Out and About
Founders' Day, 1990
The Northwest Conference, at least that part of it in the Twin Cities area, celebrated Founders' Day as they did last year, at Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton.
The celebration began with a concert at 6:30, pm followed by a service featuring two preachers at 7:00. This reporter arrived in the nick of time — almost — for the service. A well-filled sanctuary meant that, after Paul Erickson's invocation, the reporter was ushered to the next-to-front pew and seated, to his delight, next to Paul Holmer and Joyce Gustafson.
Following the prayer, the congregation, behind the inspiring organ playing of Mrs. Cindy Reents, enthusiastically joined in on "O Let Your Soul Now be Filled with Gladness." Next came scripture reading and prayer led by Rev. Mark Killam.
Living the Faith
After the prayer, Rev. Stephen Franklin stepped to the pulpit saying that he intended to be cantankerous. He boldly launched into the theme assigned him, "Living the Faith," by offering the shark as a metaphor for faith. He recalled that, as a boy in Panama, he shared in the common, though to his knowledge scientifically unverified, conviction that a shark must be in motion or it will die. The "Shark of Faith" he said must remain in motion — keep on the move to live. The Shark of Faith begins its life with the Word of God and, through Jesus, actively swims its way right into our midst.
Steve, a fourth generation Covenant pastor serving the Hope Covenant Church, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, marked some particular living moments in the story of the Shark — moments when it demonstrated its character, kept moving and alive.
He mentioned the persecution of his Great Grandfather August Franklin during World War I. People in August's East Coast community were unable to distinguish between the Swedes and the Germans who were understandably unpopular at the time. While he endured harassment based on mistaken national identity, August's son, Nathaniel, was serving in battle as an American Chaplain. The Shark of Faith was on the move.
Next, Pastor Franklin spoke of the correspondence between his grandfather Nathaniel and North Park New Testament Professor Nils Lund. In this correspondence they shared a common concern to oppose the efforts of some in the fellowship who would make a doctrine of premillenialism normative and impose it upon the Covenant Church. Lund and Franklin prevailed in this matter, preventing the Shark of Faith from being rendered motionless and dead. Freedom was won; the Shark of Faith swam on.
As a boy of 13, I attended each session of a week long Sunday-School- teacher-training course held by Nathaniel Franklin in the Holler (International Falls) Covenant Church. That, along with the fact that Rev. Franklin had been my parents' pastor in Dawson, Minnesota means that the Shark brushed me as well.
One of Steve's forebears, I think it was his grandfather Nathaniel, was a World War II Chaplain whose witness reached many including, one member of a squad of tough marines. That marine, too, found the Shark of Faith and lived to reveal Chaplain Franklin as the source of his discovery.
The Shark made its way to Central Europe when, in 1985, Steve and a colleague journeyed to Arad, a city of about 100,000 in western Romania, to provide theological training clandestinely to local protestant pastors. Among these pastors was a Pastor Paul, who, during a recent freedom demonstration in that city, took the balcony previously reserved for Ceausescu and began to preach to the 50,000 or more people gathered in the city square. Steve testified that as Paul began to preach, people began to be converted. By the time Paul finished, all count of those who came to faith was lost. Ten thousand and more was the estimate mentioned.
The Shark of Faith lives, proclaimed Pastor Franklin. One can only hope that freedom will continue to live in Romania. It appears that more is required for that Shark (the Shark of Freedom) than conversions to Christianity.
This report of Steve's adventure with the Shark intrigued me and aroused my envy. Arad, I have learned, is located on the Maros River just west of Transylvania and not far from the Hungarian border. Prior to World War I, Crisanna-Marefores — the name of this region — was a part of Hungary. Arad is just north of Timisoara where the Romanian revolution began in December. It began when people gathered to support the Hungarian, Laszlo Tokos, a Protestant pastor who refused to leave his church and home. (" The Revolt of the Romanians," Pavel Campeanu New York Review of Books, Feb. 1, 1990, pp. 30-31)
The Magyars, ancestors of the people of Arad, may have first heard the Gospel from the Slavs to the west of them. The work of the great missionary brothers of the Eastern Church, Cyril and Methodius, among the Slavs in Moravia, beginning in the 860s, spread throughout the Slavic territories. Though originally Orthodox, the Slavs became Latinized. Because the more powerful Christian influences on the Magyars came from the west, they, too, became Latin Christians. Though Christianity in Hungary — the territory of the Magyars — did not begin with them, firm establishment of it there is usually traced to the Prince Geisa and his son Stephen. Stephen ruled from 997 to 1038.
Thus, the people of Arad have roots in Latin Christianity, whereas their Romanian countrymen and women to the east have roots in Orthodox Christianity. The Shark of Faith has certainly swum in turbulent waters. One can only be grateful that the conversions on the occasion of Pastor Paul's preaching were voluntary. King Stephen, though quite progressive for his era, had a tendency at times to insist upon conversion in ways that were hard to resist. (See Latourette, The Expansion of Christianity, Vol. II, The Thousand Years of Uncertainty, pp. 170-175,)
The Shark of Faith, it appears, has thrashed about boldly and often cantankerously, leaving wonderful and strange consequences in its wake, including 105 years of Covenant life.
Learning the Faith
Dr. David Horner, able president of North Park College, was the evening's second preacher. Though this reporter appreciates the history of and the nostalgia for the long services in the Covenant's past, featuring several preachers, long prayers, and many songs, he would rather hear and read the stories than live through the services. He appreciated that Steve was brief and that the songs and prayers were limited so that it was possible to attend to the thoughtful words of President Horner without much fidgeting or weariness.
Refering to Chapter II of A History of North Park College by Leland Carlson, especially pp. 56 and 57, Dr. Horner reminded us of the considerations of the denomination, urged on by David Nyvall, which led to establishing North Park in 1891. Nyvall said that the proposed school should be "an institution for which the Covenant ought to feel a common responsibility and to which it should give a common loyalty" (p. 57).
President Horner chose this occasion to express what he considers North Park's responsibilities to the Covenant, observing that the school and the denomination have mutual responsibility and loyalty. He proceeded to describe five characteristics he thinks North Park must exhibit to do its part.
1) "North Park must be a place where academic excellence is vigorously pursued." This, he acknowledged, is a must for any respectable college. Horner offered the high quality of alumni and their achievements as evidence that North Park does pursue and has pursued academic excellence.
2) "North Park must be a place where costly discipleship is cultivated." The President reported that on a particular shelf in his office are five books that reveal who he is. One of the five is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. (Is anyone else eager to visit his office to spy out the other four?) He stressed the importance that North Park, as a Christian school, be a place where students are challenged to gain an understanding that enables them to move beyond cheap grace so as to value costly discipleship.
3) "North Park must be a place where thoughtful witness is offered." In this regard, Dr. Horner reaffirmed North Park's longstanding posture toward the world. Particular policies maintain a setting for engaging the world in witness. A student need not be Christian to be accepted at North Park. Faculty and students are encouraged to engage other points of view as presenM by their best representatives. The campus is in the heart of the city of Chicago. The boundaries between the campus and the city, he observed, are somewhat hard to detect. North Park, in short, is a place where the world can be engaged. In this reporter's opinion this has been one of North Park's greatest strengths.
4) "North Park must be a place where prophetic voices are protected and even promoted." By prophetic, Dr. Horner said he means concerns for justice, righteousness, compassion, and mercy in the form of critiques of the established order. There must, he said, be "places for prophets" who both critique and affirm. This tradition is deep in the institution's history (denomination and school). Prophetic independence is valued and it requires willingness to live with the tensions prophets and prophetic visions create.
5) "North Park must be a place where the Covenant ethos is caught and carried on." This purpose, said Dr. Horner, is for North Park alone. The other four purposes can be fulfilled more or less by other schools should they value them. Only North Park can nurture the Covenant ethos. Covenant beliefs, attitudes, and habits are shared as Covenant students from rural, suburban, and urban churches gather on the campus. At North Park the rare and highly valued attitudes of openness and wholeness are cherished along with the Swedish heritage and Covenant worship styles.
The responsibilities of North Park to the denomination are a "tall order," said Dr. Horner. His message that there is a partnership between the two which is vital and highly valued was well spoken.
The congregation rose to sing the cherished song of a wonderful Swedish Lutheran poet, Lina Sandell, "Children of the Heavenly Father," and to receive the benediction pronounced by Pastor Glen Wiberg.
Martin Marty and Vivian Jones
Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis celebrated ten years of ministry by Rev. Vivian Jones on Sunday, February 25, l990. For the occasion, Plymouth invited to its pulpit Dr. Martin Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Professor of History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Some readers may be familiar with Dr. Marty as Senior Editor of Christian Century and author of Context, "A commentary on the interaction of religion and culture" — a newsletter published 22 times a year. (In the January 15, 1990 issue, Dr, Marty quoted from the Summer issue of Pietisten under the heading, "Get a new attitude." He prefaced a quotation from Earl Schwartz's article, "The Texts We Face," with the comment: "Some pietists of the Evangelical Covenant tradition now promote pietism." Just what he means by that remark, we are not sure.)
Vivian Jones is a distinguished preacher and pastor who comes from Wales. He has made his mark at Plymouth Church and in the Twin Cities. The joy and warmth of the celebration, which included Welsh music, testified to the congregation's appreciation. It was announced that United Theological Seminary will honor Rev. Jones with a Doctor of Divinity degree at its Commencement this spring. People were pleased but not surprised at the announcement.
Rev. Lois Vetvick, a former Covenanter, is Associate Pastor at Plymouth. Lois, the daughter of Betty and retired veteran Hennepin County Court Chaplain Leo Vetvick, has responsibility for the community ministries of Plymouth.
Dr. Marty preached on the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. His title: "Are We Transfigured Before Him?" Transfiguration, he observed, means a change in appearance. He recited the lines from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, "The glory in his presence that transfigures you and me."
He hung his remarks, so to speak, on a cross. The left arm of the cross represents the story from the past. It is the text and it is the story of our six days since the last Sunday. We are not to invent the faith, but neither are we to be a memorial society, as Peter had suggested on the mount, or keepers of the dead. We remember our faith through the stories, which lead us to the right arm of the cross where we move forward into the future — to Lent and to the moment when we hear with shame Jesus say, "Could you not wait with me one hour?" and beyond that to the Ascension.
The vertical standard of the cross leads up in aspiration. It draws us apart to worship, where we can say with Peter, "It is good to be here."
Then we are led back down by the fourth direction of the cross into our daily lives. Here, it is our challenge and task to make the words we have thought and heard have meaning in our own time and lives.
Jesus, Rev. Marty commented, lifts his disciples up for Monday. He empowers us with his story in the looking-up time. Are we transfigured before him? Marty related Jaraslav Pelikan's comment that Christians in worship look like a football team in a huddle. You know something important must be going on, but all you see is their behinds.
As we know, transfiguration — if it occurs — is seen in the play that follows. In conclusion, Dr. Marty quoted these words as words for us, "Rise and have no fear. Amen."
Transfiguration at Bethlehem
Some blessed persons reveal a change of appearance since Bethlehem was visited by Dr. Karl Olsson. Dr. Olsson spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 2-4, at Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, encouraging us in the faith, speaking words of grace and healing, and drawing us together in personal relationship with each other and with him.
In addition to the meetings at Bethlehem, Karl spoke to a luncheon gathering of friends about his "Models and Mentors." Of his models and mentors, the one he mentioned first and most was his step-mother who took over the family of four children when his mother died. Karl was six months old when his mother died. This new mother loved him and nurtured him well. She nursed him through a long illness at age two, During those times, songs of faith were a major consolation to him.
That Karl has an excellent mind has never been in doubt. The power of it is revealed in part by the fact that he can remember those times when he was only two. At 77, Karl is even bit as good at engaging people as he ever was. These days, though, he seldom uses the rapier of his intellect, which he can draw from realms of knowledge and understanding beyond the reach of those he engages. He still has the capacity, but in these times he is given to being fatherly and loving in what he does to and with people, He does not limit personal engagement to friends or to those who come to hear him. While here, Karl also made friends with waitresses, waiters, and coat-checkers.
At Bethlehem, he dug into the theme of grace and the important related matter of blessing. The key story, he said, for a people whose hearts have been warmed by a fresh meeting with Jesus in their everyday lives, people like the 19th century pietists in Sweden for example, was and is Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son who was blessed and the Elder Brother who was not. Blessing is made up of grace and freedom. In the natural order of things in families, some people have the blessing and some people do not.
The story of the blessed son, Karl noted, reveals that he was free to ask for his reward without guilt, free to go his own way, free to come to himself, free to risk going home, free to accept his father's forgiveness, and free to celebrate his new blessedness and grace.
The story of the other brother is sad. Our admiration for his faithfulness and hard work helps him little. Some of the elements of his unblessedness, Karl observed, are that he was ashamed to ask for his reward, was enslaved to work, was unable to come to himself, refused to be a brother, and became so angry that his anger locked him out of the party.
The good news from Jesus about blessing is that there are no favorites in the Kingdom of God. Through Jesus, natural unblessedness can be reversed. One way, it seems, that the Gospel is spread is that people who are freed through Jesus to receive the Kingdom's blessing are free to bless others with abandon, In this way there is growth of the Kingdom.
It is Karl's practice to end his classes by having the people spend some time in small groups, We formed groups of four. At first this seemed rather arbitrary to me and I didn't expect much. I mostly wanted to get it over with. But, because of Karl, I was willing to take part without complaint. By the time the group was over, I felt different. I was drawn closer to the other three persons. We repeated the groups a second night. Each night we closed by praying for the person on our right. Many people were transfigured to one another by doing this. The practice is continuing at Bethlehem. We thank Karl for leaving us with this blessing. PJ
Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus.
Motto: The real game is the game you're in.
Losses and Failures
In the last issue, we extolled the virtue of games and in the last sentence acknowledged that "The trouble with real games is that they involve real losses." To that subject we now turn.
To begin with, life involves real losses. The fundamental one is death, but there are plenty of others. Games as metaphors for life must have their beginning and end, and all games involve risk of loss or failure. Without the risk there is no game. This is true of the entire range of games from competitive sports to solitaire to a puzzle.
In the competitive games that attract our interest and which we discuss in this regular feature of Pietisten, winning and losing are distinct. Someone wins. Someone loses. And each player is personally involved.
Personally, I've had plenty of losses. Playing for the Falls Broncos against the Mt. Iron Red Raiders in the opening round of the 1955 Minnesota District 27 Basketball Tournament, I scored four points and got hardly a rebound, while my man scored 20 points and controlled the boards. We had beaten Mt. Iron decisively during the season. The team almost pulled out the tournament game without my help but failed by one point. We had lost. The season was over, and I knew I was the one most responsible. That's not a position one wants to be in, although it provides a distinct memory and it doesn't seem so bad in retrospect.
In the Spring of 1956 we met Mt Iron again in the opening round of the District Tournament. The personal match up was the same since my man I had both been juniors the previous year. This time I scored 20 points and got 16 rebounds as we defeated Mt. Iron decisively. What sweet victory.
The sweetness didn't last long, though. The next night we lost to Ely, a team we had hammered during the season. The game was almost a repeat of the Mt. Iron debacle the previous year. I scored four points and fouled out playing less than a half. Again my teammates almost saved us but fell a point short. Not a happy ending to my high school basketball days.
In a team game, a player must play for the victory of the team. Personal satisfaction with one's performance is subject to the team's success. This does not diminish the drive for personal glory. It provides the occasion for it. But it is a glory to be shared, and is it best when it is shared.
Games are a wonderful gift. An abusable gift to be sure, but no less a gift, for that. Games are real. Bodies and minds are involved. Actual boundaries of space and either time, as in basketball and football, or limited opportunity as in baseball and volleyball, are established; and the action must take place within their limits. Discipline is learned through the practice required to develop skills. Games provide a much better alternative for fun and positive development than does war.
When we look back, we remember both the defeats and the victories, whether in games or in the rest of our lives. It may be wise to remember well our defeats, but we can and do draw as much from our winning experiences for zest, faith, and joy. For example Peter. He probably never forgot that he sank into the Sea of Galilee when he lost faith and contact with Jesus. But I believe that his susWning, inspiring memory in difficult times was that he had walked on the water. Just as the real game is the game you're in, the real walking on water is walking you have done and are doing.
By the way, the Pietist Vikings of Bethlehem, defending City Champs, got knocked out in the opening round of the 1990 City-Wide Tournament. PJ