Archive for the ‘Faith in Action’ category

Keeping Charlottesville in Check

August 16, 2017

It was the summer of 1987, a time of global renewal in the former Soviet Union when President Ronald Reagan so famously called upon President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall, opening the way for new reforms. The spirit of liberty and peace was stirring in South Africa, with the dismantling of Apartheid and soon after the release of Nelson Mandela. In 1989 alone, thirteen nations comprising 1.7 billion people – over thirty-two percent of humanity – experienced nonviolent revolutions. That’s the world I grew up in – a world full of promise and hope for a bright future.

That hope was tarnished in 1992, while I was attending Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. A black family had moved to town and were welcomed with a burning cross in their front yard. I couldn’t believe it. Where did all this hate come from? Hadn’t we learned our lesson a generation ago? Hadn’t Dr. King’s dream taken root in the heart of America? Must we re-visit the old wounds of our racist past? Sadly, what I am learning this week is that racism never goes away, it lurks under the surface waiting to rear its ugly head once again, reminding us of our duty to resist at all costs and to stay vigilant in our pursuit of justice for all. Wouldn’t you know it, later that year the KKK got a permit to march in downtown Dubuque!

While it’s no longer in use, my seminary had a logo back in the 50’s. For years, this was the emblem of Wartburg Theological Seminary. Notice the letters W–T–S are formed by the dolphins, the serpent and the cross. Here, the cross holds central place and the serpent, representing evil, has been dealt a mortal blow, impaled by the cross. The dolphins, referred to by St. Gregory of Nyssa as “the most kingly of swimming things,” represent Christian fellowship and community. The message: while sin has damage yet to do, it’s days are numbered. And when when the Christian community comes together with Jesus at the center, we keep sin in check and find our way toward salvation.

I have been heartbroken over the events unfolding in Charlottesville this week. And, I am compelled to reject and resist all forms of hatred of the White Supremists. This is hard work. It will be for every generation to come. And it will take more than a facebook post or a drawing of a dragon to resist hatred. As Walter Wink reminds us, “Jesus teaches resistance, but without violence… opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God.” (The Powers that Be, p. 110)

So, what did that seminary community do back in 1992? We decided to partner with others and hold a “Celebration of Diversity” at Eagle Point Park – far from the hateful spectacle unfolding across town. “Don’t give them the time of day,” was the overall message. So I drew this picture of a teardrop, reflecting a burning cross, as my own personal lament that day. I remember it now, as I lament with those who have died and been injured by this ugly head of sin in recent days. And, I challenge you to enter the conversation, to call out racism and help hold it in check. One good resource is the ELCA social statement on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.

This fall’s theme is “That’s His Story & We’re Stickin’ To It!” Won’t you enter the story, yet again, this year? Help us tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Commit yourself to keep sin in check with the cross at the center. As James Baldwin once said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Walking with you,
Pastor John Stiles

We Are The Children Project

March 7, 2012

For those of you who check back for regular updates on sermons… I’ll be posting the past few week’s soon!

In the meantime, I have some exciting news I’d like to share with you about the We Are The Children Project.  This is a gospel album I’ve been working on with several musicians throughout the Twin Cities as a benefit for victims of domestic violence and to fund an after school tutoring program in our neighborhood called Building Bridges.  I hope you’ll visit our website and my new GoFundMe site (which will help pay for production costs) and share the links with anyone you know who might support the effort!

Thanks and blessings to you this Lenten season!


How Do You Go To Church?

March 25, 2011

I hear it all the time. “Where do you go to church?” I say it, too, sometimes. But it’s just not possible to “go to church” because “you ARE the church!” Jay Beech sang of this concept years ago with these words:

“You can go to worship, but you cannot go to church.
You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search.
We are the church! The Body of our Lord.
We are all God’s children. We have been restored.”

This Lent, I have been “going to church” with some of our young adults (20s, 30s, & 40s) at Holy Cross on Thursday nights at 9PM. But there’s a new “twist” to this gathering. We’ve invited folks from all over the world to join us online for live chat around the basics of the Christian faith.

So, while there may be only 6 of us in person, another 10 are logging on to join us through Second Life. This is a 3-dimensional world where people connect from around the world, conduct business, go to school, and yes, gather with other Lutherans. It’s made for some rich conversation both in SL (Second Life) and in FL (First Life). Here’s what a friend of mine (Rev. Clint Schneckloth) said about it on his blog:

“The thing about Second Life is that if you haven’t been on it, you’ll think it is a game. It’s not. You’ll develop a whole bunch of opinions and ideas about what Second Life is or isn’t, all based on your experience of living in Real Life (RL). But this isn’t Real Life, it’s Second Life, and there’s no better way to discover the theological, philosophical, existential, sociological, anthropological, and cultural implications of Second Life than to simply go there.

If you had asked me, ‘What is Antarctica like?’ and I replied, ‘Come and see,’ you could, rightfully, challenge me and point out that it’s cost prohibitive and time-consuming. And you would be right. But Second Life is free, the software to view SL is free, and anyone reading this blog already has access to a computer. So what’s holding you back?”

As a pastor, I’m always looking for those “windows” of opportunity to open the door for meaningful ministry to occur. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And yet, I think it has some potential (at least for now) for the folks at Holy Cross and around the world who participate. All are welcome. Blessings to you and yours as we continue to Walk by Faith this Lenten Season.

Pastor John
“Where two or three are gathered, in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” –Jesus (Matthew 18:20)

Forgiveness via Amish Grace

March 17, 2011

“Forgive, but hate just a little bit?”

Lent is a time to consider what sins we hold tight to that need confession and forgiveness. It’s also a time to consider forgiving others. Here is some dialogue from the film Amish Grace between Gideon and his daughter, Katie. What to do with the hatred they harbor for their daughter’s/sister’s killer?

Katie: I hate that man, too. He did a bad, evil thing and I hate him more than anything.

Gideon: He did do an evil thing. And… I don’t blame you for hating. And you can hate him for as long as you like. But tell me, this hate that’s inside of you, how does it feel? Does it feel good?

Katie: Not very good.

Gideon: No. Hate is a very big, very hungry thing, with lots of sharp teeth. And it will eat up your whole heart. And leave no room left for love. We are lucky that God understands this. He is the one that will hand out the punishments so that we don’t have to carry this terrible hate around inside of us if we don’t want to… if we’re willing to forgive.

Katie: Maybe I can forgive him and still hate him just a little bit.


March 12, 2011

With the tragedy unfolding in Japan and surrounding countries, after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, we the people of God devote ourselves to prayer for the victims and their families, and our financial support as we are able. Our synod and church is equipped to provide relief both in the short and long term. Contact ELCA Disaster Response to make a donation online, by phone, or by mail. Together we can do so much more than we can as individuals to stand with those who are suffering. Thank you.

ELCA Disaster Response
39330 Treasury Center
Chicago, IL 60694-9300