March 2015 Issue Index--Dark Night of the Soul

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Welcome Rev. Dr. Santos

With this issue we welcome the Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos as interim editor of the Journal for Lutheran Ethics. Rev. Dr. Santos teaches at Georgetown University on the intersections between Cognitive Science and Theology. He has also served as parish pastor and as a consultant for Hispanic/Latino/a Ministry with the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod, and as a member of the ELCA Task Force on Genetics. He received his Ph.D. in Religion and Science from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Until Dr. James Echols returns from a leave as editor, please direct any editorial inquiries regarding JLE to Rev. Dr. Santos at:



Doubt in the Pulpit: Resources for the Dark Night of the Soul    

   by Carmelo Santos, Interim Editor
Martin Luther spoke of Anfechtung as an essential part of the life of faith. Trials of spiritual angst can serve to teach us to despair of our own merits (or lack of them) and to rely solely on God’s amazing grace. But what happens when religious leaders in public service have to undergo such tribulations while still accompanying others through their own? That is the question that this edition of the JLE explores. Kurt Lammi finds guidance from the testimonies of three giants of the faith: Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther, and Augustine. From the testimony of their confessions regarding their own spiritual struggles he comes to the conclusion that a religious leader’s honesty about his or her own spiritual struggles could potentially become a source of consolation and inspiration to others undergoing similar struggles, but this must be done with wisdom and pastoral sensibility. In the second article in this issue, Frank Showers finds in the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux a helpful description of the rhythm of faith that maps a believer’s journey through the dark night of the soul. He illustrates the journey through a “grace spiral” that marks the movements from the brokenness of doubt to the wholeness that is experienced when one learns to depend absolutely on the grace of God alone, even in the midst of doubt. We hope that both of these articles will serve as a welcomed companion for all those walking through the valleys of shadows of doubt, and as a reminder of the faithfulness of the good Shepherd who promises to guide us to the other side. 




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The Despair of the Called by Kurt Lammi

When a layperson feels the absence of God in their life, they go to their pastor for guidance. However, what should a pastor do when they have the same experience?  Lammi lifts up the examples of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, and Augustine to demonstrate that this experience has happened to many faith leaders throughout history. Their experiences of living with and through doubt, as well as faith, provide a model for us all.



The Absence of God as Opportunity for Personal and Social Transformation by Harlan Frank Showers

As Kurt Lammi demonstrates, feeling the absence of God in one's life does not automatically make a person a bad pastor or a bad Christian.  Showers goes one step further to explore what techniques a person can try to bring about a renewed awareness of God's presence in their lives. He particularly focuses on Bernard of Clairvaux's four stages of loving God, which Showers illustrates through an image of a "grace spiral." For Showers, what may begin as a frightening experience can open a door to a deeper relationship with God.



Book Reviews

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Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders​ by Elisabeth Vasko

    Review by Donald G. Luck
In this highly readable book Elisabeth Vasko presents many of the arguments of liberation theology as a framework for looking particularly at the ways in which passivity, rooted in ideological blindness, supports the harm being done to marginalized persons.  She would have us see how social, economic and cultural privilege cause us to “pass by on the other side” of the victims of injustice.  She would have us recognize that being a bystander refers not simply to individual instances of calculated indifference to suffering of others but more particularly to a failure to see violations of others’ humanity because of our ideological captivity to elite social positions.  There are “collective manifestations of privileged apathy” that are rooted in “systemic ignorance, denial and permission to escape.”  Apathy has social dimensions. ​

By the Rivers of Babylon: Blueprint for a Church in Exile by Robert​ P. Hoch

    Review by Clint Schnekloth  

Robert Hoch worries that the church has spiritualized exile and disembodied it. Turning exile into metaphor, real exile, the exile of deported, shackled and tortured bodies and suffering communities, loses a grip on the liturgical and ethical practice of the church. Hoch writes this book as an invitation to return to understandings of church in exile in the bodily sense, real live worshipping communities that live literally on the borderlands of our culture. Hoch is very aware how easily such a work of theology might slip back into spiritualization, so he grounds the text in ethnographic research, offering multiple chapters on literal communities of exile. ​  

© March 2015

Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Volume 15, Issue 3



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