We are not in Kansas anymore. Indeed the confirmand group is near Vernal, Utah, at Dinosaur National Park in the presence of sixty-million-year-old bones made into rock that tell us of the ancient history of life. We are not in Kansas anymore, but Kansas has recently been a focal point for those who think that Scripture has something to say about and against dinosaurs, that Genesis is a wooden document, dry as these dinosaur bones next to the slow moving Green River, telling us how the world was made and in what order and how long it took.
The dinosaurs roar at such dead thinking. Genesis is not about the science of creation, but the mystery of God's will to create. The flexible living Scriptures engage us in stories of faith, and in the bones of our ancestors. Like a river they speak not of dryness, but of the wetness of Life. We have nothing to fear of dead dry bones, tumbled about in the throes of death in an ancient river bed. Neither do we have anything to fear of evolutionary theory.
Indeed Thomas Carlisle in the 18th century said, "Wonder is the basis of all religion," and how wonderful it is that all life has a common origin, that we all share a common ancestor, that dinosaurs and doves are related.
Evolutionary theory doesn't do such a good job of explaining life's biochemical origins, and it says nothing of theology. But it does help us understand relationships very well. It removes us from thinking ourselves the center of God's creation. That seems to me to be a great gift for people of faith.
The kids place their hands on the long femur in the rock for a final picture, then whoop and holler way too loud for this public place. We eat lunch in the van and the river continues to flow, green and slow.
Jeffrey Louden, Park City, Utah
Life from Life
Science does seek to understand the workings of the universe. This describes its field but we must be careful to distinguish between scientific fact and theory. Fact must be objectively proven; a theory may be universally accepted, but cannot be proven since necessary basic information is not and never will be available to us. So we cannot prove or disprove evolution; it remains a theory, though many refer to it as fact.
The scientific method is no more or less than the old hit and miss system. It's how monkeys learn to use tools, and mankind learned to plant grain. We may well be scientists or theologians, but many of us are amateurs of both. All science must be subjected to intense scrutiny and testing. Popularity and subjective imagination must never trump objectivity, [such as I believe has] happened to [the science of] global warming. I classify knowledge as [leading] from a hunch, to imagination, to hypothesis, to theory, and finally reality as fact.
I fault evolution on scientific grounds ... From my observation, nature is not regenerative or creative, but rather degenerative.... Without careful husbanding of seeds, living things revert to original forms rather than advancing. Only by [human] interference is there development. Darwin and others have used extinction to prove the creativity of evolution, but it does the opposite. If survival of the fittest brought such wondrous new species, then why not let all endangered species disappear so that other wondrous new species may evolve?
Life only comes from life. Or try another maxim, something cannot come from nothing, nor is there any complicated object or being that comes into existence without imagination and creativity.
...Creation is not only found in Genesis, so why focus only there. Look at Job, the Psalms, Romans. Jehovah God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists and is revealed in what is created! For Jesus, God is the loving heavenly father who watches over the sparrow, lily, and us. I just wonder how one can fault intelligent design.
My person, my body, the air I breathe, water, the seasons, are just too wonderful to have happened by accident. Even Eisley postulated a creative power without nature. I know that creative power and being as my God!
Lester Polenz, Mansfield, Ohio
There have been a lot of complaints lately about pastors not visiting parishioners even when sick. Typical is this short conversation: "Good morning pastor, George is in the hospital." Reply? "I will call the chaplain"....
And from a newsletter reporting Council minutes: "Jane read a recommendation from the Outreach Committee that Pastor be held accountable for visiting the sick, shut in, and bereaved members of the congregation. The committee recommends that Pastor include in his monthly report to the Council, a list of visitations made to members' homes as well as monthly rounds to Rehab centers and other local facilities housing the congregations' members." One pastor listed one home visit for the month.
[I think] the responsibilities of the pastor have been compressed compared to previous constitutions to this: From the "Constitution for the Congregation" (C9.3). "Each ordained minister with a congregational call shall within the congregation l. Offer instruction, confirm, marry, visit the sick and distressed, and bury the dead."
In the same constitution "Terminate a call" (CO.O5) speaks of " ... continued neglect of duty." Is not the lack of visitation a neglect of duty?
Why do pastors sit in the study and wonder what to do? Where is the outrage? Why don't pastors visit? They seem to consider a house call a home invasion.
Frequent visits timed right are a short stop to problems in the parish. Visitation is a real factor in the "care of souls." If you make your weekly calls in person, you will have no problem crafting your Sunday sermon! What do seminaries teach about visitation?
And when you learn what there is to know about your people, where is the confidentiality???
Lately the picture of a pastor seems to be that of a coupon clipper sitting in an office.
Name withheld on request
Rethinking Theological Education Again
Phyllis Anderson (January / February 2010 issue
) highlighted some of the challenges facing our church as we continue to provide high quality theological education in a world very different from my seminary days in the late 1970s. From my perspective as a theological educator (ELCA pastor in a non-ELCA seminary), several things seem clear. First, seminaries are profoundly conservative. Seminary faculties seldom rush into anything, including online learning. Second, any kind of theological education (face-to-face or online) costs money. With a few exceptions (e.g., University of Phoenix), higher education is not conducted like a for-profit enterprise. Instead, higher education lives in a culture of giving. We should expect that theological education thrives because of giving, too. Third, the ELCA will continue to face resource constraints as it seeks to fund seminaries along side other important ministries. Fourth, I am entirely rational about theological education as a system up to the moment when you suggest that my seminary should close or merge with another. We should not be surprised if future consolidation is painful and sometimes misunderstood.
The history of theological education shows that the church finds ways to adapt to times, places, and dollars. Internships began in the 1930s as a response, in part, to the Great Depression. Online learning was a response to the seemingly permanent state of technological revolution underway since the invention of microchips. I am confident that our church will continue to train leaders for the church's ministries. I am also confident that the way we conduct theological education in 2025 will not be the same as in 2010. To be sure, not all change is progress. But we believe God's grace will empower us to do that very hard thing: change.
Timothy Lincoln, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas
As a former biological scientist with a strong computing background, I thoroughly enjoyed your entire issue but particularly "Science and Faith in an Evolving Creation," by Grace Wolf Chase (November / December 2009). I have often discovered faithful scientists in our church who feel shunned or avoided because of their profession. Last Lent I used John Polkinghorne's book, Belief in God in an Age of Science (Yale University Press, 2003) as a central resource in our Lenten book discussion. I would strongly endorse this book for a thorough and not overly complex book to use as a study resource.
God as Subject
Regarding Pat Schroeder's "alternate creation account" (Letters, November / December 2009) her account has God as subject of the verbs one time ("God created"), and the cosmos/earth as subject 27 times. The first creation story in Genesis 1 has God as subject of the verbs 36 times, and the cosmos/earth as subject once (v. 12: "the earth brought forth.").
I think I like the Genesis story better.
Sincere thanks for an issue on creation and to Ted Peters for his "Uses and Misuses of Creation" (November / December 2009). It is a fine, clear summary [of creation]. Most appealing is point number four — "Creation is what God does" — regarding ongoing creatio continua. If God ever ceases creating, even for a nanosecond, everything, and I mean absolutely everything, goes poof! [It would be] like the air from a popped balloon, except the ruined balloon would not be there anymore, nor would we.
Phil Hefner takes creatio continua a step further and includes us humans as co-creators. Nice! Ted honors Phil's idea and offers the example of his father, an engineer with 22 patents who invented new things for GM. Fine! I read on with bated breath. Maybe, maybe, maybe he will say it.
More important than any number of patents is the fact that engineer Peters and Mrs. Peters were co-creators with God of their son, Ted. They chose each other for whatever reason, eventually contributing sperm and ovum and for years nurtured dependent Teddy to be independent Ted, so that the co-creative dance might continue.
Procreation is a very common and even popular form of co-creating involving so many more co-creators. Come to think of it, much of creation reproduced somehow or another. Might this whole world we live in be one grand co-creative effort with a smiling divine Creator supplying the juice?
To make it even more exciting, when we humans reproduce, except for monozygotic multiple births, every child gets a one time only roll of the genetic dice, and is as unique as is every snowflake, though I suspect far more complicated, interesting, and beautiful. Sometimes we call it the imago dei, proof of God's contribution to our co-creating efforts.
I was disappointed that your November / December 2009 articles on evolution were written only by people who believed in it. There are many scientists who do not believe in evolution and they are not all Christians.
Everyone should get acquainted with The Truth Project from Focus on the Family. Lesson Five discusses evolution. They quote eminent scientists who acknowledge that evolution is impossible but they cling to it because the only alternative is to accept a creator.
One example is the clotting of blood. Twelve enzymes are involved to make blood clot. They must all work in coordination or the blood will not clot. (Look it up on the Internet.) Did these twelve enzymes all evolve at the same time so that the creature did not bleed to death?
A few weeks ago, scientists discovered more than a thousand new species deep in the ocean where there is no sunlight. How does this fit in with the theory that we evolved from green scum on the top of the ocean? When I began my ministry 55 years ago, we were told that the universe was five billion years old. Now they say that it is 15 billion years old to account for the time it took to evolve.
We have just learned that the fears of global warming are a hoax, perpetuated by scientists who had their own agenda and accused anyone who disputed with them as not being scientific. In the same way, any scientist who disagrees with evolution is branded as a lunatic. Science has been raised up as a god and Christians have been derided for believing in the Bible and our creeds that God is creator of heaven and earth. How soon will it be that evolution is also acknowledged as a hoax?
I hope that you will have some future articles written by scientists who believe in creation and are not ashamed to say so.
Arthur F. Mees
(Editor's note: the following letter comes from a psychologist who has written for Lutheran Partners previously. See July / August, 2003.)
Whether this piece is ultimately uplifting or heartbreaking depends, I suppose, on one's viewpoint. For me it is both; for it reflects our brokenness and our search for the true will of God. My prayer is that it be read with the compassion with which it was written.
Traveling far from my Baptist roots, I am now a member of the United Church of Christ and a gay-affirmative psychologist. The word "gay" and its connotations obviously spark a fractious debate among 21st century Christians. For many it evokes a salient image in the war against sexual immorality. For others it symbolizes a misunderstood minority, crushed under the heel of church oppression. In such vastly diverse camps there is little room for dialogue.
And yet communication, however distrustful, is emerging. Focus on the Family and Exodus continue a commitment to address homosexuality through a series of seminars entitled "Love Won Out." These intensive, day-long workshops blend a firm stand against homosexuality as a lifestyle with compassion for the sinner; a belief that same-sex desires have been extravagantly demonized, pushing hurting people away from the church rather than embracing them as Christ has taught. Their teachings offer solace for those struggling with same-sex issues as well as their family and friends.
Still, a Love Won Out seminar is the last place I might anticipate finding myself. I assist my clients in accepting and becoming comfortable with these feelings. If they wish to change, I refer them to therapists who are empathetic to their beliefs. My unlikely presence [at one of these workshops] was motivated by the struggle of a friend. Both Christians, we agreed to disagree on homosexuality. He must live as God calls him; it is not my place to judge his stance. And yet ours is an uneasy truce on the subject of gays and gay rights. When he approached me with the opportunity (read "challenge" here) to attend a Love Won Out workshop, it seemed both a chance to show my support for his personal beliefs and to broaden my understanding of those who reject their same-sex feelings.
Although not a universal phenomenon, Christian clients struggling with same-sex feelings often share a common testimony — one that was repeated at Love Won Out. As young children they "feel" different. By adolescence, experimentation with same-sex peers has confirmed their interest, and they struggle with the knowledge that "something" is terribly wrong. As time passes they become increasingly convicted that their behavior is sinful, but prayer offers little or no relief from a terrifying homosexual drive. At last, confused and exhausted, their demands for change yield to a more realistic prayer, asking God to show mercy in their lives.
The difference between those who believe in same-sex attraction as acceptable and as a sin is the path they follow in response to God's call. For the speakers (and my friend) God offers a life of service by choosing to abstain from these desires. For my clients, God offers a life of service by overcoming internalized homophobia and embracing the person God has called them to be.
Several Love Won Out speakers lived in same-sex relationships and immersed themselves in homosexual lifestyles. They believe, earnestly and passionately, that God called them from a life of sin into the fullness of a divine plan to live as creation was designed: heterosexual men and women, recognizing but no longer controlled by their same-sex desires. The message was both clear and firm.
And yet the emphasis of the day was on compassion. Those who remain in a gay lifestyle are not to be chastised or banished from the church. They are welcomed and encouraged to join with God's children. Those present and speaking know the pain and the struggle of abstaining from these desires; know the incredible sacrifice they are asking; and know that forming a wall of smug, self-congratulatory defense will not only be intimidating to the very people they are attempting to reach, but will be self-defeating as well. Theirs is truly a Christian message of caring and concern.
One speaker in particular touched me. She was deeply earnest and so caring; it was clear that she had walked away from her same-sex desires and a lesbian lifestyle as a meaningful service to Christ. Sitting beside my friend and listening to this brave woman pour out her heart, I was struck by the passion of their commitment, and my tears began to flow. The willingness of this woman and my friend to abstain from such a deep-rooted and central aspect of their being in loving commitment to God's plan is a beautiful and powerful statement of Christian faith. I cannot help but be moved by this testimony to their love for God. At the same time, the decision to reject such a central aspect of their identity, given by God, elicits a sense of grief at the loss they experience. Few issues can conjure such conflicting emotions.
Still, when the day was done and we were homeward bound, my friend and I remained entrenched in our views. He firmly believes that homosexuality is a sin. And I continue to believe that it is a viable lifestyle, provided it is lived within a moral code. And yet the discussion between us, both that evening and in the ensuing weeks, has been more empathetic and understanding than ever before. We understand and accept both the overlaps and discrepancies in our Christian walks in a way that was not possible before we committed to an open and prayerful dialogue. Our disagreement remains, but we are better able to consider at a heart level how the "other side" views the issue. As a result, we can make decisions about how to respond based on an empathetic and spiritual experience, and not on social and political rhetoric. Our prayers for each other truly reflect a desire that we each live in peace with the choices we pursue.
James A. Cates
I have heard that Lutheran Partners is publishing its last issue due to financial cutbacks in the ELCA. This is sad. I do believe that Partners [has been] a forum for down-to-earth honest conversation about what is really going on in the ELCA from the viewpoint of rostered leaders.
Synod resolutions and votes come and go. However, it is the rostered leaders who have a real stake in the ELCA. Our pensions and paychecks are tied to it! Plus, I love this church very much. I do appreciate the work of all the staff and editors at Partners.
Before the last issue, I would like to let folks in the ELCA know that I am still awaiting that "great clergy shortage" that was promised to me in seminary in the 1980s. Instead, I experience more congregations who cannot afford full and often part-time clergy compensation packages. I was told that we clergy need to "get our big egos out of the way" and allow the "laity to be empowered" to lead the church. The laity are like a "sleeping giant" that needs awakening.
Instead, I experience very dedicated Lutherans who love this church, but are growing fewer in number, as their offspring run off to mega churches, drop out of church, or allow sports activities to dictate schedules. Before I was sent out to my first small town rural church, I was told I am called to be "faithful but not always successful" by worldly terms. I am still committed to this. Ultimately, we are a people who live under the cross. It is our power amidst weakness [1 Corinthians 1]. However we do believe in new life also. We still believe in Easter and Pentecost.
It is my hope that one day there will be another publication for leaders of the church that lets leaders in various high places in the church know, "What we [in the congregations and other places where we serve] are really thinking!"
This article appeared in the March / April 2010 issue of Lutheran Partners and Lutheran Partners Online (vol. 26, no. 2).