The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


October 21, 2009

It's been great

Yesterday I learned that I'm joining the ranks of the unemployed at the end of this month. Suddenly the term "Reduction In Force" has become very personal. There are so many reasons for falling circulation and shrinking ad dollars at our magazine as well as for many newspapers and magazines. So I'm not going into that here. The point of this blog is just to say thanks to all of you who have been partners with me and with the magazine(s) through the years.

I've been with The Lutheran for 22 years, 10 of those as managing editor and the last two as executive editor of The Little Lutheran (and only recently of The Little Christian ). It's been quite a ride. I've been privileged to interview amazing people who shared such stories of grace, ministry, love and God's activity in their lives. I've been privileged to bring to birth two children's magazines to let the youngest among us know how very deeply God loves them. I've been blessed to travel in places of the world that most people never see. I've listened. I've cried with people as they shared their stories. I've rejoiced with them. I've laughed. I've tried to give them hope. I've shared Christ's love with them. And I've tried to faithfully retell their stories so that you, the readers, would care. It's been an immense privilege to have done this for all these years. My life is enriched because of that. I am incredibly grateful to God for these years and for this opportunity.

Thanks to all of you, the readers. For without you, we would do none of this. Please continue to hold these magazines in prayer, that they may serve this church and serve you well too, dear readers. 

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October 14, 2009

Forgiveness is tough

Forgiveness really can be difficult. Even when we are able to forgive others, we often have difficulty forgiving ourselves. And some things are just more difficult to forgive than others. Does it feel to you as though forgiveness and grace are in short supply these days? Not just in our church and our congregations—but surely in our society? Yet we remain forgiven and beloved children of God, and that is how we're able to offer that same forgiveness to others.

Coming up on ABC-TV this coming Sunday, Oct. 18, and running through Dec. 13 (check your local listings) is a show that promises to be inspiring: Ready to Forgive: An African Story of Grace , hosted by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Illibagiza.  This movie tells the story of the Acholi people of Northern Uganda who during a 20-year war endured rape, torture and child abduction. But even more, it tells the story of the decision to forgive.

At The Lutheran, we have done many stories on forgiveness through the years. It's what we call a chocolate-cake recipe type of story (magazines don't just do one chocolate cake recipe and think they're done; they run them often, knowing how popular they are). Here's a small sampling of what we've done. Perhaps an article on this list will inspire you and move you off the dime if you're having trouble forgiving someone else or yourself. 

"Practicing forgiveness "

"Working through forgiveness "

"Forgiveness: Impossible practice "

"Discovering forgiveness "


"No way out "

Perhaps especially these days when there are many conversations throughout the church about what comes next after the August Churchwide Assembly decisions, we need to call each other back to the ground of grace and forgiveness so graciously given us. Surely we don't have to agree on whither the ELCA in order to live in the way of love and forgiveness that Jesus taught. Remember the 70s song, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love"? Really??? I pray we can show that love even in our most difficult times.

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August 12, 2009

God and gardens

An ELCA congregation made it into today's daily Religion News Service report. That caught my attention. RNS contains stories across denominations and faith groups. This one was about congregations turning to gardening—and for a variety of reasons. The lead of the story was from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Gaithersburg, Md. , where Sarah Scherschligt is an associate pastor. Prince of Peace now has tomatoes ready to be picked for a local food kitchen, basil that a member might use in home cooking, and green beans that can be eaten right off the stalk. As you can tell from the previous sentence, the congregation's vegetable garden serves many purposes. It's also great for the children. "Some kid in our congregation planted this seed in a little Dixie cup six months ago and then they come out and they see this is how things grow and this is how God works through nature," Scherschligt said.

Though the RNS report says this is a trend, Lutheran congregations have done this before. Consider whether yours may want to do something like this next year. Or are you already doing a garden? Here are a couple stories we've done in the past about congregational gardening:

"Garden ministry grows more than vegetables"

"Spring planting"

RNS said congregations consider this a way to connect with God, a way to emphasize a simpler life, a way to furnish food through food pantries to the hungry, a way to teach children the joys of creation, a way to literally "go green," and so much more. What are your gardening stories?

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July 1, 2009

A role to cherish

I'm the grandmother of eight. It's a role I cherish greatly. Each summer I plan something special with each grandchild—a day's adventure and an overnight. Perhaps it's a museum. Perhaps it's a zoo or an amusement park or some other venue. Sometimes, as we did last week, my grandchildren share an adventure with a cousin or sibling. My oldest grandson is 14 and still wants to do things with Grandma. We have years worth of memories of "Grandma Days." My youngest is nearly 3 so we have lots to look forward to yet. Last week I asked my grandchildren what had been their favorite experiences in the past years. It was fun to remember the places we've been and the things we've seen. But more fun yet to remember the laughs and shared memories.

These special "Grandma Days" are lots of fun. But they're more than fun. We get a chance to talk about lots of things. To connect about life, faith, what they want to do when they grow up, what they like about school and so much more.

The Lutheran has done many stories about grandparenting through the years. Be sure to check some of them out if you're a grandparent. Here are just a handful:

'Breaking open the God box'

Dealing with a role change

New resource for grandparents

Granddaddy's gift

Wangerin urges storytelling

Amazing grace for grandmas

For more simply do a search for grandparents or grandparenting on our Website .

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June 24, 2009

What's ahead?

Two weeks ago in its General Synod meeting our full-communion partner, the Reformed Church in America, called for "the orderly cessation" of its denominational publication, the Church Herald . It isn't yet clear what that means for that publication—how many more issues will its staff prepare—nor what that means for how news will be covered in the denomination.

In March the decision was made to cease the newsprint edition of United Church News because of skyrocketing costs. The United Church of Christ, another of our full-communion partners, plans to expand its online news portal and perhaps do a twice-a-year publication of some type.

We know what's happening with secular newspapers as well. Some are mere shadows of their former selves, just as are news magazines. And some are gone altogether.

What do we want to know about, both in our denominations and in our society? And how shall we get that news and information? So many questions. And at the moment, so few answers. 

Do you have any thoughts on this?

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June 17, 2009

The lost and least

I just attended my final ELCA synod assembly for this season. Another really good one. This was in the Grand Canyon Synod , and it met in Phoenix. What wonderful stories I heard once again of ministries. Since the theme was "Reaching the Lost, the Least, the Last and the Little" I heard many stories of ministries to those on the margins. As always happens, I return to my office recharged and filled with excitement about all the ministries occurring across this church. If you ever get down on the ELCA, just get out into the congregations and synods and listen to stories. God's story is intersecting with the stories and lives of so many across this church.

Hearing all these rich stories is one of the reasons I love being a journalist! How blessed am I to hear them. And I hope you are blessed each month as we retell many of these in The Lutheran too.

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June 10, 2009

Reaching out

Today I'll be in Phoenix setting up a display for The Lutheran , The Little Lutheran and The Little Christian at the Grand Canyon Synod Assembly , which begins Thursday. I am looking forward to meeting more of God's good people in that part of ELCA-land. The assembly theme is, "Reaching the Lost, the Least, the Last and the Little." I am really anxious to hear all the ways that theme will get unpacked. I know I'll once again hear about amazing ministries synodwide and in congregations. I'll talk to ELCA members with their own amazing life stories. And I'll return with lots of ideas for stories for our magazines.

These synod assemblies each have a flavor of their own. But they always mean great visits with the people who fill ELCA pews on Sundays. They mean good music, great worship, inspiring stories told. I am sure I'll return energized just as I did from the La Crosse Area Synod Assembly two weeks ago—and a month before that, the Northeastern Minnesota Synod Assembly .

One of the things I notice this year is that our difficult conversations as a church are becoming more respectful. They're no less difficult. We still find people across a continuum on matters of human sexuality, for example, including several at the far ends of the spectrum. But we can talk without demonizing and condemning. That is no small thing. When we see what can happen when firmly held beliefs cause us to see ourselves as righteous and justified and those with different beliefs as unChristian or worse, we must celebrate the fact that we can talk respectfully. The murder on Pentecost Sunday of Dr. George Tiller was just one example of an inabiity to have conversation.

I am grateful to be part of a church where the gray areas of life don't lead us to desperate actions such as what happened in Wichita. I'm grateful that we really can talk openly and honestly.


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June 4, 2009

Grace happens

Yesterday was my blog day but I didn't get it done. It was also deadline day for our July issue of The Lutheran. And the day just got away from me.

This will be short and sweet. But I can't let this chance go by without saying what an amazing time I had at the La Crosse Synod Assembly last weekend. The theme was "Grace Happens Here." And it did. But then doesn't grace happen everywhere? And we just miss so much by not paying attention to so much of our lives. The music, thanks to David Cherwien, was just what was needed at each particular time. So uplifting. So grounding. Bishop Jim Arends' leadership was superb and respectful during sometimes difficult conversations. I heard many stories and saw many displays about wonderful ministries within that synod. A fair. Prayer around the cross. Oh, so  many opportunities to be filled up. So I came home energized and filled. May all our synod assemblies do that for us!

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May 27, 2009

Memorial Day revisited

We've just noted another Memorial Day, a time to thank and think about those who serve and have served in our country's military forces. There are so many different ways across the country that this day is celebrated. The recognition of this day has its roots in the Civil War.

Very shortly after the April 1865 end to the Civil War, Ellen Call Long organized a women's memorial society as a way to reconcile embittered enemies. Groups emerged in the North and the South that memorialized the dead—and cared for the war's disabled as well as the widows and orphans that resulted from the Civil War. On June 22, 1865 women adopted a document of resolutions that read in part:

"The object of this meeting is to initiate a Memorial Association ... that shall perpetuate in an honorable manner the memory of the gallant dead....

"We are ... willing to do all that women can do to stem the tide of bitterness ... and angry feelings .... We will practice and teach forbearance and patience, which must finally bring peace and justice...."

It is said that in 1866 Henry Welles , a drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., suggested shops in that town close for one day to honor the soldiers killed in the Civil War who were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. Then in 1868 Maj. Gen. John A. Logan established Decoration Day on May 30 so the nation could decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. 

Like so many things, this day began thanks to the efforts of several women and men. And like many holidays and special occasions, this one sometimes gets lost in the rush to simply enjoy a day off work. No matter how we feel about war, we should take time to thank our men and women in the military for what they do. And we should honor the fallen and grieve for those families who so recently have lost loved ones in war.

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May 20, 2009

Drenched in grace

My senses already were on overload. The earthy smell of the woods. The sound of birds (why didn't I ever take time to learn the different calls?) and of wind dancing through the leaves of the trees. Sun reaching down through the canopy of trees. Dozens of shades of green in the trees and plants all around. Bursts of purple as some flowers peered out through heavy clusters of plant leaves. Blue sky dotted with just a few puffy clouds. It was a beautiful, fabulous day.

Then the sound of water as we approached the cascading waterfalls leaping over rocks headed toward French Canyon below. But that wasn't all. Then we heard the hauntingly beautiful sounds of what we soon were told was a Native American flute played by someone who stopped on the trail by the waterfall. He told us he thought this was an appropriate response to the setting. Yes, it was. He apologized if his music was disturbing us.

On the contrary—it was just one more gift, one more bit of grace in a lovely place where we already felt drenched in grace. One man's response to God's lovely creation just added so much to our experience of the beauty of Starved Rock State Park near Oglesby, Illinois—a place that's been called one of Illinois' Seven Wonders. 

Sometimes it's just good to stop and smell the roses—to be out in God's creation and notice. Let the senses be overloaded. Let yourself be drenched in grace.

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May 13, 2009

Celebrating freedom

Earlier this week I was cheered to hear on the morning news about the release of American journalist Roxana Saberi from an Iranian prison. In April Saberi had been convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. She grew up in Fargo, N.D., with her Japanese mother and Iranian father, and she had dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. , in 1997. "This is a day to celebrate," said Concordia's president, Pamela Jolicouer. Indeed it is!

As a journalist, I'm most grateful that I don't need to fear arrest or trumped-up charges of espionage for practicing my craft here in the U.S. I am aware, however, because of the travels we at The Lutheran have done throughout the world in our efforts to bring stories to our readers that they otherwise might not get, that in many parts of the world journalists have to be careful. We were often careful to say that we were "church workers"—which we are—rather than "journalists"—when we filled out documents for entry into other countries. I remember the difficulties of reporting on some of my trips, particularly one to Liberia in 1991 during the civil war that tore that country apart for many years. I wrote my reporter's notes partly in shorthand, partly in other abbreviated forms—and hid some of my notes on my person. I didn't want to cause trouble for the people whose stories I was bringing back to the U.S. and to our readers. I had to answer to rebel leaders as to why I was in the country.

That experience pales, however, when I think of what Saberi must have experienced in these last months. Now we can celebrate that she'll be returning to the U.S. with her parents, who were waiting in Tehran and hoping for her release. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson had appealed to Iranian officials by letter in April to free Saberi—as had several officials from North Dakota and the U.S. Administration. 

Isn't it easy to take for granted the freedoms we have? It's good to be reminded that many in other parts of the world experience life very differently. It's well that we are less self-absorbed as Americans and more open and compassionate about the rest of the global family. Through many of its programs, the ELCA does a good job of both raising our awareness and then of using our dollars to respond to various situations, whether it be disaster, hunger or other needs.

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May 6, 2009

Embracing change

Last weekend I was in Iowa to attend a Waldorf College Alumni Board meeting. Waldorf is located in Forest City, Iowa, and is one of the ELCA's 28 colleges. However, in these past several months it has been faced with the very real possibility of closing because of finances. So the college's leaders and its Board of Regents did what any school with a 106-year history would do: turn over every rock to try find solutions. I must say I am really impressed with that group of folks for some real out-of-the-box thinking. The potential solution is certainly creative, and it's in the same pioneering spirit as that which started Waldorf so many decades ago. You can read about this possible partnership in The Lutheran's April story, "Waldorf may partner with for-profit school."

So last weekend our board met all morning, had lunch with the Board of Regents and later, many of us attended the 2009 commencement. And as a bonus, I was able to meet with a mentee with whom I'd worked via e-mail for many months. What a treat!

I wasn't sure what to expect at our board meeting—but after many of our questions were out on the table and received transparent and open answers, I was impressed again. I found in the board a group of people who really embraced the changes coming. As the article will tell you, this is completely new ground. It's a real pioneering effort. And I suspect that in the not-so-distant future other colleges and institutions will be looking at ways to continue ministry in the face of financial difficulties, too. We found, too, that ELCA Vocation & Education is very open to finding ways to keep a connection with Waldorf. Though the new arrangement, if finalized, will mean Waldorf won't be an ELCA school, there are other ways to keep an ELCA connection—so exploration and discussions on that continue. Again, I see some innovative and creative thinking.

Representatives from Columbia Southern University were at both board meetings to answer questions and explain more detail.What I heard is that this for-profit, online, Christian university really values the Lutheran philosophy of education. Yes! Well it should. But it was good for us all to hear that. And it was good to hear about the ways this partnership will enhance the offerings for Waldorf students and increase their networks once they graduate.

So we will stay tuned and watch this unusual partnership progress. We will embrace the change that is to come, knowing changes can carry burden and blessing. But whatever happens, we do know that God has guided Waldorf, its leaders, staff, professors and students through the years—and will continue to do so as it moves into a new phase of its life.  I'm proud to be connected with an institution that is willing to think outside the box to continue its mission of transformation in the lives of the students who enter its doors.

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April 29, 2009

Ministries Aplenty

I've just recently returned from my first synod assembly of the season—the Northeastern Minnesota Synod Assembly held in Brainerd, Minn. It reminds me once again how wonderful it is to be out and about in this church and to hear about all the creative ministries.

At each meal I sat with a different group of folks and asked lots of questions about their congregations and about the challenges and blessings. I heard far more stories than will ever make the pages of The Lutheran , though many of them would inspire readers. I met Mark Osthus, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Proctor, Minn., a diverse congregation of American Indian, African American, Asian and European descent. Osthus has a ministry at the local correctional facility, too—and upon release, some of the former residents have joined the congregation. Immanuel and Osthus also are trying to help a family threatened with deportation. And for a fun fact: The congregation knows five of the 10 ELC liturgical settings!

I met Chris Hill, pastor of Light of the Cross in Garrison,Minn. , and some of that congregation's members—and learned about a variety of ministries that happen in that relatively small congregation. Members are active and always willing to take on more. And I met so many more members and pastors with great stories. I could go on and on .... And in the plenaries I learned about even more ministries and such generosity among the congregations and members.

The ELCA has so many stories to tell—ministries aplenty. I am proud fo be part of this church where so much outreach and creativity exist, where the gospel is preached and the Good News shared in innovative and amazing ways.Thanks be to God.


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April 15, 2009

Everyday prayers

Last week I wrote about prayer and included some of the reader call responses I received prior to planning the cover story on prayer for The Lutheran 's April issue. Check out those articles and share your prayer experiences either here or on the article comment forms.

Here are still a few more of the responses that came in. I knew many different experiences of prayer existed. I knew, too, that lots of people feel guilty because they don't have what they consider to be a regular prayer life. But as last week's blog and this one's show, people approach prayer in such a variety of ways. It's just important that you find what works for you, whether that's daily, several times a day, occasional or whatever it is. The type of prayer is as individual as the time and place.

Joretta K. Klepfer of Greensboro, N.C., had hoped to write an article for the cover story; but when I heard from her, the articles were already assigned. The journaling she has done with her prayers has resulted in a small book, Just Pray! Joretta has found the answers to prayer to be full of surprises.

Mary Ann Johnson, director of community and foundation relations at the Lutheran Services for the Aging in Salisbury, N.C., sent along a story about 88-year-old Mimi Parrott. This resident of Salisbury's Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks remembers being at a women's reteat in 1976, praying, when God came to her. "It was the Holy Spirit, and I felt at peace," Parrott said, adding that it was then that she smiled and gave her life to God. And she is still smiling and praying. "Prayer," she smiles, "it's life made easy."

Gustave Wolf, member of St. Nicholas Lutheran in Huntingtown, Md., admits to often praying in the shower. "Something about getting wet and clean strikes a familiar chord when I shower. I'm talking/confessing/praising and thanking my God for all we have." I am sure he's not the only one who connects shower water with water images in our faith life.

And Blairanne Revak, member of Victory Lutheran in Mesa, Ariz., tells about her walking prayer time when her husband had cancer. She says that through prayer God gave her "strength, clarity of heart and thought so I could go on to absorb the voluminous work and family backbone that was to be my day the next 18 months." She adds that "Years later I still walk, I still talk, and my God is always there."

What are your prayer experiences? 

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April 8, 2009

Prayers from the workplace

When I planned the stories that would comprise this month's cover story on prayer, I put out a call to readers asking about their prayer lives. I received far more responses than I could use. It was a joy to see the variety of ways people experience prayer. I was sorry I didn't have room for all the responses that came. To see those we did include, go to "Goodbye, guilt. Hello, better prayer life." Also check out these stories on prayer from the April issue:

 "Be the prayer"

"Ancient prayer practices can help"

"Children & prayer"

"Small group prayer"

I received responses from staff at the Lutheran Home in Winston Salem, N.C. Cissy McCoy, the administrator, says staff there begin each day with a morning meeting that starts with prayer. "We pray daily for residents, families, staff and individuals on our ongoing prayer request list," she said. She adds that the morning prayer times "calm us in a hectic day and keep us focused on what we must do." What a wonderful way to begin a work day.

Peggy Sullivan, housekeeping and laundry supervisor, said, "Prayer is our most important and powerful weapon. It changes people, places and situations." She adds that she prays in her bathroom, car, bedroom and as she walks through her day. In other words, anywhere is a good place to pray!

Kim Gelpi in medical records described an experience she had in her mid 20s when she came close to losing her life from a blood clot in her leg. Through the power of an uncle's prayer, she felt healed and transformed.

Kathy Spencer, social worker, told a story reminiscent of Hannah in the Old Testament—waiting and waiting for a child. In a time of prayer, she heard a "small, still voice" that told her to wait one year—and that's what happened. A year later she became pregnant with her first child, she said. 

And Chaplain James McDaniels said prayer was almost second nature to him and it had been "fairly easy to offer prayers and support to my parishioners and now as a chaplain in a nursing home." But when he was recuperating from cancer surgery, prayer was more difficult. That was when a simple prayer ("Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy") brought comfort and peace to him.

 Ann Corns, director of nursing, wrote about an experience of prayer where, later, she realized she'd been praying for what she wanted to have happen to the nursing home where she worked. "Now my prayers became that God would give me the guidance to do my job as best I could but also to help me be accepting of God's plan no matter what the outcome would be."

Finally, Ann Slater, activities director, weighed in with a painful experience of watching her daughter deliver a baby in a high-risk pregnancy. Slater fell on her knees in prayer, and now she says: "As I watched my granddaughter enter into this world, she brought with her love, laughter and my restored faith in prayer and in my Heavenly Father."

So many stories. So many experiences of prayer. Not all prayers are answered the way we wish. But we can always know God does hear us and that God loves us with an outrageous love that never stops. May we remember that this Holy Week ... and always.


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March 18, 2009

Paths of least resistance

Yesterday I was privileged to be in two separate meetings/conversations with Allan G. Johnson , author of The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy . As one description of the book says, this publication is "a compelling approach to gender inequality that empowers both men and women to be part of the solution instead of just part of the problem."

That's exactly the impression I had in what, twice, was really more conversation than lecture or presentation by an author. He does name the problem, for sure. But our conversations were about more than that: They were about each of us, no matter our gender, being part of the solution. And he wanted to hear from us how patriarchy looks in the church, specifically in the ELCA. Maybe you have comments on that? We're doing a cover story in our November issue on just that topic. So if you have real life stories about sexism or how patriarchy plays itself out for you or in your congregation, please tell us.

Here's the fascinating thing Johnson told us about the patriarchy: It's about a system. So many people seem to think it's about a few bad men. And many men feel that women are attacking all men when gender issues even come up. It's much larger than us as individual men and women—not to get us off the hook for accountability. As Johnson says, "we are not that system, and the system isn't us." So it's not our fault. But we do shape it now and are the only ones who can change it.

Further, it's about our lives being shaped by those social systems that were created long ago—and about taking the "paths of least resistance." Why do we sit quietly when someone makes a sexist remark? Why do we not speak up when we see (or experience) injustice? It's much easier (and costs us far less) to take the paths of least resistance. We all want to be accepted and liked. It's hard work to take another path.

Though individuals perpetuate the system (and started it), it's not an issue of individual men who are sexist. It's about a system and it's about privilege, in this case privileges that accrue to men simply by being men. But even if you're a man, you're not out of the woods. You constantly have to prove your manhood to be accepted. The details of this system are far too many to enumerate here. But it is fascinating information—and you can really connect dots with what is happening today in our society with the economy, with the wars we're fighting, with our U.S. stance on terrorism, with conflicts and discussions within the church and much more. If this interests you at all, I recommend you read Johnson's book. It's a good exercise to think about how we each participate in patriarchy and what we will choose to do about it.

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March 13, 2009

What do we want?

When the ELCA started as a merger of three churchbodies in January 1988, one of the stated goals was that the church membership would, in 10 years, have 10 percent of its membership be people of color and whose language is other than English. Well, here we are 21 years later—and we haven't even made it to 3 percent yet! We have one churchwide unit whose function it is to help all the church in its collective work toward that goal. But it isn't just up to this one unit, Multicultural Ministries . It's up to all of us in our congregations, our synods and our regions. One of that unit's many resources, One Body, Many Members , can equip us for this goal. Check it out.

So what happened? What do we really want? Do we know what we want? Do we know what we'll gain? What we'll lose—or what we may have to give up? All of these questions, and more, went into the planning for our July 2009 cover story, which I'm coordinating and others are writing. 

Why haven't we gotten to 10 percent? What will it take? What do we mean by a "multicultural church"? This is a journey. It's not about who's right and who's wrong. It's about life together—and walking together.

I'd love to hear your ideas. 

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March 4, 2009

Children and faith

The faith life of little ones is a joy to behold. They are so earnest, so trusting, so innocent. We're told that an imprint is most solidly made in those very first months and years of a child's life. That is why we at The Lutheran magazine are so excited about our own toddler, The Little Lutheran —now more than 1-1/2 years old. And we've added a sibling in January—The Little Christian —for all those whose godchildren or grandchildren aren't Lutheran, and for our ecumenical and full-communion partners.

We know little ones love to receive their own mail, too. What fun it is for them to receive their very own magazine. One grandmother subscribed for her granddaughter, who calls The Little Lutheran her "mail from Jesus." We hope that all the stories (some global stories, some Bible stories, some stories of saints living and dead), prayers, songs (with signing), rituals, activities and more will develop the faith lives of our smallest members. Many congregations use this magazine as a spiritual formation tool—in preschools, nurseries, Sunday school and in vacation Bible school. Some use it as an evangelism tool, sending it out into the community or giving it as a baptismal gift or baptismal anniversary gift. Other pastors use it for their children's sermons and some congregations add them to worship bags, so there's at least one new thing in the bag each month. 

Does your congregation subscribe? How is it used? We'd love to hear stories about the use of this spiritual formation tool. 

Little ones also are extremely curious. They latch onto new information and learn at an amazingly rapid pace. So it's important to nourish their brains and their faith lives as well as their bodies.

Last week I learned of a new book that expands the scope of older toddlers by exposing them to the Gbaya people who live in central Africa. Written by an ELCA pastor, Olin K. Sletto, God's Holy Breath teaches children about life and death from a new perspective. When a Gbaya baby is born, he or she receives God's Holy Breath. And when a loved one dies, their breath goes home to God's Holy Breath. The book is beautifully illustrated in brilliant colors by Ann Rezny.

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February 25, 2009

Songs of life

I've heard people say that songs pop into their minds when things happen in their lives. They "think in song." I don't necessarily do that. But when I hear songs that were part of an experience, that stops me short. It gets my attention. That's especially true of hymns. I love hymns. And they have been such a part of my life forever.

I just returned from the noon Ash Wednesday worship service here at the Lutheran Center in Chicago. After the imposition of ashes and following communion, we sang no. 608 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship : "Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling." I knew it would be difficult to make it through without crying. Sure enough, I didn't. But I sang as much of it as I could.

My father had requested that hymn as one of his funeral hymns. It was a favorite. For that reason, we sang it (among other hymns) in his last days in hospice in 2001. And the one instance I shall never forget: We literally sang that as Dad took his final breath. My mother and siblings were with Dad the morning he died. Mom had stayed in hospice with him overnight. But we siblings got an early morning phone call telling us to get there quickly because Dad was near death. When we got there we prayed. Then we sang "Softly and Tenderly." As we finished the first verse, Dad took his last breath. We never did get to verses two and three, as we did at worship today. Yes, Dad, Jesus called you Home. And you are there now. So that's a hymn that always touches me deeply.

When my under 30-year-old brother-in-law was killed in a car accident many years ago, we sang "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." Again, whenever I sing that I think of Mark. And I think of my young and vulnerable sister and my then-5-year-old nephew, left alone without husband and father.

When Mom died last summer, she had asked for "Let All Things Now Living" as one of her funeral hymns. Again, that song is so powerful for me now. Consider verse one: "Let all things now living A song of thanksgiving To God the creator triumphantly raise, Who fashioned and made us, Protected and stayed us, Who still guides us on to the end of our days. God's banners are o'er us, His light goes before us, A pillar of fire shining forth in the night. Till shadows have vanished And darkness is banished, As forward we travel from light into light." Yes!

I am so grateful to hymnwriters because their work speaks deeply to my soul, not just in times of sorrow and celebration, but always. What richness is contained in our hymnals. Check it out. Perhaps you have your own memories and your own favorites? 


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February 18, 2009


After several months of handling Mom's estate, following her death last June, I'm beginning to get things tied up. The sale of our family farm will occur in little more than a month. After much thought and inner struggle, my two siblings and I agreed to sell the land rather than continue to rent it. I know it may be the right decision, but my ties to that Iowa farmland run deep. It holds so many memories for me. Memories of a rich childhood growing up on a farm, exploring the woods and watching the cycles of life and death first-hand. Memories of being poor in things (Mom made my sister and me dresses from feed sacks, which used to be prints that were regularly used as clothes and table cloths, etc.; and she cut up her old coats to make new ones for my sister and me) but rich in love and experiences. Memories of extended family gatherings and July 4th celebrations on the far—and so much more.

I'm gathering things for Mom's final income taxes and for her estate taxes. There is an enormous amount of detail to being an executor, even when there's not a huge estate. At the same time, it feels as though this is one last thing I can do for Mom (and before her, for Dad, who died in 2001). 

And so, Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. Mostly, thank you for the legacy of love and of a solid faith that you've left my siblings and me, my children and my grandchildren. Thank you for a legacy of deep connection to the Earth, to the land, a deep sense of place and geography. All of this is something I think about now: What legacy am I leaving for my children and grandchildren? And I don't mean so much in terms of belongings as in terms of faith, traditions and all of life's intangibles.

Have you thought about that lately?

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