Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Martin Luther on Suicide

Several years ago, Thrivent put together a movie which dramatically portrayed how Martin Luther became a leader of the Reformation movement.  Perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie is this clip in which Luther responds to a teenager's suicide in a radical way.  With depression and suicide in prominent focus after the death of Robin Williams, I invite you to watch this clip and consider the theological messages within it.  Which messages inspire hope within you?  Do you find yourself challenged by, or objecting to, some of these messages?  If so, which ones?  Please share your comments below.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Does Peace Equal Justice?

Today, we find several active military conflicts within the world.  The conflict that gets the most press is the conflict between Hamas and Israel.  Many people around the world are doing their best to bring the conflict to an end so that peace can come to the region.  Unfortunately, the definition of "peace" usually means the end of the fighting rather than a result that will lead to a lasting peace.

In our public schools, we are seeing a wave of "anti-bullying" efforts.  This is something I want to applaud, but I have some concerns about how these efforts are applied and carried out.  These efforts in combination with "no tolerance" policies for fighting lead to a message that goes against what we actually want to teach our children.  Although we want to teach our children to stand up to bullies and protect those who are bullied, the message that actually gets proclaimed is that our children should stand aside and not prevent a bully from harming another child.  A child that does step in to protect another student being assaulted will automatically be suspended for "participating" in a fight, even though we should support the child's actions on behalf of the one being harmed.  Because of this, we teach our children that preventing someone from harming another person is the responsibility of "authorities" and "officials," not ours.

Of course, if we limit our understanding of peace to a lack of violence and bullying to physical assault and battery, we miss a great deal of violence and bullying that takes place through non-physical means.  There are many who have found ways to use authorities and officials to do non-physical violence on their behalf.  This can exist in a range from the student who tells a false story to a teacher or principal so that another student gets suspended or expelled by the school to countries that sit on the UN Human Rights Council and point investigators away from the atrocities in their homeland.

If it helps, think of how Whitey is able to manipulate Beaver, his parents, and others in this clip:

I also suggest that you read Sarah Hoyt's thoughts on this topic.  This is a long blog post, but it is an excellent discussion of whether a lack of violence truly represents justice.  Here is a small portion of what she wrote:
"Faced with a classroom full of violent kids, or a world full of violent adults (none of us are angels) it’s very easy to say “I’ll just stop all fighting. I’ll beat anyone who fights.")
"Here’s a problem – you too are a fallible human and filled with violent impulses. (And before one of you asks – did I as a kid dispense the wrong justice? Probably not often. It was a small school and I was aware of the personalities and proclivities. Sometimes, though? Probably.) You’re going to listen to the side that seems right to you. The angelic looking and cleaner side does it for most adults. And half the time it will be the wrong side."

A quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. is "Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice."  How do we advocate for justice rather than for peace?  What does justice look like in public schools?  What does justice look like if the world is to stop ISIS from persecuting all people who are not sufficiently Islamic?  In what other situations does "justice" represent more than an end to the fighting?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reframing the Church's Conversations About Marriage

My cousin, Jackie, shared this article on Facebook.  The author writes about how she internalized her congregation's message about virginity.  The congregation taught her that sex was reserved for marriage; extra-marital sex would lead to Hell.  Although she remained a virgin until she was married, she was afraid that she might "cross the line" and punch her ticket to Hell.  After the wedding, she still feared sex, which restricted her relationship with her husband.  In time, her internal pressures were too much to contain and she confessed her struggles to her husband, who suggested therapy.

What was the end result of this process?  The author states:
"I don't go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex... 
"I'm now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality. If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn't go to hell for it. We would have gotten married at a more appropriate age and I would have kept my sexuality to myself."
These words should bother most people who believe that sex should be reserved for marriage.  Does this woman represent the majority of what our children and grandchildren hear and experience when we talk about purity and virginity?  Is this why many young adults remain away from the church: they do not believe that they can be both religious and sexual?  How can we talk about sex as part of God's good creation while also upholding the value of reserving sex for marriage?

During my time in seminary, I learned about the Church's traditional teachings concerning the three ends (or purposes) of marriage.  These three ends are:

  1. Unitive: the relationship between a husband and a wife is a living testimony to the relationship between the Lord and the Church.  The Lord is always faithful to the Lord's people, and the Church is always faithful to the Lord.  A couple that remains faithful to each other testifies to the relationship between the Lord and the Church.  On the other hand, a couple that does not remain faithful undercuts their testimony to the Lord and the Church.
  2. Procreative: the married couple raises children for the Lord and the Church.  Note that this purpose of marriage speaks to raising children, not creating children through sexual intercourse.  Because this purpose speaks to raising children, couples which are infertile, choose to adopt children, or remain childless can also fulfill this purpose by either adopting children or acting as adult mentors for other children in the congregation.
  3. Sacramental: the husband and wife jointly participate in worshipping the Lord and obeying the Lord's calling.  By doing so, the couple grows together in holiness.

I did not hear most of this as I was growing up.  I heard the message of "Don't have sex before marriage."  Obviously, I did not have the same experiences as the woman who wrote the article in question.  However, I can see how limiting our message to a command to refrain from sex with the threat of Hell as punishment can lead to poor relationships, poor understandings of sex within God's good order within marriage, and, in some, burnout, depression, and withdrawal from the Church.

I can also see how teaching these three ends of marriage is extremely counter-cultural.  Turn on your television or pop in a movie, and you will likely see something that proclaims that sex is a good thing, so we should have sex on a regular basis as long as we find someone else who will agree to have sex with us.  Today, in our culture, sex is not an activity by which married couples build their relationship; sex is an activity through which individuals obtain pleasure whether or not the individuals are in a relationship with one another.  Because our culture upholds pleasure as its own value, our culture dangles sex in front of us to catch our attention, to make us desire sex, and to train us to do certain "approved" things so that we can obtain sex.  Proclaiming that sex is much more than a vehicle for pleasure will put the Church at odds with our culture, which is where the Church is supposed to be in the first place.  Refraining from sex shows that we are not like the rest of our culture and that there are other options than the pursuit of pleasure through sex.

So, instead of simply telling our children, "Don't have sex until you are married," let's tell our children about what a marriage relationship truly is.  A proper marriage relationship will testify to the relationship between the Lord and the Church, raise children for the Church, and help the married couple grow in holiness.  Sex within such a relationship can fulfill these ends of marriage.  Refraining from sex when one in not a part of a marriage relationship also fulfills these ends of marriage.  After all, it would be a powerful message if the teens and young adults of the Church can turn to our culture and say, "We have found something more interesting than the pursuit of sex.  We are dedicated to our calling from the Lord and will testify to the Lord with our whole lives.  When we have sex, it will be within our faithful marriage relationships because the Lord has been faithful to us and to the Church."  Perhaps this is a more healthy message than the "Don't have sex before marriage or you will go to Hell" proclamation that many have heard in recent years.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blog Title Change

As of Sunday, August 3, 2014, I am called by the congregation of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Olean, Indiana, to be the congregation's pastor.  The congregation, my wife, and I are very excited for this new beginning as we work together to carry out God's mission within the world.

To reflect this, I have changed the title of my blog.  This blog is not just my forum anymore.  Yes, I will still blog about topics on which the Church and the world are focusing and discussing.  However, this blog will also feature topics of concern within my new local community and congregation.  My plan (such as it is) will be to connect with others in the local community through this blog and through the congregation's social media efforts.

To all who have read this blog while it has been either my seminary project or my entry into social media ministry, thank you for your support.  I hope that you will continue to follow this blog as I enter into ordained ministry with the people of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Olean, Indiana.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pray With Us

This weekend, my wife and I are meeting a congregation before the congregation votes whether to issue a call.  As we enter this time of discernment, I ask that you join us in praying this prayer:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. 

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.