Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

O Magnum Mysterium

Quiet your heart for a few minutes:

O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen

Latin text:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

English translation:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

This selection takes me back to my alma mater’s Christmas Concert, which I was in just once back in 1986 (that was the first year the College Orchestra was included), and makes me just want to stop everything and listen. (Clarification: this piece hadn’t actually been composed yet when I was in college, but has been featured at many Christmas concerts since its composition in 1994.)


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A new friend in Christ named John Book was kind enough to stop by this site, and on my “About this site” tab he shared some honest observations about his past and present experiences with the Lutheran denomination, many of them negative. It brought to my mind a colleague of mine named Paul, who was pastor of an Evangelical Free Church in the same Texas town where I was pastor of a very small Lutheran church 15 years ago. As a younger Christian man he had belonged to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, when he experienced a rather dramatic sense of call to pastoral ministry (I forget the details, but I remember it was dramatic). He contacted a church official, partly to find out how to become an LCMS pastor, and partly just to share the story of his call and new sense of closesness to Christ. Paul exuberantly told his story, fully expecting the church official to share the joy. Instead, the official listened to the story in stony silence, didn’t acknowledge it in any way, and proceeded to explain the LCMS pastoral training and call process in a detached, businesslike tone. Lutheranism lost Paul right then and there, and he has ministered in a couple of different Evangelical Protestant denominations ever since.

Many Christians have felt let down by their church. As a Lutheran I’m sorry to say that Lutheran churches have let lots of people down. Other brands have also had their failings. Richard, another pastor friend of mine in the same Texas town, was pastor of the Pentecostal Church of God. He and I shared a love for really digging into the deep content of Scripture. He lamented to me more than once that many of his people really didn’t seem to have a desire to grow and advance in their knowledge and application of Biblical teaching. They just wanted to feel the same feelings and have the same elated experience week after week. We Lutherans tend to be a lot more subdued at church than Pentecostalists (with some exceptions; there are Charismatic Lutherans, for example), but we often have our own form of the same failing: we like to be comfortable, non-controversial, and safe, more than we like to learn something new that might force us to grow, get off our duffs, and rock the boat.

One of my personal beliefs about the Christian Church is that as a whole it ought to look quite a bit more like the Salvation Army, that is, we should be very conspicously working to reach out to the poor and needy, to the point that it’s one of the main things we’re known for. As it is, many churches I’ve been part of are very practiced at finding reasons why the plight of the poor is someone else’s problem.

The Salvation Army has its failings, of course, but I respect them to the point that I would seriously consider joining them, were it not for the fact that do not practice Baptism and Communion. I don’t stand in judgment over them for that, but I simply couldn’t live with that myself. Awhile back I took an online quiz that would supposedly determine what denomination is the best fit for you. My Number 1 answer was interesting: “Orthodox Quaker.” I think it’s because my answers reflected a blend of old-fashioned orthodox theology with a concern for social justice and the environment. I was intrigued enough to investigate further, but alas, I found the same issue: Orthodox Quakers do not practice Baptism or Communion.

21 years ago I made a brief but memorable visit to English L’Abri. I was a seminary student at the time, and towards the end of my visit a friend told me that when I had first arrived, some of the other students had been turned off by the fact that I was studying to be a pastor. At that time much of L’Abri’s ministry was to young Christians who felt alienated from and/or let down by the Church as an institution, and I, as a prospective church leader, stood for the very thing that had hurt them. But, my friend told me, I had won them over by being a “good person.”

One of the main formative spiritual experiences of my youth was a great non-sectarian Bible study group my family was part of during my teens. It had begun as a follow-up study group about a film series by L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer, and it grew into a rich, unique experience of the family of God. It was simply a group of people who loved to enjoy fellowship together, dig into the Word, and apply it to all areas of life. Members of the group included Lutherans, Catholics, a Baptist, members of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and “House Church” people. One of the great letdowns of my life is that churches I’ve been part of usually haven’t measured up to the quality of the fellowship and vision of that little group that I experienced when I was quite young. Another loss is that it’s no longer possible for me to be part of an all-laypersons’ Bible study, because it stops being one as soon as I show up. Some expect “all the answers” from me as clergy, others are afraid I might find something wrong with what they say, and still others close the door because for them I stand for the hurt they’ve received from the Church or from another clergy person.

There are four different denominational bodies I think I could function in; three of them are Lutheran, the other is the Evangelical Covenant Church. I stay in the church body I’m in (the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations) because I think it has a core of good, balanced, Biblical teaching and a rich heritage, because it is a family of people that I know and love, because I’m free to be my maverick self, because it’s open to input from outside (indeed, it would be downright cultish if a group of only 30,000 people in the whole world didn’t think they had anything to learn from others) and because it’s what the LORD has given me; also, my status as clergy in this church body didn’t come cheap. As much as I would love to wander around and search for the perfect Salvation Army/Orthodox Quaker/L’Abri/Old Bible Study group church, I think God’s calling me to impart something of the vision in the setting where He has already brought me.

Having said all that, I’d invite all to use this post as an open thread about whatever is on your heart about these matters. Our key guiding verse is James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” I’m especially not here to try to “fix things” if your journey led you away from Lutheranism, or something like that. I’m just here to listen, share, and grow. I like Francis Schaeffer’s approach, described here:

Schaeffer … used to say that “if he had only one hour with someone, he would spend 55 minutes asking them questions and 5 minutes trying to say something that would speak to their situation once he understood a little more about what was going on in their heart and mind.”

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This article first appeared in the West Douglas County Record on January 7, 2010.

It was just an old one-use camera with a few pictures left on it, that we decided we should finish out and have the pictures developed. But today when I picked up the prints, it took me on an unexpected journey to another place and time.

The most recent pictures were first, some scenic shots from our little visit this past September to the Glacial Lakes State Park, south of Starbuck. Then, an interesting surprise: a picture of a younger, beardless me with our two dogs; Missy, who went to a different home almost eight years ago, and Pluto, still our faithful companion today at age fourteen. After that, some nice photos of Autumn foliage, probably taken by my wife at least ten years ago, as well as a few garden pictures.

Then came the real surprise. The next photo was of my old 1973 Ford Galaxie that I drove in the mid-1990s, parked in front of a large stone church building on a sunny day. What church was it? Slowly it dawned on me. It was First Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City, where I attended a regional pastors’ retreat in October, 1995. At that time I was pastor of a very small church in the very large state of Texas. We enjoyed great fellowship at that retreat in Oklahoma City, and I would love to go back to the great bed-and-breakfast where we stayed. But a shadow encroached upon that retreat, because of a terrible event that had happened six months before, only eight blocks from First Lutheran Church where we met.

I sighed as I realized what would appear in the next pictures: the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Today there is a dignified Memorial on that site, but when I was there, six months after that tragic day, the remains of the building had been bulldozed, and the block was fenced off. It almost looked like a common construction site, but with two big differences. The fence was covered with wreaths, notes, t-shirts, and other makeshift memorials, and the surrounding buildings bore severe damage to windows, roofs, and walls. The scene was very quiet. There weren’t crowds of people, but there were always a few people coming, spending a few quiet moments at the fence, then going on their way. Feeling moved to leave some memorial of my own, I fetched my cello, played a few selections that seemed fitting, then pulled a few strands of horsehair from my bow and tied them to the fence and went on my way. I saw it all once again as I looked through my remaining photos, and I finally recalled dimly that I had hastily picked up that disposable camera at a convenience store in Oklahoma City to record what I saw that day. That camera had now completed a long fourteen-year journey.

Human beings are like old rolls of film. Every one has a story to tell, but it will go untold if it isn’t “developed.” I thought of the stories I heard from a friend who was an Army chaplain at the time, ministering to recruiting stations throughout the South Central USA, including one that had been located in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building until April 19, 1995. Oklahoma City was his War Zone. Others have stories of their own War Zones, their own sorrows and joys, hopes, disappointments, insights, and life lessons. Someone you think you know may have a story to tell that would really surprise you. Take some time this new year to listen with new ears to someone else’s story, perhaps a relative or friend, or someone you know needs a listening ear. And take some time to read or listen to the many life stories found in the Bible, especially one that’s so important that it’s told four times, the life of Jesus. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31

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Since ancient times Israel’s chief call to prayer is the Shema,  found in Deuteronomy 6:4:  “Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one (ESV).”  Hear, or listen (Hebrew shema) is the very first word, which tells me that listening is important to God.  James 1:19 says “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (ESV).”  Listening is the neglected half of communication.  Each of us has a heartfelt need to be heard.   Let’s follow the Golden Rule.  If we wish to be listened to, let us be good listeners to others.

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