Reflections

Just a thought!

One of the victims of “progressive” theology ironically has been the “Fall”. Instigated by the rejection of the ‘scandalous’ doctrine of “original sin”, the bathwater, the fundamental, and more serious, doctrine of the Fall has been scuttled. Given that the Biblical witness throughout is set in the context of the falleness of creation, it is ill-fated to dismiss this doctrine. In fact, the whole of the Bible in its essence describes the work of redemption in a fallen creation. The avoidance, neglect, and shallowness of this central truth of biblical insight renders so much of current, contemporary Christian witness and action weak and pointless. By the Fall, what is NOT meant is “original sin”, evil, our propensity to sin (all of which are subordinate), but rather, the profound, irresolvable, and inescapable disorientation of creation, including humans, the irretrievable loss of identity, and the ubiquity of death in all aspects of life. It does not take much of an analytic examination of our reality to verify this. Both a current snapshot and an historical peek confirms the reality. In reality, however, so much of our energy and effort is expended in our avoidance, denial, frustration, and depression over the falleness of creation, including ourselves, that there is appears to be so little appreciation for the real work of God in Jesus – a new creation.

More ruminations to come.

Reflections on our times

In a recent article “the Rise of the American Authoritarianism”1 the point was made that we are entering an age in which “many more Trumps” will rise up. Clearly, the current Donald Trump can and is characterized as demagogic, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, a liar, and the list goes on…Every day there seems to be another display confirming the assessments of so many. As alarming as this reality, in and of itself, may be, the backdrop on which this is all unfolding demands an even more intense review and analysis. The article, a must read, cracks the door open on a more frightening reality than a 2016 Donald Trump, reality star, now the Republican candidate for President of the United States. It exposes a cultural shift that has been merely cultivated, manipulated, and show cased by the current nominee for the presidency. Trump’s sensitivity to this cultural shift is the same sensitivity which a demagogue of our own past used to attempt to establish a world governing Reich, enact a genocide of millions of Jews, and coopt a whole “Christian” nation. Similarities surely exist among all who assume a singular position to “save” the world, but those who attach themselves to such persons are the legitimizing force behind them. And to them, attention and concern must be directed. Donald Trump would still be the reality show host, the conniving business shrew, and the narcissistic liar he has grown up to be, had not millions of votes of a shifting cultural mass not elevated these qualities to presidential (dictatorial) assets.

What then is this cultural shift and what is the fuel for it? The authors gathers and weaves together research dating back to the early 1990s, revisited in the beginning years of the century, and magnified in the last few years. The terms used to identify both the shift in cultural and political America is “authoritarianism”. In short, the developing definition is “the psychological profile of people who, under the right conditions, will desire certain kinds of extreme policies and will seek strongman leaders to implement them.”2 This profile is not exclusive to any particular social group, in fact links different, even historically divided groups, together because the core emotional and psychological format of people’s lives become the same. “Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenge to that order – diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order – are experiences as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.… When they face physical threats or threat to the status quo, authoritarians support policies that seem to offer protection against those fears. They favor forceful, decisive action against things they perceive as threats. And they flock to political leaders who they believe will bring this action.”3 Authoritarianism is both the symptom of fear of change and diversity, and the fuel by which such fear is stokes and enlarged.

This condition is a self-fulfilling spiral inviting deeper polarization and antagonism among a population seeking justice and human rights and at the same time, law and order, self-protection, and safety. This brief introduction is an invitation to dig deeper into the research and analysis, to understanding the dynamics of our human communities, and to seek ways to bridge authentically the divide which has already impacted the American political scene, and to plumb the depth of our own values and senilities in light of a changing America. Without this serious engagement, history will repeat itself.

1-2-3 “The Rise of American Authoritarians” by Amanda Taub, March 1, 2016. Found online.

What is a Lutheran? Part 2

The central symbol in the Lutheran way of living is the way of the Cross. The cross, of course, was the Roman Empires capital punishment medium, cruel, gruesome, and demeaning, reserved for those who threatened the status quo, who exhibited a rebellious nature, or who were otherwise deemed disposable. It was on this execution cross that Jesus was put to death. There was no glory in the cross, no playacting, no pretending – it was suffering, despair and death, and this God submitted to it in flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of Jesus, really human. It was deemed a violent victory of Roman justice and religious collusion, the final victory of death as it always had been, but in reality, God acting on his indomitable and passionate love for the human family, submits and embraces death, the final solution in human terms, and dies. And then, when death, the ultimate tool of human captivity, had spent it full force, a new creation was raised out of the wreckage of the old way of living, a new reality established, a resurrection life, made, shaped, empowered by God was born, never again to be imprisoned by death. The only way to the freedom and power of new life, though, is through the death of the old.

There is a profound truth which is revealed in this action of God and his invitation, his call to follow Jesus. Whatever ails us, whatever causes us distress, whatever brokenness we experience, whatever existential angst invades our lives, it never gets resolved, cured, or repaired by what we do or say or attempt, or even by the collective efforts of our human imagination. It inevitably joins the never ending merry-go-round. History tells truth about such attempts, our institutions bear witness to the reality, (our current elections cycle included) and our lives are illustrations. It is as if there is a “No Exit” sign that hangs around our lives. And to add to the harshness of such realty, we have no one to blame except ourselves.

Not that such a truth is easily admitted. In fact, the world’s creativity is essentially designed to deny such reality, to dress it up to hide the facts, to entice the inhabitants to ignore, look the other way, and celebrate the short lived remedies. And the people respond with money, loyalty, and more demand, eyeballing the next adventure in denial. But despite the denial, the reality of death does not rest, it continues to assault, consume, and drive the world and its people, you and me (if you are honest) into chaos. From time to time, particularly real in human experience, the reality breaks through, and we are unable to build a wall to keep it out – depression, despair, profound loneliness and more invade. Where is God? What kind of God would allow this to happen? There can be no God!

The Cross, that symbol and reality of death, in Jesus becomes the path to the new life given in love, confirmed in the resurrection. Where is God? Right there in the midst of the suffering and grief, brokenness and isolation; there on the Cross, loving us enough to put to death that which separates us from his life. The cross is tough love allowing us to realized our separation from God, to feel it, to know it, to grief over it, and then by the life-gift poured upon us by the Holy Spirit, in the resurrection, rise to live free of the world’s captivity, free to follow, really follow, the he who made it possible, Jesus Christ.

We still live in the realm of death, we are still tempted to deny, ignore, succumb to its vices, and so we come regularly to the mercy seat of God to be restored and re-empowered by the Spirit enabled (as an illegal alien) to follow the One who has claimed us as his own forever, confirmed through his own death and resurrection. This is the way of the Cross. Jesus calls us “Come, follow me”.

Pastor Daniel Solberg

What is a Lutheran? Part 1

First, and foremost, a Lutheran sees the world as it really is, and then, still lives fully in it. No candy coating, no pie in the sky, no escapism, no easy answers, and nevertheless, lives freely, faithfully, and hopefully. The world is a mess. Even with the greatest amount of optimism and good intentions, the outcomes suffered by the world (including you and me) are unrelenting and unchanging – war, greed, selfishness, corruption, death, and their offspring – things are a mess. Regardless of what solutions are put forward, what efforts are put forward to control life, there is always another expression of the same reality. This is not an easy reality to face, and most do not. Denial is the primary response, followed by self-indulgence, and, then, when reality really breaks in, frustration, despair and cynicism. It’s a bleak picture, tragic even, but unrelenting and inescapable.

This is not how God intended his gift of creation to be. It started out “very good” (Genesis 1), but when the relationship between God and his creation was broken by human arrogance, the tragedy began, and both the arrogance and the tragedy continues to consume every generation since. God, however, has never given up on his creation or us, nor has God abandoned or turned away from us. Despite the violation, God sought a way to restore the broken relationship. Without violating the “created” dignity of his human creation, God sustained his blessing, meted out justice, issued laws, lifted up prophets, disciplined, wept, wooed, and more in order to restore his intended purpose with his human creation, but without success. The arrogance, the self-centeredness, the pride of the human spirit refused to let God be God, taking the god role to themselves. And the tragedy continues. The reality is again and again replayed.

So finally, because of the love with which he created and formed humanity, God himself entered into the creation he made, not in spirit, not in concept, not in symbol, but in person, the person of Jesus Christ, fully human, sharing flesh and blood with the human family. And in doing so, not only affirmed the “goodness” of his creation, but in his life gave witness to the life God intended for his creation – wholeness, community, compassion, healing, mercy. And still, resistance, denial, rejection, betrayal, and violence was the response, and death, ironically, the final tool of “human control” was exercised in a most inhuman, condemning way on a cross – crucifixion - humanity’s final solution and its existential prison.

But humanity’s final solution, is God’s final victory. In Jesus, God did not condemn humanity’s corruption, but rather under the pall of human deceit, establishes a new relationship with his creation, one which does not depend on human responsiveness and is undeterred by human rejection, but is established solely on God’s love poured out, unmerited grace, a pure gift. In the resurrection, a totally unique and bold action, God dethrones the power and reality of death and raises up a new creation in and through Jesus. The cross becomes the means by which the grace of God gives birth to a new creation. This grace is received, not by human effort or pretension, but by faith, depending on Jesus, putting on the new creation (realized in Jesus) in your living. This is referred to as the “theology of the cross”.

A Lutheran first sees the world as it really is, and then, realizing that “we cannot by our own strength or understanding believe in Jesus Christ or come to him”1, receive as a gift, as grace, the new life poured out in us by Him. In Lutheran terms this is “justification by faith”.

1 From Luther’s Small Catechism, page 16