Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lutheran Airlines

After a week of professorial and pastoral duties, I was ready for a little humor. My colleague, George Heider, who also serves as the chair of my department in the university, sent the following to me. I'm passing it along to my readers in the hope that it will bring you a smile/laugh as it did to me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Daystar Journal

After much trial and error, I have finally launched the new Daystar website. It is most definitely a work-in-progress, but at least it is started. It is a very, very simple site, but one that I hope folks will visit from time to time.

In the coming weeks, I will be uploading all of the past Daystar essays and articles
(at least the ones that pass the test of time). I will also be adding links to other
important websites (Such as the Creator's Tapestry, Crossings, the main Lutheran
church bodies, etc.).

The web address is:


Please add this to your favorites and tell others about it. Those of you who are Lutheran will probably be most interested in reading its contents, but others of you may find a tidbit here and there as well.

If you know of a blog or a web site that should be added to the links, let me know.

I will continue to work with Bob Schmidt to identify topics and authors for upcoming issues of The Daystar Journal. But meanwhile, if the Spirit moves you to write something of theological importance and you're willing to let it stand out there for all the world to see, send it my way.

Any advice on how to improve the site will be greatly appreciated.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pericopes of the Week: Watanabe

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
The Wedding at Cana, 1984
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Momigami (crumpled) paper, 32/100
University Fund Purchase, Watanabe honorary degree campus visit
Brauer Museum of Art, 87.17.001
 Last Friday marked the end of a truly fine exhibition of biblical stencil prints by the legendary Japanese artist Watanabe Sadeo (1913-1996) at Valparaiso University's Brauer Museum of Art. Richard H. W. Brauer, after whom the museum is named and who taught art at VU for many years, served as the curator for this exhibit, "Heeding the Voice of Heaven: Sadao Watanabe Biblical Stencil Prints." The accompanying catalogue, which also tells the story of Watanabe's connection to Valparaiso University, is edited by my colleague, Gregg Hertzlieb, who directs the museum.  The book reminds us that Watanabe received an honorary doctorate from VU in 1987. At that time he said, "I owe my life to Christ and the gospel. My way of expressing my gratitude is to witness to my faith through the medium of biblical scenes." Gregg was kind to allow me to use in today's blog a few images of these biblical prints from the catalogue. These pictures will serve as this week's pericopes.

The story of Watanabe takes us back to my post of a few weeks ago, when I reported that the current president of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod has threatened to sever his church body's ties to the Japan Lutheran Church (the NRK--Nihon Ryuteru Kyodan), all because the latter is poised to allow women to serve as pastors. Watanabe became a Christian in Japan, was an active member in the United Church in Japan, was a close friend of key LCMS missionary to Japan, Bill Danker (about whom I wrote in the earlier blog), and has influenced many in the Christian churches here in this country. While the LCMS is threatening to break ties with the NRK, thankfully it will be unable to break its own members' connections to Christians in Japan. Watanabe's artwork helps to remind us of these important connections.

A friend of mine emailed me today to share his thoughts on this situation between the NRK and the LCMS. (I should add that he, too, owns a wonderful stencil print, signed by Watanabe, that hangs in his office.) Here's what he wrote:

"I am aware of the JLC (usually called the NRK – Nihon Ryuteru Kyodan) situation and it is unfortunate that the LCMS is not looking at the entire picture/challenge that is currently facing and has been facing the NRK for decades. Simply, an already small and fragile church body is  losing members and is enduring a decades long shortage of pastors. It is well known that less than 1% of the Japanese population is Christian, let alone Lutheran. And, without the work of missionaries in Japan, people like my wife may not have come into contact with the Lutheran/Christian faith, would not have been baptized, etc.. Surely the Great Commission includes all those, men and women, who are called and capable to preach and/or share the Gospel message."

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
Adam and Eve, 1980
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Washi paper, 16/100
Gift of Josephine L. Ferguson (VU 1946) and Byron L. Ferguson (VU 1948)
Acquired from Rev. Dr. William Danker
Brauer Museum of Art, 86.07.002
Today I am grateful for those Christian/Lutheran missionaries who were instrumental in helping Watanabe Sadeo to come to faith in Christ, to be baptized, and to join that small community of Christian believers in Japan. I am grateful for the Christian witness that Mr. Watanabe makes through his beautiful art.

Martin Marty notes in his essay that appears in the catalogue that Watanabe's prints "make the familar strange, and the strange familiar." Marty describes an experience I had, too, when I first came across a Watanabe print, "What's that all about?" "Once grasped by a Watanabe work, alerted or inquisitive viewers linger and muse, for they know how important it is to give new visual art experiences their chance, much as one must be open, curious, and patient with new music" (Martin Marty, "The Masks of Watanabe," in Heeding the Voice of Heaven: Stories from Genesis to Revelation Envisioned by Sadao Watanabe [Valparaiso, Ind.: Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University, 2010], 16)

Watabe has himself said, "Theology will not take deep root in Japanese soil if it is merely an import. I feel it is my mission to create Christian art for the Japanese people."

Thankfully the art has not remained confined in Japan. Dr. Danker helped to make Watanabe and his work more well-known in this country. Many of the pieces on display at the Brauer Museum normally hang in the homes and offices of several of my friends, colleagues and acquantances, people like Jim and Joanne Albers, the family of Bill Danker, Arlin and Sharon Meyer, Ed and Marie Schroeder, and the family of Robert Schnabel. (My wife, who will not read today's blog, doesn't know that she's receiving a Watanabe signed print for Christmas. So "Jonah and the Whale" [1979] will soon hang in our living room.)

Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)
Listening, 1960
Hand colored Kappazuri dyed stencil print on Momigami (crumpled) paper, edition of 520
University Fund Purchase
Brauer Museum of Art, 2010.01
  "I have always aspired to portray stories and episodes from the Bible. In this disturbed world, I would like to heed the voice of heaven" (Sadao Watanabe, "The Artist's Comment," in The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation, by James A. Michener [Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962], 30).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Further Sign of LCMS Times

A close friend and fellow-LCMS clergyman, who is in good standing in the LCMS, recently served as the keynote speaker at a joint LCMS-ELCA national theological conference. Yes, such conferences still exist, but they may be a dying breed, given the current LCMS leadership and the actions it has been taking toward other church bodies in the world.

My friend, who has spoken at a previous conference of this group, was invited partly because he is indeed an LCMS theologian. The tradition of the group, whose annual meetings go back forty-three years, is to invite speakers from the two major Lutheran church bodies. Partially funded by Thrivent, these annual conferences have "focused on and celebrated the importance of ministries in chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, and clinical pastoral education in the Lutheran church" (to quote from the conference brochure).

The planners for this conference, which was held in October, had invited the President of the LCMS, who at the time of the invitation was President Kieschnick, to address a plenary session. The presiding bishop of the ELCA was also invited to address the group, which he did. But with the change of leadership in the Missouri Synod, the new Synod President, Rev. Matthew Harrison, chose not to attend. Instead he asked an LCMS chaplain who did attend to inform the group as to why he, Rev. Harrison, could not attend.

The reason? Answer: Because Rev. Harrison did not want to appear at a conference where my friend was the keynote speaker. According to the chaplain, Rev. Harrison could not be on the same podium as my friend because the latter had expressed public support for some preliminary documents that led up to the ELCA's decision last summer to ordain gays and lesbians who are in committed, life-long, publicly-accountable relationships.

Please note, my friend and Rev. Harrison would not have been on the same podium at the same time. Even if they had been, Rev. Harrison would have been speaking for himself and would have brought greetings and comments separately from my friend. Instead, Rev. Harrison chose to avoid the conference altogether, merely because my scholarly friend was the keynote speaker.

This behavior, which one expects to observe on a grade-school playground but not at the administrative level of a Christian church body, strikes me as founded on fear, the fear of appearing to endorse perceived "uncleanness" among others. Because my friend has spoken out in support of another church body's decision about homosexual clergy, he is now deemed doctrinally and ethically "unclean" by the Synod President. The implication of this view, of course, is that the President of the Synod is righteous and right and that he does not want to make himself "impure" by coming into contact with my "impure" friend.

Apparently, for the time being anyway, the issues of women's ordination (as in Japan) and homosexuality (as in the ELCA) have become the litmus tests of orthodoxy in the LCMS. The doctrine on which the church stands or falls is no longer the gospel of Christ Jesus, but rules and regulations. It is almost as if one could say, paraphrasing an LCMS scholar of an earlier time (Walter Bartling), "If a woman is ordained to the pastoral office, Christ is not raised and your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" or "If a practicing homosexual is ordained to the pastoral office, Christ is not raised and your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."

Has the fear of "impurity" become so great that one cannot even risk being seen "in the company of sinners"? In an earlier time, and still in some places today, LCMSers have taken risks for the sake of the gospel and Christian love. They haven't worried too much, if at all, about "purity" and "impurity," about "clean" and "unclean," but have sought to become all things to all people so that they might by all means save some.

Then again, maybe it was a good thing that Rev. Harrison didn't attend this inter-Lutheran conference. One can imagine what he might have said to "the impure" in his midst. Surely saying nothing is better than saying that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pericope of the Week: Wangerin

One of the great blessings of teaching at Valparaiso University is that one occasionally crosses paths with Professor Walter Wangerin Jr. In the years since I joined the faculty he and his wife, Thanne, have become friends. We have shared many meals together and I have enjoyed interloping several Friday-afternoon theological sessions between Walt and my other close colleague, Fred Niedner Jr. These two "juniors," both sons of Missouri-Synod pastors ("A wandering cleric was my father," is how Walt puts it), who have met regularly on Fridays for seventeen years, have helped me to expand my theological and intellectual horizons in so many ways, and for that I am grateful.

Long before I ever met Walt or Fred I had learned of and from them. In Walt's case, first was The Book of the Dun Cow, which won the American Book Award for Best Science Fiction Paperback in 1980 and was the New York Times' choice for best children's book that year. Then there was Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, from which I generously borrowed and often cited during my first years of pastoral ministry in West Dundee, Illinois. These great books were followed by others: Miz Lill and the Chronicles of Grace, which tells of Walt's first pastorate, The Book of Sorrows, among the best of our beast fables, The Orphean Passages, which is yet another story of a pastor and the drama of his faith, and As for Me and My House, which I think is the best book on love and marriage that I have read. (If you can believe this, I actually took a copy of it on my honeymoon to Antigua, many, many moons ago! I later used it with the young-couples group in my congregation in that first year of marriage.)

If you have kept up with news about Walt's health during the past years, you know that he suffers from lung cancer. Thankfully the cancer is now pretty much in check, although he must occasionally use oxygen and stop to catch his breath. While he has had to retire officially from the university, he continues to show up periodically at his office two floors down from mine. He still writes quarterly for The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the church body in which he is a rostered pastor. I recently learned from him that he plans to teach a masters-level course on campus next semester. And he continues to write. And write. And write. In fact, he's probably written more during the time of his chronic illness than before the cancer's onslaught. Just a few months ago he passed on to me drafts of some new poetry and fiction about which he has invited my response. (Likewise, he has been very gracious to give me feedback on my own attempts at non-fiction.)

This past weekend I was privileged to co-lead a spiritual retreat with Walt for 28 of our Christian students. We were out at a local Roman Catholic retreat center on Saturday and Sunday. He did the two presentations on "friendship" and "intimacy" and I served as facilitator of discussions and preached and presided at Sunday's eucharist. Driving to and from the retreat center gave us some time to catch up on our families and the latest about our respective writing projects.

So I thought it would be fitting this week to select the pericope from one of his books, the one from which he himself drew this past weekend. He spoke on three of "the characteristics of the marriage contract": (1) it is one's total commitment unto the other, its comprehensiveness ("I promise you my faithfulness..."); (2) it is one's timeless commitment unto another, one that is not affected or changed by time ("Until death parts us..."); and (3) it is grounded in faith ("that we have faith in the God who loves the both of us, who encourages such a relationship as marriage, and who is above time..."). And then he spoke on a fourth:

(4) Forgiveness. This is the single most significant tool we have for meeting and for healing the troubles which marriage shall surely breed between us. What those troubles will be, we do not know. But that they will be, we may be assured. And nothing--neither our love, our effective communication with each other, our talents, our money, nor all the good will in the world--no, nothing can make right again the wrongs as can forgiveness. This tool, so practical and so unequivocally necessary to the healthy future of the marriage, must have its own chapter, and shall (As for Me and My House [Thomas Nelson, 1990], 24).

And what is forgiveness? It involves "giving up," "giving notice," and "giving gifts." For these "givings," you'll have to read the book... Or go to his website to listen to his presentations:


Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Veteran's Life

On this Veteran's Day my thoughts turn to the remembrance of my dad, who was drafted at the age of 19 and sent to Korea in 1951. There he served in the Second Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, of the U. S. Army. This was, of course, the so-called "forgotten war," the Korean War. From September 13th until mid-October of that year he fought in the fiercest battle of that war, the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge (Height 1211). This was a month-long battle that claimed approximately 3700 U. S. casualties and many more North Korean and Chinese dead and wounded.

After seeing the 1986 film, Platoon, about a group of soldiers in the Vietnam War, my dad remarked that what the end of that film depicts as taking place over the course of one night was something he and his buddies went through every night for three weeks. The beginning of Clint Eastwood's 1980s film, Heartbreak Ridge, tries to capture some of the awful intensity of that battle, which serves as a backdrop to the rest of the film.
In an October 1951 charge up Height 1211 everyone in my dad's platoon was killed. Also my dad. A medic pronounced him dead on the battlefield. Later that afternoon, somebody else saw him barely breathing on a pile of dead bodies. So he was rushed to a MASH unit, where someone like Hawkeye Pierce was able to patch him up enough so that he could be transferred to Tokyo and then to San Antonio, where he spent the next several months as a patient at the Brooke Army Medical Center. He was in a coma for the better part of a year. His injuries were the result of at least two bullets to his brain, grenade fragments in his eyes and one ear, and bullet wounds to his chest, hip, and legs. All of these injuries left him with the total loss of one eye, partial blindness in the other, deafness in one ear, partial paralysis on the right side of his body, deep scars on his chest and legs, and loss of some brain function. (Whenever my dad made a mental mistake he would jokingly point to his head and say, "You got to understand I'm working with only part of a brain...") For his service, he was given the purple heart and other medals.

When my brother, sister, and I would ask him about his service during the Korean War he would tend not to want to talk much about it. He did tell me once that the day of his injuries was like hell on earth. "Frankly those whole three weeks were one long hellish period. I prayed often, tried to hum hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (my dad was the son of a Lutheran pastor), anything that could give me a bigger picture of what I was facing." He also told me that after he was injured, in the midst of very violent, hand-to-hand fighting, a calm sensation came over him. He did see a bright light, but it didn't last for very long. "The next thing I remember was waking up in Texas many months later."

A few years ago I read the definitive history of the battle of Heartbreak Ridge and learned that my dad's company was purposely sent up one side of the hill, against overwhelming numbers of Chinese, in a so-called "diversionary tactic." The battle itself has been described as "a fiasco," because the U. S. totally underestimated the strength of the North Koreans and the Chinese. Only later, after sending in tanks, did the United Nations' forces secure that hill, which was eventually given back to the North Koreans.

When my dad finally returned to Oregon after his rehabilitation, he was able to find work in the regional office of State Farm Insurance. There he worked in the mailroom, sorting mail, making photocopies, trying to be a productive individual.

But every so often the scars of his infantry service would make themselves known. Throughout his life he was deeply troubled by all of the killing he did. I will never forget Memorial Day, 1972, twenty years after my dad returned from war. He was watching the news in our living room. My brother, sister, mom, and I were finishing our dinner in the kitchen. All of a sudden we heard my dad crying hysterically in the other room. My mother rushed to help him and to find out what was wrong. "David, what did you see on television?!" After ten minutes of soothing by my mother he calmed down enough to tell her that on the news that night they had run a story about North Korean orphans and widows from the war. My dad, who had suffered infrequent nightmares ever since he "came home," could only think, "Maybe I killed that child's father or that woman's husband..." We went to bed early that night.

This is only one anecdotal example, but I suspect many others could be told about military personnel who suffered and suffer deeply as a result of their "justified" killing. These stories seem more human and humane to me than the all-too-familiar bravado-pleasurable kind, the kind of story we heard not too long ago from a U. S. army general who spoke publicly about the "pleasure" of killing Afghans or any other "enemy."
War is terrible and we should never grow fond of it.

Is war sometimes a "tragic necessity?" Yes, sadly, but we cannot ignore the tragic pathos that inhabits many (most?) soldiers when they kill, a pathos that comes over them and returns to them after they come home. No amount of "joyful vocation" language will cover over that pathos.

The front page of my local paper today has a picture of one such suffering veteran who served in Vietnam. The subtitle of the article states, "On any given night, hundreds of vets are left homeless in Northwest Indiana. The scars of war have left some fighting to get back on their feet." Nationwide, about 1.5 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness.

After Korea, my dad fought to get back on his feet. Initially bitter and resentful toward country and God (when he was given his medals he supposedly threw them out the window in a moment of rage), his parents did all they could to help my dad get counseling. They continued to bring him with them to my Grandfather's church services. Later after my dad met the woman who would become his wife and my mother, she encouraged him in his job-search that eventually led him to State Farm. Her abiding love and faithfulness to him kept him from sinking too low. Friends and co-workers helped him to find joy and happiness in life and work. He made many friends and could often point to the difficulties in his life as a way of encouraging others who were also struggling. He became a kind of "wounded healer," to use Nouwen's great phrase, active in his local Lutheran congregation, involved with social services in his home town, a true inspiration. When he retired from State Farm, the line of people to congratulate him and wish him well stretched out to include more than 700 of his co-workers, past and present.

Following his "first death" in baptism (we Lutherans speak of baptism as putting "the old, sinful Adam" to death), and his second death on a Korean battlefield in 1951, my dad died for the third time on June 17, 2004. He is buried at Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Ore. Nearby are graves of individuals who died young in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther!

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach Sr.
Today marks the 527th or 528th birthday of Martin Luther. (We don't know for sure in which year, 1483 or 1482, he was born.) This anniversary has led me to reflect back on my two years in Germany (2007-9), when I regularly taught a semester-long course on Luther that included a week-long trip to places connected with the Great Reformer's life and work. In four different semesters (and in the summer before the first group of students arrived), I traveled east, through Thüringen, Saxony (Sachsen), and Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt). Along the way we visited Erfurt, where Luther attended university; Eisenach, where he lived for a time as a young boy; Wittenberg, where he lived in the Augustinian monastery and taught theology in the university; Weimar, where he occasionally preached; and Leipzig, where he held his famous debate with Dr. Eck.

Prior to our trip, the students and I had worked our way through several key texts, read the slim biography by Martin Marty, viewed segments from the excellent PBS documentary, Empires: Martin Luther, and discussed aspects of the Reformer's work and world. After examining Luther's childhood and early education in Mansfeld, we immersed ourselves in Erfurt 1501-05, where and when he had studied philosophy and the liberal arts and, briefly, law, and analyzed his religious crisis (i.e., the cut artery in his leg, the deaths of several friends from the plague, his guilt and fear before God, and finally the storm near Stotternheim). We then explored his decision to become an Augustinian monk, his life as a friar and priest, and his reluctant agreement to become a doctor of Holy Scripture. We sought to understand the terrible Anfechtungen ("spiritual crises," depressions, panic attacks?) that overwhelmed him, and how his mentor, Staupitz, and the theology of humility that he had learned from the Psalms, had helped to calm his troubled soul.

A major goal of ours was to understand how this preacher-theologian became such a fierce critic of the Roman Catholic Church and its sacramental system. We thus studied his early biblical commentaries, his anti-scholastic writings, and his 95 theses against certain abuses in the sale of indulgences, which reveal his struggle with the true nature of repentance and thus with the proper relationship of sinners before God. The so-called Indulgence Controversy, which intensified as Luther's widely-published scholarly theses were attacked by established church authorities and ultimately by the pope, in turn contributed to his so-called "Reformation breakthrough," sometime between December 1517 and the following summer. This Durchbruch gradually occurred as he came to understand the righteousness of God as that by which the righteous lives as a gift of God, i.e., as righteousness received by faith alone. The gospel reveals this passive righteousness of God through which the merciful God justifies us by faith, for Christ's sake. God does not punish, but he gives, and he makes us right with himself by our trusting in the good news about Jesus.

After engaging materials related to this breakthrough, the students and I traveled several paths: to the theology of the cross, the freedom of the Christian, Luther's sacramental theology and reforms, his critiques of monasticism and forced celibacy, the bondage of the will, his political theology and reaction to the peasants' uprisings, and finally to his apocalyptic outlook, his marriage and family life, and his troubling views toward the Jews and Muslims.

But the fieldtrip really made the course:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pericope for the Week: Melanchthon

My former teacher at the University of Chicago, the now-sainted philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), regularly picked a major scholar to study in-depth each year. He would examine all of the major writings and secondary analyses of that figure, in the language in which they first appeared, and take careful notes for later use. Often a major essay or book chapter would result from these intensive investigations.

After I completed my master's thesis on Ricoeur, Hans Georg Gadamer, and Mircea Eliade (comparing and contrasting their respective understandings of the relation of critical rationality to myth), I decided to follow my teacher's example and "go deep" with a thinker each year. I have done this now for each of the past twenty years. I have tried to balance my interests in theology and philosophy with those in literature and the arts. For example, last year, when I knew that I would be spending several days with a colleague in St. Petersburg, Russia, I read everything I could by and about Dostoevsky. The year before that, when my family and I spent considerable time in Greece, at my wife's uncle's vacation home in Nafplion, I undertook a detailed study of Homer. Since I had studied and taught Greek for ten years at Concordia University, Portland (both as an undergraduate student of one of the great classics instructors, Dr. Richard Reinisch, about whom I also thought on November 1, and then later as the partial successor to him when I joined that faculty in 1994 to teach New Testament, Greek, and church history), I worked my way through the Loeb editions of the Illiad and the Odyssey. I shall always treasure those warm afternoons when I sat on the second-floor balcony, Homeric and Greek books laid out on the round table, and sipped from my goblet of retsina as I occasionally looked out on the cyclopean ruins of Tiryns less than a kilometer away. It is hard for me to imagine a more idyllic setting to study Homer.

This year I'm working my way through the corpus of Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), Martin Luther's colleague, friend, and fellow-reformer. Of late, one of our Lilly Fellows, Piotr Malysz, and I have been examining Master Philip's Loci Communes of 1521, the first text of systematic theology to come out of the "Lutheran" reformation. We've had some good discussions about how Melanchthon obviously benefited from a classical, humanistic education (he himself is remembered as the "Educator of Germany") and how he sought to understand non-Christian knowledge in relation to his expositions of Christian teaching.

This week's pericope comes from Melanchthon's "Preface to Homer," perhaps written in 1538. It has been translated and included in the fine volume edited by one of the most important Melanchthon scholars of our time, Sachiko Kusukawa:

...We can see that it happens generally that the best things are held in utmost contempt and, on the other hand, that the worst things are made great. Therefore, if the same happens to literature and the teaching of classics, this must not appear to us as something new or excessively astonishing, nor is it fitting for us to be alienated from loving and cherishing these studies by the exceedingly bad judgment and error of the crowds. The matter itself and indignation move me to say this beforehand, as I am about to speak of Homer and of these our studies. For who would not be moved, seeing such extraordinary contempt for the best things?... I have, as I said, decided to expound--with the help of the gods--Homer's poem; I chose to speak briefly about it first on this occasion. I do so also in order to be able to commend it to the young by this oration, and to honour it with worthy praise, although it can never be honoured as it deserves, and Homer's splendour surpasses any oration. But just as great deities are sometimes worshipped with sacrifices of coarse grain and salt, so we bestow upon the praise of such a great writer what little we can in our insignificance... We shall discuss, briefly and as well as the short time will allow, the poem itself and the usefulness that scholars can derive from it. For those who read Homer in such a way that they derive nothing but pleasure from it, and aphorisms collected like little flowers, act like someone who tends a very fertile field only for the sake of their mind, so that he may occasionally crown himself with flowers growing there, neglecting care for the produce that he could reap in great abundance. Someone said, correctly, I believe, that such a man is not a sufficiently judicious steward. Even though one can obtain such pleasure from reading Homer as from hardly any other author--and it is entirely so arranged by nature that the highest true pleasure is matched with the highest usefulness--this must nevertheless not be the foremost object of attention. There is another one that is greater and preferable, beyond question; just as the heads of families are usually circumspect in what concerns their family, so immediately in the beginning we should devise a method in our minds if we are to attach any value to the task of reading this or that author. If we do this in studying Homer, then immediately the endless multitude of benefits becomes clear to us, as a throng of good things, which we can demand from that text abundantly and to our fill, as they say. If anyone were to include and enumerate them all in a single oration, it would be as Virgil said: "We who would have knowledge of this world would likewise fain to learn how many grains of sand on the Lybian plain are stirred by the Westwind, or when the East falls in unwonted fury on the ships, would know how many billows of Ionian Sea roll shoreward..."

--Philip Melanchthon, "Preface to Homer," in Orations on Philosophy and Education, ed. Sachiko Kusukawa, trans. Christine F. Salazar (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 40-41.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Christian Mission, Japan, and the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Office

Christian mission work in Japan began with St. Francis Xavier (1506-52) in 1549. The first Lutheran missionaries arrived there in the 1890s, a few decades after other Protestant missionaries entered the scene. The first Missouri Synod Lutheran missionary came to that country in 1948. That person was Pr. William Danker, known affectionately by students and colleagues as "Black Bill," to distinguish him from his red-headed brother, "Red Fred," the great New Testament scholar and main editor/author of recent editions of the standard Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

In his informative history of LCMS missions, Mission in the Making (Concordia, 1964), F. Dean Lueking recounts those initial years of LCMS missionary activity in Japan. Just a few months after Dr. Danker's arrival, three new missionary families were sent over from the states. A year later six more missionary couples began work there. In 1951 ten vicars were sent over for two-year stints in evangelistic activities. Then-seminarian Lueking himself served as such a vicar.

The major foci of this early LCMS missionary activity centered on three areas: Tokyo-Yokohoma, Niigata, and Hokkaido, places where other Lutherans were not active. A few years later a seminary was begun. Through Dr. Danker's leadership, the Missouri Synod mission cooperated with other Lutherans in Japan to form the Lutheran Literature Society and to support the Japan Lutheran Hour radio ministry. For Dr. Danker's own account of these years in Japan, see William Danker, Two Worlds or None (Concordia, 1964), a truly uplifting narrative.

Unfortunately in later years this early cooperation with other Lutherans gave way to "an arid period of inter-Lutheran relations" (Lueking, 299). And then with the take-over of the synod by the forces who elected and supported Jacob Preus in 1969, LCMS foreign missions were negatively affected by the hard-line actions of the synod's right-wing. Many on the synod's mission staff were fired, as was the faculty majority at the synod's flagship seminary, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where both Danker brothers were then serving.  Some LCMS members summarized the foreign mission situation in 1974 this way:

"The current synodical administration combines dogmatic rigidity with legalistic political leadership. Our church has lost the respect of much of the Christian world and is a source of embarrassment, suffering, and distress to her members, who are now set over against each other. Today the growth has ended. The international missionary staff, reflecting also the discontent of the large majority of our missionaries, unanimously dissents against the new policies encouraged and established by the administration" (The Board of Evangelical Lutherans in Mission, as quoted in No Room in the Brotherhood, by Frederick Danker [Clayton, 1977], 191).

Jump forward to today's LCMS and one is really jumping back to 1969, at least with respect to how the synod administration is relating to some of its foreign missionary partners. I'm not talking about the restructuring of the synod's missions, both foreign and domestic, that is the result of the synod's need to restructure itself. I'm talking about the letter that the newly-elected president of the LCMS, Rev. Matthew Harrison, sent in August to the president of the synod's partner church in Japan, the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC). This letter essentially shamed that church body for moving in the direction of voting next year to ordain women to the pastoral ministry. For several years now, the JLC has been discussing this theological and practical issue and now appears to be poised to take an affirmative action on the question. Rev. Harrison has informed the JLC that if it approves the ordination of women, a matter that is also being seriously discussed in the synod's partner churches in Germany and Australia, the synod will cut off all ties with the JLC and will bring home the synod's missionaries who are currently working in Japan.

So many questions arise upon receiving this news. Here are a few that come to my mind tonight:

(1) Is the practical matter of women pastors an absolute obstacle to Christian missionary activity? If so, on what basis? How is the gospel being harmed by this practical matter? Is maintaining a male-only pastorate an essential consequence of the gospel itself? How so? I'd like to read that argument. Or, if one wants to move outward from the gospel, what dogma of the church is being harmed by female pastors? The Trinity? The person of Christ? The church? The Scriptures? Many theologians, including myself, have pointed out that there is no supportable, biblical, dogmatic, theological rationale for prohibiting women from serving as pastors. Many others in the LCMS, including a former LCMS synod president (whose own daughter is now serving as a pastor!), whose mothers, aunts, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, etc. have had to leave the LCMS to fulfill the divine call to the pastoral ministry, are convinced that there is no sufficient scriptural basis to prohibit such a practice. Even many (most?) Roman Catholic scholars who are members of a church body that does not ordain women to the priesthood acknowledge that there is an insufficient scriptural basis to prohibit women from serving as priests and must therefore appeal to an extra-biblical argument within catholic tradition that maintains that women cannot represent in their bodies the person of the male Jesus. The fact of the matter is, the New Testament does not describe a single pattern of ministry which might serve as a blueprint or abiding norm for all future ministry in the church, to paraphrase a section from the WCC document on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. For my own argument in favor of women pastors, see my essay in the Daystar Reader. See also the other essays in that volume that support this same position.

(2) While Rev. Harrison and those like him see this issue as cut and dry, how can they account for faithful members of their own synod who publicly question the synod's decisions on this matter (again, see the Daystar Reader and the hundreds of LCMSers who support its arguments for women pastors), as well as the significant majorities in the synod's own sister churches, e.g., the Lutheran Church of Australia and the Independent Lutheran Church in Germany? The issue is not going to go away. So far no one in the synod has given a convincing theological response to the serious arguments set forth within the LCMS itself for the ordination of women. Apparently, the only public arguments on this issue that are allowed in the synod are those that support the synod's practice of a male-only pastorate.

(3) How does the action of Rev. Harrison accord with the blessings that have arisen from female pastoral ministry? Those churches that ordain women to the pastoral ministry do so because of their understanding of the gospel, because of their recognition of the creaturely and spiritual gifts that God gives to both men and women, and because they are convinced that the ordained ministry of the church lacks fullness when it is limited to one sex. My conviction about women pastors has been strengthened time and time again as I have been blessed to receive ministry from female pastors, many of them former LCMSers, and as I have heard them proclaim the gospel, administer Christ's sacraments, and care for individuals. I, for one, am grateful for the pastoral care that our campus community is receiving this year from our interim campus pastor, Pr. Phyllis Kersten, who is herself someone who grew up within the Missouri Synod but who had to leave that church body to fulfill the divine calling that was given to her by Christ. Her ministry is proof positive that women's gifts are as wide and as varied as men's and that their ministry is as fully blessed by the Holy Spirit as the ministry of male pastors. Show me one church that has approved the ordination of women to the pastoral office that has then later reconsidered its decision. There isn't one.

(4) Why insist on cutting off all ties with the JLC, if it should approve the ordination of women to the pastoral office, while continuing to work closely with other sister churches that are in fellowship with churches that do ordain women to the pastoral ministry? Why pick on the JLC? Why shame them, an action that is about the worst thing one can do to a Japanese person?

Count me as an LCMS supporter of those in the JLC and in the LCMS sister churches in Australia and Germany that are moving toward approval of the ordination of women to the pastoral ministry.

There are many more questions that one could raise. I'll stop here. What think ye about these matters?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bread for the World

One of my most treasured photos was taken at a Lutheran summer camp in Colton, Oregon, in 1946. Obviously I was not alive at the time, but the photo has come down to me as a memento of a happy period in my family's history. In the picture are my grandparents, two other adult leaders, and about forty high school and college students. Among the latter are my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Sally. My Grandfather, Emil Becker, was the pastor-in-residence for that week's group of Walther Leaguers, as they were called in those days. The Walther League was the national youth organization of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, named after the synod's first president, C. F. W. Walther (1811-1887). Its purpose was to encourage young people in the synod "to grow as Christians through worship--building a stronger faith in the Triune God; education--discovering the will of God for their daily life; service--responding to the needs of all men; recreation--keeping their joy of Christ in all activities; and fellowship--finding the power of belonging to others in Christ" (to quote from the original charter of the League).

Senator Paul Simon
In the front row of students, in the very center, sits a young, bow-tie-less Paul Simon. Not the future singer Paul Simon, but the Paul Simon who would later become an Illinois state representative, then an Illinois state senator, later Illinois's Lt. Governor, then one of its two U. S. senators, and along the way a candidate for the office of U. S. President. At the time of the photo he was the Walther League District President for Oregon/Washington, a student at the University of Oregon, and an active participant in the Lutheran Service Volunteer School.

When our paths crossed about fifty years after that photo was taken he told me about those days in the Walther League. I was pleased to hear his positive words about my grandfather and family (he confided that he then had a crush on my aunt Sally) and how influential the League was with regard to his basic religious convictions and political outlook and activity.

For a great account of Paul's development, one could do no better than to examine Robert Hartley's 2009 analysis, Paul Simon: The Political Journey of an Illinois Original (Southern Illinois University Press), which presents the subject as a kind of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon" tale.

Paul's parents, Pastor Martin and Ruth Simon, were good friends of my grandparents. Lutheran pastors and spouses in those days would often meet for social occasions, to encourage one another, to give each other an opportunity "to let their hair down," so to speak.

Paul's brother, Art, was close to my uncle and my father. When I showed Paul the picture a few weeks before his unexpected death in 2003, when he was on the campus of his and my alma mater, Concordia University, Portland, to give a public lecture about the relation of his Christian faith to public service, I inquired about why his brother wasn't in the photo. He remarked, "My brother and your dad were probably off galavanting in the woods or out doing something they weren't supposed to be doing."

I've been thinking about Paul of late because his daughter, Shelia Simon, has been campaigning for the office of Lt. Governor in Illinois, alongside of the incumbent Illinois governor, Pat Quinn. As of this afternoon, the race between Quinn/Simon and their republican opponents is too close to call. Its been a difficult race, and given the general outcome of the elections nationwide, it will be surprising if Quinn/Simon are able to pull out a win, despite their overwhelming support in the Chicago area.

Pastor Arthur Simon
I've also been thinking about Paul's brother, Art, who after his Walther League days went on to become an LCMS pastor like his father and the principal founder of the organization Bread for the World, which seeks to develop strategies for ending hunger and poverty. You might be familiar with the organization through its regular advertising just prior to the start of Rick Steves' travel program that airs on many PBS stations. Or perhaps you've read one of Art's books, starting with Bread for the World (Paulist and Eerdmans, 1975), a book that transformed the life of Rick Steves himself and that of so many others. For Art's own account of how Bread for the World began, one can read his recent memoir, The Rising of Bread. (A great review of the book was published in the Washington Post: see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/12/AR2009081201551.html)

More importantly, you might want to encourage your friends and family members to learn more about the organization's three-year plan to address the problem of hunger. For that, visit http://www.bread.org

One reason I have been thinking of Art, who continues to work part-time for Bread, was the informative and challenging article that Lisa Miller wrote about the current president of Bread, Pastor David Beckman, and his struggle to address issues of poverty and hunger in the current American political climate (which just got colder, if you as me). The article appeared in the October 11th issue of Newsweek magazine. If you missed that article," Dare to Care: A Minister and the Politics of Poverty," it can be read online at:


Another reason I was thinking of Art is the visit that Pr. Beckman's colleague, Pr. Steve Hitchcock, made to our campus last week. Steve is a Valpo alum, a graduate of my other alma mater, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, a member of the National Council for our honors college (Christ College), and currently the Senior Manager of Special Projects at Bread. During his visit to campus I was privileged to have had two extended conversations with him that focused on the theological basis for Christian social action and engagement. Our immediate interest was whether or not the German Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer might have something positive to contribute to our understanding of the proper relation of faith to public life and the pursuit of social justice. Steve's concern, and mine, is that so often among evangelicals and other Christians there is not a sufficiently solid theological foundation for why Christians should engage the public (dis)order and its problems, such as the alleviation of hunger. While many Lutherans have tended to separate their faith from public life, perhaps to guard it against harmful impurities or to keep it from being mixed up in secular issues or from being influenced by external issues and ideas, other Christians have often mixed up their faith and public action in ways that often end up losing the goodness of the good news. Steve and I have promised to continue the discussion.

On this post-election day I'm giving thanks to God for the public service of the Simon brothers and for the work of the organization Bread for the World. May I encourage you to learn more about this organization, if you don't know about it already?