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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Theology and Culture

I am a Lutheran Christian. To remind how us how English grammar works, in that sentence "Lutheran" (an adjective) modifies the word "Christian" (object). In other words, there are other kinds of Christians besides Lutheran ones. But I am not of those types.

I have lots of friends that are other types of Christians. Some have denominational labels, such as my Missouri Synod Lutheran friends, or even my Roman Catholic friends. Some of my Christian friends define themselves by political labels, such as Progressive Christians or Conservative Christians. Others use their self identity to understand their Christianity, such as my Gay Christian friends or my Social Justice Christian friends. And--of course, you can mix and match as many adjectives as you can find, such as my United Church of Christ, Gay, Low-Church, Social Activist Christian friend. But I am just a Lutheran, although to be fair I am mostly affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America branch of Lutheran. The ELCA is a denomination of Christianity.   Image result for elca

And according to recent studies my denomination is the least diversified denomination in the United States. We are almost exclusively white, middle class, and well-educated. And many people in my denomination are worried about this. They seeks ways to integrate other people of color into our whiteness. They seek ways to incorporate people of poverty into our middle class-ness. But what we don't seek, and what I think makes a huge difference in why are are so white and middle class, is ways to be un-educated. Our focus on education naturally leads to places of power, wealth, and exclusivity. In other words, as long as we remain committed to education we will probably remain middle class, and mostly white.

But here's the thing: to be a "Lutheran" Christian is to be committed to education, especially academic education. Martin Luther was a college professor. He held a doctorate in Philosophy and Theology. His writing on Christianity is some the densest theological work in the history of Christianity. And to grasp his understanding of Christianity, and how to best live in the love of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, often requires some serious thought. Just going out and helping your neighbor by serving in a soup kitchen will not help you understand Martin Luther, but it will help you work on your Christian love.

The theology of Lutheran Christians takes a while to "get." One of my professors of Luther used to say, "You can't be Lutheran usually until you're 30. You haven't suffered enough." And he wasn't talking about suffering the pain of discrimination, or racism or sexism. He was talking the suffering that comes from trusting all that you are to a God who dies. And although there is a promised future after death, for Lutheran Christians that doesn't mean you get it automatically.

That doesn't always work for people who are starving. Or people who are subjected to harassment. Or people who are killed for being a darker skin. To say that "God is probably going to help you, at least, that's what God promised" is not always the most comforting or motivating of words.

So, to my bothers and sisters in Lutheranism, keep the faith (and as Lutheran, of course, by that we mean the "regal relationship" (Joseph Sittler) granted us by God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is simple in our tradition.). We might not ever be the most diverse group of Christians, but that doesn't mean we can't try and help other Christians out in their struggles. Sola gratia.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

PS: Here's a sermon for you in a Lutheran Christian style. 

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