Monthly Archives: October 2017

Happy? Anniversary Protestants


What do Facebook and Twitter have in common with the Protestant Reformation?  Nothing and everything.

Six days from now, October 31, is the 500 year anniversary of the German monk and professor Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.  It was a list of grievances against the Catholic Church, of which Luther and just about all of Europe was a part.  Luther was especially critical of the sale of indulgences.  These had devolved into a fundraising mechanism as the church leveraged people’s fear of eternal punishment to solicit money donations, promising soul benefits.  Cha-ching.

Luther’s post of his theses in 1517 was later seen as Day 1 of the Protestant Reformation.  Along with redrawing the political map of Europe, the Reformation signaled radical shifts we still feel today.  It elevated the role of personal conscience over unquestioned institutional authority.  It is Luther from whom we get the idea of the priesthood of all believers.

Posting arguments publicly wasn’t particularly unique.  What made these theses so influential was a technological invention from the previous century.  The printing press was a new device that, for the first time, enabled documents, pamphlets, and whole Bibles, to be printed and shared on a massive scale.  Essentially, Luther’s 95 Theses went viral, to his own surprise.

Thus the connection with present day Facebook and Twitter.  One could argue that in regards to the free sharing of ideas, the 21st century is the 16th century on steroids.  Or on the internet.

So the free sharing of ideas is a good thing.  The church, and political powers that backed it were corrupt.  The Reformation, which includes Mennonites among its children, sought to offer much needed correctives.

But the Reformation was also a violent splintering, as are some of the currents of the 21st century.  Much has been written recently about how our own perception of reality gets reinforced by the kind of company we keep in the viral world of memes and idea sharing.

Rather than celebrating the Protestant Reformation, and the countless sects it has spawned, it’s perhaps better that we simply observe it.  We can observe this 500 year anniversary with gratitude, and also with caution.  Because we are observing its consequences around us, and they are not all pretty.

We can observe our own tendencies toward sectarianism and tribal thinking, and look for the universal that can get lost in it all.  Catholic, with a little “c”, catholic, means “universal.”  It holds out the firm hope that underneath stark divides, ideological battles, and persistent abuses of power, there is a universal thread connecting us all at the soul level.  I hope it holds.


For a more detailed article comparing the communication technologies of these two eras see this 2011 article in the Economist: “How Luther went viral.


Beauty and grief


In the past few days I’ve had multiple conversations about Ohio in October.  In short, it’s a beautiful time of year.  It’s special.

It’s the trees that do it to us.  I’m fearing the downward line of societal disintegration, and they’re still there, pointing to circularity.  They’ve gathered their energy, stored their supplies for the journey through winter, and are letting go.  Their colorful solar panels disintegrate and become earth and soil beneath them.  What has the outward appearance of death is how they live.

I do grieve the leaves falling every autumn.  I’m never ready for it.  The green didn’t last long enough.  I didn’t appreciate the canopy enough, again.  And it will soon be gone.  I’m never ready for the trees to be bare.  I will likely notice this every day until they aren’t, again.

It’s likely the mix of grief and beauty that makes this such a soulful season.  That combination works miracles, many of them painful and necessary.

I see that mix of grief and beauty also present in our sanctuary work, #metoo, and every other present effort of humanity defining itself in courageous and vulnerable ways.  It is healing work, and we are the ones in need of healing.

I’m grateful for a quarterly Sabbath weekend.  Abbie and I get to spend a couple days in Hocking Hills among the trees.  They are faithful companions and speak a language I need to hear.




Thoughts and prayers


There are a lot of thoughts and prayers happening these days.  Hurricanes, a mass shooting, and the re-awakened demon of nuclear war ought to cause a lot of thinking and praying. “Thoughts and prayers” has become a common phrase, shorthand for I care about this, something to say when you don’t know what else to say.

Whether these words are too cheap and easy is a topic for a different blog.  I, for one, am glad to take them at face value unless there’s reason to be skeptical.

I do wonder how these two actions relate to each other.  Are thoughts and prayers two distinct things?  Can there be prayer without thought?  Is thought a form of prayer?  Are we unsure what we mean by prayer, so we qualify it with what we’re more familiar with, something more down to earth – thinking compassionately about someone or a group of people?

I imagine all of these could be answered in the affirmative, with commentary to follow.

Some people experience prayer as a direct conversation with God on behalf of another person or situation.  Others experience prayer as a particular form of thought – a conscious decision to direct love and goodwill in the direction of another.  There is good precedent in the tradition for both forms.  One of my favorite passages about prayer is in Romans 8 when Paul talks about the Spirit groaning within us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:23).  Perhaps rather than “thoughts and prayers” we should say “groans and sighs.”

A few weeks ago during a worship service Pete Y passed along a phrase as an encouragement for us to give toward our congregational first fruits pledging process.  He noted that a wealthy couple whose generosity he greatly admires shared with him that “Our money can go places we can’t.”

I’m thinking that this phrase also works for thoughts and prayer.  Our prayers go places we can’t.  Our thoughts go places we can’t.

We can’t always be in the hospital room, on the hurricane-devastated island, at the death bed, with a friend struggling with mental health.  But our thoughts, prayers, groans, and sighs become extensions of ourselves.  They reach out and touch, in unseen ways, the circumstances of our fellow creatures.  And in the process, they form us into more compassionate people.