Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My formal letter to the Office of General Counsel-Federal Election Commission

Dear Office of General Counsel,

          Greetings, this is Chris Halverson, Pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran in South Plainfield, NJ. On October 22nd I received a letter from Steven Baer (see triplicates included) offering between $1,000-10,000 dollars in “donation” to St. Stephen if I pass out a voters guide to my congregation before Tuesday, November 4th. From the clergy chatter on facebook we were not the only congregation to receive a letter like this.

          This seems dodgy to the extreme.
          It suggests religious officials can be bribed, which undermines the authority of the clergy, as well as the message of the Gospel we proclaim—which ultimately is the Good News about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, not some political agenda.
          Additionally, Mr. Baer’s letter is a temptation to forsake my ordination vows, in which I promised to “live a life above reproach”… which I would imagine includes not taking bribes.
          Not only that, this kind of injection of politics, and ultimately the State, into the Church and vice versa, goes against the division between church and state found both in my faith tradition (Luther’s “Two Kingdoms Theory”) and my country’s tradition (Jefferson’s “Separation of Church and State”).
          Finally, and likely more importantly for you all, I can’t imagine this kind of thing is kosher from an election law standpoint.

          So, that’s my formal complaint. Steve Baer’s attempt to buy church backing of a political agenda: undermines my authority and stifles the Gospel, threatens my ordination vows, goes against the traditions of my faith and country, and probably violates some campaign finance/election laws.

In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Chris Halverson

If your church would like to lodge a similar complaint send Mr. Baer's letter in triplicates along with a notarized letter of complaint to:

The Office of General Counsel

Federal Election Commission

999 E Street, NW

Washington, DC 20463

Sunday, October 26, 2014

All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism

         As we remember our Spiritual Father, Martin Luther, and his bold actions for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
—his standing up to Popes and Emperors. He and his fellow Reformers putting their lives on the line for the sake of conscience.
         As we remember all these things, it would be easy to bring it all to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” crescendo or a clamorous “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
         But, I would like to take it down a notch this Reformation Sunday—to look at the Reformation from another perspective—after all, a song and a speech can start a Reformation, but it can’t sustain one for nearly 500 years.

         Back in 1986, there was a hit book with an interesting premise and title, Robert Fulghum’s “All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
         The title kinda says it all… much of the basic bits of life—wonder and connection—are already found in the simple stuff of childhood,
 in crayons and “hide-and-go-seek”/ Dick and Jane Books and the earliest of science projects.
         In a similar vein, I would propose a Lutheran equivalent this Reformation Sunday.
“All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

         Luther wrote the Small Catechism in order to pass on the faith to his son Hans, and to make plain the total package of his Reforms to peasant and prince alike. And for generations of Lutherans is has served as our primer, our Kindergarten ABC’s if you will,
teaching confirmation students, informing Pastor’s sermons, and speaking the faith clearly to millions of souls.
         And even today, nearly 500 years later, it serves as a rock of the Lutheran tradition
—like Washington Rock not that many miles away, it is a place on which we can climb up, and from which we look and see everything else. We can get a panoramic view of the Spiritual landscape.
We can be ecumenical, and even engage in interfaith dialogue, because we know where we stand, so we are not lost even when we’re far afield.
We can change and grow in a variety of ways, because the Small Catechism is a landmark for us.
“All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

 “All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”

I learned that the Triune God is awful… that is, God fills me with awe
… God’s holiness is so frighteningly beyond us to speak of it is to defile it, is to come up short, is to fail as a witness
…and yet we try.
         God fills me with Awe like the Grand Canyon, on a donkey, on a switch-back, while the poorly packed gravel gives way under the beast’s feet, and the donkey may or may not gain its grip.
         Awe like swelling with pious feelings on pilgrimage on the Mount of Olives where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, just as the first plumes of smoke and pops of gun fire and clashes between Jews and Muslims started across the Kidron Valley at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Triune God is awful, He fills me with awe.

I learned that the Triune God is worthy of my love and my trust… for God did not simply create and leave, but instead sustains every motion and every breath.
         All good things that are necessary and nourishing for my good health, and that of creation, are from God.
         And not only that, but in every time of despair, every moment of doubt or hurt, in all the depths of human life, the pits that are part of my existence,
God is there with me, for God never abandons, but is there for me in every trial and temptation, comforting and delivering me.

I learned that in the Old and New Testament God gives commands and promises to me, and that they inform and shape my faith life.
         For example, Christ commands baptism and communion.
Christ also promises my re-birth… my resurrection with him, in Baptism
And he promises that he’ll show up and sustain me, in the Holy Meal.
         The commands of God, especially those 10 commandments of Moses, are to be read in a strenuously positive way. I’m not to ask only “what shouldn’t I do,” but also add the question, “If that’s true what should I do for the sake of my neighbor?”
         For example, I should not steal… instead I’m going to improve and protect my neighbor’s property and income.

I learned that as a human being, I am a radically dependent creature.
         I’m always trying to sell out to someone.
         In fact, by my very nature I’ve happily sold myself out to Sin, Death, and the Devil.
         And I thank God that while yet a sinner Christ forgave me.
         That Christ my brother saw me sold—a miserable self-made slave, and bought me back, paying the highest of price for my life.

I learned that as a human I’m still inclined to sell-out.
Sell-out like an aging rocker becoming a Vegas Act,
or Troy McClure and Crusty the Clown on the Simpsons—Selling out is always an option.
         Just as there are no Recovered Addicts, only Recovering Addicts, so too there are no Recovered Sinners, only Recovering Sinners.
         I’ve been bought back by Christ, yet I constantly check the smart-phone ap. Zillow to know my re-sale value.

I learned that this is the case for the whole Church, we’re a Sinners Anonymous meeting.
We’re always, daily, in need of forgiveness
—of a forgiving word
and a reminder to give forgiving words, as well.
         We are called to ongoing repentance, confessing together this need
… and when my conscience pricks or provokes me I ought to confess that which troubles me to a Pastor or a trusted Christian friend, knowing their forgiving words are from God.
They remind me that Christ came for me, and forgives me, and bought me out of slavery.

I learned that despite myself and despite the Church being forever filled with recovering sinners, the Spirit will not leave us,
the Spirit’s work in me, and in the whole Church, is irresistible.
         The Spirit alone,
not building programs,
bible studies,
lay education,
New Bishops,
Old Bishops,
Young Pastors,
Old Pastors,
Tattooed Pastors,
Altar Guild,
or Food Pantry
will sustain us.
         The Spirit alone sustains us and allows us to continue on our journey of repentance and forgiveness.

 “All I really need to know about the Reformation I learned in Luther’s Small Catechism.”