Posts Tagged ‘Grace’

What it Means to be Lutheran and Why I’m Part of the #decolonizeLutheranism Movement

Lately I’ve become involved with a movement within my Lutheran Christian world and I want to tell you about this movement and why it has captured my heart.

The movement is called #decolonizeLutheranism.

A fundamental question of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is what does it mean to be Lutheran? And honestly, I didn’t know this answer on a theological level until I got my theology degree. But I experienced it to the bone in my home congregation in my youth without knowing that’s what was happening.

Now, there are a lot of cultural norms that come out of predominately white, European-decent Lutheran expressions in the US. But those are not the core of what it means to be Lutheran.

To me, what it means to be Lutheran is to be a people so intimately acquainted with the grace and goodness and love of God that we can’t help but live grace and goodness and love as we move about our lives.

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Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

When I look back on my childhood congregation, that’s what I remember of the people who touched my life most profoundly.

Sondra Johnson

Marv Schmehl

Marie Renner

Ric Barnes

These are just a few of the people who lived and breathed grace to me in how they related to me as a child of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church (HRLC) in Pickerington, Ohio.

As a mission congregation, started in the 1970s, HRLC drew a crowd of Christ-followers from various religious backgrounds. To my knowledge, we had folks who were raised Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, as well as those raised with little to know religious upbringing. We were not your typical, established, European-ethnically-Lutheran congregation. We were predominately white because of our location in a the suburbs, yet in many ways we were outside of a lot of Lutheran cultural norms.

My family didn’t even begin attending church at all until after I started school. We chose HRLC as our church home because of the grace and warmth we received there from the very beginning. This mission congregation, despite its position on the fringes of Lutheran culture, was right in the heart of Lutheran theology. And it spoke to each member of my family of origin. My mom had grown up Methodist, and my dad had grown up without a church, my brother and I were unsure of church coming into our lives in our childhood, but we all resonated with what the Spirt was doing in and through HRLC. My mother joined the church, eventually my brother was baptized, then I was baptized too at the age of 9. Finally, even my father was baptized at HRLC.

But as time went on, I grappled with the faith. I have never been one to accept easy answers to complex questions. And as a youngster who wasn’t a “cradle Lutheran,” I had a lot of questions. I mean, a lot, a lot. I don’t recall always being particularly tactful in asking them. Sometimes I was outright irritated about what I was being asked to believe about God and Jesus.

I know I can be argumentative. I know I can. In fact, in 8th grade, I had a teacher tell me I ought to be a defense attorney because I was one of the most argumentative people he had ever met.

I tell you, I can be difficult. If you don’t believe me, just ask the other students from my Sunday school and confirmation classes from the time.

In another time and place, in another congregation where people didn’t know grace so intimately as the folks at HRLC did, this may not have ended well for me. But the teachers and other adults graced me with their patience and forbearance. They gave me answers when they had them, but they didn’t make stuff up when my questions were too hard. Sometimes they just let me have my questions. They just sat in my questioning with me.

HRLC is closed now.

There is a Starbucks where my childhood congregation used to be.

But I carry the legacy of HRLC in my heart. The grace upon grace I experienced at HRLC in my youth is what it really means to be to be Lutheran. Anything that holds us back from doing and being this needs to be shed, laid at the cross.

We’re not great at diversity in my particular denomination of Lutheranism–the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), but we’re not just a white, European denomination. We do have people and congregations among us who are of other cultural backgrounds. It’s sad then that even people of color who have been born and raised in historically Lutheran congregations get asked, “When did you become Lutheran?”

Never in my white, Lutheran life have I ever been asked when I became Lutheran. When it comes to heritage, there are black Lutheran congregations that go back for generations! In fact, the oldest ELCA congregation is Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Virgin Islands; it is a black congregation that was established in 1666. They are more firmly rooted in Lutheranism than this questioning little soul from Methodist and unchurched parents. But no one questions whether I belong because I’m white?

Cultural presuppositions about Lutheranism are in the way of the Good News of Jesus Christ actually getting out. If an impertinent, back-talking girl like me can be permitted access to the grace of God, I want that grace flung far and wide. And where that grace is already abounding and shaking up our safe, cultural ideas, I want to see us learn from that and lean into that.

These are the kinds of things I see the #decolonizeLutheranism movement doing, and this is why this movement is so very close to my heart.

If this sounds like something you want to be part of too, join me at the first ever #decolonizeLutheranism gathering in Chicago on October 22 and/or donate to the cause.

How I am Fallen, Yet Bold to Stand

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My mind is cluttered today with a burning issue. A clever thought would be to write about what is burning on my mind, right?

Except, no.

You see, I keep putting myself out here online and I try to be honest and vulnerable, but there are still things I hold back.

Dear internet, I don’t tell you everything, but I hope we can still be friends.

Maybe I could trust you with this but I’m not ready yet.

And maybe one day I will tell you more.

Then again, maybe I won’t.

You see, there is this thorn in my side, my besetting sin, my great downfall in life, that I don’t dare bring to the bright lights of the big internet. I don’t dare.

I alluded to it in my The Home of the Brave post at Life & Liberty. And, as noted there, I have people in my life that I can talk to about it. So, I am not alone in facing this demon.

But this is an awfully ugly demon. I would say it is even uglier than my pride, about which, dear internet, you were very gracious when I admitted to it.

But the costs of sharing about this one are too great. I find it wisest and best to keep this one more guarded.

And it all sounds so horrifying to say it like this. Oh internet, there’s this one thing that I won’t tell you because it’s so awful—because I’m so awful.

And I do often feel like if people really knew this about me then I would lose a lot of respect.

But here’s the thing, even this, my greatest failing, this does not define me.

I don’t say that cavalierly, as if, hey, it’s no big deal, I’m not that bad.

Because I am that bad.

It’s just that I know, I trust, I believe that my God is bigger and better than all the bad I am.

One of the times I come back to again and again in my spiritual life as proof that God is bigger than my mess is the time God was with me in the muck. I was waste-deep in my own folly, but God was there when no one else could hear. God got me out of the muck when no one else could help me.

And I know, I trust, I believe that his goodness in and through me is my true destiny.

And so, I talk with my God and those trusted others about this great struggle. And with God’s help, I work through it, sometimes around it, and I hope to grow from it over time.

Meanwhile, I yield to God’s love for me, I receive his goodness, and I live into my belovedness. I come to him, feeling flawed and fallen, and I let him lift me up.

He sets me on my feet, bold to stand, bold to speak and write and serve and show his love to others.

And I pray this for you too, that whatever drags you down in life, makes you feel scared to even mention, I pray that you will experience God’s bigness and goodness and your forgiveness and belovedness in him.

Happy vs. Blessed Thanksgiving

The last way to be happy is to make it your objective in life.

—”Nick Smith” in Metropolitan

I try not to say, “Happy Thanksgiving” when I remember. Instead, I prefer to say, “Blessed Thanksgiving.”

Why?

Because happiness is just way too elusive.

How are happiness and blessedness different?

Happiness is a feeling and feelings change frequently. Also, happiness is often closely tied to our circumstances–when they’re good we feel happy; when they’re bad we don’t.

Sometimes–even on holidays–or especially on holidays–it is really hard to feel happy. In fact, sometimes holidays can accentuate circumstances that are pretty crummy.

But blessedness just is, no matter how we feel and regardless of our present circumstances. We are all blessed in some way.

We are blessed with life and most especially we are blessed with a God who loves us. One of my dear theology professors used to say, “God loves you for Christ’s sake and will never let you go.”

When the message of Thanksgiving is that we should be happy, I go a little Scrooge. Partly because we can’t just flip a switch and be happy.

But also I think gratitude is deeper than that. Gratitude is tied to blessings–to those realities of life that are despite feelings or circumstances.

When we can see that which is true in our lives because of the God that loves us no matter what, we may not necessarily get giddy-happy, but we can begin to access a deeper sense of gratitude for God-with-us.

So when I say, “Blessed Thanksgiving” it is a prayer of sorts–that folks may know God’s love and grace in their lives amidst fluctuating feelings or shifting circumstances.

I am blessed by each and every one of you and the way you each stand as reminders of God’s love for me. I pray you will know the deep and abiding love of God in your life.

Blessed Thanksgiving!

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Vases of Grace

Vase of Grace

I blew it. I blew my top with my son. Again.

I don’t mean to do it. I really don’t. I don’t mean to yell at him.

He’s a good kid. A great kid really. He’s smart, funny, and caring. He’s a Lego pro. He does great character voices when reading aloud or playing make-believe. He “gets” God and Jesus and grace better than some people five times his age.

It is not his fault that I yell at him. Even if he does bad stuff, I’m the grown-up–responsible for keeping my own reactions in check.

There’s no good reason to angry-yell at any kid–none that I can think of in the whole wide world. Not a single one. It’s just plain wrong.

Add to that I’m this mom who is passionate about Positive Discipline, making a point to offer loving support, and non-punitive correction. I should know better. I should do better.

When I yell, I know that it is me who is out of control. I know that.

And I want to be quick to tell you that it doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time, we’re all pretty laid back around here. We get along well in my family of three: we cooperate, we talk about anything and everything, and we’re generally really nice people.

I don’t yell all the time. Hardly ever really. It’s almost not even worth bringing up lest you get the wrong idea about me. It’s not that bad…

Except, I saw a headline the other day that if you yell at your child it can cause as much emotional harm as physical abuse. I would never lay a hand on my child. I’ve never even spanked him as discipline. Ever.

But to think that my out-of-control yelling could cause him emotional harm?

Oh, Lord have mercy.

And I see it. Rather, I hear some of the fall-out of the yelling. “I’m the stupidest kid in the world!” is a typical response when I yell at him. His negative self-talk peaks whenever I lose control with my tone of voice.

Two Tuesdays ago, after I yelled I was quick to apologize. And he was quick to forgive saying, “That’s okay mommy. I’m kind-of used to it.”

Oh child. Oh sweet boy.

“You shouldn’t have to be used to that. Mommy is wrong to yell. Just as I want you to talk to mommy in a respectful tone of voice, you can expect the same from me. When I don’t speak to you respectfully, it is wrong.”

I spent the better part of that day feeling really crummy for having yelled, and for him being “kind-of used to it.” And my own negative self-talk dominated my inner-dialog.

But something happened that gave me hope. I can’t remember if it was the same day or the day after that, but I was still beating myself up about the yelling when my son brought me flowers from the yard.

Before I had a chance to come and see the flowers, he put them in glasses of water. But the stems were far too short to reach the bottom of the glasses, so he custom-engineered supports out of some of his Legos to keep the blooms above the water level.

These vases of grace gave me hope. Great hope. Hope that his predominate mode is confidence and kindness, not self-loathing. Hope that I get a second chance to do better. Hope that we can move forward and that he had already moved past the difficult moment on which I had still been dwelling.

It has happened again since I got those vases. But I caught it quicker. And I’m recognizing my triggers–triggers that have nothing to do with him at all. And I’m seeing that some of what triggers my out-of-control behavior are stressors that I can reduce or eliminate. So, with God’s help I’m working on all that.

It is important work, but it is a work in progress. But the vases, those beautiful vases remind me that there is grace, even for me.