Sunday, March 22, 2009

Weekend Panorama - Part One

What a weekend, now behind me late on Sunday evening--a panoramic series of memorable events. So many varied experiences! So much to capture and digest. Reminds me of something my brother Zenos once told me after my feeble attempts to capture the Grand Canyon on a few slides. Excited to share it with him I was crushed by the inability of my camera to display what I had experienced. "Jim, Jim," my brother said, trying to console me. "There are some things you just have to hold in your heart." How true. As in nature, so also in our human pilgrimage, events need time and perspective to seal their image on our hearts.

Recognizing all that, it does seem important simply to offer thanks to God for the many events that came together to make this weekend so rich and memorable. It all began with a national conference on Pietism from Thursday evening to Saturady afternoon, sponsored by Bethel University and underwritten by a grant from the Lilly Foundation. Arts, Worship, and Theology from historic Pietist perspectives were featured in papers and presentations by scholars from many Protestant traditions who came from all over the United States and Canada. While it is surely too early to tell what will become of it all, I think it fair to say that this initial effort at gathering Pietist scholars bodes well for the forming of bonds and coalitions which could well not only boost Pietist viability on the North American scene but serve as a scholarly corrective to the negative connotations that many not associated with Pietism have associated with it in recent times.

Two memorial services for dear Pietist friends of ours framed the conference, one before it began for R.J. Carlson of Bloomington, a leading Covenant layman in the Twin Citiy area, and the other, as the conference was concluding at Bethel, for Robert Dahl of Salem, New Brighton, a really colorful and memorable retired Covenant pastor . Being at both of those only livened our sense of the blessings Covenanters share as inheritors of a Pietist heritage deeply rooted in the ongoing life of local congregations of believers who, as the Covenant seal says, are "conjoined in Christ."

The panorama continues in Part Two.

Weekend Panorama - Part Two

After a much needed night of rest, this day has only heightened our sense of praise. It began with a marvelous Morning Worship at Salem Covenant in New Brighton, with inspiring Organ and choral music and Glen Wiberg preaching on "Views from Mt. Nebo" from Deuteronomy 34. There Moses is given to see the whole land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though not allowed to enter it he is content nonetheless, as God not only takes his life in Moab but buries him in a place known only to himself. The right view of life, Wiberg proclaimed, is that hopeful view based on God's promise, as Martin Luther King, Jr. later evidenced in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in our own times. Wanting only to do God's will must be our will if we are to build his kingdom in our time and place and continue to experience his blessing.

Getting in then on part of Pastor Mark Pattie's Sunday school class on "Listening to Scripture" as the key to knowing his presence and will, we then left to attend 11:00 a.m. worship with our extended family at Sanctuary Covenant Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-national inner city congregation meeting in a Minneapolis Middle School Auditorium and pastored by Efrem Smith.

There too God blessed us with no less a Pietist spirit. Though the worship sprung from within the African American culture, avowedly to reach all nearby who are part of it, there was both great warmth in the welcome of the people, and great passion in the sharing of God's word and will. People ready to say "Yes" to God and turn their lives over to him were invited to stand in their places and come up later for prayer and counsel. It was refreshing and inspiring.

After an informal lunch with family we had time to return home for a much needed nap before yet more awaiting us in the late afternoon of this same day. Impressions of that follow in Part Three.

Weekend Panorama - Part Three

God's benediction on this memorable weekend came in the form of a 4:00 o'clock sacred concert by the Northwestern College Choir, sponsored by our Salem Music Academy, which offers year-long music lessons to young people in our area who otherwise would not be able to afford them.

The program was, for me, another Pietist experience, melding together young voices under superb direction, with equally superb accompaniment, to serve as wide a range of music and text as would please a Pietist Covenanter like me, who longs with the psalmist to be "a companion of all those who fear God" (Psalm 119:63) and are looking for his appearing.

Bach and Mendelssohn were joined with contemporary composers, all the way from Dominick Argento to lesser known contemporaries like Getty, Townsend, Haugen, Berglund, Courtney, Fritschel, Berger, and Hampton. Arrangers like Ferguson, Helvey, Parker, Berkey, and Caracciolo crafted fresh presentations of pieces from many traditions, and poets all the way from St. Aquinas and Luther to John Newton were feted.

Who is a Pietist, after all, but one who longs for the gathering up of all things in Jesus Christ--past, present, and future? Will not "every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" one day? And ought not that be our deepest longing as it surely is his? I was especially moved and blest by what was for me a new text from Martin Luther, titled "In Peace and Joy I Now Depart." I'd love it read at my own departing some day, perhaps even engraved on a stone that marks where I am laid to await Christ's appearing:

In peace and joy I now depart / At God's disposing; / For full of comfort is my heart, / Soft reposing. / For the Lord hath promised me, / And death is but a slumber.

The weekend is now over, and tomorrow the daily round begins again. But my heart as a result of these last few days is full to overflowing. For I know in whom I have believed, and the sharing of that in so many diverse ways with so many diverse people has quickened once more that faith in my mind and heart. It has also stirred in my soul a whole new passion to proclaim in every way I can the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9b).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Maiden Voyage for a Wonderful New Tool

While meeting with Don Meyer, executive minister of Covenant Communications, over lunch at Midwinter Conference this year, he showed me a wonderful new video tool he is using in his interviews of various people to share their stories. Called "flip VIDEO mino HD," the camera is only 2" X 4" in size, yet it is capable of producing a 60-minute video in High Definition, so that it can be shown on everything from small mp3 players to the latest large screen televisions. It comes also with a popup USB port connector for one's computer, and built-in software for minor editing, emailing, burning finished videos to DVD disks, and even producing greeting cards.

Anxious for a long time to begin interviewing memorable Christians, hopefully to capture some of their charm, faith experience, life story, and humor as well, I began just today--after some earlier experimentation with a neighbor--by interviewing my son-in-law, Bob Stromberg, well known by many of you, following lunch with him and our daughter Judy. Given his gifts for entering in to such an exercise on the spur of the moment, I could hardly have a better subject to be my first subject.

You'll note half way through this 10 minute take that some back lighting goes on, an obvious sign of my inexperience. What really excites me, however, are the possibilities inherent in using this technology, at minimal cost, to produce even as an amateur stories with lasting benefit in our common life as believers. Perhaps seeing and hearing Bob in this setting will help you understand what a pilgrimage he has been on and still is on as he seeks to make use of his gifts both to entertain and to bless. My thanks to him for allowing me to feature him in this way! You can read more about him at his website:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Look to God and Be Energized

The heavens declare the glory of God, the psalmist writes (Psalm 19), and the firmament proclaims his handi- work. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, their voice is not heard; yet their line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Awakened at a little after 5:00 this morning with the melding of text and life on my mind for the Wednesday Bible Study at Salem, I felt warmed, as if by some divine nudge, with a sudden awareness that all the texts for next Sunday gather around the energizing power and grace of God. Whether in Psalm 19 quoted above, Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments), 1 Corinthians 1:180-25 (where the wisdom of God is contrasted with the our human foolishness), or John 2:13-22 (where the sovereign energy of Jesus is dramatized by his cleansing of the temple), the motion is always from God to us that we might come alive in him.

Gathering my slippers and robe and descending to my study, anxious to complete the lesson earlier begun, I was startled as my computer awakened from its slumbers by the angelic face and form of my granddaughter Kajsa Grace, which greeted me as it now does perpetually. I laughed and wept all at the same time, bathed in the awareness that texts soon to be shared and the life so clearly manifest in her "Southern Belle" joy both declare God's glory.
Study turned to worship as I went deeper into the texts. God's presence, power, grace, and zeal for his house filled me with new energy, and the prayer of the psalmist became my morning prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer (v. 14).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reaffirming Our Pietist Roots

Kurt Peterson, chair of the North Park University History Department, concluded a weekend with us at Salem February 27-March 1 on"The Relevance of Historical Pietism for Today's Covenant." Beginning on Friday evening, he offered us a luminous window into his own pilgrimage of faith which he titled "Evangelical on the Småland Trail, or How the Swedish Pietists Saved My Life."

Two lectures on Saturday morning explored "What Has 21st-Century Minneapolis/St. Paul to Do with 19th Century Stockholm?" and "Constructing the Covenant: What It Means to Be Covenant in Today's World."

His sermon March 1 on the gospel text concerning Jesus' Baptism encouraged us all to remember our own baptism into his life, death, and resurrection, appropriately setting the stage for another Lenten season.

Identity is everywhere being sought these days, yet tragically seldom truly found by the masses. Too many are enticed to chase after images set by others that promise much but deliver very little. Even in Christian circles believers in Christ are being drawn to gurus of one stripe or another that point more to themselves than the rich sense of being that only Christ can offer.

Our speaker led us personally, historically, and biblically back to the root, uncovering Pietism's original intent, deeply treasured by our earliest forebears, laying it at our doorstep like the flower it is, still blooming, something gifted us by God and fragrant with his grace.

Thankfully the lectures were recorded (both audio and video) and will be available for $20 from the church as soon as the recordings are assembled. Orders will be taken at Salem Covenant Church's reception desk (651-633-9615). Our prayer is that many more outside our church will be as blessed as we were by all that was offered us in the Hagman lectures this year.

The Hagman Lectures, now being renewed after several years, is funded by the interest from a generous donation by the late Marion Hagman Estate. The first series, initiated years ago, was
offered by the late Paul Holmer, a son of the Salem congregation who went on to become a leading world philosopher and theologian, widely known and loved for his teaching at the Universities of Minnesota and Yale.