By Frank Pultar
I just got a year older a few days ago, as we all do, and was trying to remember my earliest birthday. The one I came up with was the time my oldest sister, Mary Ann asked me what kind of cake I would like for my birthday. I just answered a Baked Alaska, and she said OK. When my birthday came around, I had forgotten all about it. I came into the house from being out in the woods thinking that nobody knew what day it was; then after supper my big sister came from the kitchen carrying a cake with candles. When she set it down in front of me, the heat from the candles was melting the meringue, and the Texas summer heat was doing the same to the Baked Alaska. I got tears in my eyes because my big sister kept her promise. She saw my tears, and asked are you crying because the baked Alaska is melting? I said no, it is because you made it.
By Kristi Grussendorf
“Where can you lean into discomfort in your own life for the sake of growth/transformation?” This was the question asked by our Pastor Emily a couple of Zoom Bible study sessions ago. This question already found me in the midst of a lot of “discomfort.” I had written a letter several weeks earlier to my Trump supporting mother and brother. I shared my views on politics and race and how I just didn’t understand how they could justify their continued position in light of their professed values and faith.
I grew up in a conservative, patriarchal household and I learned quickly to stay quiet and not voice any disagreement if I wanted peace. This new truth telling sister/daughter was not well received. I started my letter out with the statement that this was who I was and they had to either accept me as a whole, or not at all. The verdict is still out. I think the hope for many in my family is that I will go back to that comfortable role that I’ve played for so long. It doesn’t feel right to have a relationship where I can’t be my authentic self, or where I have to pretend to be someone else and have belief systems with which I don’t agree. I’m not holding my breath for transformation but God has surprised me in the past, so who knows?!
Relationships are messy, right? The part that scares me the most is, what if I find out that the people I’ve known, loved and maybe even admired are not who I thought they were? If I had
just kept my mouth shut, I would never have known for sure. I guess it’s just gotten to the point that I don’t have the patience or the time for shallow relationships. I want to really know the people in my life; with that comes risk. What if I don’t like what I learn about them? It’s funny how things have switched. When I was younger, I worried a lot about what other people thought of me, and now I’m more fearful about losing respect for others.
“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid than to open it and prove that you are.” This is paraphrased but I have spent a lot of my life reminding myself to heed this adage. I don’t know if it’s the stage of life I’m in, or our current political climate, but I feel like none of us can sit this one out. There is too much at stake. As a church, as white people of privilege, we have become very attached to our comfort. I think we can and are called to be part of God’s plan in the world. It’s definitely NOT comfortable and might even be painful but I’ve decided to accept the challenge!
By Cary J. Youmans
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28, 29
Pentecost is one of my favorite feast days. It is rightly called the birthday of the church, but I view it more as the culmination of Jesus' ministry; the end of which Jesus' death and resurrection is the means. On that first Pentecost after the Resurrection, God resumed God's habitation among humanity, and is immediately present and accessible to anyone who asks, seeks, and knocks. God is now Immanuel in perpetuity.
Most of you reading this are well aware that the word translated "spirit" is the word for "breath" in the original biblical languages; that it was God's spirit/breath that moved over the waters at creation, and it was God's breath/spirit breathed into humanity that made us living souls. If you haven't yet, be sure to view Pastor Emily's Pentecost Sunday message for a poignant and eloquent description of the significance of breath/breathing is scripture. One statement in that message especially stood out to me. "Followers of Jesus will be defined by nothing other than the very Breath of God."
Having some experience with Church Music and singing, breath/breathing has a particular significance. It should for all God's people, since we all have a "new song." Psalm 40 (my favorite) begins,
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Singing is dependent upon breath. Good singing is directly proportional to good breathing. As I tell the choir, the powerhouse of good singing is the diaphragm and having an unrestricted, well-supported breath. The vocal chords, lips, teeth and tongue take the raw energy of the breath and make it something beautiful and potentially trans-formative. In much the same way, the New Song God puts in our mouth is dependent on the raw energy of the Spirit, which our thoughts, words and actions make into something beautiful and trans-formative.
My favorite fictional image of the transforming power of God's breath is in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." After the Great Lion Aslan resurrects, he goes to the castle of the White Witch. There, he liberates all the victims the White Witch has turned to stone by breathing on them. Asaln's breath restores the stone to living. breathing flesh.
May we each see ourselves as restored to living, breathing flesh by God's Spirit. May we all seek God's Living Breath during this prolonged season breath impairment. May we seek to know the lyrics and melody of the New Song God has put in our mouths, whatever form they may be, and proclaim God's New Song boldly to the beautification and transformation of the world.
By Erik Ingram
By now, it feels almost unnecessary to say that these are unprecedented times in our lives as individuals and as a church; there are daily reminders of that, whether it’s from the media we consume or an email from any company we’ve interacted with in the past 10 years. In the time that I’ve been attending, the community at Prince of Peace has effectively become a second family to me; though people have come and gone, collectively you’ve lent me hospitality, moving assistance, and friendship, and I’m sure all of you can say the same. Of course, those gifts are what make it difficult to reconcile with our isolation from one another, and what also makes it difficult to say that as a council, we’ve determined that it is not yet in our best interest to attempt a reopening and resumption of in-person services even as other parts of society do so. Despite what some leaders and other prominent figures are saying, we feel the risks are still too great to leave to chance for the time being. Given our relatively small size, continuing to practice distancing and virtual worship remains our most responsible collective course of action.
During his time in a Nazi prison in mid-1944, Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to a friend with these words: “The church is its true self only when it exists for humanity...the church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not to dominate, but to help and to serve” (To Eberhard Bethge, July 21, 1944). That is also our calling during these challenging times; we serve a valuable role in our greater community, and the actions we take now serve to protect ourselves and our community in the short term, and ensure that we will be able to continue caring for our community in tangible ways when the time comes to do so again. Until then, may our closeness help us to remain connected, and may we continue to trust the God will carry us through to the other side. Until we meet again, face-to-face.
by Barbara Daniels
A group of Prince of Peace and Lutheran Campus Ministry members recently returned from a stay at Holden Village in the North Cascades. These are some reflections on my time there. I call them ‘living lessons’, not ‘life lessons’ , because to me ‘life lessons’ sounds way too presumptuous, and these thoughts represent only my current takeaways – my insights and conclusions could certainly shift in the future.
1. The journey can be just as important as getting there. From Logan, Holden Village is a 1 ½ day drive, plus a one hour boat ride, and then a 45 minute bus ride. The view changes from freeway/cities, to rural highways, and finally to just the lake, trees, and surrounding mountains. As we traveled, I felt my concerns about work, schedules, and general ‘busyness’ slowly fall away. The five of us in the vehicle certainly got to know each other better and even worked on the skill of learning about each other without asking questions. Time between spaces can be equally valuable as time at our destinations.
2. Pack lightly, but do take what you need. As mentioned above, five of us traveled in one vehicle, and that vehicle also carried our luggage for the week. We needed to take the minimum for our needs (cold weather, outdoor activities) but it all had to fit! We seemed to hit the right balance, and some of the extras – a bag of delicious dried apples, fun games, and a box of wine --- might have seemed frivolous at the beginning but turned out to add a lot to our time there. Make space for things that promote community.
3. Share space graciously. Holden is a small village in which anywhere from 100 to 500+ people live together, in a very remote setting. It is very comfortable, but that is because the residents – permanent, short-term, and visitors like us – are careful to be individually responsible for themselves and their setting. Things like hand washing, fire safety, and dealing with your own garbage instead of leaving it for someone else were emphasized. Living in community takes some thoughtfulness, but the rewards of getting to know others and yourself better are well worth it.
Finally, at Holden I also appreciated that worship takes many forms. Each day there was some type of corporate service which varied from poems and prayers read at mealtimes, to a spontaneous hymn sing, to Bible study, to vespers. Yet worship was also found in a labyrinth packed into the snow, in the high mountains around us, and even in the creative rhythms of knitting and weaving. Take a deep breath and be present wherever you are – you don’t need to go to a remote village to thank God for His gifts of life and community.
By Dave Wilson
Following a lot of work by the Transition Team and the Call Committee, the Church Council has also been busy with a major undertaking in the life of Prince of Peace. The calling of Pastor Emily Kuenker is now official and all of us are looking forward to the Installation Service and her time with us as our Pastor. This got me thinking about how many total pastors I have had in the churches I’ve attended. When I was a kid, we had the same pastor until I was 8 and then we moved. In the church we went to after moving, we had the same pastor until I went away to college 10 years later and he was eventually there for more than 20 years. (My brother has been a pastor in the same church in St. Louis for about 25 years.) I was amazed when I began attending Methodist churches with Lesa that they changed pastors approximately every 3 to 4 years and the congregation had no say in who came as pastor and when they left. In approximately the last 35 years, Emily will be the tenth pastor at the churches we have attended. Different denominations approach this differently. There seems to be more rapid transition in pastors in some denominations than there used to be, while some others often have pastors who spend most of their working life in one church or maybe two. To me, there are advantages and disadvantages to both ways of doing things; I don’t think either having one pastor for many years or having multiple pastors for shorter time intervals represents a choice between “good or bad”.
Prince of Peace has some challenges and some opportunities at this time that coincides with the coming of Pastor Emily. Not that many years ago we often had more than 100 people attend on Sundays and did many community activities that we don’t really have enough members for now, and we had 20 or more Sunday school students from toddlers to high school age, with an active Confirmation and Youth Group program. Like many churches, we now have few families with children attending. There are many societal theories about this, but the short version is that following a major secular crisis that follows a major depression (2008) by approximately 12 years, we are due very soon for a rebirth of institutions in the U.S. after emerging from that crisis (we don’t know exactly what that crisis is yet, but speculation abounds). What the institutions will look like will be shaped by the Civic generation born between 1982 and 2004. The previous Civic generation was the World War II generation born between 1902 and 1924, and the two previous Civic generations before those won the Civil War and the American Revolution. Religion in general and Christianity in particular will certainly be different as their generation continues to take power, if history since 1584 in North America is any guide. Hopefully the fundamental values of the Carpenter from Nazareth will continue to be important in society. I interact with many Civic generation people every day at USU. I see them graduate from veterinary school and adjust to working life and often family life as time passes since they graduated. It seems to me that they do indeed largely have a belief system that is altruistic and oriented toward doing the right thing including for the less fortunate. How all of our society adapts to that, and how Christianity fits with their values will be a major adventure of the 2020’s and have a lot to say about the course of the rest of the 21st century. Pastor Emily will be coming to us precisely at a momentous time for all, and what happens will certainly not be up to her alone. We will all be in it together.
By Frank Pultar
I asked my father a question when I was about ten, “Why does time go by so slow?”
He replied, “Once you get to be eighteen, time will fly by, and by the time you notice it, you will be wondering where it went.”
That time came when I was turning fifty, three years into this decade. I made a bucket list and started making plans to cross things off of it.
First was to go to Burning Man to celebrate turning 50, my wife divorcing me, and still being alive. I had a most excellent adventure meeting a whole bunch of people who were looking to find themselves and start a path that was a little clearer than yesterday.
I am still working on that list as this decade comes to a close. I am leaving myself room to reflect, to look ahead, and to make the most of this coming 2020. Working also to make this world a better place.
By Lela Gilmore, Council Member at Large
I thought this being the Advent season, that is what I would write about, however, the more I read the more I realize how far I am out of my depth!!!
I think, rather, I’d like to explore my thoughts of just one possible aspect of Advent, that being “anticipation”, rather than “expectation”.
Definitions of ‘anticipation’ list many synonyms, some including ‘expectation’, but more that do not.
One definition describes the word as a version of the Latin word meaning ‘coming’… further, ’a feeling of excitement about something pleasant or exciting that you KNOW is going to happen’.
Does that mean then that the difference between ‘anticipation’ and ‘expectation’ is the solid belief that what you “anticipate” is outside yourself? A promise…a REAL gift? , as opposed to that which you “expect” in return for something you have given first, or ‘earned’ or bought or are owed? A gift rather than a gift-exchange where you give only what you expect to receive, so everyone comes out even!
Perhaps, BELIEF then, is the difference between anticipation and expectation….anticipation of a gift that is coming rather than expectation of something that you have planned or earned or are owed.
We believe that Jesus IS coming, not at all dependent on us, or what we do, or do not do, or believe, or whether or not we have followed the Lord closely enough, or done enough, etc. Based on our frail human nature, we would never EARN or DESERVE the Lord’s coming…
thus the JOY in anticipation of this indescribable GIFT. Come Lord Jesus.
By Rebecca Walton
You may have heard that this past August, the ELCA declared itself a “sanctuary denomination”—the first North American denomination to do so. But what does that mean? And what might it mean for us, specifically, here at Prince of Peace?
The ELCA has produced some talking points that do a good job of answering the first question. I’ll quote at length from these talking points below, and you can download the complete set of talking points from the ELCA website if you’d like more details.
“In its simplest form, becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the highest legislative authority of the ELCA, declared that when we preach on Sunday that Jesus told us to welcome, we will use our hands and voices on Monday to make sure it happens.
Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal actions. We have a broken system regarding immigration, refugees and asylum-seekers. To declare ourselves a sanctuary church body is to say that we seek to provide concrete resources to assist the most vulnerable who are feeling the sharp edges of this broken system.
Being a sanctuary denomination will look different in different contexts. We cannot mandate or direct our congregations and ministries to respond in specific ways. Each must work out what this means for them in their context.
While we don’t yet know the full scope of the work that this declaration will open for the church, we do know that our faith communities are already doing sanctuary work. Sanctuary for a congregation may mean hosting English as a Second Language (ESL) classes; marching as people of faith against the detention of children and families; providing housing for a community member facing deportation; or, in some congregations, having thoughtful conversations about what our faith says about immigrations. All of these are a step closer to sanctuary in our faith communities and sanctuary in our world for people who must leave their homes.”
The ELCA has developed quite a few materials for folks who are interested in learning more. For example, in October the Rocky Mountain Synod offered a webinar attended by our own Karin DeJonge-Kannan, as well as 31 other folks from across the RMS. With her permission, I share here some of what she learned. The central question guiding the webinar was, “How can we best live out our desire to be a church of welcome and safety for God’s most vulnerable children?” Facilitators (Erin Power, Peter Serverson, Mary Campbell, Ruth Hoffman, and Bishop Jim Gonia) pointed out that, as a church, we are engaged in the reality of what is—our neighbors, co-workers, and the people sitting with us in the pews include asylum seekers, refugees being re-settled in the USA, travelers who have overstayed their visas, people who entered without proper documentation, whether as adults or as children—and also in advocacy for what could be: for example, just laws and policies, at both state and federal levels.
The Rocky Mountain Synod borders Mexico, which means border issues have long been part of our context. Facilitators pointed out that we have a unique opportunity to learn about immigration and help educate others about immigration along a wide range of perspectives. As noted in the ELCA talking points document quoted above, many churches (including some in our synod) are already engaging in work that enacts the sanctuary declaration and have engaged in this work long before the declaration was officially adopted in August. For example, Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains is a long-standing ministry that operates in Colorado and New Mexico, working with refugee re-settlement in those two states. The Guardian Angel program was founded to be the church in courtroom situations. Participants in this program accompany people as a source of support, pray with them, and help them not be alone during court proceedings. The program started in Southwest California, but now it is in ten locations throughout the ELCA, including one in Denver, which is part of the Rocky Mountain Synod.
As detailed in the webinar and other ELCA resources, what it means to be part of a sanctuary denomination varies congregation by congregation and should be informed by local context. This time of transition, when we are praying for God to send us a new pastor, seems an appropriate time to begin (or continue!) to educate ourselves about issues of advocacy and theology. In educating ourselves, we can prepare for working together with a new minister in a new year to discuss how we live out the sanctuary declaration as a church—in our current actions and in future opportunities.
By Erik Ingram
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a wonderful youth pastor in my home church for all of the major milestones of my formative faith years. One of his most distinguishing traits was his relentless enthusiasm for Jeremiah 29:11, to the extent that the text was eventually painted around the perimeter of the youth room. With so much of our lives ahead of us, he felt strongly about the need to impress on us that God was, is, and always will be there to guide us, even when the going was tough and we didn’t necessarily feel that His presence in the moment.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)
On the surface, it seems like a simple sentiment, yet, speaking from my own experience, it’s one that’s incredibly easy to forget in those times of struggle. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life that have both directly and indirectly reminded me of this when I’ve needed it, which has served to strengthen my faith foundation as a whole.
The reason I bring this up is that our church has just passed a significant milestone on the journey to finding our next pastor. With the end of Pastor Teri’s time with us, it very much feels that we are in the “home stretch” of this process, and that things will stabilize with a new sense of permanence soon. I liken it to the cross-country races I ran during high school; we’ve just crested a big hill and we can see the flags of the finish line in the distance, but there is still one more to climb before we can settle into finishing mode. It’s easy to get impatient with the pace at which the process is moving, but just as a runner must exert strength to climb that final hill and finish, we must use our spiritual strength to remember that God has a plan to prosper this congregation and give us a future, but that the call committee is still discerning how it will manifest itself.
That plan includes remembering our roles in it; I remember when my home church was in the process of adding another pastor, several people expressed how they thought that they could do a better, faster job if they were on the call committee, and that they wouldn’t needlessly hold things up the way they felt those in charge were. When it came down to it, of course, none of those people had wanted to be involved when the committee was forming, and in doing so, accepted their role in supporting them instead (even if it wasn’t as willingly as some might hope). Our congregation has that same role, and we must see it through to the end the same way the committee does with their work.
It is undeniably an exciting time for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. With the finish line on our long journey distantly in sight, it’s tempting to think we can cruise the rest of the way there. However, we must always be mindful of the plan God has laid out for us, and to let Him guide us across. As simple as it might sound, it will continue to require our collective spiritual strength to do, and I am confident that we will continue to place our trust in His will for us.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.