9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling-place, 10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. 15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
If you camp a lot, then you know tent placement is incredibly important. A slope can cause the blood to rush to your head. A hill will send pools of water into your tent during a rainstorm. Dead branches above might come crashing down on you in a windstorm. Boulders uphill might let loose during the night. Your body is only as safe as your dwelling-place.
Many sleep in tents across our country tonight who are not in safe dwelling-places. They are temporarily homeless or have chosen this tent as their home. They are not safe. There is a scourge that comes near. This scourge is wealth inequity, the opportunity gap, racism, unjust housing policies, and our inability to address the mental health crisis. Yet, even to these, God promises to “be with them in trouble”, “to rescue and honor them”, and to “satisfy them”.
Oh, Lord. Send your angels to those with danger just outside their tents. Bear them up, and may we together tread on the lion and the adder of injustice that threatens them.
Written by Dr. Jeremy Myers, Executive Director of Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation
On Tuesday Oct 5, 2021, Dr. Brian Bantum gave a lecture entitled “All Things are New: The Language of Our Life in the Face of Empire” at our 2021 Bernhard M. Christensen Symposium. Dr. Bantum is the Neil F. And Ila A. Fisher Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. He writes, speaks, and teaches on identity, racial imagination, creating spaces of justice, and the intersection of theology and embodiment for audiences around the United States.
He is a contributing editor of The Christian Century and is the author of “Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity,” “The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World,” and “Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference,” which he co-authored with his spouse, Gail Song Bantum. You can view a recording of his talk here.
Augsburg University’s Christensen Symposium will feature the esteemed Dr. Brian Bantum next week, Oct. 5 from 11:00am-12:00pm. Please join us either in the Hoversten Chapel at Augsburg or via livestream (register to attend online through this link.) His talk is titled, “All Things Are New: The Language of Our Life in the Face of Empire.”
Brian Bantum, PhD, writes, speaks, and teaches on identity, racial imagination, creating spaces of justice, and the intersection of theology and embodiment for audiences around the United States. He is a contributing editor of The Christian Century and is the author of “Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity,” “The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World,” and “Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference,” which he co-authored with his spouse, Gail Song Bantum.
Today’s blog post has been commissioned by the Riverside Innovation Hub to bring in the stories and views from our partner congregations forward. We continue with a piece by Ryana Holt, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
I have been reflecting on the word “yes.” This word or similar affirmative phrase mark the cusp to new beginnings. Like Samuel’s “here I am”. How do young people become leaders? Some create opportunities for themselves. Others find themselves saying “yes”, “here I am,” and the journey thereafter unveils and develops their leadership.
“Yes” was the beginning to my involvement at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (HTLC) when I only knew only about five people’s names and it was likely that less than five people knew mine. After a service, one of my pastors must have recognized I wasn’t just a 20-something passing through and asked if I would join other young adults in the Riverside Innovation Hub grant team.
Yes, of course. I was there to root in community. Take my email, I am ready to participate.
This reflection has been written by Amanda Vetsch who works as the Congregational Coordinator of the Riverside Innovation Hub and has recently completed her Master’s theses which focused on dismantling white supremacy, the church, and Lutheran theology.
The staff of the Riverside Innovation Hub have recently spent time reflecting on the list of “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics” written by Tema Okun to better understand how the characteristics of White Supremacy show up in ourselves, our initiatives, communities, and institutions. Some of the staff attended a webinar co-hosted by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Tema Okun to mark the 20th anniversary of this list and to begin the launch of new website and updates to the list of characteristics of white supremacy.
Grounding your community in core beliefs, branching out into the unknown
This post is intended to share resources with those who participated in our workshop on February 5, 2021 at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s Extravaganza. In this post you will find:
Notes taken during our workshop on 02/05/2021
The video played at the beginning of our workshop
A lesson plan to use in your home congregation
The videos containing our partner congregations’ stories
Core theological convictions should not be walls that prevent engagement with our neighbors. Instead, they can provide a blueprint for change and engagement across differences. This workshop helps participants identify core theological convictions and imagine they can be held loosely to allow for creative change in a shifting context. Case studies from congregations involved in Augsburg University’s Riverside Innovation Hub will help us see how this can be done.
It is important to acknowledge the title of this workshop is inspired by a document that has become very important to our work. “Rooted and Open: The Common Calling of ELCA Colleges and Universities” lays out a vision for the ELCA colleges and universities as institutions rooted in the Lutheran tradition and boldly open to a changing world. We think it’s worth the read and can serve as another case study of how to hold tradition loosely in a way that generates innovation for the sake of the world.
Clarity on what your core theological convictions are and ideas for how these convictions can help them think theologically about ministry and creative change in a shifting context.
The Minneapolis Area Synod (MAS) and Augsburg University’s Riverside Innovation Hub are both launching opportunities for congregations to be a part of a two-year learning community. These opportunities are both funded by the Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations grant.
The two initiatives will work in parallel for the five years of the grant. The hope is to learn with, beside, and from each other during the two, two-year cycles with distinct cohorts of congregational leaders. Both opportunities are for congregations interested in pursuing or deepening an orientation in their particular place, in relationship with the neighbor and neighborhood, leaning into God’s promises and challenges and that meet us there. The promotion and application processes are collaborative, through co-hosting information sessions and a shared application for congregations. More details on information sessions and the application will be released soon.
Each learning community will have two, two-year cycles of learning cohorts, composed of multiple congregations. The cohorts will be coached or facilitated by a staff member at each respective organization. Both learning communities will learn from and with each other, with shared learning Summits in the second year of each cycle of learning cohorts.
RIVERSIDE INNOVATION HUB (RIH)
The Riverside Innovation Hub, stewarded by the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg University, will learn and experiment with the Public Church Framework as a method for place based vocational discernment in the public square for the common good. This new opportunity is an invitation to congregations interested in pursuing or deepening this same orientation in their particular place, in relationship with the neighbor and neighborhood, leaning into God’s promises and challenges that meet us there. The first learning community runs July 2021 – July 2023 and the second learning community runs September 2023 – September 2025.
This project is open to all Christian denominations within an hour of the Twin Cities Metro Area. Congregations outside this geographic area may apply but should know their experience in the project may differ slightly. Participation in the learning community will include bringing teams to Augsburg’s campus 3-4 times a year (as COVID-19 allows.)
MINNEAPOLIS AREA SYNOD (MAS)
Neighboring Practices and Faith Practices, stewarded by the Minneapolis Area Synod, will focus on faith practices and neighboring practices, because congregations connect best with their neighborhood when they practice their faith and they see with new eyes that God is already at work in their neighborhood. The first learning community runs September 2021 – 2023 and the second learning community runs September 2023 – September 2025.
The MAS project is open to all Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) within the geographic boundaries of the Minneapolis Area Synod and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregations within Minnesota.
There is a joint application process for both projects that will be released on Feb. 3, 2021.
A letter of intent from the senior pastor is requested beginning March 1, 2021.
The deadline for submitting the completed joint application is April 15, 2021.
Selected congregations will be notified on May 15, 2021 and have until May 28, 2021 to accept the invitation.
The first RIH learning community runs from July 2021 – July 2023. The first MAS learning community runs from September 2021 – September 2023.
Stay tuned for more details on the information session and application process. If you have any additional questions, you can reach out to Amanda Vetsch with RIH (firstname.lastname@example.org), Kristina Fruge with RIH (email@example.com), or John Hulden with MAS (firstname.lastname@example.org)
By most measures, it was a typical Wednesday morning commute. Coffee in the cupholder, slow traffic, radio tuned to NPR, brain wandering and wondering if it is ready for the day. But this day was not a normal day. Local government officials were beginning to encourage us to practice social distancing, diligent hand-washing, and no face-touching. It was the third Wednesday of Lent and I was rehearsing my sermon for that evening in my head. My colleague and I had been invited to preach a 5-week Lenten sermon series on the Public Church at a local church. I was in the middle of a thought – reminding myself NOT to crack any inappropriate jokes about the pandemic during the sermon – when I noticed a crowd gathered on the overpass.
The Saint Paul Federation of Educators (St. Paul Public School’s teachers’ union) had just begun their strike and they were demonstrating on every overpass that crossed Interstate 35E and Interstate 94 in Saint Paul. I honked to show my support as I drove under the bridge. Then it hit me. These teachers are beginning their necessary strike which will require public demonstrations.
How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? We will be preaching tonight, encouraging a congregation to move into their neighborhood as a public church. How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? It has been two months since that not-at-all-normal morning commute, and I think I have some things to say about how we live as a Public Church in a pandemic.
We were asked to preach a sermon series on the public church at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville, MN during Lent. The remaining services have since been canceled to allow for social distancing. This sermon was the last sermon we preached on Wednesday March 11, 2020. We wanted to share it with you, our partners, because we think it speaks to the tension and anxiety we find ourselves ministering in these days.
There is an irony in asking a congregation to “be public” when the times call for social distancing. The purpose of the Public Church Framework is to move us into a humble relationship with our neighbor for our neighbor’s sake. And sometimes the best thing we can do for our neighbor is disengage and physically distance ourselves. At times like this we must find new ways to be public, new ways to proclaim God’s mercy in the midst of fear.
Fear & Mercy
March 11, 2020
“Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed.”
Today’s blog post comes from Kristina Fruge’s sermon at Augsburg University’s chapel on January 28, 2020. To listen to her message, click the soundcloud link below. To read her message, you can find the transcript below the soundcloud link.
Pay Attention – Lament – Be Bold
The theme in chapel this month as been: “Public Church: Sticking with Love.” Doing so, in part, by leaning into Dr. King’s words from his speech in August of 1967: “And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love…hate is too great a burden to bear.” The question Pr. Babette & Pr. Justin posed to those preaching on this theme was:
Amid chaos and hardship in our society, how might we as church stick to an ethic of love and embody a public witness that works for justice and peace in God’s world?
This is a big question. One pleading for attention and demanding a response. It is a question directed at the church. And as someone born, raised, educated and employed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the nation’s whitest Christian denomination…I offer a response to this question as someone a part of this community….
Right upfront, let me name this: The church has failed to respond to this question. It isn’t that we’ve been holding fast to an ethic of love and simply need to rise to the increasing challenges and chaos in the world. No. The hardship we see, which seems to grow in intensity each day, we in fact share responsibility for. I’m afraid that we, church, have been doing more to contribute to the hardship and chaos than we have been doing to confront it.
I know many of you could share examples to the contrary – examples of love lived out and people coming together for peace and justice. Dr. Martin Luther King and many others who took the charge in the civil rights movement would be examples of this. Please, do not hear me dismissing the miracles of how the Holy Spirit has worked in and through this church and each of you in this place. God’s witness does live here. I’ve seen it. However, I would suggest that more often the sacred ways God’s love has showed up in the world have been in spite of the church, rather than because of it.
The call to be neighbor beyond the boundaries of our own comfort and imagination will necessitate that we, church, face some uncomfortable realities.
Our American church history was built in tandem with breaking bodies and stealing homes through the unholy marriage between Christianity, slavery and the genocide of indiegenous peoples. The church has had a hand in countless casualties.
This history has not been righted and the casualties continue. The church, like many institutions, continues to be complicit in perpetuating unjust systems that benefit the dominant culture and harm those with less power and privilege.
We in the church have too often opted for a lukewarm misrepresentation of the gospel, one that quiets the radical, disruptive message and life of Jesus in favor of “nice guy” Jesus. We like the idea of loving the whole world, but we prefer to keep the fullness of Jesus and our neighbor at arms length.
These are uncomfortable and dangerous realities. I am not going to dissect them further here, but they must be named as they drastically shape the landscape we, church, must figure out how to travel upon. What I offer in our short time together, are three invitations to the church that I believe offer more faithful bearings from which to navigate the realities of this world and the call to enter into it.
Our first invitation: Learn to pay attention. Mine the gaps.
Author Annie Dillard spends much of her writing pondering the curious gaps in the natural world. (read quote – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 268-269) I revisit these words often because they remind me to slow down and be present and open. This attention to the gaps has helped me learn to pay attention to the world. All of it. The beauty, the heartache, the sacred.
This practice of paying attention helps me notice the gaps here too – between us people. You know these gaps. They exist in the spaces where broken systems damage people’s lives, safety, identity and opportunity at a livelihood. These gaps often exist along racial, class, gender, religious or political lines. They show up at the borders we arbitrarily draw between humanity and all of creation. These gaps can be so overwhelming that they create another gap, the one that exists between me and my neighbor and my fear that I’m incapable of crossing it sufficiently enough to respond, to repair. The gap between the heartache of the world and our ability to enter into it in reparative ways is staggering.
I suppose it’s not so surprising that we often sidestep the gaps, if we have the privilege to do so. And when we don’t have that privilege to do so, we are left carrying the heavy burden of life, seemingly alone. The heartache – my own and my neighbors – is something I would rather bypass most days for fear of what I might really encounter or be asked to respond to if I enter in.
Here is where the psalmist comes in. And our second invitation…
Enter into lament. Hold space for confession.
Let me reread just a few stanzas from our Psalm this morning…
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
The text is raw. This lament, like many of our psalms, stings. I find myself simultaneously drawn to its words and resisting them. The psalmist’s pleas for God’s presence and their prose, naming the rushing waves of deep heartache, stir memories of pain. Have your tears ever been your food, day and night? Have your bones ever ached in agony? Have you ever felt abandoned, not knowing where your help would come from?
Lament psalms are the most common psalm in scripture, yet ecumenical studies of worship liturgies, hymnals and contemporary Christian worship music have found that our American biblical narrative is heavily lopsided in favor of praise and celebration. The psalms and other songs of lament are the most often omitted.
Lament is not a posture the church in America often opens itself up to. Soong-Chan Rah, pastor and author of Prophetic Lament, says this: “The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget…We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.”
Walter Bruggemann says that the main point of lament is to point to the fact that, “Life is not right. It is now noticed and viced that life is not as it was promised to be.” The voices of lament that linger in neighborhoods, homes, and schools… in rivers, farmland and forests across America in 2020, are exactly the kinds of voices we should be straining to hear. How will we ever know what our proclamations of good news must sound like, taste like, feel like, look like, if we do not dwell in the places of lament and let the waters of the world’s grief swell and speak.
We must be willing to pay attention to the gaps and enter the places of lament. And when lament speaks truth to unjust realities, we must be open to how our proclamation requires confession.
And on that note, the last invitation I offer this morning is this: Be brave. Be humble.
This is why we need more than “nice guy” Jesus. Nice guy Jesus thinks of love as a warm feeling we can have for others at a safe distance. Nice guy Jesus works to protect the comforts of privilege and would never dream of challenging our complacency.
Jesus wasn’t a nice guy. Loving yes, absolutely yes. Nice, no. The bold intensity of the way Jesus loved brought him out into the gaps of this world, into the places where those who were most forgotten dwelled. The bold intensity of the way Jesus loved brought him face to face with gaps in systems and practices that were way out of line with God’s intentions for creation. The way he loved was so radical, it earned him many enemies and it ultimately got him executed. This love knew the reality of suffering and pain. This love did not sidestep heartache. It stepped further into it.
This is the kind of love Dr. King aligned himself with. The kind of love was and is a verb. Like Jesus’ love, it lives in bodies and steps into the gaps of heartache, pain, and injustice. This embodied love is a way of being in the world. It is the source of courage to do what is right in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Sometimes I need to remind my nine year old, you can be afraid and brave at the same time. Whether he is attempting to rock climb for the first time or needs to go into the dark basement alone to get a clean pair of socks, I tell him, you can be afraid and still find courage to do what you need to do. I think we church, can do the same. It will require a posture of trembling and trust. We will need to be brave and humble.
If embodying a public witness of justice and peace in the world that aligns with Jesus is our aim, then we must enter the places where deep calls to deep. Where the waves slam with a forceful intensity, where we are in over our heads. These places are immense, frightening, powerful, and even, beautiful. We can do this trusting God is in it, already working in the mystery, beckoning the waves to tide towards justice.
As we go about from this place today, I plead with you to carry these invitations:
Learn to pay attention. Mine the gaps.
Enter into lament. Hold space for confession.
Be brave. Be humble.
And for heaven and earth’s sake, stick to love and stick together. Amen.