Out and About
Founder's Day 1989
As I got into the swing of the music, "O Worship the King," from the bells of "Joyful Sound," the Handbell Choir of First Covenant Church, Minneapolis, I also began to think that First Covenant Church, though facing changes and tough decisions, can't be too bad off if they have persons like those who made up "Joyful Sound." This thought was reinforced by the presence of the fine sounding, wholesome looking, blue clad First Covenant Choir.
For color, though, the Salem Choir took the evening in their striking red on white choir gowns. They filled the sanctuary with the lovely sounds and words of "O Let Your Soul Now Be Filled with Gladness."
Salem's beautiful, spacious sanctuary graciously invites one in. It filled quickly for the occasion. In the congregation one spied friends, acquaintances, and other distinguished people. No doubt, the fact that Dr. Karl Olsson, who translated "O Let Your Soul Now Be Filled with Gladness," was speaking had a favorable effect on the size of the congregation.
The service lasted an hour and a half and, except for a couple of fidgety moments, I didn't mind it a bit, Graciousness was the mood and substance of the meeting.
When K.O. stepped to the lectern, I was momentarily disappointed. I had expected him to take the pulpit. I regret that he did not for two reasons. First, after the singing and praying, I was ready for a sermon, especially from him; and second, I would like to have experienced the full service of Salem's sanctuary.
Once Karl began to speak, however, it didn't matter much. He spoke to us easily and personally about the importance of imitation to learning and living, using Erik August Skoogsberg (1850-1939) as an example. Skoogsberg, he told us, saw that the evangelistic success of Moody and Sankey, including the size of their meetings, was dependent upon singing songs of faith.
Skoogsberg set out to imitate Moody and Sankey and, as a result, became a major force behind the use of song in Swedish evangelism and preaching. The songs sung included many American and English songs, which were translated into Swedish, and Swedish songs written by Swedes. Some of these songsters who helped to found the Covenant were known personally by older people in the congregation. K.O, stressed that these songs carried our ancestors out into their daily lives and carried them forward as a people and as a church, It is song that can and does carry us forward now, too.
I began to wonder who might be a present day Sankey, A.L. Skoog, or Hultman; and I began to wish that I had brought in the shopping bag from my car containing the Bethlehem Centennial Tapes, one side of which features Bill Wahman, tenor, singing Swedish Songs of the Covenant Heritage. After K.O.'s talk, I thought, they should sell like hot cakes. My companion nudged me and suggested the same idea. But somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "money changers in the temple" and I let the idea go — until now. If you don't have these songs, including the Schubert songs on the other side, send $5 plus 654 for postage and we will send you a tape (3 for $12 including postage).
It was a pleasure to hear Karl again. There is a genuine gentleness and friendliness about him. He retains an ironic take on things, wit, and good timing.
The opening hymn filled the sanctuary, the congregation, and me with a surge of song. The words of "Chosen Seed and Zion's Children" by Anders Carl Rutstrom are relentless with good thoughts and feelings, and the music certainly does carry one forward.
There are other things which must be mentioned: the congregation singing the Lord's Prayer, during which I felt that I, along with the congregation, was really praying; later, singing along with the choirs under the direction of James Davies; the terrific postlude by organist Cindy Reents on the wonderful Salem organ; and the offering plea and offertory prayer by Ted Franklin.
The only other time I can remember laughing in a prayer was during a prayer by K.O. some years ago. I don't think it was the prayer he began with "Dear God, forgive us for being such doorknobs." It was another time, the details of which escape me. When Ted Franklin prayed, I laughed, too, and I was not alone. I chuckled as he called the Lord's attention to the truth that some people had given with proper hearts, some with less proper heart, and some, perhaps, with improper hearts. I laughed with gladness when he asked God to bless every giver regardless of the condition of heart. I was glad for the blessing for myself and pleased that it had been extended to cover all of us poor sinners.
Thanks to folks of Salem and to their gracious pastor, Glen Wiberg, whose welcome at the beginning of the service and afterwards was genuine and refreshing. Thanks to everybody who had any part in putting together or participating in the service. P.J.
Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus
Motto: The real game is the game you're in.
Welcome, sports fans. Pietisten is happy to recount for you as much of the play-by-play of today's baseball game between the Covenant Creedless Wonders and the Boring Guilters as we can. The score is tied 3-3. Since you just tuned in, let us bring you up to date on the situation and keep you abreast of the action.
Thanks to Dr. Robert Johnston and to Ron Shelton, previously unknown to this reporter, we've got a good game going. Shelton wrote a story and made it into a movie called Bull Durham. Dr. Johnston wrote an article "Church Lady, Bull Durham, and the Covenant Church" (The Covenant Companion, pp. 25-27, February, 1989), which brought the movie, Bull Durham, and this ball game to our attention.
Dr. J has just doubled off the centerfield wall for the Covenant Church, driving in the tying run. His hit demonstrates his willingness to listen to the world around us as he has frequently urged us to do. For example, he urged Christian listening in his article, "Acculturation or Inculturation? A Contemporary Evangelical Theology of the Atonement," in Amicus Dei, Essays of Faith and Friendship, presented to Karl A. Olsson, 1988. With his double, he makes the fans aware of another cultural hero with Covenant roots. Many of us have known with pride that Rafer Johnson grew up in the Kingsburg Covenant Church. From Dr. J's article we learn of a current hero, Ron Shelton, who spent some younger years in the Montecito Covenant Church, not known to this reporter until now. Mr. Shelton has had tremendous impact on people in our country through the movie Bull Durham.
The question is, sports fans, can the Covenant Church get this runner home with the winning run'? Can the Creedless Wonders avoid getting picked off and can they come up with the hit they need?
At the end of the second paragraph of his article, Dr. J took a lead from second by asking two questions. But he did not wait for or give answers to the questions. Trying to move on without answering these questions is like forgetting to tag up after a caught fly ball. From the third-base coaching box Coach Anderson hollers, "Tag up!" (North Park alumni will be pleased to learn that the Creedless Wonders are coached at third by the late, former North Park Viking baseball coach and Athletic Director, Bibbs Anderson.)
Dr. Johnston's first question is: "Does the fact that there are thousands of people — Christians and non-Christians alike — who have no use for the church trouble you?" For many Christians the answer to this question is "Not necessarily." These Christians have found that it can refresh the spirit and strengthen one's faith to encounter people like Dr. J's friend, Susan, who arc Christians but do not participate in a church. It cannot be said of someone like Susan that she is a Christian to conform to a group and its pressures. In this sense people with integrity who are like that refresh the spirit. Faith is strengthened by seeing that God works, loves, plays with, and cares for persons outside the limits of any tribe. Christians who have this perspective arc not necessarily troubled about the non-Christians among the thousands who appear to "have no use for the church" either. These Christians know they are in a real ball game, but that theirs is not the only bail game.
Dr. J's second question is: "Can we simply say, 'It's their problem' ?" This question is more difficult to answer. It appears to be a rhetorical question, and the base runner is on a muddy spot here. Who says these folks have a problem? What is their problem? That they have Sunday mornings free? Coach Anderson knows the runner is better off if he forgets about the problem of thinking that these folks have a problem and tends to base running.
The recent Gallup Poll cited by Dr. Johnston in his Companion article shows that the church has a huge plurality. He expresses concern about the church losing ground. But looking at the other side of the figures he provides (p. 26), we note that 56% of the people in the U.S. participate in the church. This means, according to the poll, that almost 103 million people in the U.S. go to Christian churches at least once every 6 months. (Calculations show that the 78 million people not participating in a church are 44% of a population of 184 million. In turn, 103 million is 56% of 184 million. Since the present U.S. population is 244.6 million, according to the information person at the St. Paul Library, it is clear that part of the population, probably children, was not included in the poll.) These figures clearly show that the church in the U.S., in spite of being in a close game with guilt and boredom, is a very popular and well-received institution.
Identifying the work of the spirit of Christ was decisive in Dr. J's powerful blast off the centerfield wall. This spirit is revealed, he tells us, by Jesus through what he did with the woman taken in adultery. Dr. J says of this story "...it is so true to the biblical picture of Jesus that the whole (Gospel] presents, that it is one of our best known canonical texts. For Jesus did not come to produce guilt, but to remove it" (p. 26). Even if one argues that Jesus' work was more directed to removing sin than guilt, Dr. J's hit through use of this story is filled with the spirit.
Great! The Covenant is on base. The runner is safe! The spirit which put the runner on base is the same spirit that is at work among the Durham Bulls. It is the same spirit that redeems life. The Church does not create or control this spirit. This spirit, the Spirit, operates independently of the church and of the ideas of Christians. However, by faith, Christians believe this spirit is at work in the church, too. That's why the Covenant Creedless Wonders have a chance to win this game.
Christian fans here at the park are encouraged by the fact that the spirit of Christ is ahead of the runner. After Pentecost, Peter and the disciples discovered time after time that the spirit was preceding them. For example, after Peter had a vision of a lunch from heaven (Acts 10:9-16), he went to Cornelius' house and found the spirit there ahead of him.
Dr. Johnston witnesses to this spirit at work in the lives of the people in the story, Bull Durham, a work of cinema arL This spirit, it appears, is not an agent of or a possession of the church. In fact, it appears, the church is one agent of the spirit and the movie Bull Durham another.
Some Christians may argue that the church is far more significant spiritually than the movie Bull Durham. Some may think it is sacrilegious to think the two belong in the same ball park. Included among these folks, but not limited to them, are those who have been convinced, as this reporter' s pastor was, that movies arc more responsible than any other factor for what they consider to be the moral decline of America.
Maybe Pastor Wold was right. This reporter would have had problems successfully defending Bull Durham to his mother, too. I doubt she could have been convinced that the amorous activities of Annie Savoy and her protege, Millie, were acts of ministry done in the spirit of Christ
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie Bull Durham and I think it is well done. It is very funny, even for a nominal baseball fan. Annie is consistently loving, gracious, and responsible, When Millie says she was "lured" into the locker room, Annie makes her say, "I was not lured into the locker room, I take full ) responsibility for my own actions." Annie is appreciative of the others around her, particularly the other members of her church, the church of baseball.
Crash Davis, who is ready to marry Annie at the end of the movie, is a somewhat unwilling servant, but a good guy, "a workman who needeth not to be ashamed...," who performs his service well. The Bull's manager, Joe Rivas, and his assistant, Larry Hawkins, are wonderful people, too, colorful and faithful to their jobs.
Annie Savoy, who describes herself as a member of the church of baseball, thinks that the Boredom Guilters have already beaten the Creedless Wonders and all other churches along with them. The Christian fan knows she is mistaken on that. Against her, some Christians send Walker Percy to bat, who says that none of the competing beliefs to the "whole JewishChristian thing" are good enough.
This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer "Scientific humanism." [one of the many isms proposed as alternatives in the interview] That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less than Jacob, who grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him. (Conversations with Walker Percy, University of Mississippi Press, 1985, pp.177-178. More should be quoted. It's a lot better than this sport report, but for the present you' ll have to dig it up yourself.)
As this reporter sees it, from a worldly point of view the church is far more significant than the movie Bull Durham. The church has been around a lot longer and has had an influence on many, many more people. To mention just one fact,a s successful as the movie was, far fewer than 56% of the people in the U.S., the number going to church, saw it. But, true in a worldly sense is not necessarily true in a spiritual sense. In the realm of the spirit, a very different scorecard is used. In the spiritual realm, comparing things in a worldly sense is misleading. The small is as special as the large. Both small and large are real, and they are each as real as the other. A revered commentator on the game, the Apostle Paul, wrote on this subject: "Those who compare themselves among themselves and by themselves are not wise (II Cor, 10:12 KJV)." Since Paul is talking about wisdom, not morality, a wise coach understands this as a practical judgment, not a moral one.
In comparison (the reporter leads off as if he had not just heard the sage's advice) with the universality of the spirit, even the humanly tremendous work of the spirit in the church is virtually nothing. In the light of Christ's spirit, Bull Durham, your witness of friendship to your neighbor and family, their witness to you, and the church are about the same.
"Keep your mind on the game" yells Coach Anderson from the third base coaching box. He doesn't want his runner getting picked off because he is thinking or dreaming about some other game. When that sort of thing happens, Bibbs has been I known to mutter sarcastically, "The great American game
Coach is also worried that the runner will get picked off by falsely accusing himself. Dr. J takes a dangerous lead. He is close to giving the impression that the church is especially boring and guilt producing, whereas other aspects of life, like baseball, are free of that. I've been to some pretty boring baseball games; in fact, I've played in a few. For example, in 1957 the North Park Vikings went to Joliet prison for a game. One Viking pitcher pitched for half-an-hour without getting a single prisoner out. His successor managed to get out of the inning about 20 minutes later. Were it not for the Grace of a called game, the squad might still be in the pen. There's guilt in baseball, too. Players are known to feel pretty guilty about a blown play. To describe it one way, sin, like Grace, is present everywhere.
Aware of the danger of self accusation, Dr. J quickly lifts up the spirit of Christ as revealed in Jesus' ministry to the woman taken in adultery, and the runner gets safely back to the bag. The Guilter's pitcher almost catches the Covenant runner off base again when it is suggested that the Montecito Covenant Church failed Ron Shelton, but Dr. J keeps close enough to the bag. He says that Ron was the beneficiary of Monecito's "power" as it "helped people become fuller human beings," as it served others, and, presumably, as it told the story of Jesus, Shelton portrays the spirit behind these blessings in Annie and Crash, and he communicates that spirit in a powerful way to millions of persons, which is to the credit of the Montecito Church.
Dr. J gets further from the bag, almost playing into the hands of the Guilters, by writing that we in the church "should" do or be certain things. He says, "We should make the gospel contagious in our very being. Do we laugh over the good news of Jesus and his love...'7" By introducing the word "should" we are set up, it seems for another judgment. On the other hand, we acknowledge that "shoulds" seem to exist and may not always function badly. Wait! The team cannot afford to have its base runner carrying on an inner debate like this while on the base path.
"Tag up!" shouts Coach Anderson. At the moment Bibbs is not interested in laughter. He just wants to keep us safe until he can get us home. He i s not interested in changing the personality of the runner on base — the Covenant Church into a more joyful person. If the runner can score, there will be plenty of joy.
It's better to do as he says, to touch base and to be thankful for the hit of Grace. It's better to beware of making a new law which opens the door to yet another version of guilt. Dr. J's invitation to laugh is gracious, but an obligation to laugh is not.
Get set for a surprise, fans. In spite of the short lead he allows the base-runner, Coach flashes the steal sign and the, Creedless Wonder steams into third standing up. Safe. Even though the spirit is wider, broader, deeper, and ahead of the church, this "earthen vessel" (II Cor. 4:7) does bless the earth in spite of its part in the production of guilt and boredom. Further, the insight, blessing, and fun of the movie is made possible by the church. And, as Dr. J pointed out, Ron Shelton is drawing from material and experience given in part by a particular Covenant Church. The presence of this "treasure" (II Cor. 4) in the earthen vessel of the church reveals that the "transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." This is enough power to get the runner safely to third.
The Boredom Guilters are on the ropes. But can the Creedless Wonders score? How can we get home? Here we might abandon the baseball metaphor and say this is where life leaves us. We are people on the way and Home is not reached in this life. Or, if it is, there is another ball game tomorrow, so we never score the final run.
While this is true, I prefer to complete the metaphor. There is always more than one game going on at a time, and each game has its own significance and its own chance to create blessing. In this particular game, the Wonders might be able to score the winning run. Perhaps the Covenant Annual Meeting can drive the runner home by passing a resolution thanking Ron Shelton for his work and wishing him continued blessing in his ministry. P.J.