Monday, January 29, 2007

Lemonholm

Our name is pretty unique, so of course no spelling dictionary includes it.

OpenOffice Spell Check suggestions for “Lemonholm”:

  1. Lemonade

  2. Pigeonhole

  3. Buttonhole

  4. Clemons

  5. Lemony

What's your favorite correction for our name?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pastor's Annual Report

Here is my annual report to the congregation for 2006, written on the first anniversary, to the day, of our arrival here. It has been a wonderful first year of ministry.


Dear Members of Grace Lutheran Church,

It is with gratitude that I look back on my first year as your pastor. Mindy, the children, and I are so thankful to be here at Grace. On December 18, we celebrated the first anniversary of Grace’s vote to call me as pastor (on the day of our new building dedication at our church in Eveleth). Today January 15, 2007, we remember our move from the Iron Range one year ago – with the help of so many people who helped us move or helped prepare the parsonage. After so many transitions and big events at my former congregation, then a move to Detroit Lakes, and then building our new addition and getting to know you here at Grace, it feels like we are finally catching our breath as a family and settling in to our new community. We are grateful for the warm welcome we have received at Grace and in the community.

2006 was a year of building our church physically. A tremendous effort by dozens of volunteers has culminated in a functional, beautiful addition to our building. All of you who were able to help with the building effort, thank you! All of you who were able to help by supplying food for the volunteers or financial or other kinds of support, thank you! All of you who helped with prayer support, thank you! Of course, a lot of other good things have happened at Grace this year: read through the excellent articles of this Annual Report and see for yourself.

2007 will be a year of building our church’s mission and outreach. We will discover God’s vision for Grace, and our mission will flow from that vision. Grace’s mission is this: Grace by grace, seeking to be God’s faithful people. Our goals for 2007 are to grow both Christian discipleship at Grace (especially with youth and adults, but also children and confirmands), and outreach in our community. How, specifically, are we to accomplish those goals? I want your help and input to set our course for 2007 and beyond. So, beginning in Lent, we will have regular meetings during our fellowship time (between the worship services) to discover together how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can best fulfill our mission.

One thing to keep in mind: As we grow as a church, we will experience growing pains. That is to be expected. We are approaching the line between a “pastoral sized” church (50-150 in worship each week) and a “program sized” church (150-350). As you approach that line, you move from a model where the pastor is involved in much of the ministry of the church, to a model where the pastor and other leaders primarily work to recruit, train, and support lay people to do the main ministry of the church. There is sometimes the temptation to derail growth, to keep a church at a smaller size. We must resist that temptation, even as we find ways to keep a warm, friendly, family church spirit.

As in any family and any church, sometimes there is conflict, differences of opinion, or clashes of personalities in our church family. As a ‘historian’ here at Grace this year, I have learned a little about conflicts and miscommunication in our church’s history. Even Jesus’ disciples had disagreements and personality conflicts. These things happen in every church – if you read Paul’s letters to churches in the New Testament, you see the same dynamics. Paul’s wrote this in his First Letter to the Corinthian church, 12:4-7:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

If we can step back and take a larger view, perhaps we can see that we are not alone in having conflicts. With a larger perspective, we will not be surprised by conflict, but will expect it, grow through it, learn from it, and work together to fulfill our mission. We will also learn that, in most situations, both sides can learn to relate to each other in Christian love. That is my hope and prayer. Let us “begin with the end in sight”: that is, let us focus on the desired outcome, and work step-by-step to achieve it. It may take time and effort, but it will be worth it. The desired outcome for us is to be a church that is harmonious, with a clear vision and mission, clear ministry descriptions and clear communication, which allows for everyone to use our different gifts and service for the common good of sharing Christ with our neighbors.

It is an exciting time in the life of our church. We are just now beginning to make use of our new addition. We have more room for youth, children, and family events. It is my hope, prayer, and conviction that 2007 will be a growing year at Grace – growing in prayer, in mission, in faith, in the circle of our church family.

Walking with you in God’s amazing grace into 2007,

Pastor Eric Lemonholm

Friday, January 05, 2007

Luke and Inspiration

This is a continuation, in a way, of what I wrote earlier today on “Interpreting Jesus.” Since the summer, I have been slowly reading Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament (having come out of a long theological and biblical slumber). So far, I have been intrigued by the vision of the OT as a complex conversation (debate, disputation?) about the God of Israel - a conversation we, in our own way, continue. The point, I think, is not that there is no truth, but that the truth is complex, dense, thick. There is no knock down argument to once and for all win the argument. Perhaps, then, the point is to continue the conversation honestly, faithfully, openly.

The interpretation of the Older Testament as a conversation about God holds also, I believe, for the Newer Testament. This week, I have been studying Luke chapter 1. Read Luke’s preface to his account of Jesus in Luke 1:1-4:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.


Here are some points that strike me about this passage.

First, “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” Numerous people have written Gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Every Gospel is unique, and every Gospel was written by a different person with a different voice, a different perspective, and different sources. When you read the four Gospels, especially in the original Greek, you are struck by the truth of this.

Second, these accounts record what was “ handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” Luke and the other Gospel writers are for the most part second or third generation followers of Jesus, putting in writing what was handed orally to them.

Third, by his own testimony, Luke’s Gospel is a human work, a product of the author’s careful investigation. Luke is testifying to the truth of what he has written down. His intention as an author is to convince Theophilus (‘friend of God’) of the truth of the narrative he is beginning. See also the beginning of his sequel to Luke in Acts 1:1-2 - “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Who wrote the first book? “I” did, says the author.

I believe that the Bible is inspired testimony, by many authors, of God’s character and actions in the world. But for a Christian view of biblical inspiration, you have to look to scripture itself. I believe Luke’s testimony, that he actually wrote Luke and Acts. If you could go back in time and find the author of Luke and ask him, no doubt he (?) would tell you that he wrote it. He would also tell you that he believes in what he wrote, and believes it is an accurate account of Jesus’ life and ministry. He might even tell you he was inspired to write it. What he probably would not express to you is a belief in the inerrancy of what he wrote, or a belief that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand, a word processor for God.

In any case, a view of divine inspiration of Scripture has to respect the nature of the works of Scripture. You misread Paul’s letters, for example, if you deny that they are actually letters, by Paul, to other Christians.

Today's Quotes

Some quotes for today which relate to our contemporary situation:

Carolyn Dewald, writing about a theme of Herodotus' Histories (5th century B.C.E.), explaining how the mighty Persian empire was defeated by the tiny Greek states:

...although Greek valour was necessary to resist the Persians, what really undid the Persians at the end were certain habits of thought that their long experience in imperial conquest had ingrained in them. Kings and other powerful people in the Histories tend to assume that their power is more far-reaching than it is, and the Persian kings exemplify this trait particularly clearly. Information was available to Xerxes from his Greek advisors that could have made his invasion of Greece much more successful than it was, but, insulated by his ambitious courtiers and his own assumptions, he did not take advantage of it. (Carolyn Dewald, Introduction to Herodotus’ Histories, 1998, pp. xv-xvi).

Marcus Annaeus Seneca:

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.

One more, quoted perhaps too often, but deserving to be remembered:

Excerpt from "Why We Didn't Remove Saddam" by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998):

While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome.

We could also quote Jesus on counting the cost of going to war in Luke 14:31-32.

Interpreting Jesus

The discussion with Jim Wilson continues. Jim wrote:

The problem is, there are so many perspectives and portraits of Jesus, the Gospels, and the Bible as a whole - from different cultural perspectives, philosophies and understanding of historical context. The most intelligent and well-informed from each tradition can craft nearly irrefutable arguments that their Jesus is the correct one. Those who choose to believe in Jesus have basically two options - go along with what's one's been taught since childhood, or after however much one has studied, choose the Jesus closest to one's own feelings and intuition.

I respond to Jim: To a certain extent, I agree with you. In reading any great book, or trying to understand any historical figure, there will be a multitude of interpretations. That is especially the case with a book like the Bible, which is a collection of works, of various genres, written over more than 1,000 years by dozens of authors. It is also especially true with a figure like Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago and left behind no writings of his own. I don’t think the debate about Jesus’ character and significance will ever be finished this side of the Kingdom of God.

But, I do not think we need to jump to an extreme relativism. There are better and worse interpretations of the Bible, and better and worse interpretations of Jesus, as witnessed to in the Newer Testament. There is nothing intrinsic to the Bible that makes it incapable of being interpreted in better or worse ways. For example, your interpretation of Jesus is more true to Scripture than an interpretation of Jesus that justifies torture, aggression, and oppression, and we could cite dozens of passages of the Gospels to make the case. Using Jesus to justify such wickedness is like using Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify racism; it just doesn’t work.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Jesus and Non-Aggression

I just responded to my friend Jim's article on Jesus and Non-Aggression. Jim is a nuanced libertarian, and I always appreciate what he has to say (even if I disagree). He makes a good case that Christians who are pro-torture and aggressive war are out of touch with their Lord's teachings, as are those who advocate for a lot of State intervention in our personal choices. Here is my response to his article:

Jim, Haven't you ever read the Beatitudes?


Blessed are the rich who oppress the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who don't mourn for victims of injustice and violence, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the imperialists, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for vengeance...

Blessed are those who show no mercy...

Blessed are those whose heart is stained with imperialist ambition...

Blessed are the peacekeepers of the imperial system...

Blessed are those who persecute others...


If you only read the right translation of the Bible, you would see the truth of the Constantinian Jesus of Christendom... Actually, good article, of course, though you have to be careful to not just see Jesus through your own ideological lens - he always challenges our lenses. His primary concerns, though often allied with a libertarian view, are not identical with it. Think of Jesus' attitudes toward money. Keeping and spending one's own money were not as important to him as giving it away to others who needed it.

BTW, I just stumbled on an old file of "A Question of Faith" articles from our North Park days, including an exchange we had about abortion. I put my foot in my mouth a lot, and you were thoughtful. Here we are debating again!