Bibles, Badges,and Business

A coalition of religious leaders, law enforcement officers, and business people has begun working on comprehensive immigration reform, using this catchy name.  With Congress unable to make progress on this issue, other groups are banding together to seek solutions.

Nehemiah 8

I recently read much of this chapter and noticed several of our Lutheran liturgical practices in worship are described in this chapter fromthe Old Testament.  I would encourage you to read this chapter and note the parallels.

What Is a Doctor of the Church?

In the Roman Catholic Church, a Doctor of the Church is a person whose writings are all accepted by the Vatican.  These writers are trustworthy and can be quoted as true expressions of Catholic beliefs.  Being declared a Doctor of the Church has been a significant honor for Catholics.

Martin Luther would not be a Doctor of the Lutheran Church.  The ELCA has repudiated some of Luther's comments about Jews and some of his comments about other religious groups are also objectionable.

Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day

I was reading some ELCA materials today and saw this new name for Columbus Day.  Has the name of the holiday been officially changed, or is this a way to try to reconcile Americans having a holiday for a man who was not all that virtuous?  What have you heard?

Is Christopher Columbus the new Robert E. Lee?

National Take Your Bible to School Day

A waitperson at Fuddrucker's saw me carrying my Covey day timer into the restaurant October 5 and wanted to know if it was a Bible.  I had to explain that even though I am a clergyperson, the black case did not have a Bible.  I felt like a police officer without a badge.

He said the day was a special day to take Bibles to school, part of a program pushed by a local Christian radio station.

I wonder how people would take to a National Take Your Koran to School Day..

October 21 Pray/Fast/Act

This month the ELCA and Episcopal Church are focusing on the homeless as winter weather approaches.  Lutherans and Episcopalians will pray and fast October 21 and lobby Congress to remember the poor who are also homeless in America.

What Is Happening at Beitel Lutheran Church?

Our neighboring ELCA congregation to the southeast has reached a crossroads.  Their pastor of 22 years has taken a call elsewhere and the remaining membership is in turmoilMost of the council has resigned in the midst of the conflict.  I have heard two reports Sunday worship attendance is now down to 20-40. One viable option is for the congregation to close.

I do not intend to openly encourage the remaining core to come here as a group..  Conflicted congregational members need a fresh start and a neighboring congregation does not need to inherit all the anger and bitterness.  In cases like this, it makes sense for the members to go wherever they please and seek healing for themselves.

When Prince of Peace closed, another conflicted congregation, the members scattered in several directions, though a large group went to Abiding Presence where a former pastor of Prince of Peace attends.

As I look back, the closing of Zion on Cincinnati was a clean closing.  The congregation was not in deep conflict.  They had just gotten too small to survive.

Pastor Sue Briner is working with groups of small congregations on the northwest and southeast sides of San Antonio.  The goal is to develop some cooperative ministries where congregations share a pastor or other staff.  About 13 congregations are involved in these two efforts.

MacArthur Park remains one of the minority of congregations in San Antonio which can still support a pastor full time.

Update on St. Andrew Lutheran Church

Instead of merging with Shepherd King, St. Andrew has decided to close.  Members can go wherever they like but the memberships of those who do not express a preference will be sent to Shepherd King.

Merging congregations is often difficult and that appears to be the case here too.  Congregations often develop unique cultures which do not blend well with other congregations.

With the imminent closing of St. Andrew, all ELCA congregations in Bexar County will have been started before 1987, the start of the ELCA.  During those 30 years, the county has grown significantly but we have had no success starting new churches.

New Synod Mission Statement

In preparation for electing a new bishop in 2018, the Southwestern Texas Synod has written a new mission statement similar to our Live the Gospel, Change the World.  The synod's new statement is "God's grace transforms us to lead, love, and learn."

Additional work is being done based on this new synod mission statement.  We have been told to watch for more information about this statement in coming months.

Fall 2017 Reading Program

I have ordered and been given eight books to read this fall.  As I complete them, I will offer summaries in this blog.  The books I am starting include:

Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament's Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (two volumes), by Gregory A. Boyd.  Suzette Price asked me to read these for a possible Wednesday evening class.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, by Parker J. Palmer.  I have received more than one recommendation for this book.

Rough Country: How Texas Became America's most Powerful Bible-Belt State, by Robert Wuthnow.  This will be my first book on church history, specifically in Texas. 

The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus: Relational Smarts for Religious leaders, by Roy M. Oswald and Arland Jacobson.  This will be a follow-up to some work I did on my last sabbatical with Oswald.

God's Reign & the End of Empires, by Antonio Gonzalez.  This book was recommended to me by a professor at Oblate School of Theology.

What Christianity Is Not, by Douglas John Hall.  This is to be the last book written by one of my favorite contemporary theologians.

Ask, Thank, Tell, by Charles R. Lane.  I will be joining our congregation council in reading this book suggested for our Rooted & Growing Capital Campaign.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown.  Bishop Tiemann is having all clergy read this book for his annual bishop's convocation in October.

Have you read any good books recently you would like to recommend?

Poverty Statistics from Bread for the World

I recently received the following information from Bread for the World:

"New data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2016, only 12.3 percent of U.S. households lived at risk of hunger, compared to a peak of 14.9 percent of households in 2011.  We also saw a drop in the poverty rate from 13.5 percent in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016.

This is good news!  But our work isn't over.  There are still more Americans living in poverty and at risk of hunger than before the recession.  If Congress decides to cut programs that help struggling families, we'll certainly see hunger and poverty increase - effectively erasing the progress we've made." 

Are Poor Children Special or Typical?

The education work group of the San Antonio Sponsoring Committee met with Rep. Diego Bernal this past week at Temple Beth-El.  Bernal is an authority on public school education in Texas having visited every public school in his district and we asked him to address the needs of school children growing up in poverty.

In 1980, 28-32% of Texas public school children lived in poverty.  During those years, legislators tried to plan for the special needs of this underprivileged minority of students.

Today, 60% of Texas public school children are growing up in poverty.  Poor children are now typical, yet financial support for public education has been suffering in recent sessions of the legislature.  Big cuts were made in 2011 and 2013.

Were you aware the majority of public school students in Texas are growing up in poverty?  How do you think these children should be helped?

Martin Luther on Social and Economic Justice

Dr. Norm Beck of Texas Lutheran University spoke recently at the Sol Center at University Presbyterian Church on the topic "What is Lutheran about Lutheran Tradition Christians?" A retired local Presbyterian pastor gave me the outline from Beck's presentation.  Included in the outline was the following:

"Social and Economic Justice - Martin Luther spoke and wrote extensively against unregulated capitalism that resulted in gross income inequality..  He was an advocate for welfare legislation by the State so that no one would have to be a beggar.  He believed and taught that education should be available for all people.  His views on social and economic justice are similar to the positions in our time of the Democratic Socialism of the Roman Catholic Pope Francis and of the U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders."

A major challenge for the church today in the United States, and especially in states like Texas, is the political unpopularity of many of Luther's positions.  While Luther may have supported regulated capitalism, the ending of gross income inequality, and welfare legislation by the state, I have found many current Lutherans in Texas who do not support these concerns.

Are pastors to be faithful to the beliefs of Luther or should they ignore what he said and try to keep the peace in their congregations by avoiding controversy and not teaching what Luther taught?

When I was part of the orientation team for Texas Lutheran University  President Stuart Dorsey, I said many Lutherans in Texas are closer to the teachings of Billy Graham than to the teachings of Martin Luther.  The current political environment in the country is forcing religious leaders to address this gap between what Luther taught and what many Lutherans actually believe. 

Should we expect newcomers to be attracted to a church where the adherents are not in step with the founder of the movement?  Lutherans in America need to address this issue.

Three Kinds of Leaders

Ernesto Cortes told a group of us this week there are three kinds of leaders in our congregations and communities.

Pillars are people who may no longer be active leaders of a group but whose support is necessary for any proposal to be accepted.

Active builders are the people who are now active in leading the organization. 

The third group includes the do-something people who get impatient if little is happening.

Which of these three kinds of leaders are you most like?  Seldom is the same person good at all three kinds of leadership.

Interfaith Dream Act Sign On Letter - September 2017

Religious leaders are being asked to sign a large number of public letters and petitions these days regarding a number of concerns in Washington.  Following are the first two paragraphs of a letter I signed recently:

"Dear Member of Congress,

As people of faith, we believe we're all members of one spiritual family.  Dreamers are our beloved siblings.  We strive to love our neighbor and uphold everyone's innate human dignity.  Dreamers worship in our pews, study in our schools, and work in our communities.  For many, this is where they learned to ride a bike, celebrate our nation's holidays, and serve their communities.  They are mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, lawyers, scientists, and leaders of a new generation of Americans - and they make our nation stronger.  The decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before legislation was enacted top protect them from deportation was immoral, as it leaves nearly 800,000 individuals facing an unknown future.

We, a diverse community of religious leaders, ask Congress to act today.  Dreamers cannot wait, our businesses cannot wait, and our country cannot wait.  We urge all Members of Congress to immediately pass a clean Dream Act of 2017 (S. 1615/H.R. 3440), which provides a long overdue pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth." 

Three Kinds of Trust

Ernesto Cortes met with the leaders of the San Antonio Sponsoring Committee this week and one topic he discussed was trust.  He said there are three major kinds of trust.

Organizational trust comes when people trust leaders of certain institutions.  For instance, military officers, school officials, law enforcement, and clergy are respected because of the institutions they represent, even if the people called upon to trust them do not know them personally.

Transactional trust occurs when we trust the grocery clerk to charge us the correct price for goods because such transactions must be trusted for the economy to work.

Relational trust comes from knowing the person we are engaging actually cares for us.  Families are based on this kind of trust.

The first two kinds of trust are in serious trouble in our country.  People are relying more on relational trust.  Interpersonal relationships are growing in importance as people are trusting strangers less.

Ashure or Noah's Pudding

This past week Mehmet Oguz of the Turkish Raindrop House brought a Turkish delicacy for refreshments to honor the current Jewish and Muslim holy days.  He handed out the following information with the refreshments:

"Ashure or Noah's Pudding is a Turkish dessert that is made of a mixture consisting of grains, fruits, dried fruits and nuts.

In anecdotal history, it is claimed that when Noah's Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, Noah's family celebrated with a special dish.  Since their supplies were nearly exhausted, what was left (primarily grains, dried fruits and the like) was cooked together to form a pudding, what is now called Ashure.

Traditionally, Ashure is made in large quantities to commemorate the ark's landing and is distributed to friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, among others, without regard to the recipient's religion or belief system as an offering of peace and love."

I enjoyed eating the dessert and learning of its significance.


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