Monthly Archives: June 2010
This post is a piece written by long-term Lutheran missionary to El Salvador, Rev. Brian Rude. All Saints had the pleasure of hosting a visit from him on June 29. This poem recounts, among other things, how young men would mark themselves with tattoos, and then be targeted by police for it. It is dated 2004.
YOU / THEY ?
You drove them from your homes, so they grew up in the streets. So why are you troubled that they have chosen the streets as their home, their turf to defend?
You expelled them from your schools. So why do you ostracize them for their lack of formal education, their lack of refinement and culture?
You never showed any interest in their life-stories, so they etched their stories into their bodies. So why do you label such expression a crime, even retroactively?
You refuse to employ anyone with tattoos on their body. So why do you condemn them for scrounging a living on the streets, or in your buses?
You provided no respectable structure or space in which they could grow up. So why are you distressed by the disciplined, regimented and rigid structures they have created to order their lives and neighbourhoods?
You treated their mothers with marginalization and disrespect, even brutality, providing little moral or financial assistance in their upbringing. So why are you shocked by the disrespect and violence suffered by the women in their street-gangs, which even they say is an improvement over what they had suffered at home?
You taught them that to take advantage of the weak – once though military repression, now through economic strangulation and corruption – is clever, even laudable. So, after a lifetime of being the weak and helpless victims, they aspire to display their strength and control by joining together, by intimidating and threatening with bravado, even weapons, sometimes wounding and killing – but, now when it’s them, you declare that reprehensible?
It is not enough that they commit crimes, like so many of their political leaders do – crimes of which you accuse them, but for which your prosecutors and courts and judges can find no evidence. For you, they ARE crimes, punishable just for being. So you throw them behind bars, out of sight, out of mind.
And then what?
When mass murderers and assassins from your ranks terrorized the country for two decades, you responded by passing the Amnesty Law and by giving the criminals cushy diplomatic positions, at home and abroad, ignoring the wisdom of the world.
When street-kids are suspected of the same, why do you respond by imposing the Anti-Gang Law, the “mano dur” (tough hand) (showing the same disrespect for due process, but now by violating basic human rights and international accords ratified by El Salvador, rather than by bestowing unwarranted privilege)?
You taught them that mutilating and killing people, and dumping their disfigured corpses in the streets, was the most effective way to resolve conflicts. Now that your “civil war” is over, why are you consternated to find mutilated corpses once again littering your streets?
You adopt and impose Washington’s foreign and economic policies with great enthusiasm, blindly boasting a great friendship leading to a promising, lucrative future. So why are you indignant when your sons adopt Los Angeles street culture as a measure of self-protection and a way of belonging?
You fill your newscasts with their voiceless, tattooed torsos, as if they were extraterrestrial monsters. Your media microphones, forced into the face of every other culprit and victim, are kept at a careful distance from these expressive youth, and your cameras focus on only the most lurid of their tattoos.
Have you considered that these are your sons, creatively adapting your values to their own realities, the realities you have created for them to confront today?
Please, leaders and fathers of El Salvador, take a closer look into this mirror you see before you, this mirror you revile as frightful and demonic. If you pause to look deeply into this reflection, perhaps you will see yourselves.
With some real and profound soul-searching, perhaps you will learn to love yourselves. And then, perhaps, you will be able to love your sons and daughters – for your own good, for their good, and for the good of this country that you share – a good to be enjoyed and shared well beyond election day.
What they need is what we all need – not primarily a “tough hand” policy, but an open ear policy – and open ear, open arms, an open heart. Imagine what they could give El Salvador in return!
June 25 will be the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. In 1530, in Augsburg, Germany, regional princes and dukes signed a document along with some theologians and biblical scholars that was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor. They were laying out ways in which they wanted to see change in the church, like worship services in the vernacular (not Latin).
Let me copy some of the editor’s introduction to The Augsburg Confession as found in The Book of Concord…
In 1521 the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, outlawed Martin Luther and his teaching at the imperial Diet of Worms and ordered the suppression of all attempts to reform the church in his lands according to Luther’s program for reformation. Throughout the 1520s princes and cities intent on introducing that program jockeyed for political position with imperial and Roman Catholic forces within the assemblies (diets) of the empire, at Nuremberg (1522, 1523) and Speyer (1526, 1529). As a result of the ambiguous edict of 1526 Diet of Speyer, where German princes promised to carry out the Edict of Worms according to their own consciences, Elector John of Saxony undertook a formal visitation of the parishes in his territory without permission from the local Roman Catholic bishop. I this connection Philip Melanchthon, aided by Martin Luther and John Bugenhagen, Wittenberg’s head pastor, published in 1528 doctrinal guidelines for Saxony’s pastors, entitled Instructions by the Visitors. At the diet in Speyer in 1529 Charles had corrected the ambiguity of the earlier edict directed against the spread of the Lutheran reform This elicited a formal appeal or “protestatio” (testimony or confession) from Luther’s princely supporters.
Charles wanted to marshal support for his war against Turkish imperial forces, which had laid siege to Vienna in 1529; he was in conflict with France, and he wanted to consolidate his own power within Germany at the expense of the relatively independent territorial princes. The emperor also was concerned about the life of the church and interested in promoting a moral and institutional reform. At the same time he despised the doctrinal reformation Luther had set in motion. Therefore, after negotiations with Pope Clement VII in Bologna in January 1530, he called for the Lutheran princes and cities to explain their religious program before an imperial diet, which he called for late spring in the city of Augsburg. In preparation for this diet Elector John of Saxony commissioned his theologians, led by Luther and Melanchthon, to prepare working papers on the issues that had led to reform in the Saxon and other territorial churches influenced by Luther’s teaching. The so-called Torgau Articles, named after the Saxon town where some work on them was completed, developed in a series of drafts and treated the subjects of human ordinances, marriage of priests, both kinds (bread and wine) in the Lord’s Supper, the sacrifice of the Mass, confession, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, ordination, monastic vows, invocation of saints, and use of the vernacular in worship.
Because he had been declared an outlaw by the emperor in 1521, Luther dared not travel to Augsburg, where he would certainly have been arrested and perhaps executed by Charles’s forces. Instead, Melanchthon headed the Saxon theologians who went to the diet. In Augsburg he was greeted by a new publication, edited by John Eck, professor at Ingolstadt, one of the brightest and best of Roman Catholic theologians in Germany at the time and a sworn enemy of the Wittenbergers. This assembly of Four Hundred Four Propositions presented citations from Luther, Melanchthon, and their colleagues mixed with a wide range of statements from others who were criticizing the church, including Antitrinitarians and Anabaptists as well as Ulrich Zwingli and others who shared his rejection of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. By grouping them together with the Wittenberg theologians, Eck gave the impression that the Saxon theology affirmed most heresies known to the church. Melanchthon recognized that the Lutherans would have to do more than address the issues of reform. […]
After several weeks of intensive of intense negotiations with representatives of the Roman Catholic princes and bishops as well as the emperor, seven Lutheran princes and two municipal governments subscribed Melanchthon’s “Confession” and presented it to the emperor and the assembled princes and representatives of imperial cities in the diet on 25 June 1530. Chancellor Christian Beyer of Elector John’s government read the German text to the diet, and his voice carried its words into the street outside. In accord with the imperial instructions, Melanchthon had also prepared a Latin version of the Confession that was handed over to Charles at the same time. (The Book of Concord, pp.27-28, Kolb and Wengert, eds.)
You can sense the tension that would have been surrounding the people and the time in which they lived, and the courage they must have had to muster to continue in their work. (For a dramatization of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, click here – a clip from the 2003 film, Luther.)
This kind of “confession” document is meant to lay out clearly what it is that a group of people believes – what makes them unique in their way of believing (so, you would see in the Augsburg Confession statements like “we believe that baptism is a means of grace where infants are welcomed into God’s family, not like the Anabaptists who require a testimony before baptism”). An “apology” to the confessional document was written – that is, a work to describe and defend the confession. The “diet” at Worms in 1521 was an imperial court, a trial.
All of this puts the church pretty close to the state, doesn’t it? We go to great lengths to make a clear distinction between church and state, especially in North America, but it’s always there. …perhaps not always church – it could be synagogue, mosque, temple, or what-have-you. But what we believe and value in life invariably enters in to how we want to have life together bound and free – and legislation (which is carried out by the state) is meant to bind and free with the laws and freedoms that are set in law.
I suppose this would always invite us in to conversation as to how much we want for faith – whatever faith we may confess – to inform our politics and government. I would say that it always does, for better and worse. My hope is that church community can be a voice that is free, and frees others, to speak words of truth, grace, and love – especially for those on the margins of society.
I check out headlines on a few sites fairly regularly, and today saw one (which I’ve seen before) about how ‘Avatar’ is the highest grossing box-office hit-movie in dollars. But when one accounts for inflation, ‘Gone With the Wind’ far exceeds it.
Inflation is such a false indicator of growth. As far as I can tell, it is totally made up and it is a way for people with riches and power to build on those riches and that power. I remember hearing once that, if someone had invested a penny in Jesus’ lifetime with current rates of compound interest, that all the money in the world today would not cover that investment. …so I hunted around to see if I could substantiate that.
I found a good article online. I like how it starts by outlining three styles of ‘growth.’ There is the natural way of growth – where plants and animals (humans included, of course) grow quickly at the start but then ‘level off’ and growth in adulthood is more qualitative than quantitative (ie: people may develop skills and acquire knowledge, but they don’t grow taller, or much stronger, after about 21 years old). There is a more ‘mechanical’ means of growth, which has to do with more power means more output. And there is our compound interest style of growth where one can actually double their money at regular intervals.
It’s been said that the human race has, in many ways, ‘peaked.’ That is, we’ve reached certain limitations. Some scientists have said that we’re at a generation, now, where the younger generation probably won’t outlive their parents; it’s even been said that our parents (the ‘baby boomers’ in North America) will have lived lives with more riches than the kids.
As a parent, I want the best for my child(ren). I want them to have everything, and every opportunity, I had and more. But I wonder about growth. I wonder if it’s okay that we’ve come to some realizations about limits on growth. I think it is okay. I hope we can, as a culture, re-vision what success and growth is so that it doesn’t need to constantly be fed.
I admit that this is a challenge: the idea of having less. I certainly like my things, and I collect stuff. And our culture certainly has not warmed to the idea of doing with less. We may talk about the environment and sustainability, but we live as though we don’t need to worry about it. And our banks still promise all kinds of interest – free money (!) – if we bank with them. …but all of that is based on an idea of growth that can’t go on.
To me, there’s a piece of me that says I want what my parents had and have. But there’s a piece of me that’s starting to say, “how much can the world handle?” Can I have what they have, and will there still be enough for my siblings, my friends, my global neighbours? Can there really be enough to go around as it has until now?
Maybe we need to work more closely on that ‘natural growth’ curve, on not on the ‘exponential growth’ curve. And, maybe we need to revisit how we do economics as well so that there aren’t such great disparities. Otherwise, we (people) are likely to be the cause of our own demise.
OK – I’m not talking about time, and, as previously blogged, I don’t believe in “end times” as some might describe them (rapture, or natural disaster, etc).
I’d like to write, albeit briefly, about resources. We tend to live as though there are infinite resources, and that people could keep extracting minerals, lumber, water, metals – what-have-you – and it’ll continue to satisfy our wants (let alone our needs). We talk about economies growing, and when the price of stock takes a dip it’s seen as a failure. We measure things in terms that seem to paint a picture of never-ending stuff at our fingertips.
I remember a few years ago – I think it was in 2004 – when it was a bad year for vegetables and grain-crops. The local Safeway (I was living in Saskatoon at the time) actually had bare shelves. The look of plenty, and the illusion of infinite abundance was not there! They had actually run out of a number of items!! It was an eery kind of feeling – I’d not really experienced that before.
I decided to blog about this because I came across this article that seems to connect water resources and economic growth. My personal politics are such that it scares me to think of privatizing water. No one can live without fresh water; if we turn it into a commodity to be traded, we make it impossible for some to get – we end up killing for a necessity. There is a short film that can be downloaded, “The Story of Stuff.” Take a look at it. It oulines in a few minutes how we’ve developed a system where a few can have it all, but many end up suffering as a result. It also lays out clearly that our consumerist culture can not continue as we may expect it to.
The end is near. Our resources are finite. Our system of production and consumption must change. We need a new economy. Can we imagine putting people and lives ahead of shareholder interests? Can we imagine living with less so that many others can have some? If we’re creating a global economy, or marketplace, we must be willing to consider the person in that other part of the world as our neighbour. We must, then, call on our representatives in government – as well as the corporations to whom we give our business – to also bear them in mind as we move forward.
I was on retreat this past week – I gathered with colleagues and friends, and we used the time to visit, to share resources, and to have moments of prayer (that is, thanksgiving, lament, and reflection on life and the world).
Time is an illusion. As a parent, I can see how my youngster may get more impatient with an event sooner than I. The reason can probably be accounted for with an understanding of relativity: I’m older, so a given span of time is a smaller percentage of my life than it is my child’s. …so, it passes more quickly. Another piece with time being an illusion is the notion that people think it’s infinite – especially young people (myself included). We don’t even consider the possibility that tomorrow may not come – the future is not guaranteed.
I’m not getting in to end-times predictions, or any of that. I’d rather invite thought around making the most of one’s time, and enjoying what we have. To me, that is the purpose of good community; and I think good ritual marks time in a meaningful way, whether it’s once (like a wedding) or often (like a weekly service).
A key piece in Christian living is sabbath-keeping. That is, taking time for rest on a regular basis. It’s easy to skip out on that – to keep working at being productive every hour or every day, every day of every week, every week of every month, every month of the year. I like that saying which goes something like this: “no one ever said on their death bed that they wished they’d spent an extra day in the office.”
There are two words for time that are to be distinguished from each other, when talking in theological terms: “chronos” (a Greek word from which we derive “chronology” in English) and “kairos” (a word having to do with “God’s time” or an “opportune moment”). We all know about chronos – it’s linear time where there’s a past, present, future, and things move in one direction. With kairos, I suspect we’ve all known about it in some way: it usually has to do with times in history when crises lead to opportunities (opportunities for God to act, speaking theologically).
When I speak with family on the phone, invariably, we end up saying “I love you” on the phone because we all live a distance away and the phone is the most personal contact we have on any regular basis. I take it to mean that we recognize that life is a gift and time is fleeting – time may run out at any moment. It’s not a thing to be feared, but it’s a reality not to be denied. Make the most of every moment. Take time to be, as well.
Today is World Environment Day, as designated by the United Nations [Environment Programme].
Why should people of faith care? If we look to the creation story in the Bible, we hear words like “be fruitful and multiply…have dominion over the earth,” and later on, “I will take you to be with me in heaven.” So, a literal interpretation might lead one to believe that we can extract resources for our own personal gain, and we can do what we want to this planet because it’s not so much the planet as the hereafter that matters… That is how some people think. That’s not me. That kind of thinking makes me shudder.
In the last couple of months, I watched the National Geographic film, “Aftermath: Population Zero.” While it presents something of a frightening picture of the effect people have had on the planet – particularly since the industrial revolution, but also simply because of sheer population – it also shows something of a good news story. That is, while we may have cars that burn fuel that emits carbon into the atmosphere, while we may use power drawn from nuclear reactors that need cooling stations to deal with the waste or dams that have interrupted water-flow and flooded ecosystems, while we have destroyed natural habitats for all kinds of animals, while we have built monstrous buildings, while we have modified cereal crops, while we have domesticated animals for our own gain… even as we have done all this, plants and animals could return to a “natural” or “wild” state relatively quickly – within a few years. And, within about a century – if every person on the planet suddenly were gone – buildings would crumble and be over-grown so that they would hardly have any impact on the plants and animals anymore.
I believe that we – all of us regardless of age, race or creed – have a responsibility to the world. We have a responsibility to the environment in which we live – to care for it, and not to dominate it. (In fact, as we try to dominate it – genetically modified crops, for example – we find that nature, in a relatively short time, adapts and we end up with weeds or insects that we don’t know how to manage.)
There’s a first nations saying, I believe, which goes something like this: “we do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our grand-children.” Instead of thinking in terms-of-office, we need to be thinking in terms of generations-from-now. To me, World Environment Day needs to call us all to a new awareness of our place in the world. How is my living affecting the environment, and what will my impact on the planet mean for future generations?
There are a few ways of talking about the sacraments. In Lutheran circles (as with some other mainline denominations), the sacraments are two: baptism and communion. We talk of baptism and communion as each being “a means of grace.” That is, we experience God’s grace in a ritualistic and tangible way in the sacraments.
A sacrament might also be described as an earthly element combined with a divine command. …so, Baptism uses the earthly element of water and is combined with the divine command “go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 28). And, Communion uses the earthly elements of bread and wine (or wheat and grapes) and the divine command “do this in remembrance of me” (from Luke’s gospel, chapter 22).
As a pastor, I am ordained into a ministry of “Word and Sacrament.” For good order (hence, ordain or ordination), our tradition expects certain things of our leaders so that the tradition is carried out well – so pastors preside at the sacraments (with exceptions, of course, in case of emergency or such).
In a Lutheran understanding of Baptism, we baptize infants because we believe that, even before anyone has done anything – good or bad – God loves them. It’s a symbol of God’s love that stays with a person, so it does not get repeated (however, we affirm our baptism again and again). We also believe that God’s love is not conditional on baptism, but the ritual gives us opportunity to celebrate God’s love as shown in the person’s life – and it’s an occasion to remember each year, as well (like a birthday!).
In a Lutheran understanding of Communion, we offer bread and wine to those who are drawn to community and to God, particularly as they may feel welcomed in the story of Jesus. In many ways, Communion is a living out of what we believe about God’s generosity and hospitality – even though it is one loaf, even though it is one cup, all receive from it. All receive enough, not too much or too little – enough for the journey. And there is no distinction – whether rich or poor, whether old or young – all receive in the same way. We believe that Jesus is present in, with, and under the elements. We receive the “cup of life” as a symbol of Jesus’ life poured out for us, and we, too, are to give our lives in living for others – for the common good – as well.
In this month of June, I’m mindful that young people are completing a year of studies. In the church, some are being “confirmed.” This means that they have gone through a course of study to learn about the basics of the faith, and are now affirming their Christian faith. For many, this means that they have had a chance to learn about the sacraments, and can now invite others into faithful living. May they, and we, be models of grace-filled living in all we do!