Monday, January 20, 2014

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

On this Federal Holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, it’s worth taking a moment to read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  The letter can be found here:

I first read the letter in a class I took at Carleton College taught by Paul Wellstone.  Reading the letter at that time in my life helped form my commitment to racial and economic justice. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest prophet of the 20th century.  May the words he wrote in this letter resonate within us and inspire us to live out the dream for which he gave his life. 

If by chance you cannot read the entire letter, enjoy the following excerpts:

“But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice? -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist?  -- "Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist? -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

“Never before have I written a letter this long -- or should I say a book? I'm afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What is non-negotiable about being Presbyterian?

This past Sunday I had started a new sermon series called Identity.  The purpose of the series is to help our new congregation be even clearer on who we are.  

On Sunday I preached about our own Presbyterian identity.  I got into the sermon by asking two questions.  First, what is non-negotiable about being Presbyterian?  Second, if we stopped doing ______, then we would stop being Presbyterian?

Last week I asked a lot of people these two questions.  I enjoyed an extended conversation on my Facebook page when I asked them.  Then on Saturday I asked the two questions when I set a table up at the Presbytery meeting.  The Facebook conversation can be viewed here:

I get that for most of the world, these questions are not significant.  But some of us are staking a lot in how we answer the questions.   No doubt that in this era denominations are much less important to people.   However some of us want to stay true to our denominational intent while also not letting our denomination weigh our congregations down.  

I ended up developing a list of ten non-negotiables.  In the sermon I went into depth about two of them.  The sermon can be viewed here:

Here is my list in no order of importance.  

Shared authority—pastors and elders work together to lead the congregation.
The community and especially worship is informed by the Word
Engaged in the wider community
Baptism and the Lord Supper are the sacraments that we celebrate, and we celebrate them often. 
Connectional—what happens in one Presbyterian church matters to people at other Presbyterian churches
Informed by the Book of Order and Book of Confessions
The gifts of women are recognized and celebrated in leadership
God alone is Lord of the conscience--we’re not subscriptionist
Committed to the Reformed Tradition of theology

If we stopped doing any of those ten, then in my mind we would stop being Presbyterian.

Please note that my list is not a response to what is non-negotiable about being a church.  For example I just assume that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  All churches recognize that. 

This list is not cast in cement.  I could see myself changing it.  I'm committed to the Reformed Tradition of theology, so I'm personally evolving and growing in my understanding of what it means to be Presbyterian.

Please share your ideas in the comment section to this blog.  In this age when the Presbyterian denomination as a whole is struggling, it’s imperative to be clear about our identity.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Twin Cities Area Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of Twin Cities Area met at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis for our January meeting.  I arrived early to set up a table for Chain of Lakes Church, a ministry of the Presbytery.  In preparation for a two-week sermon series I’m sharing at Chain of Lakes called “Identity,” I asked folks who came to the table to answer two questions.  “What is non-negotiable about being Presbyterian?  If we stopped doing _____, then we would stop being Presbyterian?”  I asked those questions of almost everyone I met last week.  A fascinating conversation took place on a January 6th posting on my Facebook page at:

I also shared some of my own responses to these two questions in my sermon at Chain of Lakes on Sunday.  A video of the sermon can be found at:

After preliminaries we started with worship.  Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, new President of United Seminary did a terrific job of preaching.  She talked about the opportunities and challenges of New Beginnings.  During the Officer’s Reports we learned that the Presbytery is projecting a $90,000 budget deficit for 2015 and that the Presbyterian Church in Albert Lea has requested an Initial Response Team from the Presbytery to discern whether the church wants to stay with the PC(USA).  Barbara Lutter shared a very informative report on the new Presbytery Leadership Team, the old Presbytery Council. 

A highlight of the meeting was listening to the statement of Faith by Jeff Foels.  The statement can be found on page seven of the Committee on Ministry Report which can be found here:

A moving moment for me was when he talked about how his home church (First in Stillwater) ministered to him when his mom passed away.  He shared that the church (because of sexual misconduct issues) was broken at that time, but was still able to help him.  He shared, “if a broken church can minister to me when what does that say about the church?”  He is going to be a new Associate Pastor at House of Hope Church in St. Paul.

Three Presbytery conversations were then offered along with lunch.  I enjoyed visiting with my colleague and long-time friend Lyle Rozeboom during lunch.  After lunch the Presbytery elected commissioners to General Assembly.  I remember past bruising fights in the election of commissioners.  I was grateful that this election was decent and in order. 

During the Committee on Ministry report the Presbytery indicated its willingness to live into the new nFOG opportunity for a church to elect its Associate Pastor to Head of Staff.  Michael Olmsted, the current Associate Pastor of Westminster in Austin was called to the Head of Staff position of the church.  It was terrific to see a large delegation from the Austin church attend that portion of the meeting.

During the Bills and Overture report the Presbytery voted to approve overtures redefining marriage as a commitment between two people and repealing a past Authoritative Interpretation that disallows pastors from performing marriages for same-gender couples.  The debate did not last long.  Many of the conservatives in the Presbytery were not present at the meeting.  The General Assembly will discuss these overtures this summer at their meeting in Detroit.  The overture that brought the most discussion was one brought by the St. Luke Session asking for divestment by the Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation in fossil fuel companies.  The overture advocates were young adults (teenagers?) from the St. Luke church.  It was encouraging to have their voice and presence at the Presbytery meeting.

The hardest part of the meeting was the vote to close the Presbyterian Church in Farmington and the Arlington Hills Presbyterian church. 

The meeting closed with a fairly lengthy report that approved the merger of Knox Presbyterian church in St. Paul and North Como.  This merger is an exciting opportunity for this new congregation to develop a thriving ministry.

It’s hard to see Presbyterian churches close and to know that six Presbyterian churches are exploring leaving the Presbyterian church.  I believe deeply in the Presbyterian church and have faith that God wants a vibrant Presbyterian church.  We need to cling to this desire from God.  It is this hope that will help us navigate the current times.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cold snap

Our current cold apocalypse in Minnesota—apocalypse according to the weather folks—is brutal.  On Monday the high temperature is supposed to be -15 and the temperature is not supposed to get above zero until Wednesday.  A person can’t live in Minnesota for long without having stories of frigid weather.  Minnesotans like to joke that this weather keeps the population of the state lower.  And some of us actually like it—my wife Amy told me today that she would rather have -25 than 100 with high dew points. 

Most Minnesotans have stories about brutal cold weather.  I remember the terrible storm of January 1973.  It was the type of storm where the word, "the" is put in front of it.  If this storm was a hurricane it would have received a name.  It was the worst snow storm I ever remember.  The kids in Worthington were sent home from school.  I then stayed indoors for practically two days straight.  The temperature went down to -30 with the windchill going to -80.  My family eventually got cabin fever, so we walked about five houses down to the Hudsons for a visit.  By the time I walked 100 yards I had icicles hanging from my eye lashes.  The power in our house went out, and my family stayed warm by sitting next to a space heater in the basement.

The coldest I’ve ever personally experienced was in December 1983.  The temperature hit -40.  My family was going to a production at Northrup Auditorium.  My Dad unfortunately parked our car a long ways away, and unfortunately I forgot a hat—not surprising for a sophomore in college.  I will never forget how cold my ears became on that half mile walk.  I still remember.  I developed a new respect for the cold weather that winter.  I remember a story of a runner getting frost because he went for a run while wearing shorts.  At that weather any exposed skin will freeze quickly.  I feel like I’m lucky my ears didn’t fall off.

I remember during one cold snap in January 1988 when my car wouldn’t stop.  Triple A was overwhelmed with calls, and I didn’t know anyone who could jump my car.  A friend of mine suggested taking the battery out of my car and warming it up in the apartment where I lived.  Fortunately my car eventually started.

This is turning into a real Minnesota winter.  By the time this cold snap is over we will have more days the temp has gone below zero since 2009.  If the forecast is correct we’ll have the lowest temperature since 1996.  And winter is a long ways from being over.
We can’t change the weather, so we might as well enjoy the moments.  Even if the moments are painfully cold.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


On New Year’s Day Amy, Hannah, and I prepared for the upcoming cold apocalypse in Minnesota by seeing the movie, “Frozen” at East Bethel theatre.  The animated Disney movie is very loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s short story, “The Snow Queen.” 

The movie traces the relationship of Elsa and Anna, daughters of the king and queen of a Scandinavian place called  Arendelle, Elsa has magical powers.  When she accidentally injures Anna while playing, Elsa and Anna’s parents go to a magic troll to have Anna healed.   The memory of the accident is taken from Anna, but Elsa punishes herself by withdrawing from the world.

The contrast between the girls is set.  Elsa is the older, worrisome girl who doesn’t know how to control her magical powers.  She wears gloves on her hands to prevent further damage.   Anna is the younger, adventuresome girl who craves a relationship with her distant older sister.

When Elsa and Anna’s parents are killed in an accident it is time for Elsa to become queen of Arendelle.  On coronation day she loses her gloves, causes Arendelle to be frozen and escapes to a distant place.  She ultimately created her own ice palace.   With the encouragement of Hans—a brief knight in shining armor—Anna goes off to find Elsa. 

On her adventure Anna meets Kristoff—who became a knight in shining armor—and Olaf, a comic relief snowman. 

A few surprising twists keep the movie interesting and Olaf was delightful to watch.  Unlike some reviewers I liked the trolls and would have loved to see them more integrated into the story.

Disney produced the film, so astute readers can guess that the ending was happy.  Along the way the movie shared two important themes—love is an open door and love melts a frozen heart.

The music in the film was terrific.  I can see the move being adapted to a musical show.  The animation was cleverly done and very colorful.

I particularly enjoy watching movie’s at East Bethel theatre.  They are a welcome contrast to AMC—inexpensive prices and tasty popcorn.  The seats don’t recline, but who goes to a movie to lay down in a seat.  I have a hard enough time staying awake in a dark theatre without lying at a 45 degree angle. 

Frozen is worth the time to see—especially for parents and kids.  In this frozen time of year we can do a lot worse than seeing “Frozen.”