What is ordinary time? And what are hemlandssånger? Why this blog?

Welcome to my new weblog, which I’m tentatively calling Hemlandssånger — a Spiritual Journey in Ordinary Time. Here’s some background, along with a couple of definitions — and a confession …

First of all, the definitions. Ordinary Time is the liturgical season in the common lectionary, used by mainline Protestants and Catholics, that comes between the celebration of Pentecost, in May or June, and the end of the church year in November. It corresponds to the season we call Pentecost in Lutheran churches. On St. Andrew’s Day, around Nov. 30, the Continue reading “What is ordinary time? And what are hemlandssånger? Why this blog?”

Of the power of prayer, atheists in foxholes, Paschal’s wager and aging cats

kitties on floor[1] (1)

Our kitties, Olaf daVinci, at left, and Champaign, right.

OK, let’s get this established right off the bat. I grew up believing in the scientific method, the same way other kids grew up believing in divine intervention, and intercessory prayer. My father worked with tree crop genetics, and I learned if something didn’t have empirical evidence to back it up, it didn’t count for much in the world of objective phenomena.

What’s more, I still feel that way. So what’s about to follow here should not be taken as one of those conversion stories — I once was lost, but Continue reading “Of the power of prayer, atheists in foxholes, Paschal’s wager and aging cats”

Camping in the wilderness — unanswered prayers or answered un-prayers?

CAMP A LITTLE WHILE IN THE WILDERNESS — Says YouTube user (and singer) Avery Book, “Emily learned this version of this widely-known camp meeting hymn from Gerry Milnes of Elkins, WV. Gerry heard it from Elmer Mollohan, an old grist miller, who lived on Holly River in Webster County. Performed by the Starry Mountain Singers in Amherst, MA on May 14, 2015.”

So, to fall back on the cliche from an old Broadway musical, a funny thing happened to me on the way to my spiritual director’s …

I’ve been wrestling with the whole idea of prayer, a bit of a challenge when you’re not sure you believe in a personal God — how can you be sure your prayers are answered when you don’t know who, or what, you’re praying to? — and I’d actually tried to write one. Well, sort of, more of a takeoff on the title of Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Not much, admittedly, but it Continue reading “Camping in the wilderness — unanswered prayers or answered un-prayers?”

Notes on immigration, Journal of Lutheran Ethics

David D. Grafton “German Lutherans and Assimilation: Lessons in the Current Atmosphere of Islamophobia,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics May 2011 https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/209

[5] For much of the history of North America, German Americans in the East and Midwest (as well the Finish, Swedish and Norwegian Lutherans) were considered fringe ethnic communities. German Dissenters, Reformed and Lutherans were not part of the centrist denominations that defined much of the WASP Christian piety of the new Republic, such as the Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians. This “swarthy” race of non-English speakers spent much of their existence attempting to live out their own identity in a predominantly English-speaking country. These German communities had different ideas about assimilation.

[6] In fact, the heated debates about assimilating into English culture led to a split within the German Lutheran communities in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.6 This ultimately led in part to the development of two seminaries: Gettysburg, which followed Samuel Simon Schmucker in his move toward openness toward North American culture and American Evangelicalism; and Philadelphia, led by Charles Porterfield Krauth who articulated a German-Lutheran confessionalism. Further a field in the Midwest, the Missouri Synod Lutherans continued to maintain a German separateness throughout the nineteenth century. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century that they began to be seen as part of the mainstream of American culture.7

[20] Lutherans have traditionally been at the forefront of immigration concerns and refugee resettlement issues. This has been primarily because of the traumatic German, Latvian and Lithuanian experiences following World War II. Lutheran World Relief, which was organized to respond to the world crisis of the refugee problem after World War II, has continued to advocate on behalf of refugees, displaced persons and forced migrants. Even throughout the recession, American Lutherans from the ELCA and Missouri Synod have continued to provide generous support for Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

[23] Muslim Americans would very much like to participate in the civic and religious mainstream conversations that have now become standard among Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations in the United States.20 However, like the Lutheran communities of the early nineteenth century, Muslim Americans are not a homogenous community. They reflect a wide variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and histories. They do not represent similar interests, nor do they speak as a whole. Their theological piety of individual responsibility before God generally prohibits their promoting public leaders to speak on behalf of other believers, which will frustrate media sources, and people of good will who wish to seek them out. Their journey toward the center of American life will be difficult. Assimilating into “English” culture is difficult. Reflecting back on our own experience, we as American Lutherans, especially German American Lutherans, have more in common with our Muslim neighbors than we might care to admit. Perhaps that is what is so unsettling for us.

David D. Grafton is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and the Director of Graduate Studies of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.


Mark Granquist, “Religious Issues in American Immigration,” July 2006 https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/581

[3] For immigrants coming America with a prescribed religious identity, this new country provides multiple challenges revolving about a central issue– how to “translate” their religious heritage into an “American” idiom. No longer will religion be a constant, nor will it be provided to them by society at large; rather, if they wish to have religion their way, they will have to take the initiative to organize and fund their own groups. But funding, though a real problem for most immigrants, is hardly the most difficult issue. Questions of structure, power, and theological vocabulary have been, historically, some of the most difficult to resolve. For American Lutherans, the freedom of leaving the European state church system magnified the fault lines within Lutheranism, and caused tensions and divisions that are still unsolved in our own denominations today.

[4] American religious freedom is a heady experience for many immigrants. Though some immigrants come to the United States for freedom of religion, most immigrants have come for economic advancement or personal freedoms. Many immigrants, it seems, come rather for freedom FROM religion, the freedom to leave an externally provided religious identity, and to explore a new religion, or no religion at all, if they wish. One of the common mistakes in thinking about religion and immigration to assume that simply because an immigrant comes from a particular religious background that s/he will continue on in that religion. Far fewer than half of 19th century Lutherans coming from European state-church Lutheranism ever joined a Lutheran congregation in the United States. And no wonder! The whole idea of having to join a congregation, to directly support it financially, and to choose among the bewildering choices even within American Lutheranism often proved overwhelming. And there were so many other religious choices out there that promised greater interest, involvement, and entry into America public life. America is a religious supermarket, and immigrants often have great fun shopping in her aisles.


Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, “The Emperor Has No Clothes On: Lutheranism towards a Multicultural Landscape,” Sept. 2004 https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/737#ENDNOTES

[13] When exploring the geography of (U.S.) American religion, we study the social scenery, noting that particular locations and habitats attract certain types of people, which affects religion as an activity practiced by those particular groups. In early periods, Lutherans lived in the Upper Midwest farm belt, Baptists in the South, Roman Catholics in the Northeast, and Mormons in Utah and the other Rocky Mountain states. Today, the main strands of Lutheranism, based on theological and ideological differences, are the ECLA and Missouri Synod. Lutheranism remains predominantly, an ethnic or community church, and remains geographically concentrated. Based on the National Survey of Religious Identification (NSRI), more than one third of the population of Minnesota and the Dakotas is Lutheran, with Wisconsin at 26%. Iowa, Nebraska, and Montana each have three times the national proportion of Lutherans, which is 5.2%, though migration during the late 20th century changed some of the overall distribution. According to Kosmin and Lachman, “Lutheranism is a moderate, formalistic Christian denomination not given to religious innovation or demonstrativeness. Lutheranism produces a sober, serious, industrious people, relatively tolerant but supportive of the political status quo. . . Lutherans take pride in their civic virtues and their strong sense of community, which their religion promotes.”8 Interestingly, the geographical distribution of religious groups in California unfolds thus: Roman Catholic (13.29%), Lutheran (8.57%), Methodist (6.02%), Presbyterians (12.05%), Jewish (15.39%), Mennonite (8.07%), Buddhist (38.04%), Baptist (6.21%). What do these percentages tell us? Do these 1990 numbers indicate how one must orchestrate a program regarding multiculturalism? Kosmin and Lachman remind us that the differences between the truth and stereotypes regarding religion and ethnic origin are mammoth.

[24] Second, are you willing to make the hard commitments, and face possibly losing funding from those who really want to maintain a Scandinavian Zion? Are you prepared to update liturgy, ritual, and ways of being and doing at the seminary and in the Lutheran church that would change substantively if you had more persons of color who are most often seen around the Equator, who are more festive and energetic? Do you want this?

[25] If so, these are some of the questions that must be asked: Are you willing to recruit racial ethnic students and pay for them to get PhDs so that they can help recruit others, to insure that you have persons of color in denominational leadership? Are you willing to analyze how you engage in enculturation and what is the Lutheran mindset? Are you willing to deal with internal matters of oppression? Are you willing to garner the support to make a difference? What if you fail? What if you succeed? The emperor’s new clothes were nil. What is the state of your new clothes?

Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan is a Professor of Religion at Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, NC

Robert Baird on church-state relations

Thomas C. Berg, “The Voluntary Principle and Church Autonomy, Then and Now,” Brigham Young University Law Review, 2004 (Nov. 2004), 1594-95 https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2212&context=lawreview.

Professor Esbeck primarily describes the church-state
“settlement” of the founding era and the early republic. The nature
of that settlement combined basic religious freedom for all faiths
(free exercise) with government noninvolvement in the distinctive
sphere of religious life and in the churches (nonestablishment). The
specific features of the settlement included:
(1) A separation of church and state that emphasized the
exclusion of the state from “inherently religious” activities and that
was designed primarily to protect the vitality and independence of
religious groups.4
This separation stood in marked contrast to a
separationism founded on a suspicion of religion and a desire to
protect society from religious oppression—a prime example of which
is the laicité principle arising out of the French Revolution.5
(2) Equal governmental treatment of all faiths—in part to avoid
divisions that had arisen when colonial or state governments favored
one faith.6
(3) A reaffirmation that religious principles and voices were
crucial to the health of society and therefore were welcome in
politics and public debate. Those religious principles, however, were
to be nurtured in voluntary associations independent of the state.7
This founding-era settlement, Professor Esbeck notes, is well
summarized in the “voluntary principle” described in the 1840s by
Presbyterian historian Robert Baird. As Baird painted the picture,
government would neither suppress nor promote worship:

In every state liberty of conscience and liberty of worship is
complete. The government extends protection to all. . . . The
proper civil authorities have nothing to do with the creed of those
who open a place of worship.
. . . .
On the other hand, . . . neither the general government nor that
of the States does any thing directly for the maintenance of public

. . . [Religion relies] upon the efforts of its friends, acting from
their own free will.8


1 Carl H. Esbeck, Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic, 2004 BYU L. REV. 1385.
AMERICA (Edwin S. Gaustad ed., Arno Press & The New York Times 1969) (1844) …
8 BAIRD, supra note 2, at 287−88; see also Esbeck, supra note 1, at 259−62
(summarizing Baird’s description).

See also Henry Martyn Baird, The Life of the Rev. Robert Baird, D.D. New York: A. D. F. Randolph, 1866.

pp. 203-207 “… a few Protestants whose prelatical sympathies led them to the expression of the wish that their communion had rather been considered among the unevangelical denominations with the Roman Catholic, than among the evangelical churches disjointed from that of Rome! [bang mark in original].

Once an English major, always an English major: Spiritual formation progress report for January

Email to my spiritual director this afternoon —

A quick note to confirm our meeting Monday at 2:30 p.m. and give you a heads-up on what I’ve been thinking (and writing), plus a couple of themes I think may be worth following up on:

Took me a while to work up to it, but toward the end of the month I tried to write a prayer. With mixed success, I guess, but encouraging enough. I think — maybe — I’m getting more comfortable with the idea. Or the practice. I found a tip sheet by Glen VanderKloot, former pastor at Faith Lutheran here in town, that seems workable. So that’s one theme. The
Continue reading “Once an English major, always an English major: Spiritual formation progress report for January”

Good political advice. Good advice, period.

Never thought I’d link to Capitol Fax in a spirituality blog! It’s a highly regarded daily newsletter that covers Illinois state politics, government and public policy issues, but I believe I can say without rancor that neither CapFax nor Illinois politics are primarily spiritual in nature …

Founded by journalist Rich Miller in 1993, when the fax machine was still cutting-edge communications technology, Capitol Fax is an indispensable source for Illinois political junkies. Quoting the Center for Continue reading “Good political advice. Good advice, period.”

Seeking God in prayer (with hat tips to Dostoevsky, Judy Blume, a chapel in Alaska and a Russian Orthodox hymn)

“The Noble Joseph,” April 10, 2015 (Holy Friday)
St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral Choir, Minneapolis

Spiritual director’s assignment for January (gently phrased, like always, as a suggestion): Reflect on some of the hymns [of the day during Sunday services], but this time tease out the experience of God that you get from them. For example, the little Alaskan church [I had mentioned perviously] that was an experience of God. When you listen to these hymns, you’re transported into a different reality. Maybe go through the song, prayerfully reflect … then write a prayer.

When I first heard this Russian Orthodox hymn, I had no idea what it was. (For the record, it turned out to be a troparion, or hymn, known as “The Noble Joseph” in the liturgy for Friday and Saturday of Holy Week.) But I loved the harmonies, and I sensed I was in the presence of a Continue reading “Seeking God in prayer (with hat tips to Dostoevsky, Judy Blume, a chapel in Alaska and a Russian Orthodox hymn)”