On behalf of her husband and four children, Lomaa Mutter-Ahmad thanks Metro Denver Habitat for Humanity and all those whose volunteer hours helped to build their new Habitat home, the 31st such home built by Denver-area Lutherans and Episcopalians.
The Mutter-Ahmad's are originally from Iraq. The unsettled political situation in their country prompted them to flee to Syria. They have moved 12 times before finally being able to settle in Denver.
Both Lomaa and her husband Basma were engineers in Iraq. They are not able to practice their profession in the United States and both of them have returned to school to pursue other careers, Lomaa in accounting and Basma in math education.
Holy Hammers built its first Habitat home in 1996. Since then, we've built at least one house each year, and sometimes two or three. We appreciate the partnership of Thrivent Financial whose grants made some of these houses possible.
Thanks to Holy Hammers, about 150 people in the Metro Denver area have a safe and decent place to live. In addition, on each house, we tithe at least one additional house with one of our international affiliates. So far, Holy Hammers has built at least 50 homes internationally.
For several years now, conservatives have been crowing that God blesses them and curses liberals. Why have conservatives prospered and liberals waned? Obviously, God likes conservatives best.
Conservatives like Russ Douthat and Al Mohler are simply repeating this old saw. They cry crocodile tears over the "decline" of liberal mainline churches. The mainliners have left conservatism, which Douthat and Mohler call "orthodoxy," and have gone chasing after secular will-of-the-wisps in order to be popular with the culture.
Funny. When conservative churches decline, as the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is right now, they leave behind a "righteous remnant" preserving the true faith. When liberal churches decline, it's because God is mad at them.
It is true that mainline churches have gotten smaller over the past 50 years or so. So have lots of churches, conservative and liberal. If it weren't for immigration from Mexico, the Roman Catholic Church in America would look like the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.
The causes for the mainline's supposed "decline" are much more prosaic than liberalism provoking God's Awful Wrath. Mostly, it has to do with smaller families. A hundred years ago, many of our families had six or seven children. Fifty years ago, many of our families had three or four children. Today, many of our families have one or two children.
Why the birth dearth? Affluence. Increasing affluence correlates with smaller families. That has been the story of the United States and most countries around the world.
Since mainline protestants were once the "establishment", they became affluent first and started having smaller families first. Nowadays, as evangelicals and baptists become more affluent, they, too, are having smaller families, and their denominations are likewise in numerical decline.
This has nothing to do with God being mad over somebody's theology, or God patting others on the head for being able to check-off everything on Al Mohler's "Checklist of Correct Conservative Theology."
Set the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) side-by-side. The former is liberal, the latter conservative. Both have seen their numbers decline at about the same rate.
This, of course, goes absolutely contrary to the conventional wisdom in conservative circles. Since Douthat and Mohler don't have any way of thinking about this--God not blessing the conservatives?--they have no other arrows in their quiver other than to say what they've always said.
The question, contra Douthat, is not "Can liberal Christianity be saved?" The real question is posed by Diana Butler Ross: "Can Christianity be saved?" The answer, of course, is yes, but shallow, self-serving, and sloppy analysis will make it a lot more difficult.
In the late 19th century, several immigrants from Sweden settled in southern Trego County, Kansas.
One of them was John Saleen, who, with his family, arrived from Sweden in 1896, and began work to organize a Lutheran church that would worship in the Swedish language.
The initial group met at Sunny Slope school in 1900. (The building no longer exists. It was a one-room schoolhouse on, indeed, a sunny slope a few miles south of the small settlement of Ogallah.)
On August 25, 1902, Pastor Carl Waleen laid the cornerstone for the then-named Swedish Evangelical Emmanuel Lutheran Church. (The church is typically referred to as "the Swede church" by locals.)
The church’s first choir sang “Du Kyrka Po Den Grundvald Bygd” for its dedication. Construction continued until 1904. Services were conducted in the Swedish language until 1920.
I was baptized in this church on April 9, 1950, which was Easter Sunday, and continued attending church there until I was about 12 years old. (Alice Saleen, John's wife, was still a member of the church.)
It looked much different in the 1950's than in this photo. For one thing, this photo shows the church as it was first built. Obviously, there was little or no landscaping. Now, the church is ringed by several large cedars.
The biggest change, though, is that the church no longer has that impressive steeple. It was struck by lightning and burned during the 1930's and was never replaced. Imagine riding a horse and buggy through rural Kansas in the first part of the last century and coming upon this exotic looking structure.
Inside the church, the most striking feature is the painting above the altar. The subject is Christ in Gethsemene. It was painted by the renowned artist, Birger Sandzen, in the 1930's.
In 1962, we transferred our membership to Bethlehem Lutheran in the nearby town of WaKeeney. Bethlehem was primarily German. It had a similar painting of the same subject above its altar.
One couldn't help but compare the two paintings. The Sandzen painting in the Swede Church was sunny and light and set in a garden with vegatation and flowers. The painting in the German church was dark and grim, with thorns and lightning. As a friend of mine put it, "That tells you all you need to know about the difference between Swedes and Germans right there.
The "Swede Church" today:
*Limestone for construction of the church was quarried from nearby Threshing Machine Canyon. Threshing Machine Canyon was a station on the Butterfield Overland Dispatch, otherwise known as the Smoky Hill Trail. Threshing Machine Canyon got its name because of an 1867 attack by native Americans on a caravan transporting a thresh machine to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City. All the men in the caravan were killed and the threshing machine was set on fire. You could still see remains of the threshing machine as late as the 1950's.
Let me pause for this moment of personal accounting: I am something I have never been before. I'm a swing voter.
I will vote for the person--male or female, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, vegetarian or carnivore--who supports what I think ought to be the direction and priorities of the synod. To get my vote:
Be a one-termer. One of the things we need to do, in my humble opinion, is institute term limits. (Here's an earlier post on the subject.) With all due respect to our current bishop, Allan Bjornberg, eighteen years is too long. I pretty sure he himself would say so.
We've been lucky. Bishop Allan has been a fine bishop. He's been in so long, however, that I have a difficult time even imagining a new one. It's like when I was in the 5th grade, and, after JFK won in 1960, they took down President Eisenhower's picture at school. It wasn't right.
More frequent changes leads to more fresh starts. What if a new pastor to the synod got on the wrong side of the synod office at the beginning of a long term? That's quite a while to be in the wilderness.
Plus, if we had two long-serving bishops in a row, that would mean that we would go forty years with only two of them. Surely the Rocky Mountain synod has enough talent that it can generate more than two bishops over forty years.
Secondly, move the synod office out of Cherry Creek. OK, so it's not quite Cherry Creek. To get to Cherry Creek from the synod office, you have to pass by the Denver Country Club, where, incidentally, John Elway and Denver's old money entertained Peyton Manning on his recent visit.
Still, even if it's (just) past the plutocrat neighborhood, it's still expensive, costing the synod over $100,000 each year. Surely we could find a less expensive arrangement.
Some synod offices--Greater Milwaukee, Northwest Washington--have their offices in churches. This has multiple advantages, not the least being cost. (Put in a hot tub and the synod could move to All Saints! Closer to the airport!)
It would also provide some other advantages as well. The synod would have access to sacred space during the week. Conference room would also likely be available. I'm sure that well-intended Christians could negotiate the inevitable space utilization issues.
Ten years ago or so, Metro Chicago moved out of its expensive and dank digs on Michigan Avenue, bought a small old brewery, remodeled the place, and moved in--True Lutherans! That has to have been a less expensive long-term arrangement than the one they were in.
In fact, we should consider not having an office at all. What with laptops, smart phones, and iPads, communication should be less an issue than it has ever been. For meetings, we have about 40-some possible venues. We once had deployed staff. Maybe we should think about that again. Hey, it'd save $100,000!
With an extra $100,000, we could beef up our public witness on behalf of the poor. We've been in "cut-back mode" for years, but one place we should maintain, and, if possible, enhance, is social ministry. Budget cuts or no, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry (LOGM) and other social justice ministries should continue. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, it we're not helping others, what good are we?
In addition, not only does LOGM perform an invaluable service for our constituents, and for us, it also does so on behalf of the entire mainline protestant community in Colorado. LOGM works closely with the Colorado Council of Churches, and, along with other organizations, has a sizeable impact.
That's it. I'm a swing voter. I'll vote for the candidate--flat-earther or round-earther, tea party or occupy--who supports this agenda.
There's an old saying in the Vatican: "You follow a fat Pope with a skinny one."
Our current Rocky Mountain synod bishop, Allan Bjornberg, has been in office since 1994. He's served three six-year terms, and would be able to run for a fourth, if that's what he wanted to do, because the Rocky Mountain Synod has no terms limits for the office of bishop. Some synods do; we do not.
Three years ago or so, some people made some noise about proposing a constitutional amendment to limit terms. It didn't get very far because nobody wanted Bishop Bjornberg to think it was directed at him. The people who were tinkering with the idea wound up abandoning it because they didn't want to run the risk of hurting his feelings.
My guess is that Bishop Bjornberg would be among the first to say that three six-year terms is too many. Furthermore, there's no reason our next bishop won't be a three-termer, or even perhaps more than that.
Bishops are almost always re-elected--not absolutely always, but that's the way to bet. The reason is because lay people want to be supportive of their bishop, especially those who participate in synod activities and elections, and pastors tend to be supportive as well. The bishop, after all, can make your life fairly miserable if he or she happened to get a bee in his or her bonnet regarding your sorry self.
If the next bishop were to serve three terms, that would mean that our synod would have had only two bishops in 36 years. Continuity has its benefits, but, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly others--likely several others--whose service would have been an asset to the synod.
With term limits--and shorter terms--the assets and talents of a wider variety of people could be employed for the benefit of our churches and people.
If our next bishop were a one-termer, term limits and shorter terms could be proposed and passed during his or her one term. Follow a fat Pope with a skinny one? Let's do something like it. Let's follow a three-term bishop with a one-term one, and use that opportunity to pass term limits.
Luther's explanation of the 8th commandment encourages us not only not to bear false witness against our neighbor but also to defend our neighbor, speak well of them, and "put the best construction on everything".
The respective press offices of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) did just that.
The two sides met February 8 in Chicago to discuss the LCMS's ending of their cooperative ministries with the ELCA. They're opting out because the ELCA approved partnered gays in the ministry.
At their 2010 convention, the LCMS passed a wordy 15-page document--"Principles for Cooperation in Externals with Theological Integrity"--which basically asserts that the ELCA is so far gone down the road of perdition that good self-respecting people can no longer find any way of doing good with them.
How did the respective head offices spin the recent meeting? LCMS: "LCMS, ELCA reps discuss cooperation." ELCA: "ELCA and Missouri Synod leaders continue conversations together."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been sparring with Russia's Vladimir Putin in recent days. He blames her for stirring up the Russians. She says it's his own dang fault.
Meanwhile, speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, at a conference on refugees, she noted the important work of Lutheran social ministry organizations in welcoming refugees to the United States. ELCA News Service:
Clinton shared a story about Fatuma Elmi, who applied for asylum in the United States after civil war broke out in her native Somalia in 1991. Settled in Minneapolis, Elmi has worked as an employment counselor at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota for the past 17 years. She has been able to find jobs for 79 percent of her clients this year, despite the difficult economy.
First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco has been "suspended" from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for about twenty years. (They had a gay pastor before having a gay pastor was cool.)
In light of the August 2009 vote to roster gays in committed relationships, they are now considering rejoining the ELCA. First United has recently sent a revised constitution to the Secretary of the ELCA. If approved, First United will schedule a vote.
Pastor Susan Strouse says that First United "hopes" their constitution is approved, even though it deviates from the ELCA model at certain points. First United, for example, is committed to the use of inclusive language. It is "near and dear" to the congregation's heart, says Pr. Susan.
All this means is that they do not use exclusively masculine terms for God. In their statement, "Toward a Statement on Inclusive Language," the congregation states:
God may be addressed as Lord or Lover, Father or Mother, Creator or Spirit, or even Goddess. We believe, however, that God is not limited even though our language is; the names change, the truth remains the same. Our words are products of time and history, the context in which we encounter God. But our God is timeless. We welcome your contribution to our many ways of calling forth the divine love that unites us all.
One doubts that this would be very controversial. To my knowledge, the church catholic has never said that God must be spoken of in exclusively masculine terms. In fact, it's bad theology to do so. God contains both the masculine and the feminine--and then some.