Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspired by the Armstrong Museum

I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours today with my kids on a field trip to the Neil Armstrong Museum. Here is a video slide show that I quickly put together using Picassa this evening while the kids were watching "The Bee Movie."

It was really inspiring to be reminded of what I consider one of the great feats in human history. At the same time there was a touch of sadness at a lost opportunity. As the video noted, I was born just after the first moon landing; thus, I was given the middle name "Armstrong." My wife and I have spoken of promises during our childhood about colonies on the moon and manned missions to Mars and beyond. By the time we reached middle school those promises were abandoned. Too bad. Tragic, really.

Though the international space station is a great cooperative venture (See this link:, it lacks some of the visceral appeal of a human adventure to the far reaches of the galaxy; it doesn't inspire in the same way that "one small step for man-one giant leap for mankind" did. That is part of the reason that you send men on the adventure: it fires the mind. Or, in the words of Plutarch that I heard quoted by an astronaut (Dave Scott, I believe, Commander of Apollo 15): "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."

Learning German . . . Again!

I began learning basic German seven years ago during my first year of Ph.D. (Missiology) studies at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. For myriad reasons--the trajectory of my studies, family commitments, the call to the parish, lack of discipline, etc.--I totally dropped the ball.

Now I'm starting over again.

I'm starting over again because the original focus of my dissertation research totally changed when it became clear that I would not have access to the necessary primary sources. Over the course of time, perhaps especially since I took a call to the parish, my focus has both narrowed...and broadened.

Focus Broadens

As a parish pastor I have come to see the necessity of developing a consciously evangelistic ethos among the people. In my writing and teaching I have defined the vogue term "missional" (in the personal sense) as being "concerned that your neighbor regularly hear the Gospel preached in its truth and purity." Thus, in a sense, my dissertation focus has broadened in that I see the parish as the locus of evangelism. In the parish Christ-crucified (1 Cor 1) is proclaimed day-in and day-out in the worship and catechetical life of the congregation, and God's people proceed forth serving their neighbors in their various vocations and giving an answer for the hope that is in them (1 Pet 3) as the Lord provides opportunity.

Focus Narrows

In seeing the parish as the locus of evangelism I have come to see how deeply I have been molded by my parish experience and how truly insightful was Rev. Wilhelm Loehe, the pastor responsible for the missionary settlement of my home town, Frankenmuth, Michigan. In the mid-1800s Loehe (the pastor of a small Bavarian village called Neuendetteslau) set in motion some of the great "mission experiements" in Church history. In the interest of spreading the Gospel he planned not to send just a missionary or two, but a living, breathing missionary community. Frankenmuth, for one example, was not settled by a missionary but by a missional pastor and missional laypeople. They didn't just send a missionary, they sent husbands and wives and their children; they sent butchers and bakers and farmers to settle a Christian community and bear witness to the Native Americans in the then frontier territory of Michigan.

I know that some evangelical-types are trying this, even in the United States, but the progenitor of this type of thing--as I understand--was Loehe, and no one, to my knowledge, is using the mission-colony concept with anything like Loehe's ecclesial-sacramental vision. I want to investigate whether a thoroughly Lutheran mission-colony concept can't be revived in the 21st century. (Incidentally, I had a great conversation about this with one of my "ecclesiastical supervisors" from the West Coast. He was v-e-r-y interested in the project, which gave me great encouragement.)

Now, the people of what became known as The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod eventually came to theological odds with Loehe, and a sad separation resulted. Even so, I contend that there is a great deal to learn from him. Unfortunatley, very little of Loehe's voluminous writing is translated into English. Much of the missiology, as I understand, is "embedded" in Loehe's correspondence. Thus, I am belatedly returning to learning German, that I may have access to the minds of Loehe and his contemporaries and participate, possibly, in the revival of a truly confessional Lutheran missiology.

Language learning is a tough sled for me. Please pray for my patience and discipline!

Yours in Christ,
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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Welcome Rebuke

I have been rebuked twice now in the last week. And I here shall publicly thank both of the men who did so . . .

On Tuesday, November 11, 2008, the area pastors of Northwest Ohio Circuit Number 1 gathered for our monthly "Winkel" (from the German word that means' "corner," I believe, and alludes in this case to a gathering of clergy for mutual consolation). Our topic of study was the Word of God, which was led ably by Pastor Jeff Patterson of Zion Lutheran Church in Schumm, Ohio (one of the founding churches of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, by the way). One of the concluding questions of our study went as follows:

Our pastors and lay people may well agree that Scripture is inspired; but there are times, as we deal with a changing culture, where some will say, "But who can know what it means?" How do we relate the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture to life in a postmodern world within our congregations?
I was--and am--particularly interested in the question, and in the course of bringing up the question I attempted to answer the postmodern flailing at wisdom with my own philosophical reflections. Finally, after a minute of my bumbling, my good friend Pastor Michael Saylor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Convoy, Ohio said to me, basically, "Lance, just preach the Word!" We had been talking all morning, as men who have pledged themselves to the authority and truth of the Scriptures, about trusting the Word, and my answer to the question basically expressed doubt in the Word. Pastor Saylor called me on it, though I didn't realize it fully until almost a week later . . .

On Monday, November 17, 2008, I returned to my desk after lunch and checked my Facebook page. I noticed a post there from a newly-added "friend" (On the Facebook social networking site you allow your "friends" to view posts and information about you. I was skeptical at first, but I keep in touch with a lot of friends through Facebook now.). I followed a link he posted to his blog and there found video of a recent address of his at Concordia Seminary's "German Days." This presentation by Rev. Matt Harrison, in response to a German theologian's paper, was for me a stern rebuke of my doubt, a clear call to repentance in this regard, and also a great message of truth and hope in the Gospel and concerning the Church's place in a "postmodern" world.

Here's a link to Rev. Harrison's blog: Look for "Replenish the Glass."

And here also is a big THANK YOU to my friends for speaking the truth to me.

"Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief"--Mark 9:24

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Toddler Racing & the Joys of Fatherhood

Here is a clip of our new little man being chased around the house by his older brother and sister.

What a joy to have a little one among us again! He is fitting right in with the older three and they are maturing wonderfully in their love and care for him. Watching this transpire is one of the great joys of fatherhood.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Rhythm of Worship

To the left is the latest derivation of an image that I use to explain a right or "orthodox" understanding of worship and the Christian life. It centers in the fantastically succinct passage from the First Letter of John, verse 19: "We love because He first loved us."

Learning to understand worship and the Christian life in this way is transformative, which is why I like to say that to be "orthodox" is "to be transformed by the fact that
God is the primary actor in worship."

I will let my readers ponder the implications of this truth, but it has been transformative for me and for many whom I have taught. Indeed, if the first purpose of worship (and of life for that matter) is to
be loved by God through Jesus Christ, then "our" approach to worship takes on a different character for all of those involved.


For those who find this image helpful, here's the link to a downloadable copy:

N.B. I want to give special thanks to Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just, Jr., whose "Lutheran Worship" class will always be for me--to borrow the title of a book--the "all I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten" class.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

An Interesting Alternative for LCMS Structure

Pictured on the left is the cover of what appears to be an important contribution to the discussion of LCMS structure by The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod's Executive Director for World Relief & Human Care, Rev. Matthew Harrison. I haven't yet given it as thorough a read as I would like, but my preliminary reading suggests a foundational agreement with much that is written. I have thought since serving as a 2007 Synodical Convention delegate that a lot (but not all) of the structure and bylaw discussion masked deeper issues. And at our recent Ohio District pastor's conference our District President and many at the conference, even after months of revisions, noted that they still weren't clear how the proposed structural changes from President Kieschnick's task force would actually help us do what we all want to do: Focus on The Mission.

 In this document Rev. Harrison offers what appears to be a stunningly honest diagnosis; one that will pierce the souls of those on Missouri's right and left. That alone is helpful, but the great contribution is his proposed "Koinonia Project." Here's one pull quote from the essay that I believe hits the nail on the head:

"We must finally admit that going the route of political coercion to secure Synod unity has failed, is failing, and will always fail. Our only hope is repentance, and then looking to the Word of God." (p.11)

 Do I dare say that I'm a bit jealous? Rev. Harrison has here put into words what I have thought but been unable to articulate yet, even for myself. I had intended, some time ago, to offer an alternative proposal to the task force. What I was thinking of suggesting has now been done, and with the sort of documentation and insight of which I am not yet capable.

Last year many of us discussed the President's task force study document, Congregation-Synod-Church. This summer and fall I have been mulling the President's task force proposals, all along with a feeling that we were missing something, that these structure issues were "tinkering" more than anything. I think Rev. Harrison has proposed a substantive alternative to tinkering with the structure of the Synod, but--again--I have not read the document as thoroughly as needed. I, for one, am looking forward to reading this and thinking about the diagnoses and proposals more deeply, and I would welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion that began last year.

Yours in Christ,


P.S. Here's a link to the Harrison document: For those interested in President Kieschnick's structure task force proposals, see

First Article Gifts

I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth...--the First Article of The Apostles' Creed

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from evil.

All this he does only out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

This is most certainly true. --
Explanation of the 1st Article from Luther's "Small Catechism"

I made my first trip to Hocking Hills in southeastern Ohio on Saturday, 8 November, A.D. 2008, at the invitation of my friend and neighboring pastor, Michael Saylor, of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Convoy, Ohio.

All I can say is: if you get the chance to spend some time at Hocking Hills,
do it!

What a beautiful place and a great "guys" day. We left just after 6am from northwest Ohio where we reside and drove the 3.5 hrs. to Hocking Hills in the Saylor's big blue family van (their license place says something like "7 FRHVN" in reference to their seven kids). I hadn't taken a "road trip" with a bunch of guys in a while, and it was a real treat. I enjoyed making some new friends and seeing a new a beautiful part of the state that I have called home now for six years. On the way back I also enjoyed the great German buffet and local brew at Schmidt's Restaurant in the German Village area of Columbus, Ohio. After a day hike a smorgasboard of German sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut and well-brewed beer was perfect. The gargantuan German cream puff to top it off wasn't all that bad either!

Thank God for good friends and the opportunity to enjoy the creation together!
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Thursday, November 6, 2008

McCain the Tooth

My eight-year-old lost another tooth on election night. (The poor kid is missing at least four right now!) In view of the election, and following Sen. McCain's "Saturday Night Live" example of ability to laugh at himself, we named it, "McCain the Tooth." It made for a good laugh after what was in some respects a dissappointing night.

This makes me think of my late father, who would've loved my clan, and he would've loved the fact that his eight-year-old grandson got the joke when we decided to name the tooth he lost "McCain."
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Further Thoughts on the 2008 Presidential Race

I thought Senator McCain gave a gracious concession speech last night.

He is a great public servant, and I pray that he will continue his service to the people of Arizona and the United States of America. I am particularly thankful--in light of a previous post--for his defense of life's sanctity.

Below is a revision of a Facebook note that I sent to an old friend shortly after the last 2008 presidential debate. Since I believe "process" issues are important I offer it to my friends and readers...

I was a McCain guy in 2000. I'm one of those social and fiscal conservatives who opposed the conduct of the war and never thought Gov. Bush had the gravitas for the job. He had a great record in TX of working across the aisle, so I thought in 2000 that he was a fine VP pick, but that's not what happened. I think the world would be a far different place today if the 2000 Republican ticket had been McCain-Bush.

There are parts of me that are thrilled the Obama candidacy. For one, wouldn't it be great to have the race stuff behind us and just be human beings? The man is bright and articulate and in terms of personality seems to actually value differences of opinion. Though I will disagree with President Obama on many issues (some to these gravely), he may be a great president.

However, campaigns matter. Here's the reality as I see it for these two men, and for an Obama presidency.

I had great hopes that these two fine men would finally allow us to have a substantive, real, honest campaign. However, these men made what I believe are fateful decisions. For one, President-elect Obama knew (even before the financial meltdown) that the Democrats would have to really screw up to lose the presidency in 2008. The Republicans governed terribly (though the Dem congress hasn't done very well either) and deserved some sort of chastisement. President-elect Obama knew the mood, but he also knew what most people knew: John McCain is a very different sort. I think Sen. Obama knew that if he decided to do a Lincoln-Douglas style campaign it was a risk. I think his advisors said something like, "Take public funding and do the Lincoln- Douglas thing and you may lose. Go private funding and we can almost guarantee a win." McCain did something similar. He sensed early on that he wasn't the "it" guy any more, and rather be true to himself and do the "straight talk express" he and his people decided to try and take Obama down. I think both men violated their principles.

A lot of people are talking about how the campaigns were conducted, but with all the excitement I do not believe there has been sufficient discussion of the Obama decision to forego public funding. Many on the left call up the Kerry 2004 funding situation, saying, "turnabout is fair play." That is, "Now it's the Republicans' turn to feel the sting." Thing is, it's not fair play, because it poisons they other side and impacts governance.

I'm not as versed in all this as I once was, but I do know that campaigns make a difference for governance. President-elect Obama has promised a new kind of politics (and I for one, would welcome it), but I think the decision to go private (Obama) and negative (McCain) was old-school hardball, and I think it will have unfortunate consequences for the Obama presidency.

I believe that if these two men had done a debate every week that over the course of the campaign Sen. Obama would have shown himself more articulate, more able to convey complex issues to the average citizen, more level-headed. . . in many respects, more presidential. Obama won, but the decision to pummel the Republican rather than debate him will have some consequences. Because of how he campaigned, in truth, because he violated his own principles, President-elect Obama will find it more than difficult to usher in the "new kind of politics" that he and so many of us long for.

I ask myself, "Why didn't they just do a simple debate every week and have it out over the issues?" The answer it appears is that there's too much at stake for too many people and interest groups, too much at stake to trust the men and the individual voter. That would've been a great campaign . . .

The above being said, I also thought President-elect Obama's speech was powerful and moving.

I know that words make a difference. The current President was greatly impaired by his inability to articulate himself well and convey complex issues in terms and tenor that people would understand and assimilate.

And President-elect Obama has shown himself a quick study, capable of nuance, of speaking the truth about the past, and even of changing his opinion. I am especially hopeful that he will come to understand the following paragraph from our Declaration of Independence applies to human life from conception to death:

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Post-Election Pancakes

Pictured here are the O'Donnell family post-election day breakfast pancakes. In view of the election, you'll see that the number of blue pancakes predominates. :)

We had a great time involving the children all day long on November 4, 2008. From our breakfast prayers to the family outing to the polls to the dinner in the living room watching the results come in, it was a long teachable moment, and in spite of disappointments a time for thanksgiving.

It is a gift of God that in the United States of America common people have a say in who their leaders are, and around the breakfast table we gave thanks for that. In view of our Lord's command through St. Paul (Romans 13) and St. Peter (1 Peter 2) to honor those in authority, we also prayed for the candidates this morning. We thanked the Lord for Senator McCain's years of service to our country and prayed that the Lord would comfort him and his supporters in their disappointment and give them resolve to continue their service. For President-elect Obama we prayed that the Lord would grant him wisdom. We also remembered that he has shown the capacity to grow and learn and even the courage to change his mind. We prayed especially that he would change his mind on "sanctity of life" issues.

I, myself, once held an attenuated libertarian position on these begininning and end of life issues and a more pragmatic position generally on bioethical issues. Life experience and much reflection, especially reflection on all life as a gift of God, led me to totally alter my positions on these "social issues." The sanctity of life issues have become, for myriad reasons, a defining concern for me and thus for my participation in "the public square." As such, they are a regular part of my --to use Luther's baptismal language--"life of daily contrition and repentance," a regular part of my prayers, and so shall they continue to be . . .
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Six Cubes of Thanks

This is a glass of juice with six ice cubes in it. Allow me to explain . . .

In the summer of 2006 my wife, Carrie, was engulfed with adoption paperwork and fundraising preparation. She had taken on a part-time job to help raise funds for the adoption paperwork, she was always working in the basement and the garage to get ready for the next garage sale, and she was filling out mountains of paperwork. All this she did in addition to managing our household, homeschooling three children, and serving the church and community in various respects.

I, of course, was not just sitting on the couch. I'm a pastor and that is a time-consuming job, but Carrie had taken on a lot. I could sense her stress and together with the children at morning prayers around the breakfast table there was always a little uncertainty about the task our family had taken on. Each morning we prayed something like, "Lord, if it be your will, help us to adopt a baby brother. Enormous effort--physical, emotional, spiritual--was being expended in the work to adopt a little brother, and we were not sure it would even happen.

I was frustrated and my wife was stressed, and so I began--late in the summer of 2006--to have my morning juice with six ice cubes . . . and a prayer. As each cube clinked in the glass I prayed some derivation of, "Lord, thank you for the family you have given me. Have mercy on us, and make us a family of six."

So, this morning I continued the routine that began late in the summer of 2006, but now I say, "Lord, thank you for making us six. Thank you for my family."

Today I am also thankful for the opportunity to take part in the government of my city, state and nation by casting my ballot, and I am thankful that the young children the Lord has given us to parent will have the opportunity to witness this and thus be encouraged take up the responsibilities of citizenship themselves.

And I am thankful, to the core of my being, for the new little U.S. citizen who is with us.

For the nation:
Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save s from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant tht we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. --Prayer 224 from Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006)
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

First Halloween: What a great country!

Carrie and I took the kids trick-or-treating in a neighborhood near Grandma's house. It was the first Halloween for our newly-adopted son, whom we attempted to dress as a sheep. He wasn't fond of the ears and he kept wiping the cute pink makeup off his little nose, but with Pocahontas and princess sisters and mariachi-boy brother we ventured out.

What a treat! We feared the little man would freak out at all the costumes and new people, but he clearly thought the whole thing as a-ok.

A comment from Carrie summed it up: "Hey, I walk up to a door looking cute and people give me candy. God Bless America!"

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