Higher Things and BJS: Really?

Seventeen years ago, I was blessed to be involved with the formation of a youth organization that became Higher Things. It began with the Dare to Be Lutheran conference in Laramie, Wyoming, in the summer of 2000. Since that time, tens of thousands of youth have received Christ, received the gifts of God, and have embraced what it means to be Lutheran in a world that continues to fall apart at the seams.

I haven’t been involved with Higher Things in a leadership capacity for ten years or so. For the most part, I go to conferences, occasionally preach, and do sectionals about depression, suicide, the liturgy, or whatever else they want. I am much more of an attendee today than on the inside of any decision making process.

What I do see is the benefit it has for my own children, and the youth of my congregation. As a congregation, Holy Cross goes every year. I would face an utter rebellion if we did anything else. The young people of our church look forward to the trip, raise money for it, and talk about it in Bible class and Sunday School. What’s more, they talk about Jesus, about good theology and worship, and about how awesome it is to know and recognize that they aren’t the only Lutherans in the world. There are other churches out there that use the hymnal, that practice closed communion, and that preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. They, we, aren’t alone.

Our conference group from 2016, plus the group from Zion in Terra Bella, CA.

I won’t claim to like or agree with every jot or tittle of every decision that they make about conferences. Or worship. Or even play (A chant off? Really? That’s just unhelpful and irreverent). But I do so from the perspective of honor and respect, and a recognition that what they are about is precisely what I am about as a Lutheran pastor, and what we are about as a congregation. In this world we call earth and in this place we call the LCMS, things aren’t perfect. Sometimes there are speakers I like, sometimes not. Sometimes articles in the magazine maybe take the wrong tactic on a tough topic (see the Eilers débâcle from a couple years ago). If they make decisions that I think are wrong, I’ll tell them. I have. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they ignore the old guy. I’m okay with that. It’s called working together, and churchmanship.

All of this is why the piece published by BJS on Higher Things is so wrong-headed and just plain bad. It assumes that because the 1517 Legacy Project sponsors a T-Shirt, they are somehow now tied at the hip with HT. And when a former professor at Concordia University Irvine is scheduled to speak at an HT conference, somehow that means everything he’s ever said is now what Higher Things stands for.

Nonsense.

I don’t know Dr. Dan Van Voorhis. I’ve never met him. I’ve listened to the podcast, though. He’s engaging and worth learning more about. I look forward to hearing him speak at Higher Things in Bozeman in a few weeks. I expect it will be Lutheran, hold up Law and Gospel, and will put Jesus at the center of everything we are and everything we do. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

I would also point out that since the above article is unsigned and as listed as by “the editors,” one doesn’t know who wrote it. Have they attended Higher Things conferences? Spoken with any of the leadership? Actually had a two way dialogue with the Board of Directors, or for that matter with Dr. Voorhis or anyone from 1517 Legacy Project?

The BJS article isn’t courageous, a necessary corrective, or somehow bringing to light some deep and dark problem. All the BJS piece does is create division, foster mistrust, and make confessional Lutheranism look, again, like all it wants to do is make a small circle even smaller.

I want no part of that kind of confessional Lutheranism.

So if you want to find me, look for me with my youth at Higher Things in Bozeman. And at Tacoma next year, and wherever they go the year after that. I’ll be right there. I hope to see you there, too.

Rev. Todd Peperkorn, STM
Co-Founder, Higher Things
Magazine Editor, 2001-2006

A Sermon on Physical and Eternal Healing

Every once in a while a sermon hits a chord where there seem to be homiletic overtones. I know, a cheesy analogy. I’m ready for vacation.

…anyway, the sermon from this past Sunday is one that addresses the question between the relationship between sin, sickness, death, forgiveness, and eternal life. In about twelve minutes or so. I hope it brings you some comfort.

Sermon from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California, published via the power of IFTTT.

The Word Remains, a Hopeful Book by an Old Lutheran

Front cover 600pxA review essay by Todd A. Peperkorn

The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life is a collection of sermons and writings by the renowned mission pastor and nineteenth century theologian, Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872).

I first ran into this book while visiting Neuendettelsau in 2009. We were staying with friends in the area, and he happened to have a copy of this book in the German edition from 2008. Since that time it has been calling to me from my shelves, mocking me for not knowing German well enough to really appreciate the language and poetry which is Wilhelm Löhe.

But no longer.

It is available in English for the first time, thanks to the work of Emmanuel Press of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In an introductory essay, Manfred Seitz gives us good counsel on how to receive and make use of this little book. He writes:

There are two kinds of reading: lingering reading and consuming reading. People of the ancient and medieval world, where there were no or very few books, read slowly— repeating, pondering, and lingering over what they read. Then, above all through the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1400–1468), came reading for the purpose of consumption, in which lines and sentences were quickly skimmed. This is the way we mostly read books, newspapers, journals, and documents. The former, the careful and contemplative reading, which satisfies itself in just a few pages per day, is what we ought to take up again, apply, and practice. This is how we get back to Wilhelm Löhe, and this is how his writings should be read.

In this little volume the reader will find that nearly every sentence drips with Gospel infused wisdom. I found myself wanting to highlight every page, until I realized that the whole book is worthy of that kind of careful attention.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part follows the rhythms of the Church Year, and offers insight into each season without going into much depth on the particular texts. The second part is what I would call the doctrinal section, and which Löhe calls “Our Faith”. The third and final part is entitled, “Brief Maxims from Löhe,” that is, short says or aphorisms on various topics both theological and non-theological.

Here is a good example of the encouragement offered to the believer by Löhe:

Faithfulness—in Little Things

It is a hidden glory in the Christian life to practice faithfulness in little things, that is, in one’s vocation; yet it is more difficult and more glorious than martyrdom. Martyrdom is aided by an agitated time, an emotional disposition, and it is often quickly won; it only takes a brief moment. But being faithful in little things involves bearing patiently the quiet tedium of a monotonous, elapsing life to the praise of the Lord (p. 81).

Now you could probably sit down and read this book in an hour and a half start to finish, and none the wiser. Add in the supplementary materials that introduce and follow the book, and they are almost worth the price alone. The work stands by itself as a hopeful view of the life that is to come even while the world is dying all around us. But reading it start to finish and then putting it away would be a mistake.

My best suggestion for this work is to buy and read it straight through, so you have a sense of the whole. But then sit back and let the words linger for a time. Take a couple pages a day and drink them in. Don’t be in a hurry. The words will be there and aren’t going anywhere. I would also suggest that The Word Remains is a welcome compendium to Löhe’s Seed-Grains of Prayer, also available from Emmanuel Press.

What really typifies the book for me are the words hope and joy. So often we tend to look down in our reading and meditation, or see “devotional reading” as a chore or something to get through. But Löhe manages to look up and look forward through the cross to the Last, Great Day. His writing is, in that way, deeply Christological and sacramental.

It is just what this pastor needs every day.

This book was provided to the reviewer at no charge by the publisher.

Five Years a California Pastor

My installation at Holy Cross on August 19, 2011.

Five years ago today I was installed as pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rocklin, California. As with many things, it seems like it was both yesterday and a thousand years ago. But here are a few of my thoughts that have bubbled up along the way.

  1. It takes about five years to get to know a congregation, and another five years to get to know a community. Years ago a seasoned pastor told me that, and I think it is generally true. Holy Cross is very much home for us now, and it is hard for me to imagine being anywhere else. California and Rocklin are still a bit surreal, but I expect that will keep coming along the way. It just takes a certain number of major life events to really get to know people. Baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals all shape the pastoral relationship with a congregation, as well as the week-to-week preaching and teaching and celebrating the Eucharist together.
  2. California is not as weird as I thought. People are people, and while the context of ministry changes from place to place, our common humanity binds us together more than it separates. While there are some unique pastoral challenges here that weren’t in the Midwest, the Word remains the same, and Jesus remains the same in Wisconsin, or California, or to the uttermost parts of the earth.
  3. Our common humanity is not as clear as it once was. The things that bind us together as human beings continue to become more blurry. Marriage, family, children, things that were once obvious and taken for granted are less so now. It’s hard to pin down, but there is a shift going on, no doubt about it. I have found myself addressing more issues of human sexuality today than I have in the past, and I believe that will continue and expand, not revert back to what it once was.
  4. I love my family, and I recognize the sacrifices that they continue to make in order for me to serve Holy Cross. I’m not saying this because their sacrifices are so much bigger or more pious than anyone else. It is, however, a simple reality that we are really, really far away from our families. That continues to be the single biggest challenge to our living here.
  5. I have grown as a pastor since being here. Going to a new congregation was very good for me as a pastor, even though it was terribly hard for me to leave all our friends in Kenosha. I am a bit more circumspect and a less impulsive when it comes to pastoral care and congregational leadership. Plus moving gives me a whole new opportunity to mess up and receive forgiveness! That has to be good.

Those are my thoughts on this Friday morning. Now it’s time to write a funeral sermon for a dear parishioner, finish up things for Sunday, and begin year six!

(Originally posted on Lutheran Logomaniac.)