel more comfortable when they see their money go into the plate.”

I’ve also heard from some who like the symbolic gesture of placing their gift in the offering plate during worship.

The article mentioned the pros: it assures more stable and predictable offering, church staff don't have to collect and count money or make bank deposits, and members don’t have to worry about writing checks and keeping track of envelopes.

Any other positives/negatives to electronic giving?

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April 21, 2009

Got talent?


Susan Boyle’s
appearance on Britain’s Got Talent drew snickers until she started to sing ... and then wow. For most, the moral of the story is “Don’t judge a book by the cover.”

But Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich asked: “What if Susan Boyle couldn’t sing?” Her response: “She’d still be the kind of person some people avoid sitting next to on the bus. ... What’s the lesson? That we shouldn’t make fun of odd people because they might have talent?”

Schmich then tells about her sister who has struggled with a disability all her life but doesn’t have a  “dazzling talent. She can’t sing or dance. She paints and draws in ways that move me but elude the multitudes.” Her sister often feels “different.”

The column concludes: “The lesson I’d hope we take from Susan Boyle is that people deserve respect, however strange they are, even if they don’t have talent.”

I’d like to add to that: Respect all and don’t judge a person’s talent or gifts. After all, doesn’t God give everyone gifts and talents to share—even if they aren’t considered “normal”? Do you know such people?

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April 7, 2009

Hope in a jar?

It’s the opening of the baseball season, and along with that comes hope of a World Series—especially among Chicago Cubs fans who always think “this is the year.” Of course, some are just hoping spring will come so baseball can be played this year. But beyond the baseball season, the economy also seems to have elevated hope’s profile.

A Chicago Tribune article noted a cosmetic company that sells “hope in a jar” moisturizer, “hope in a jar with SPF,” “when hope is not enough” body scrub, and its new “eye hope” eye cream. Rohit Deshpande, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, said hope has long been used to market goods. He predicts the cosmetics line will enjoy strong sales, saying, “These are hard times, and we need hope more than ever.”

The article concludes: Seems that people will pay for “hope in a jar,” even though real hope is free.

This week Christians will hear “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Alleluia.” Too bad more people haven’t gotten the message that real hope is free.

What brings you hope in these tough economic times?

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March 17, 2009

To rant or not to rant


Mary Schmich, a favorite Chicago Tribune columnist, wrote: “Shut up and stop ranting. Please?”

She continues: “Rants about love. Rants about work. Rants against the parents. With surprising frequency, I hear these cell-phone screeds from strangers while walking innocently through a parking lot, pushing a cart through the grocery store or sitting in a coffeehouse, which is where I was the other day when I overheard another common type of bilious bellowing, the customer rant.”

After describing the rant, she asked: “Weren’t people once more embarrassed to rant in public? ... Apparently not. Ranting is now like extreme wrestling: the badder the better, and bring on the audience.”

She raised another interesting question: Are people just angrier than before or simply more technologically able to rant with an audience? And I would add “just angrier or more able to rant through e-mails, texting, Facebook, etc.”

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February 24, 2009

A tough question in tough times


Noting the “spiritual free fall” brought on by hard times, Cathleen Falsani. the religion correspondent at the Chicago Sun-Times , asked faith leaders what they tell people who “have lost their jobs, homes, tuition and sense of security.” Elizabeth Musselman, the ELCA campus pastor at the University of Chicago, was among the Protestant, Jewish, Muslim leaders who offered perspectives based on their tradition.

It’s a question that will probably be asked a lot this year. In fact, a friend recently e-mailed questioning her faith,  asking why “following the rules and being a good person” hasn’t led to a better life. She wondered if this was an “unrealistic sense of what life should be.”

My friend isn’t Lutheran by background. Given the different perspectives noted in the Sun-Times article, how does one answer such a question?

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February 17, 2009

A graceful way to say grace?


A “Dear Amy” question on “grace” left readers divided. A woman asked how to handle saying grace before Christmas dinner when guests include atheists and people of faith (at Thanksgiving, her boyfriend’s mother announced they would say a prayer). Amy advised tolerance: “When you host, you could start by saying, ‘We don’t say grace before meals, but if you would like to, you are welcome to.’ ... Your family has every right not to pray; sitting quietly if others choose to shouldn’t be too challenging. After all, as atheists you are voluntarily hosting Christmas dinner, which is, after all, a religious holiday.”

In January, a reader suggested “thankfuls”—her atheist family shares something for which they are thankful.

The discussion continued over two more columns, with comments such as “If someone doesn’t believe ‘in prayer,’ one should not feel obligated to accommodate it” and “Would devil worshipers insist their atheist or other believing friends join them in the meal prayer to their particular ‘God’?”

Divided indeed. Any thoughts?

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February 3, 2009

Help is a click away


In a 2007 blog,
I mentioned that I used to be a clicker on a lot of sites to support a cause (hunger, breast cancer, child health, literacy, rainforest, animal rescue). But I fell away from clicking—until I learned about freerice.com. That site’s advertisers donate 10 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Program for every vocabulary word you get right. But now I’ve gotten away from clicking on freerice.com.

With all the talk of economic downturns, recession, foreclosures, job losses, etc., it’s time to go back. And for those who don’t like vocabulary, the site has added subjects. On the homepage, just click on “change subjects.” There you’ll find art, language (see you if you remember words from your high school French, Spanish, German or Italian classes), chemistry, math and geography. Grammar has been added to the English category.

Isn’t it time to go back? The need is greater now and help is just a click away.

Don’t forget the ELCA World Hunger Appeal too.

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January 20, 2009

Faith and health

Is religion good for your health?

A study reported in the Annals of Epidemiology found that weekly churchgoers have a lower risk of death than those who never set foot inside a place of worship. Prayer and meditation seem to be associated with improved immune systems and fewer episodes of chronic inflammation. And people who identify themselves as more religious have lower rates of depression.

Another study published in Psychology and Health agrees. The survey of women 50 to 79 found that attending a weekly religious service, regardless of your faith, may lower the risk of death by 20 percent compared to people who don’t attend services.

The study’s lead author, Eliezer Schnall, didn’t say the prescription for good health is to attend religious services regularly. “I’m not saying our study yields such a prescription, but our findings are intriguing and we do at least have some ideas of why there is a benefit, but we have not completely explained it all,” he said.

So is church a healthy place? Is this a new evangelism tool: “Got church? Got health”?

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December 9, 2008

God's ad agency?

Saturday’s “For Better or Worse” cartoon showed Michael and his mother out shopping. Santa, toys and an elf could be seen in the store window displays.

Michael finally says: “If Christmas is more about God than Santa, how come people talk more about Santa than God?”

His mother replies: “God does less advertising.”

A little something to think about this Advent: Does God do less advertising or are not enough people advertising for God?

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December 2, 2008

Good from bad?

Roshelle Doty used to heap “video games, clothes, electronics, dolls and toys upon her children at Christmas.” This year she sat them down to explain the economy: “I told them this Christmas, they’ll get two gifts apiece. My kids usually can have whatever they want and desire, as long as their grades are up. This year, my budget is $50 per kid.”

Doty was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article on parents’ efforts to focus the holidays away from gifts due to the economy.

Chicago-based author Susan Smith Kuczmarski suggested that family outings this year should stress togetherness, not material items. She said: “Say, ‘Not having gifts doesn’t mean you don’t have love. We have love and each other, and that’s what matters.’ ”

Maybe some good things can come out of a recession. If gift-giving isn’t the focus, maybe people will use Advent to reflect more on the real gift we receive at Christmas?

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November 25, 2008

A must-have job?

This from Kiplinger : “A recent CNN poll finds that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe we’re likely facing a depression. Although most Americans would, of course, suffer in an economic depression, some careers should remain strong, maybe even bolstered by tough times.”

The top five "hot jobs in hard times" were accounting, education, the entertainment industry, utility companies and repairers (home, car, commercial and industrial).

And what might be good news for the church, No. 11 was “clergy.” Why? In tough times, people seek spiritual support. This news could help with a clergy shortage. How many might answer the call to an economy-safe job? But if times were good, would clergy make the list of the top 13 must-have jobs? When times are good, do people seek out clergy—or God—for spiritual support?

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November 11, 2008

What's at stake?

There’s still leftover Halloween candy and Thanksgiving is weeks away, but at my local mall Santa is already sitting on his throne.

The Chicago Tribune noted that Santa’s arrival is earlier than usual this year—by one week: “Thanksgiving falls later this year, creating fewer shopping days, so the mall wants to give consumers ample time to, well, consume, said Bonni Pear, a Woodfield spokeswoman.

The article continued: “Considering what’s at stake during the make-or-break holiday season, many merchants probably believe the big boy couldn’t get here fast enough.”

And I wonder, as Santa and the holiday merchandise seem to appear earlier and earlier each year, do people really know “what’s at stake”? Will their expectant waiting and preparation ever focus on Jesus?

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November 4, 2008

Seeing the light?

From Newsweek: Swedish advertiser Dag Soderberg decided the Bible lacked visual punch, so he developed the Bible Illuminated: The New Testament. The book juxtaposes glossy photos of modern imagery with Scripture. For example, Mark (“God says, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way’ “) runs with photos of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Angelina Jolie.

“It’s a kind of un-Bible approach to presenting the text,” said Philip Towner of the American Bible Society, which provided the book’s Good News translation. “The idea is to get the reader to move from the image to the text.”

Alea from a pop culture blog agrees: “I’m going to be upfront, I’ve never read the Bible but was instantly attracted to this approach. I think that this book can be a great tool to get people interested in reading the Bible, even if just to educate themselves to see what the Bible is all about. It’s very easily approachable.”

In Sweden, Bible Illuminated sold 30,000 copies last year. Newsweek says the book “might be a harder sell” in the U.S. You can see some of the images at www.illuminatedworld.com/. Think it will sell here?

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October 21, 2008

Balancing books

The Chicago Tribune ran a story about how schools are trying to find the right mix of books to keep students interested in reading. Since the percent of 17-year-olds who read nothing for pleasure has doubled during the past 20 years, educators are trying to balance the classics with works whose tone and theme are more accessible to today’s teenagers. They pair old novels with newer books or media—comparing “Romeo and Juliet” with a hip-hop song about unrequited love, for example.

A chart with the article shows the minutes spent reading per day.
Age 1-24: 7 minutes
Age 25-34: 9 minutes
Ages 35-44: 12 minutes
Age 45-54: 17 minutes
Age 55-64: 30 minutes
65 and older: 50 minutes

These numbers raise questions for the media—including The Lutheran : How can publications attract the younger generations who are the future readers? And what does this mean for the church? As the ELCA begins its Book of Faith initiative, how can it draw younger people into the study so they, too, “can become more familiar with the Bible as a source of truth in their lives”?

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October 14, 2008

Class dismissed?

Last Sunday, Incarnation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., started a Bible study as part of the ELCA’s Book of Faith initiative. The ELCA’s five-year emphasis is an effort to draw people into study so they can become more familiar with the Bible as a source of truth in their lives.

An article in the Shoreview [Minn.] Press began: “Most churches offer some type of Bible study course that can help people learn about the good book. A recent study conducted by the ELCA, however, found that few people actually attend those courses. ELCA research found that only 6 percent of its members are currently involved in Bible study and 47 percent have never been involved in a Bible study course.”

Luther Dale, a pastor of Incarnation, was quoted: “God speaks through the Bible to us today, it helps us understand who we are and how we can live.” He warns that it’s not a self-help book in the traditional sense, but “it confronts us as who we are as human beings and how God is related to us in this turbulent, sometimes nasty and wonderful world.”

If Bible study can provide such insight and the classes are being offered, I wonder: “Why aren’t there more people in class?”

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October 7, 2008

Stretching it?

I read in the Chicago Tribune that parents and religious leaders in Massena, N.Y., are upset that a public school district offered yoga instruction to students. They claimed it violates the separation of church and state.

Two high school teachers introduced yoga to students to relieve stress before exams. Students liked it, so teachers considered expanding the program to the district. But the board of education suspended the program after parents complained that yoga’s origins in Eastern spirituality and philosophy would improperly influence students. Colin Lucid, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, was quoted: “We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it, and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it.”

Quinn Kearney, a Chicago yoga instructor said the practice can be traced to multiple religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, but its roots are somewhat of a mystery. “For some, yoga is all about exercise; for others there is a strong philosophical and spiritual connection,” she said. “The beauty is, it’s whatever you make of it.”

Are they making too much of it in New York?

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September 23, 2008

Too casual?

Some people used to complain when the acolytes wore gym shoes. Wonder what they think about flip flops?

Churches aren’t immune in a world gone casual as tank tops, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts and shorts are appearing at worship. According to the Chicago Tribune : “Gone from most congregations are men in jackets and ties and shiny shoes. Women in heels and dresses—never mind hats—can be a rarity too. It’s a trend some clergy lament and others accept.”

Joseph McLoone, a priest in Chester, Pa., grudgingly accepts it. “Sunday has lost its sense of being a special day, and I think the clothes went with it. ... But I’m just happy they’re in church,” he said. (He noted that notions of proper church attire can vary according to income, age and ethnicity.)

But Joseph Ganiel, a priest in Ventnor, N.J., has had it with “tank tops and flip-flops and short shorts and naked navels.” Saying people should “dress in accord with the dignity of the mass,” he posts a summer dress code in the parish bulletin: “Casual wear is not appropriate for the joyful but formal atmosphere of worship.”

Is the Philadelphia woman who said, “I think God cares about what’s in your heart, not what you wear” right? Or are flip flops during worship a flop?

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