Sunday, April 10, 2011

Proud to be Lutheran

I was reading on another blog.  The author was describing an outdoor procession of Roman Catholics (a Corpus Christi procession with monstrance, many altar servers, clergy, and choir).  The author described how foreign this was to the culture of the day and how strange it was to see such a procession wind its way through the streets toward the church building.  And it was -- almost culture shock.  A canopy over the host in its luna holder and the monstrance held high, so many in vestments, chanting, etc. -- not the kind of thing usually seen in the neighborhood today.  There may have been a time when this was more common but today it is an unusual occurrence, to say the least.  The blogger reported how people came out and proudly announced that they were "Catholic" (big "C" meaning Roman) and how they positively glowed at this somewhat antiquated ritual intruding into modern day life.

My point is not to comment on the procession or the theology behind carrying around the consecrated host (instead of receiving it as Christ clearly intended by His own words).  That is something for another post.  What struck me is how he noted that people came out of restaurants, stores, apartments, etc. -- all to identity with the procession and, specifically, to identify with the Roman Catholic Church.  I think it safe to say that not all of those who so identified were active; some were occasional attendees at Mass and some just plain lapsed Roman Catholics.  In spite of the scandals of the priests, even though there is serious discord within the Roman Catholic Church on serious issues (ordination of women, abortion, etc.), and even in view of the antiquated character of what was happening, they came and proudly bore witness to their church.

I wish it were so among us as Lutherans.  I fear that we are far more hesitant to announce that we are Lutheran or to identify publicly with our church than were these Roman Catholics.  I wonder why?  I suppose I could credit it to Garrison Kiellor's humorous take on Lutheran humility and our shyness in the limelight.  There may be something to it, or maybe not.  But why do we so easily live within the shadows of who we are, what we stand for, and where we exist?  Why do Lutherans make such good wallflowers?  Why do we feel so comfortable not speaking with pride about our heritage, our identity, and the work that God is doing in and through us?

I have personally heard people lower expectations of visitors who come to a Lutheran congregation for the first time.  I have had new people who moved into the area come up to me and tell me how their home Pastor told them not to expect much of Lutherans in the South.  I have seen families bring folks with them on Sunday morning and then act almost embarrassed by their congregation, Pastor, and facility.  Why would we want to lower people's expectation of us?  Why would want folks to believe that Lutherans are a shadow church in any neighborhood or region of our country?  Why would we diminish what God is doing in, among, and through us to those whom we bring with us on Sunday morning (family or friends)?

The only possible conclusion I can find is that we ourselves are not fully comfortable with who we are.  Could it be that we not only are looking for a greener side of the fence but our hearts are more fully at home in and our minds more fully conversant with another theological identity -- besides our own?  Could it be that we do not have much confidence in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace, and therefore have neither great expectations for ourselves nor a positive perception of what happens in the Divine Service?  Could it be that the Lutheran identity is muddled enough by the extremes of liturgical and theological identity that are really not sure who we are?

One of the things I long for (and I would guess most Lutheran Pastors share in this) is that we learn a healthy sense of pride and confidence in who we are as Lutheran Christians.  This rests on a heritage and lively legacy of faith from Luther as an obedient rebel.  He did not seek rebellion until it was clear that the church of his day was more comfortable in hiding the Gospel than proclaiming it clearly and even then was a conservative reformer -- quite unlike the Radical Reformation folks who fathered the rest of Protestantism.  This rests upon recent identity and heritage for an immigrant church that blossomed into one of the largest of American religious identities largely through efforts on the ground and grass roots level.  This rests upon an identity in education that sought (and largely still seeks) to teach young people within the context of their faith and baptismal identity to fulfill their baptismal vocation as Christian people (from preschool to university).  This rests upon the modern day reality of a church fully invested in the work of mercy and service -- where disaster strikes and amid the ordinary structures of poverty, inadequate medical care, and basic need.  We have a wonderful heritage (going way back and going back only 4-5 generations).

I believe we have a wonderful identity.  We are confessional, sacramental, liturgical, and Biblical.  We have been the birthplace and nurturing center for a highly disproportionate number of the greatest musicians.  We have a vibrant sense of God's presence -- not as an idea for the mind or feeling for the heart or discipline for the life but as the gracious God whose Word speaks and acts, whose water cleanses, kills and makes alive, and whose table feeds us upon the very Body and Blood of Christ.  We should know who we are and we should know what we do (not simply in the sense of Sunday morning but as a people engaged in the work of the kingdom both near and far).  We should have a sense of pride -- not the false pride in ourselves but the pride that flows from the work of God among and through us and the wonderful fruit borne of the Spirit within Lutheranism.

If we processed down the street, say on Palm Sunday, would our people come out to say, "Hey, that is MY Church..."  Although I believe they should have ever reason to do so and I wish that they would, I fear that such a swelling of pride might not be their first response.... Just something to think about...


Anonymous said...

First of all, we are BLESSED TO BE

There is no room for pride, but only
humility as we consider how God the
Father has called us to faith in His
Son Jesus Christ and how the Holy
Spirit has nurtured that faith
through Word and Sacrament.

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Maybe we should begin our procession with palms on the front lawn of the church? People on a busy street can then see us. Those who can't make the trek could meet us at the back. I suppose the Jews who praised Christ were not ALL at the front gate of the city...

Unknown said...

The problems lie with the very fact that Lutherans don't know who they are. If Lutherans are confessional and proudly celebrate the Liturgy, they are branded as Roman. If other Lutherans worship according to the evangelical preference with little to no sacramental character, they are considered to be no different than evangelicals. And these criticisms are thrown at Lutherans by other Lutherans. No wonder Lutherans aren't proud to be Lutherans; they don't even know who they are. Therein lies the problem. You have three sides all claiming to be Lutheran and denying that the others are. Until there is a homogeny in both praxis and theology, Lutheranism will continue to suffer from such a schizophrenia and no one will proudly say, "Yes, I'm a Lutheran."

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I would agree with Chris we're more concerned with fitting in than being ourselves. The pleasure of the Catholic bystanders reminded me of a quote from what Frank Schaeffer said about his father Francis' funeral: “Ten years later, the first Greek Orthodox funeral I went to filled me with envy. I decided that whatever else happened, I didn’t want to die as a member of a religion that has no clue about what to do with the most sacred moments of life, and death.”

Andrew Grams said...

As a Lutheran in the South, about an hour further south from you, I understand and live what you are saying. There is a tendency to hide what and who we are so as not to be labeled as something we are not, i.e. Roman or Baptist Lite, and in that sense Chris is right. I do not think it is so much that we do not know who we are, but rather the fact that, in the Missouri Synod anyway, we have kept our identity to ourselves, wrapped in a synodical cocoon. Yet that is something that we can no longer do.

We now live in a time where the culture has displaced the church generally, and we see the more vocal and active church bodies taking the lead in attempting to engage the culture and "win it back." Not only that, but these church bodies are more "visibly" active than we historically have been, and willing to use the tools of the culture, working with it, to get their message out. Our tradition does not look like those major voices that are out there marketing to and engaging the culture, doing the works of charity. Those folks are controlling the dialogue with the culture, and seem to have redefined what it is to be the local church, and what the local church looks and sounds like, and most Lutherans are not entirely comfortable with these changes. As a church body, it is not necessarily our practice to evangelize in our communities in purposeful and visible ways, and yet we are being forced out of our collective comfort zone to go into our communities and do the work of the Great Commission.

I have been pleasantly surprised, however, at how much Lutherans, both those who have grown up in this tradition and those who are new to it, desire to know more about our tradition, how we communicate the Gospel truth, and why we do what we do the way we do. Too often we leave our Lutheran identity behind after being confirmed. Having been fully catechized, there is nothing more we need to learn unless we are going into the ministry or teaching profession. Fortunately, a year or two of confirmation instruction does not satisfy the hunger and thirst for the Gospel for a lifetime. I have also taken note that the language of Lutheranism is making its way into the vocabulary and discourse of the more visibly active church bodies. That to me speaks volumes and should serve as confirmation for us that it is a good thing to be Lutheran, or, a Christian in the Lutheran tradition. Keep lifting high the Cross and taking Christ to others in this world.