Editor’s note — copy of email sent to my spiritual director this morning, updating and summing up the past month and a half. Posted here, along with earlier updates, so I can tabs on the direction I’m taking as it evolves.
Hi Sister —
A quick note to confirm our appointment for 2:30 p.m. Monday and sketch in the direction I’ve been taking since we last met at the end of December. It’s easy to sum up — I’ve revived a research project I’d let slide in the past three years or so, a study of an old Swedish-American synod that merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the branch of the Lutheran church I belong to). I think it’s consistent overall with my goals, including spiritual formation, but it’s somewhat of a new direction
Or getting back to an older direction after being sidetracked for a while. Before Pres. Trump took office, I was writing journal articles and papers for state historical conferences … but thenI got involved with political advocacy, and way too much squabbling with strangers on social media about politics … and the historical research went onto the back burner.
But at the end of the year, I decided it was high time to get back to work on it. I think it relates to my spiritual formation because one of the things I was feeling when I started with spiritual direction in the spring of 2018 was feeling stuck. As I said at the time (in another blog, Hemlandssånger) on April 2, 2018:
... However, I’ve been dealing lately with spiritual issues … the kinds of things you think about when you’re 75 years old, you’re in the hospital and you wonder how much longer your run of mostly good luck will last and how much time you have left to do all the things you wanted to do with your life. (https://hemlandssanger.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/what-is-ordinary-time-what-are-hemlandssanger-why-this-blog/#comments).
(I’m italicizing all quotes from my blogs, BTW< so you can keep them straight.)
Around the end of the year in 2019 I got to feeling stuck again, and I made sort of a new year’s resolution about it — except I didn’t call it that because I know myself and I knew what I’d do with yet another new year’s resolution! It kind of came to a head Christmas night when Debi and I were driving home from visiting family in the Quad-Cities. Just happened to have “A Christmas Carol” on the car radio, and it got to me when I heard the parts where Scrooge is visiting a graveyard with the Ghost of Christmas Future and he thinks of what he’s done with his life, and it reminds me of what I’ve done — and haven’t done — with my life. I wrote the next day:
… for all his Victorian schmaltz, damn it all, Dickens had a point there. Time is running out, and in spite of everything, there is still time to make amends. God bless us every one.
Somewhere around the 100-mile marker just north of Springfield, Dickens went off the air. And I started thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do them. When I’ve tried to, they’ve never lasted. So I figure I’m better off without the pretense of making them.
But the word picture of Ebenezer Scrooge arguing with the Spirit of Christmas Future in a graveyard stayed with me. …
With the year’s end coming up, barreling up on me, I’ve been thinking lately about the historical research I used to do on music history, Swedish immigration and the old Swedish-American Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Up until two or three years ago, I was publishing articles — including a real spellbinder titled “‘How Newness Enters the World’: Cultural Creolization in Swedish-American Hymnals Published at Augustana College, 1901-1925” — and presenting papers at regional historical society conferences.
But barreling down I-55 on Christmas night, my thoughts keep returning to Ebenezer Scrooge arguing with the Spirit of Christmas Future in a “graveyard overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up with too much burying.” In Dickens’ story, Scrooge wakes up the next morning and immediately — immediately — opens the window and cries out, ““I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! … The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”
We’re crossing the Sangamon County line now — 15 miles to go — and there is still time. Like Scrooge, I’m all “fluttered and so glowing with … good intentions.” God bless us every one. And that article I’ve been working on is still waiting for me at home. Waiting in three or four different folders on my hard drive, as a matter of fact, reflecting three or four different false starts over the past 18 months or more.
— https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2019/12/30/scrooge-luther-swedes/ “Ebenezer Scrooge, Luther’s sermons and Swedish-American history: A New Year’s resolution (of sorts)”
To make a long story short: I’ve managed to stick to it since New Year’s.
I’m working up a proposal for a presentation for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s fall Illinois history conference. It’s due May 1, and that gives me just about enough time to do it right.
(It also gives me a deadline, which is what I’ve always needed to get anything done, and suspect I always will — a old newspaper guy’s downfall.)
So just about everything else is on the back burner for the present.
I have kept up reading scripture, though, and I tried Ignatian contemplation once. I put my own wrinkle on it, but it did engage me with the scripture. It was of those readings from the Common Lectionary for this year in January.
Instead of trying to insert myself in 1st-century Palestine, I imagined John and Jesus at the traditional baptismal site as it looks today (or did when I visited it in 2012). I think it did make me engage with the scripture, although there were echoes of the old George Burns movie “Oh, God!” that I couldn’t quite shake off and I doubt it is at all what Ignatius of Loyola had in mind. My Jesus was very informal, a real mensch. Even there, the research project came up, as I imagined:
— https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2020/01/19/john-the-baptist-epiphany-ii/ — “John the Baptist Does a Bit of Informal Media Advance on the Jordan River (meditation for Epiphany II)”
So we chat for a while — Jesus drawing me out all the time, putting me at ease, kvetching about how hard it is to keep a congregation going in a changing part of the city. Any city, and it’s not just churches. How do you do church in a secular society?It’s temples and mosques, too, it’s everybody. I figure this is what comes with being eternal and omniscient — you do keep up with things, I guess — and he’s going on to ask how I feel about this and that. He draws me out on religion, too. After all, he explains, it’s the family business.He asks about books I’ve read. Spiritual direction. That article about Lutheran immigrants I never get around to writing. Why not work on it a little at a time, he suggests, maybe an hour a day? He volunteers his opinion sometimes, just nods his head agreeably at other times. I’m comfortable, and it feels like I’ve known the guy all my life.
And I got a good start, in this meditation, on working my way through the Gospel of St. John.
The dialog went like this:
“So,” he asks at a lull in the conversation, “you must have some questions?”
Well, I babble, stalling for time, trying to collect my thoughts. I’m here for an Ignatian meditation, I say, on the Gospel according to St. John, and I’ve always had trouble with John. Um … I’m casting about in my mind for the right words, trying to figure out a way to put this politely …
“So what’s the deal with John?” he asks.
Yeah, I say, relieved. He’s reading my mind — I guess it comes with the territory when you’re part of the all-knowing Holy Trinity. Yeah, what’s the deal? Something like that, I tell him.
“It’s pretty simple,” he says (paraphrasing John 13:34-35). “I gave you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And so on. The Gospel of John is definitely still on my to-do list, even though it’s on the back burner at the moment.
Definitely on the front burner is the research I’ve been putting off the last couple, three years and resumed between Christmas and New Year’s. It came up again when I had a little cancer scare in mid-January. I’d been reading a book titled “Everyday Spirituality” by a Lutheran bishop named James Hazelwood, He had some good things to say (I thought) about reconciling faith and works — a vexed issue for Lutherans since Martin Luther emphasized faith over works — and I was reading it in the doctor’s office for what turned out not to be an entirely routine med check. Anyway, I blogged about it twice, but I’ll just link you to the second:
— https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2020/02/01/answered-prayer/ — “Theology, shmeology — take 2: When is an answered prayer like a kick in the pants?”
First, I’ll quote the reconciliation on faith and works:
That night I did a Google search and found a commentary on Luther Seminary’s Working Preacher website. It was by Craig R. Koester, a professor of New Testament at Luther, and in so many words it says both James and Luther are right: Faith is everything, but faith is more than “a simple series of truth claims.” It requires action. “People might say they believe one thing and yet do something completely different,” Koester explains. “Therefore, James will insist that true faith is whatever is actually operative in your life. Faith that is not active is not faith at all. And in this, James agrees with both Paul … and Luther.”
Like I said, the med check turned out not to be routine. They called me the next day, said a white blood cell count was a little high and made an appointment with a hematologist-oncologist. Therefore the cancer scare. Everything turned out OK, but it had me thinking. And, as so often happens, there was something in Hazelwood’s book that perfectly fit what I was going through at the moment:As Hazelwood tells the story in an online introduction to Everyday Spirituality, he had a book in mind, too, and “[n]ew topics and chapter titles kept bursting forth in my dreams, in my ruminations and readings.” Sounds familiar. But he was stopped short by “that voice inside my head, the nagging voice of self-doubt” — Hazelwood has a name for the voice: “Earnst. As in earnest, as in you’ve got to earn every single thing in life, including grace. Earnst … is the ultimate party pooper.” That sounds familiar, too.Then in 2019 Hazlewood decided he was turning 60, time was running out and he’d better get cracking on the book.
“Time is no longer my friend,” he explains. “I’ve got things I’ve always wanted to do, but have put them off because, well, I had time. So despite Earnst and his ever-present voice, I was going to get this book written.”
So, to make a long story short, he finished it in October.
Maybe it’s like faith. Remember what the guy at Luther Seminary said? Faith isn’t just about what you believe, it’s about what you do. Like writing a book when you’re in your 70s and time is running out. Time, paraphrasing Hazelwood again, to get crackin’.
Hazelwood’s book wasn’t the only thing on my mind when I went to see the guy in the hematology-oncology department at St. John’s. Let’s say I had also rediscovered the spiritual practice of intercessory prayer (which I like to refer to sometimes as Emergency Room spirituality) about the time I looked up what oncology is all about. And I had been making promises, one of which had to do with starting back to work on Swedish-American immigration.
Time, in other words, to get crackin’.
I’m going to copy the title and first couple, three paragraphs of my draft proposal here … mostly because I think it fits in wiyj some of the themes we’ve taken up in our sessions. (No link because it’s not on line.)
Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation / in Immigrant Lutheran Congregations, 1848-1860
When he filled out a quarterly report to the American Home Missionary Society on April 1, 1850, the Rev. Paul Andersen of the newly-organized Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chicago reported a problem he wouldn’t have faced back in Norway. “An intelligent and in many respects a highly respected gentleman sent me word that he with his family wished to unite with our church,” he began. But the man “frequently worked in his shop on the Sabbath,” and Andersen’s congregation required “that only those who give credible evidence of a radical change of heart and who are living according to the precepts of the Gospel shall be admitted as members of the Church.” Complicating the issue was the fact that the AHMS made it a condition of its funding that new church members be required to document a conversion experience.
So Andersen told the man he couldn’t allow him to join the church, even though he “respected him as a friend and a neighbor.” That came as a surprise to the shopkeeper. “Ministers at home never said anything about it nor did they refuse to admit us to communion,” he said. To this, Andersen replied he was “only endeavoring to correct abuses in so far as we deviated from the State Church.” [a] History doesn’t record how – or whether – he resolved the issue, but Andersen was not the only Lutheran pastor who faced it.
Especially in a day of camp meetings and revivals, most Protestant Americans were expected to have a conversion experience – to be “born again” – before they were admitted to church membership. But in the old country, Swedes and Norwegians by law were baptized into a Lutheran national, or state, church; they were catechized and confirmed as youngsters, and no further action was necessary for them to qualify for church membership – or to receive communion. “The Swedes have been members of a State Church,” explained the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn, a Swedish colleague of Andersen’s who also received funding from the AHMS, “and the greater number of them have lived in places where the true religion, conversion, and new birth and sanctification are unknown or mentioned with contempt and disdain.” Writing on Feb. 28, 1850, Esbjörn said “[t]he Swedes consider it an infamy for any one at all to be denied the Lord’s Supper” and he feared he would lose members to the Methodists if he enforced the rule. [b]
At the bottom of Andersen’s and Esbjörn’s dilemma was a theological and cultural difference between 19th-century American Protestants and immigrants from Protestant countries like Norway and Sweden, who were used to a state, or national, church. In time they would fashion a compromise, a process by which prospective members of their congregations would pledge to seek a conversion experience and abide by standards committing them to a new, or sanctified, life in the church. …
Unless I hear different from you, I’ll see you at 2:30 Monday at the motherhouse.