Posts Tagged ‘lutheran theology’

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.


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.

Confessions of a Lutheran Charismatic

Confessions of a Lutheran Charismatic OR What Happened to Me When I Read David Housholder‘s Book about the Holy Spirit

This is not a book review, this is the story of what happened to me when I read David Housholder‘s book, “Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down.” Now if this were a real book review, it would be important to mention that I received this and Housholder’s other book as gifts from the author. Even so, it is well that you know about these being gifts. If anything, the gifting of the books gives me permission not to write a book review. Instead I can simply use the books as best suits me, as all good gifts are intended.

(If you don’t know who David Housholder is or why he might be inclined to gift his books to me, click here for the back story.)


Before I tell you what happened to me when I read the book, I will tell you briefly about the book itself. “Light Your Church on Fire Without Burning it Down” is about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Housholder names Lutheranism as his first spiritual language, but now considers himself fully bilingual with his second language being Pentecostal spirituality. The purpose of the book is to translate Pentecostal spirituality into terms that other Christians can understand.

Having grown up dual-enrolled at a folksy 1970’s Lutheran church plant on Sundays and a Charismatic Methodist youth group on many Wednesdays, I consider myself rather conversant in Charismatic spirituality even if not certain of all the lingo. Part of why I like working with Housholder is because he understands aspects of my spirituality that are less understood by many Lutherans. To be honest, I didn’t expect to have any major revelations while reading the book. I just wanted to see what my friend had written and maybe get a little better grasp on terminology that was missing from my vocabulary.

There were terms that he defined that I did not know. For instance I learned that “Pentecostal” refers to a specific movement started in the early 1900s whereas “Charismatic” refers to Christians of non-Pentecostal denominations with a more toned down version of the Pentecostal flavor of spirituality. I also learned that Pentecostals don’t use “it” as a pronoun for the Holy Spirit–they say “he.”

For those who are less conversant in Pentecostal spirituality, Housholder’s book covers the topic well. Housholder relates Pentecostal spirituality to concepts and events in scripture and traditional Christian spirituality. His conversational writing “de-mythologizes” Pentecostal spirituality and makes it approachable and understandable.

If this were a true book review I would probably go on to tell you some highlights of the book, I’d offer quotes and good things like that. I’d probably even tell you about the part of the book that made me uneasy, for the sake of good journalism. But this is not a book review. So, instead of all the proper treatment of a book I am going to tell you what happened to me after page seven.

What Happened after Page Seven

I was barely into reading the book, in just the first chapter, when I had to abruptly stop reading it and set it down. On page seven Housholder describes a healing meeting (healing ministry is described later in the book) in which he heard a woman start “singing over someone in tongues.” Housholder later defines “tongues” as a primal language of “expressing oneself vocally without the structure of grammar &/or vocabulary.”

The concept of tongues was not new to me–in fact, I was relatively certain I had prayed in tongues before. But only, when I did it it was always musical, like a song whose words I had never been taught. But I had never heard anyone outright acknowledge singing in tongues to be a real thing until I read page seven of Housholder’s book.

Since I didn’t know that anyone else thought of “singing in tongues” to be a real thing, and since any form of tongues is largely viewed with suspicion by many mainstream Christians, I kept it quiet. I mean that in at least two ways. First I kept it quiet in the sense that I didn’t tell a living soul that I could sing in tongues. Secondly, I kept it quiet in the sense that I didn’t do it very often. I largely squelched the gift–much to the impoverishment of my spirit.

It saddens me to have a gift that I don’t use. It’s like receiving a gift card for my favorite store, only every time I go to the store I find that I’ve left the gift card at home. If I’m lucky, I can pay out of pocket for my purchase if I have the cash on hand. But sometimes, I may have to forego a purchase because I forgot the gift card. But if only I had brought the gift card!

So, for me, the true gift of Housholder’s book closely parallels the gift he has given me creatively–the reminder and encouragement to use the gifts that God has given me. So, after reading page seven and hearing Housholder talk about the “singing in tongues” as a real thing, I put the book down and yielded to the gift.

The Spirit’s song came through me in all of its unintelligibility and it was beautiful. I myself do not know what the words were in English, but the theme of the song was something along the lines of, “My soul magnifies The Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” from Luke 1:46. I felt a deep connection with God in the singing.

When my husband got home he became the first person I told about this ability. Before writing this I had occasion to mention it briefly to Housholder himself. And now, I am telling the whole Internet. The reason why I’m telling is because I am tired of leaving my gift card at home. I want to use all the gifts that God has given me to His glory.

And so, you see why this is not a proper book review. I am much too biased by Housholder’s influence in my life. Would that we all have people in our lives who bias us so strongly by their good will and generosity toward us. Would that we all have people in our lives whose gifts bring out the very best of ours.

To order your own copies of David Housholder’s books, please visit his online store:

How I Became a Deaconess

20130319-043432.jpgBeginning in my ‘tweens, once a month members of my Lutheran congregation on the hill would lovingly cook a big meal and drive from our little suburb to the big city of Columbus, Ohio. We served the patrons of Faith Mission, a homeless shelter in the inner city. The cooking part was fun, but I especially loved interacting with the patrons and seeing “the hungry” as real people.

During my Junior year of high school that same Lutheran congregation gave me the opportunity to teach a 3rd & 4th grade Sunday school class. I loved opening up God’s Word with them and talking together about it in ways that made it come alive. I particularly remember teaching about Noah and the big flood shortly after our suburb had some major flooding.

I cherished these experiences in my church growing up and as early as middle school, I knew I wanted to be in ministry somehow. I knew I was dearly loved by God and my church family and I wanted to spread that love to others. I wanted to be always a part of what God was doing in and through the church.

I felt called by the Holy Spirit into a life of ministry.

There was only one problem, the only ministry role I knew of was that of pastor. I didn’t want to be a pastor and I didn’t feel that was my calling exactly.

My vision was to study Lutheran theology and church-work on an undergraduate level. Then I would go serve in a congregation.

I wanted to partner with people to reach out beyond the church walls (like I had done at Faith Mission). I wanted to share God’s word with people in Bible classes and informal conversations, encouraging them in their faith.

When it came time to choose a college I looked for something like a theology major or a non-pastor, church-worker study program. The Lutheran colleges I looked at during that time had nothing of the sort.

I drifted for a while, starting college with no clear plan for a major or career path. After my first year of college in Kentucky, I married a pastor and moved to Indiana where he was pastoring his first church.

It was early in our marriage that I found out about the Deaconess program at Valparaiso University, a Lutheran university in Indiana.

In a pamphlet from the Lutheran Deaconess Association I learned that through:

  • theological study,
  • hands-on ministry experiences,
  • and being in community with other Deaconesses and Deaconess students,

I could become a trained church-worker!

The pamphlet also talked about a variety of settings (churches, social service agencies, hospitals, etc) in which a Deaconess could serve. I read that regardless of the setting, the common bond among Deaconesses is a “servant’s heart,” the willingness to love and serve others as Jesus loves and serves us.

The more I read about the Deaconess program, the more I knew this was a fit for me.

Becoming a Deaconess was the perfect blending of everything I felt called to do:

  • Serving God in and through the church,
  • Making a difference even beyond the local congregation,
  • Studying and teaching theology and God’s Word,
  • Not being required to be a pastor to do the above!

There were some logistics involved with being able to enter the Deaconess program, but eventually I got in! Then I got my Lutheran theology major, did my required practical ministry experiences, and lived into the “sisterhood” of Deaconesses and Deaconess students around me.

Finally, on August 19, 2001, at our second church in Indiana, I was officially consecrated as a Lutheran Deaconess. Between the beautiful worship service, the hog roast, and the family and friends who came from out of state, it was a grand celebration. It was both the end of a long-awaited goal and the beginning of a whole new journey.

What about you? Have you ever had a vision for something you wanted to do but you didn’t see a way to do it? What obstacles have you overcome to do or be what you felt was meant for you?

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