Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I am Still a Lutheran

I've shared before a bit about my journeys among Pentecostals and charismatics when I was in college. For a lot of reasons, I've been thinking about this time again. I have relatives who have had similar experiences, and are now no longer Lutheran. As for me, for most of my college career and for a couple of years afterwards, I experimented and dabbled in various kinds of religious experiences: I went on a silent retreat at a Franciscan retreat center, I attended Catholic charismatic praise services and New Testament Churches and a tiny Foursquare Gospel church. I read huge sections of the Bible in my evening devotions, and went to a lot of Bible studies. I think I missed some passionate believing in the church of my youth, and I found it in these alternative experiences.

And yet....

Some of my Bible study friends thought that the best thing for me to do would be to get re-baptized and join their church. But unlike my relatives, I never got re-baptized, and I never joined any of those different churches.

I think part of my reticence had to do with baptism itself. God knows, my confirmation studies in the early 70s had not given me a complete education. But somehow I got the idea that baptism had more to do with God than it did with me. Once, when I was in college, a friend asked me if he should be re-baptized. People had approached him and told him that if he was re-baptized, his eyesight might improve (he was legally blind.) So, he asked me, and I said, "Well, what do you think is most important about baptism: what you do, or what God does?" And he answered, "What God does." So I said, "Then you don't need to be re-baptized."

I'll tell you, during those years while I went to different Bible studies and pray meetings and worship services, I found the passion that I was missing in the church of my youth. For a while there, it was all Jesus, all the time. Why was anyone talking about anything other than Jesus, I wondered? Truthfully, I was insufferable for awhile.

But I continued to go to church on Sunday too. And a few books I read during that time began to broaden my perspective. (None of them were by Lutherans though; the three books I remember were The Living Reminder, by Henri Nouwen, Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, and Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner.) Even though none of these writers are/were Lutheran, they are part of the reason I'm still Lutheran.

Another reason I'm still Lutheran, I think, has to do not with passion, but with compassion. I remember thinking about the things I admired about those who I met at the churches and Bible studies and prayer meetings I attended. It was evident that they took faith very seriously, and read the Bible very seriously.

But when I thought about people who lived gracious lives, with charity toward people they didn't agree with, I didn't think of them. I thought of the professors at the Lutheran school I attended, I thought of the people I had known in my church growing up, I thought of my godparents, serious Lutheran Christians who loved me even when I dissed their faith.

Passion and compassion. Both important qualities.

But if I had to pick, I'd pick compassion every time.


Paul said...

"But when I thought about people who lived gracious lives, with charity toward people they didn't agree with...."

It took a lot of maturing for me to realize the importance, indeed, the centrality of living gracious lives.

Thanks for sharing this.

Jan said...

Good thoughts, Diane. Compassion is so important.

Fran said...

I somehow missed this earlier... Diane this is soul stirring to read.


It is about God, it is indeed.

Mrs. M said...

I'm struck by "with charity toward people they didn't agree with" being characterized as compassion rather than tolerance, and really appreciating the word you chose.

Having grown up Christian, but a denominational mutt, I feel like I can relate to a lot of what you're sharing. I went to evangelical schools, and I'm so grateful for that time of formation, but I remember being really uncomfortable with the exclusivity of the Campus Crusade groups in college.

Diane said...

well, maybe it is tolerance rather than compassion, but when I think about my god-parents, then I think it was compassion. But what I experienced at school was a kind of "merciful-ness" not just toward me, but toward the world, and a sense of being humble about how much we could know, and just falling on God's grace. I experienced that as compassion, wanting to reach out to others who had fallen down.