July / August 2009
Letters to the Editor
In Nineteen Seconds
(Note: The following letter comes in response to "Written on the Heart" stories published in our March / April 2009 column. The column dealt with experiences involving faith and doubt — ed.
It was a day like any other day. I was worried about the faith of my grown children, neither one of whom went to church anymore. I was brooding about it as I entered the elevator and pushed the button for the 19th floor. It was an elevator ride like any other. What could happen to ease my worry from the first to the nineteenth floor? Not much, I would have guessed had I been asked.
There was a man on the elevator. In typical city fashion, we nodded "hello" and then retreated to our corners huddled in a silent defense against the close quarters. It is a strange reality being in a closed box going upward, often with many strangers too close for comfort. Not a place for anything inspirational to happen, I would have guessed had I been asked.
I was wrong.
At about the eighth floor, the man looked over at me and noticed the cross I was wearing. It was made from black onyx and mother of pearl. "What a beautiful cross," he said.
"Oh thanks," I said. "It's a gift from my son. He went to Cuba with a theater company and came back with this cross for me."
"Lovely," he repeated.
"Yes," I said, and I heard myself saying something else. "While I am grateful for the cross I'm worried about his faith. I don't think he believes anymore."
"Oh yes, he does," the man snapped back. "Give him time. He wouldn't have even thought about the cross for you if he had no faith. Give him time. You have faith!" The elevator stopped. The door opened. He was gone before I had a chance to say, "Thank you."
I got out at the 19th floor a little stunned and actually feeling better. He made my day. He gave me hope. "He could be right," I thought. Maybe God can speak ...
...[i]n nineteen seconds.
I think Maria Erling makes some very good observations regarding the uphill task of ELCA seminaries preparing rostered leaders for ministry (March / April 2009). Second-career students do bring many formidable challenges to the institution, which she has duly noted.
One problem intrinsic to an academic institution educating clergy in America is that there are tenured faculty with secure jobs. They are the ones who are training clergy who are accountable to yearly reviews, which could result in being asked to leave. Also, the church is a volunteer organization which cannot force a hike in tuition or reject members from "matriculation." In fact, my experiences have been that the seminary is a top-down institution with the same power that academicians can hold over students' heads in many other professional institutions. It often feels like a "power play," which is unavailable to clergy once they practice ministry after the candidacy process. This makes the whole topic of working in "dialogue or as partners" to be problematical at best.
A direction the seminaries might pursue is to actually "model" the partnership and dialogue in the classroom that is envisioned to be practiced in congregations. I am not sure academia in the ELCA or many other institutions is ready for this step. It may be one reason why virtual [online] campuses are becoming attractive in many fields of study.
To Those in Need
Early in the institutional stage of Christianity there is this [scriptural] picture of how wealth and property were handled: "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common ... There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold" (Acts 4:32ff).
If that is called communism or socialism, for "They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need," who would dare condemn it? Who could say that is wrong? Is what is going on now in our [government's] Recovery/Stimulus actions antibiblical in its dimensions? Go figure!
L.A. Jake Jacobson
This article appeared in the July / August 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 4).