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Posted Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 9:23am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

 

A Pastoral Letter on Faithful Resistance

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile." Matthew 5:38-48 NRSV

 

Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Welcome, hospitality, compassion and care are Christian. Walls are not.

Joy, hope, anticipation and confidence are Christian. Depression disengagement and spiritual desinigration and not.

Christians around the world are reading Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ this month. Sunday, February 19, 2017 many of us will reflect on these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer…”

The notion of “turning the other cheek” is often understood as pointless passivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Turning the other cheek” is active resistance to abusive powers in a social/political context of violence and military occupation. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, you might find “The True Meaning of Turning the Other Cheek” by Marcus Borg interesting. This article is a simple, one page, reflection on these words. Borg’s article rests on the work of Walter Wink in his 1992 book Engaging the Powers. A 1998 article by Wink, “Jesus’ Third Way” gives you more than Borg, but less than the whole book if you wish to pursue this further.

Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Christians often call the work of speaking truth to power, laying the consequences of oppression bare, and political/social commentary “prophetic.” The work of the prophet is hard. It is generally misunderstood or resisted, often resented, and usually deadly. Jesus was a prophet, and he was killed for it. Mahatma Gandhi was a prophet. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet.

Christians also call our proclamation of hope, salvation, life and love “the Gospel.” “Gospel” is a Greek word which means “good new.” Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s love for all people in a world that privileged a few. We are called to do the same. And Jesus died for bringing light to the darkness. That is confusing, but Christians must remember even the good we would do can put us, and others, at risk.

These past few weeks, pastors and church goers have asked me as their bishop “How should we now be?” We have seen marches, Facebook in flames, and executive orders from President Trump. We have fled the news, laughed at Saturday Night Live satire, prayed, and hungered for insight and sanity.

President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations has been found to be unconstitutional by federal judges. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a pastoral letter questioning this action in light of our Lutheran/Christian values and commitments. Other faith leaders have done the same. Even a four month ban on immigration has devastating effects on non-profit organizations and church institutions that seek to help oppressed peoples. The ban, first of all, hurts those most in need. As a side consequence, it costs the jobs of those who do this work and deeply weakens our capacity, long term, to do it. That, and apparently, it’s just plain wrong.

Bishop Eaton’s letter is one way we “turn the other cheek.” It unmasks the broader consequences of an ill-conceived action and demands deeper engagement.

Offering sanctuary is a way some congregations (and cities) now prepare to “give their cloak” as their coat is demanded of them. We will do more than demanded, and through word and deed live into our faith and commitments.

February 9 was Faith Advocacy Day at the capitol in Salem. Twice the number of people showed up than what we have seen in the past. People are already “going the extra mile.”

Meanwhile, we are watchful around issues of health care, education, environmental stewardship and deportation of sisters and brothers who live and work side by side with us in our churches, fields and forests. There are reasons for legitimate concern.

I commend to you a recent op-ed piece by David Brooks, published in the February 14, 2017 issue of the New York Times. It is entitled, “How Should One Resist the Trump Administration?” I understand that not everybody agrees that the Trump Administration needs to be resisted.  However, we in the Church see much that is happening contrary to our Christian values and resistance, as I suggest, is indeed Christian. We resisted much in the Obama Administration as well.

Brooks, a Republican voice, suggests three model of resistance which are appropriate to different kinds of crises. He references Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Benedictine tradition and the leadership for President Gerald Ford who assumed leadership following the Nixon years. I find Brooks helpful as we all grapple with “how to be” in these contentious times.

In Advent Christians prayed that God’s Spirit might “Stir us up,” teaching all to be watchful. Our nation is now stirred and we are fully awake!

Christmas offered us an unimagined gift of Grace and love in Jesus. Let our hearts remain open to all that is holy.

During this season of Epiphany, we have focused on Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ speaking of light and darkness, discipleship, formation and new life. We are learning again, in Jesus’ words, to let our “Yes by Yes and our No be No.”

And in a few weeks, we will set out on our annual Lenten Journey to fully invest ourselves and contemplate once again in the cost of true discipleship.

How should we be in these days? We should be as we have always been. Hopeful, watchful, worshipful, humble, faithful, resistant, engaged, welcoming and unwavering.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us:

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.”
We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” With this faith we will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”


Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, February 26, 1965

Shalom, Salam, Peace be with you!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
February 16, 2017  

 

 

Posted Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 3:46pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"I am prepared to lose everything, even life or limb. May God stand by me." “So wrote Argula von Grumbach (1492–1563/68?) from Bavaria, who found Martin Luther’s message of Christian freedom and equality empowering. This noble woman challenged an entire Catholic university in Ingolstadt in defense of Lutheran faith and was a student persecuted for “Lutheran heresy.” This best-selling lay author’s letter-treatises eventually disappeared un­der pressure from male authorities. Luther considered her a valiant hero of faith.” So we read in Augsburg Fortress Reformation 500 materials.

The role of women in the Reformation, and our Lutheran history to follow, is not understood by many. Katie Luther we may know. Argula von Grumbach, and so many women reformers, you may not. Today Lutherans are blessed with women pastors, bishops, teachers, healers and mystics. It has not always been so. Nor, are women spiritual leaders recognized equally even in all Lutheran denominations around the world. The Reformation continues.

Why might women today find the Lutheran message of “Christian freedom and equality” empowering? Answer: Because the world is not yet free.

During my pastoral internship in 1982 I met a German Lutheran trained theologian in her late 70s. She was a member of the congregation I served. One day she told me her story, how she had met an American Lutheran pastor, married and moved to the U.S. Her husband was from a Lutheran denomination that did not ordain women. Almost in passing she said, “Of course, I couldn’t stay in prison forever . . .” so she and her husband had changed churches.

“I couldn’t stay in prison forever!” I remember this woman clearly. She was articulate, often times took me to task after a sermon or Bible class; she clearly felt like her move to the U.S. had robbed her of an essential part of her identity, and her “inner monk” had long ago burst forth as the Reformer.

Lutheran women have been, and are, gifted proclaimers of the Word. They also carry stories of oppression, abuse, marginalization and struggle. In this they keep us close to the very essence of the Reformation.  

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written, “There is no more valuable investment than in a girl’s education.”  Lutherans would agree!

Keep the Faith!

Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

 

Posted Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 3:37pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

This is intense. October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door. “Can we talk?” Apparently not. So, Luther continues to agitate.

In October of 1518 and January of 1519 Luther debates with leading Roman Catholic Theologians. In 1521 Luther is ex-communicated. He is also declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V. (It is during this time of banishment that Luther translates the New Testament into German.) By 1525 some 100,000 German peasants lay dead in the streets. The Reformation had become open revolt. In 1530 Emperor Charles V said “Enough!” Spiritual unrest had erupted into political dysfunction. Yes, that’s how it works.

The Augsburg Confession was written for a meeting called by Charles V. In it, Luther clarified the teachings of the now 13-year-old Lutheran movement. He articulated what it was Reformers and Roman Catholics agreed on, what they didn’t, and what in their disagreements were central and peripheral. Common ground was still not found.

In times of social, political and religious discord defining oneself is essential. “Iron sharpens iron.” As the scriptures say. Mush sharpens nothing!   

As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation comes to us Lutherans continue to define, refine and contextualize our faith and witness.

·        American Lutheranism has a 78-year history of refugee resettlement and relocation work through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS.) Over these years, we have helped settle over 500,000 refugees. We will continue this work.

·        In 1945 American Lutherans formed a government advocacy effort which today is known as the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs. Through LOGA we have under our belt 72 years of advocating for individual and family rights and benefits. Our voice will stay in the debate.

·        And, for over 150 years, Lutheran hospitals have served the sick, counseling centers have worked with families, and adoption agencies have striven for the wellbeing and safety of children. Lutheran Services of America now touches one in every 50 American lives. There is still work to do!

We know who we are, doctrinally, functionally and spiritually. The coming 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation finds us once again in the midst of spiritual unrest and political dysfunction. You know what to do. Do it!  

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Monday, December 12, 2016 - 11:05am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Rightly or wrongly I have come to consider the Gospel of Luke to have a more ‘woman centric’ Christmas story and the Gospel of Matthew to be more ‘male centric.’ In Luke one finds a significant conversation between Mary and the angel as the birth of Jesus is announced. There is the Magnificat where Mary proclaims the future and reason for this child’s birth. And, of course, there is the meeting of a pregnant Mary and a pregnant Elizabeth where the pre-born John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb as she meets “the mother of her Lord.” We focus on Mary’s story when we read the Gospel of Luke and we revel in her witness. Joseph is a non-entity here.

In Matthew, though, just the opposite is true. Matthew doesn’t talk about how Mary receives the news of her pregnancy, but he spends considerable time on Joseph’s reaction. In today’s world “dismissing Mary quietly” due to her pregnancy doesn’t sound very gallant, but one might appreciate Joseph’s unwilling to lift Mary up to public disgrace. In a patriarchal world exacting such a penalty would have been easy to do. And, standing by Mary’s side as Joseph eventually decides to do will have its consequences. Matthew’s purspecitve is clear – by the standards of his day and age Joseph is an honorable and faithful individual.

Matthew’s theme of “honorable or dishonorable” men begins with the genealogy that introduces the Gospel. When Matthew points out that Jesus was born of “David the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah he just dissed one of the most beloved figures in Jewish history. Read the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Each time Matthew includes a woman’s name it is meant to ask you what you think of the man associated with her story. Yes, Jesus comes from a royal line. No, that’s nothing to brag about. And oh, by the way, what do you think about the guy in office when Jesus is actually born? Three astronomers from a foreign country come to pay Jesus homage. King Herod tries to kill him. Such are the days in which we live! This is the Christmas story according to Matthew.

I write as a male pastor, a bishop, a person who metaphorically might well belong in a genealogy like Jesus’. Apparently, that is nothing to brag about. My prayer is that after I die people won’t reference me by those I abused, overlooked or betrayed. Who I want to be here is Joseph, a man who conducts his life with honor through faith in God. I see Matthew holding Joseph up as an example I might emulate. The world could use a few good men now and again.

If I were to run a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on myself in light of this story it might go as follows:

·         Strengths – I am a person of privilege, voice and position. I can make decisions, good decisions, and they can make a positive impact in my world.

·         Weaknesses – I am susceptible to male peer pressure and public opinion. Why put myself as risk if I don’t have to?

·         Opportunities – Mary is not the only person at risk in our society who bears God’s holiness. I can do the right thing by helping others bring their gifts to birth.

·         Threats – Like the wise men the powers that be will seek to co-opt me. Laws may exist, or be written, designed to favor the privileged over the marginalized. I could lose my position or privilege and so my ability to do good in the future.

I wonder if Joseph ran through such an analysis as he decided to put Mary away quietly. If so, I am glad her reconsidered in light of the angel’s counsel. I wonder if I pay enough attention to my dreams. I shouldn’t let Herod, power or privilege dictate my behavior. 

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 9:13am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

 "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"  Matthew 11:3

John just wanted Israel to be great again. The country had been under foreign rule and domination for centuries. He, with all of Israel, hoped for God’s Messiah, a king, one who would re-establish the idealized Israel of old.

People who live so long under oppression and abuse develop survival mechanism. The Pharisees and Sadducees, for example, had become quietists. Their philosophy was that one should simply keep their own, personal, moral house spotless and stay out of politics. When the new came they believed they would be rewarded for their piety and obedience to God’s law. Both John and Jesus were especially hard on these folks.

At the other end of the political spectrum were the Herodians. They were also Jews, but they were accommodationalists. You did what you had to do to get along with the people in power. You need somebody to collect taxes? Sure. I need a job! You do what you have to do and suffer the social consequences. And suffer they did. People as a whole could not tolerate the realities the Herodians represented.

Zealots aren’t named as such in the New Testament, but you can tell they’re present. The Zealots leaned towards violence and anger. Someone had to take action. A Molotov cocktail here, a midnight raid on a Roman garrison there. Sooner or later those damn Romans would get the message. I suspect a lot of people secretly rooted the Zealots on.

And then not named or obvious, but known to history, are the Essenes. These folks were escapists. They pulled up stakes, ran to the desert, and lived in such a way that said, ‘This can’t get any worse. The Messiah just has to come soon. We’ll give up everything and just wait for kingdom here.’ All I can say about them is “I get it.” I’ve certainly felt that way myself sometimes.

John came out of the desert. He may have spent time with Essenes. We don’t know. What we know, though, is that as he re-engaged society he saw all of the above and found it wanting. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!” Jesus was one who answered that call. Through his baptism Jesus made a choice to turn way from the false patterns and practices of violence and despair and turn towards the new day God had promised. He, John believed, was the One!

It is now months, maybe a couple years, later. John is in prison. The movement is not going well nothing has changed. Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Israel has not become great again.

Or has it? Or is it? "Go and tell John what you hear and see.” says Jesus. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

“Great” means healing, respect, justice, care, compassion and concern. “Great” means labels are banished, walls of division are torn down, and dead places become full of life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were wrong. Personal piety is never enough. We must engage, publicly like Jesus did.

The Herodians were wrong. What you do, what you refuse to do, matters. Personal integrity makes a difference. We have to walk our talk.

The Zealots were wrong. Violence is never the way.

The Essenes were wrong. You can’t run and hide.

The Church must be visible, active, open, listening, caring, receptive, feeding, healing and bringing life to any and all corners of creation marked by death, poverty and abuse.

Go and tell John this.

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 5:57pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  Matthew 3:1-2.

'Confession' and 'repentance' are not the same thing. "Confession" is acknowledging our wrong, or the world's wrong, before God. "Repentance" is a turning away from the power that has captivated your soul! This turning away is for the sake of turning towards - and in the case of Matthew 3 a turning towards God's kingdom which is drawing near.

This Sunday an expected 2,000-3,000 U.S. Veterans will be going to Standing Rock to protect the American citizens there being fired upon with rubber bullets and fire hoses. They will be interposing themselves between 'us and us,' that is between the Water Protectors and local police or National Guard. What have we all come to? This is beyond bizaar, one more wrinkle around these interesting days in which we live. Pray for our Veterans, law enforcement, Water Protectors and the earth's water itself. 

The "those days" Matthew makes reference to, as in "In those days ..." begs definition, doesn't it? I suspect most of us have something to say about "these days," in which the Gospel also comes to us, but Matthew is talking about his days. Usually, though, preachers try to apply the Word to modern day contexts. Perhaps it is enough to say "these days" are hard. They are, aren't they? There is significant turmoil in our world today, and much to be played out over the next several months.

My question for myself this week, though, is "How will I repent?" Or, more specifically, "What am I ready or willing to turn away from?" In a word, I am done letting the country's political angst and chaos dictate my life for me. I'm turning away from FB posts, news saturation, worry, anger and grief.  No more @realDonaldTrump or #FTS devotions. It's not a matter of whether I am for or against. It is a matter of having my life revolve around issues of power and politics rather than the "real" kingdom. This doesn't mean I'm through engaging important issues. Not at all! It's just that I'm moving from "reaction" to "response." My "reactions" are dictated by world events. My "responses" should be born of faith. This is what John the Baptist wants to say to us.

"The winnowing fork is in God's hand ..." Matthew tells us. This is not a new truth. It is not about American politics. Rather, American and global politics, economics, injustices and pressures are what is to be winnowed. Or rather, those of us who participate in the world are what - who - is to be winnowed. So, I am ready to repent. Yes, I believe I am! I am ready to turn away from that which causes me to faint, fail or swear. I am also ready, with God's help, to turn towards that kingdom which puts me to work protecting, feeding and pointing towards another Way. 

A voice is crying out. The Spirit is baptizing. Fruits worthy of repentance are ripening. It is the Advent of our Lord. Thank's be to God!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 4:19pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is an amazing gift to the Church. For almost 500 years this little pamphlet has laid out the basics of Christian faith and teaching in a way anybody can understand. “What does this mean?” is a question designed to live in the heart of any inquisitive Christian. It’s all about the basics. If you’re a Christian, memorize the Small Catechism. It couldn’t hurt!

However, we do not live in a Christian culture any more. Our needs are different. What does this mean?  It means a lot! For example, here we are in the middle of Advent, we may find ourselves deeply em-bedded in practices of consumption rather than prayer. Soon it will be Christmas and we may talk about gifts rather than Incarnation. The “unchurched” – not just young people, but individuals of all ages and identity –hunger to talk about over consumption and what it’s
doing to our earth. How the Divine manifests itself in the everyday? People long to explore the mystery of incarnation. Yet, they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that
this is no longer what we in the Church are about.

What does this mean?

The question of the Catechism is not about calling forth the Reformer. The Catechism is about our common grounding. What is different in today’s world is that the teachings of the faith alone can no longer form our cultural, common grounding. The Church is no longer “the voice” of the culture. We are simply “a” voice.

Let’s talk about Baptism as the Small Catechism does. Yes! But when Luther asks “What is Baptism?” and writes, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” Let’s talk more about that part. What is God’s command for water, and how is it connected, deeply connected, with the incarnate Word? That’s a question that has traction today. Let’s talk ecology, faith and life!

Or, when reading Luther on the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Luther asks, “What does this mean, ‘Daily Bread?’” saying, “Daily bread is everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, house, farm …” let’s talk more about that part. Luther insists that God gives us our daily bread “Without prayer.” How does that work?

“The basics” for our world today are not to be taught. They are to be discovered. Like the baby Jesus, cradled in a bed of straw, you and I must start again. Listen, love, and learn. 

Blessed Advent,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 5:37pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

The Bible always and forever belongs to God. Whether it be in German, English, or Spanish, it is “the Word” – and as such it comes to us as God wills. Part and parcel with Reformation, Lutherans celebrate Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German. What this is all about, though, is the return of the Word to the people.

Putting the Bible into the hands of just everybody is a dangerous thing. We forget that Luther was among the first to do this. It is dangerous because the Word itself is dangerous. Oh yes, it is! The Word releases the Reformer in us, and when the Reformer appears the powers quake and people become uncomfortable.  Sit down and read the Bible – English is fine. You’ll see that what I say it true.

The fascinating part of the ‘Luther translating the Bible’ story is the trauma he went through in doing so.  The words he picked had to be just right.  There were political, economic and religious themes that challenged him. “How do you say that?” What is the cost of doing so?

Enter the Reformer. Enter trials, confrontations and divisions – all because the Word had been set loose once again.

Fear not! Know, though, that to read the Bible is to translate the Bible. “If they take our house, goods, fame, child, or spouse, they cannot win the day!”  Luther sings in A Mighty Fortress. Fear not. You can do this. 

We cannot read Scripture passively. You are invited to translate the words into 21st century Oregonian, that is to live the Word in a way that makes sense in the here and now. Nobody else can do this – only you!

Translate. Let the Word call out the Reformer in you.

By translating the New Testament into German Luther declared that he trusted the Spirit more than bishops or scholars. With Luther, I trust the Spirit in you. I believe that God will preach through your life, and that your life is vital!

It is not the Reformer who makes trouble. The world just sees us that way sometimes. The Bible both comforts and confronts. It forgives even while it condemns. And truly, Christ gives life even as he bids us to take up our cross.

Today I invite you to embrace your calling as a translator. Let the Reformer loose. Start with the Bible. Just read it. The rest will follow.

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 2:59pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

So how is your Inner Monk doing? Augsburg Fortress has created a Reformation 500 resource book for congregations with lots of great stuff in it. One offering in this book is a series of bulletin inserts called, “ABOUT THE LUTHERANS.” You have to buy the book to get the inserts (and I encourage you to do so) but I’m also making inserts of my own for you which are designed to be a complement. Augsburg Fortress is offering you some history. I want to ask about the future!

So, how is your Inner Monk doing? “Martin Luther: Monk to Reformer” is the title of Augsburg Fortress’ insert – and mine. On their insert they offer these great gems of insight:

·        “Not long after he (the young monk, Luther) arrived in Wittenberg, he became incensed by the church…”

·        “Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses stirred up a hornet’s nest in the church and began the Reformation …”

·        “For challenging the church and refusing to back down, Luther was called before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V …”

It was Luther’s “inner Monk,” his sense and practice of God; what he had been taught as a child – and a sense of betrayal that not all was as he had been told – that unleashed the Reformer in him - and oh the cost of letting that Reformer out!

The history of Luther is fascinating. Yet, what good is remembering this history if we don’t likewise listen to our inner Monk, and release the Reformer? It is not Martin Luther who makes us Lutheran. It is the Reformer within.

So let me ask you as your bishop: “What is troubling your soul? What is not as it seems? What were you taught that no longer fits? How do we articulate your Christian faith in a new day?’ What needs to change in the world around you?” We have the coming year to ask these questions.

October 31, 2017 will mark 500 years since “The Reformer” in Luther began to emerge. Oregon arise! This anniversary calls out to the Reformer within you!!

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Please find two bulletin insert PDF files below.  "Anniversary insert" you are free to copy and use as you wish. "Augsburg_01_MartinLuther"  is posted for display only. No further reproduction allowed without written permission of Augsburg Fortress. 

From Reformation 500 Sourcebook: Anniversary Resources for Congregations copyright © 2016 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission for display only. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress

 

Posted Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - 3:06pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

I recently passed the one year mark—a year since I returned home from service as the Command Chaplain for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan and left active duty with the U.S. Navy, returning to the Reserve. As I’ve said and written before, this first year home has been like that first year after the death of a loved one—where each holiday, season, anniversary of an event, is marked with the memory of what happened in Afghanistan—some of which are wonderful memories and many of which are painful and involve an intense sense of grief and loss. In that sense it’s been a difficult year ... and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grieve, to process it, ... and much of the grief has dissipated.

Now that I’ve been home a year, I’ve found myself wondering: “What’s left?” What I’ve discovered is FEAR. All the fear I stuffed for ten months in Afghanistan so I could do my job, is starting to surface. Living daily with the real danger and threat of violent death takes its toll. I was kind of surprised, at first, that it was coming up a year later? But I guess it took that long to feel safe ... and apparently I needed some time to adjust and to enjoy being home before having to deal with this deep feeling and some dark memories. I had over 150 missions “outside the wire”—the phrase used to describe leaving the security of a base and being exposed to more imminent danger, out in public. Chaplains don’t carry weapons and in that sense can’t protect themselves. I had an armed Security Team everywhere I went—and I worried for their safety and well-being, as well. There are some things that happened that I can’t talk about for reasons of security. ... and there are other things that are too ugly, brutal and graphic to share. Know that I do have settings in which and people with whom I can work through these things.

The FEAR manifests itself at unexpected times and in unexpected places. I know it’s happening when I find myself feeling fearful in situations that don’t warrant the intense degree of fear I’m feeling. It’s a signal: “This is fear from Afghanistan.” And I have to stop, if possible, and sort it out and separate the fear of the present from the fear from Afghanistan. . . and just let the waves of fear wash over me. I guess it’s like a panic attack—although, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a panic attack. Sometimes my body literally shakes or shivers, but mostly the shaking and shivering is on the inside. I try to take deep breaths ... and pray. I usually have some sense of God’s presence—an inner, calming voice—and after the waves of fear come waves of Divine Light and Love. “God’s perfect love casts out all fear.” (I John 4:18). Sometimes I can verbalize what’s going on in the moment to people I’m with and they are very understanding. Sometimes circumstances don’t permit that and I have to push through until later. Until an opportunity to sit with it and process it.

I’ve known about POST TRAUMATIC STRESS for years. As a Navy Chaplain, I minister to those with PTS. It’s different being the one who is afflicted and processing it! Sometimes I feel like a little child who just wants to be held in loving arms that make the fear go away ... or until it passes ... and I feel safe. In May I spoke to a gathering for the occasion of Armed Services Day. I spoke about being in Afghanistan. After my presentation the group surprised me with a presentation of their own: they presented me with a “Quilt of Valor”. “Valor” is a word I have never used in association with myself nor does it feel comfortable or appropriate to do so, but there’s a group called the “Quilts of Valor” Foundation that specially makes quilts and presents them to veterans. The one made for me has my name stitched into it, along with stars that are “seconds” from a flag factory—stars made for a flag but never used for that purpose because of some slight flaw—but still serviceable in these quilts. My quilt is beautiful—so colorful and carefully pieced in a log cabin pattern and intricately quilted with red thread. They wrapped it around me at the presentation and told me it came with a condition: “You can’t hang it on the wall or fold it over the back of a chair. You have to use it!” So, in those situations when the fear comes and I can’t process it until later, “later” means, when I get home I wrap myself tightly in this quilt and let the waves of fear come ... until I feel wrapped in the loving arms of a Mothering God. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7). “In the shadow of your wings, I will take refuge, until the raging storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1b). I don’t know if that’s what the “Quilts of Valor” folks had in mind when they said the quilt had to be “used”, but I don’t think they would object.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

For more information about the “Quilts of Valor” Foundation, visit their website at www.QOVF.org.

 

Posted Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 12:02pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

Soon it will be a year since I returned home from ten months in Afghanistan-- serving as Command Chaplain  for the NATO Training Mission and U.S. Forces in the Capitol Region. It's been a roller coaster since I came home. I remember when I had been home for about a month and spoke at our Oregon Synod of the ELCA Assembly and one person's comment was, “He's still over in Afghanistan.” Not sure what I said or did that made them think that-- but in many ways they were correct. Initially, upon my return, I was dealing with culture shock and re-entry into American life and culture after a ten month absence. I was still in Afghanistan! For several months I was more “in Afghanistan” than I was in the United States or in Oregon or at home. . . at least in my mind. The majority of my thoughts were about Afghanistan. My thinking and responses in many situations were shaped primarily by having been in Afghanistan. It was all I talked about-- when I talked-- but often I was silent and retreating due to the culture shock. . . and the post-traumatic stress.

Soon it will be a year since I returned from Afghanistan, and I wonder if it will turn out to be true? I've come to think this year has been very much like the first year of grieving after someone dies. I've told this to grieving people countless times and experienced it personally with the death of people close to me, that the first year is especially difficult. With each birthday, anniversary, holiday, gathering or event, routine or activity at which the deceased person would have been present, one feels their absence, feels the loss more deeply. They are missed and one grieves a little more each time. There are also, of course, good memories, stories to tell and laughter to share. . . as those we love may die, but the love never has to die. Well, this year at home, after being ten months in Afghanistan, has been a lot like that. As I've gone through the year, month by month, each holiday or event that occurred while I was in Afghanistan has come flooding back on its first anniversary.

For example, Thanksgiving was especially difficult. The Monday before Thanksgiving, while I was in Afghanistan, was when a friend was killed in a rocket attack. His son was also serving in Afghanistan and that Monday evening I was part of the team that went to tell him the terrible news and bring him back to Kabul to escort his Dad's body home. Tuesday was the Ramp Ceremony, when we put my friend's flag-draped casket on the plane, along with his son, for transport back to the States. Wednesday was Thanksgiving Eve-- our service in the Headquarters Chapel was filled to overflowing. . . and our hearts were overflowing with grief, as well as gratitude, as we read Psalm 137: “How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land” under such circumstances? (vs. 4) I spent Thanksgiving Day writing a funeral sermon and Friday was the Memorial Service with military honors—over a thousand in attendance. It was a hard week. . . last year and this year.

Christmas this year was a little better. My memories of Christmas in Afghanistan are all good. On Christmas Eve we observed the 100th Anniversary of the “Christmas Truce of 1914”--observed throughout Europe-- and, a century later, among NATO forces in Afghanistan, at least the Germans, Brits and French were all allies! There is some progress and hope! And my dear Afghan friends, Salim and Mirwaz, who are Muslim, invited me to have dinner with them on Christmas Day. Since they knew Christmas was a time for family and I was far from mine, they said they would be honored if I would let them be my family on that day! They prepared a traditional Afghan feast and fed me with great food. . . and with great love!

Gradually, at some point during this past year-- I'm not exactly sure when—things have shifted. . . and the majority of my thoughts have come to be anchored at home rather than in Afghanistan. I still think about Afghanistan and what's happening there. . . and about friends I made—and some are able to stay in touch-- but I'm not “still there”. I'm home. And. . . I wonder, as the one year mark approaches, will year two at home be easier than this first year has been? I hope so.

Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 4:57pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

Certain behaviors, part of the rhythm of life while I served as the Command Chaplain for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, continue to be part of my daily life now that I am at home. But I don’t need them anymore. When will they end, cease, stop?!

For example, I was in a parade this past summer. While most people walk down the street in a parade looking out at the crowd and waving—which I did—I also found myself scanning the rooftops of buildings along the parade route . . . looking for people with weapons! It’s a habit . . . still. Any time we went into a crowded area or drove through neighborhoods, we searched the crowd and the rooftops for people who were armed. My eyes seem to just automatically go there.  The first time I went to the Mall—and to tell the truth, I find myself avoiding the Mall since I’ve returned—my eyes kept searching the crowds and looking to the upper level as I walked along the lower level.

The first time—and so far the only time—I went to COSTCO since I returned from Afghanistan was overwhelming. Granted, it can be overwhelming to go to COSTCO under the best of circumstances—what with the mass quantities of products screaming an in-your-face kind of consumerism! But my mind went back to the Base Exchange in Kabul—about the size of half an aisle in COSTCO—with one brand of toothpaste and one brand of shaving crème, in small sizes—no giant economy size in a twin pack! One toothbrush in Kabul costs $9 or $10—the same price for a blister pack of 12 in COSTCO! My Afghan friends often asked if I could get them toothbrushes for their children, because they were only $1.79 at the Base Exchange. I found my heart breaking as I walked the aisles at COSTCO—part of my heart still in Afghanistan.

And no one in COSTCO greeted me or responded to my, “Hello”. It’s impossible to walk anywhere in Afghanistan, to pass any person, without a greeting. And it’s not, “Hello”. It’s, “God’s peace be with you!” “Asalaam o Alaikom!” Sadly, no greetings of divine peace in the streets of our cities and the aisles of our stores here! We may carry the desire in our hearts, make it a silent prayer, but we know we’d be suspect, ignored or ridiculed if we spoke it out loud! I felt a strange kind of aloneness or emptiness as I walked the aisles of COSTCO—despite the crowd. Couldn’t wait to get out of there!

I was out in the countryside, part of an outdoor church activity, when I heard a barrage of gunfire. Turned out neighbors nearby like to shoot their guns periodically. It’s their property and they have the legal right to do so. But it was the first live gunfire I had heard since leaving Afghanistan. I didn’t hit the deck. . . but I was startled. . . and concerned. And my mind went on a little journey. Took me back to when there was an assault with small arms on one of the gates of the NATO Base by the Taliban. . . and a counter-attack by NATO and Afghan National Security Forces—a barrage of gunfire. A Taliban attacker was killed, Dozens on both sides were in direct fire. Many more were in harm’s way.  There are emotional responses to such incidents that one necessarily  puts on hold in the moment. . . and, sometimes, longer—for as long as one needs to continue to function in such an environment. It’s only at home—SAFE. . . and “far away” from the incident—that apparently those emotions are finally or fully felt. . . and, mercifully, released. And, by God’s grace, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are literally Christ’s arms to hold us and offer holy hugs. A parishioner was there at this activity in the countryside, sensed something was going on for me, and asked, “Are you OK?” “That’s the first live gunfire I’ve heard since I’ve come home,” I said. “It’s taken me on a little journey back to Afghanistan.” This dear sister in Christ reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. . . and then offered a hug. It was the grounding I needed. It brought me back home.

In one sense this is all about culture shock—anyone who travels and spends extended time in another culture has similar experiences adjusting after returning home. Some of it reflects the normal symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. There’s a period of processing the stuff that’s been on hold. It takes as long as it takes. Sometimes I’m just surprised by it. . . .and wonder when it will stop? When will I be done? Will I  return to normal? Truth be told, I’ve never been normal in that sense! And I’ve begun to think that we don’t really return after such experiences, so much as we go forward. . . changed by the experiences—hopefully for the better! That’s God’s promise. That’s the power of the resurrection—bringing something good out of something difficult, painful or bad. “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In that sense it never stops. It is continually unfolding! . . . with holy hugs along the way!

Pastor Scott Dunfee

Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 2:26pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

I've been surprised by the number of people who have asked me to continue blogging after my return home from ten months on active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving in Afghanistan. I'm not sure what to write about? At this point I've been back three months and many people ask if I've made the transition, re-acclimated, am glad to be home? My answer has been, “Most days!” I'm very grateful for the warm and caring reception I've received from everyone I've encountered, but let me write a little about those “days” when it's hard to be back.

Early on I told people that one way I had been changed by my Afghanistan experience was that I feel a certain “letting go” and “easing up” about a lot of things—i.e. If it doesn't explode and won't kill or permanently injure anyone, I'm just not going to get spun up about it. That doesn't mean some things aren't important . . . and I don't want it to mean anyone feels dismissed with regard to things they care about. It just means I have a different perspective. It's the relationships that matter most, the people.

Well, that hasn't been entirely or exactly the case! What I've found is that while I don't get spun up about a lot of things, I do get impatient with other people getting spun up about somethings. Sometimes very impatient. It's this feeling like life's too short to be so occupied with something I judge to be so mundane or unimportant! I've felt resentful and angry that my valuable time is being wasted . . . and I've needed to apologize for being so impatient and judgmental. I don't like myself or like being home in those moments! If I've failed to recognize my behavior in some situations, let me apologize now. If I've come across in a rude or less than caring manner, I apologize. I also confess that my truth is, part of me feels resentful and angry that I was put in an environment where people who don't even know me wanted to kill me . . . and killed many others, including some of my friends.

One morning I just felt like I was going to explode! I felt so agitated and impatient I was worried I would say or do something to people I care about that I would regret. I told my wife, Janet, what I was feeling . . . that I knew it was a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) . . . and that I would need to get out of the house. She understood-- completely. I told my staff at the church office it was one of those hard “days” and unless it was an emergency, to give me a wide berth, privacy and to please pray for me. They understood-- completely. It was mid-afternoon by the time the agitation and anxiety passed. All of this is “normal” . . . it passes and there is healing and peace. But it made me think, “Is this what it's like for those who  suffer with a full blown diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?” I can't imagine what it must be like to feel 24/7 what I felt for just a few hours?! I found myself feeling such empathy . . . I wept . . . and I prayed for my brothers and sisters who suffer so. And while my experience doesn't compare (and that's not the point—to compare), I shed some tears as part of my own sense of grief and loss. I also had a very real sense of God's presence throughout that day. Comforting me and making it safe for me to feel all these feelings. And a sense that it would all pass, that I would indeed get through it . . . but I needed to lean into it. And lean on “the everlasting arms”-- which often feels like one of those trust exercises where you fall backwards and hope someone will catch you! As grateful as I was for that sense of God's presence and the understanding of others, I didn't like being home that day.

Memorial Day turned out to be extremely difficult and emotional.  Having conducted 17 Memorial Services while I was in Afghanistan-- many preceded by “Ramp Ceremonies”, loading the body of the deceased on a plane for transport home-- I shouldn't have been surprised. But somehow it caught me off guard. I had no official duties and did not attend any ceremonies, but my wife and I usually watch an annual PBS special on Memorial Day weekend, “The National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol”. It began with the playing of the National Anthem, . . . I was in tears before the music was finished. The Memorial Services and Ramp Ceremonies in Afghanistan that were for Americans (the majority of the 17) all began with the playing of the National Anthem. I wonder if I will ever be able to hear the National Anthem again and not think of them? Whereas, in Afghanistan I stood at attention and saluted during the National Anthem, on this occasion I sat in a rocking chair crying. My wife, Janet, asked if I would be OK, should we turn off the television or change the channel? “No,” I said, “I think I need to watch this.” As the two hour program continued, I found myself remembering scenes and feeling feelings—especially grief—that I had forgotten or put on hold. That was true for Janet, too. At one point the program featured the perspective of a Mother and her children—i.e. What it was like for them to have the Casualty Assistance Office and Chaplain come to their home to inform them that their husband and Father had been killed in action. Military families dread the approach of two officers in dress uniforms coming to the front door when a family member is deployed. They know what it means the minute they open the door, . . . before anything is even said. I've made too many of those calls myself in over 20 years serving with the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. As I listened to the story of this family, my wife said, “I was afraid they might come to our door to tell me you had been hurt or killed.” And she began to cry—releasing her tears and fears, bravely kept in abeyance while I was gone. She was always positive and upbeat when we talked on the phone across the 8,000 miles separating us. I hadn't fully realized or appreciated the extent of her anxieties and struggles during my deployment. I was both grateful and sorry for her sacrifice and support.  It was an intense two hours, watching that program and going on the emotional journey that accompanied it. It was healing in many ways, . . . but I didn't really like being home that day.

My first (and, at this point, only) reunion with someone I had served with in Afghanistan was also very emotion-laden. The Chaplain who had served as my Deputy returned home shortly after I did. As part of his leave he came to Portland to see some friends and to visit me and meet my wife. A Command Chaplain and Deputy are a lot like a Senior Pastor and Associate—or even co-pastors, though the Command Chaplain is senior in rank. We had a very collegial relationship, calling each other by first name when not in public. Dan and I were pastor to each other when needed and brothers in Christ, as well as brothers in uniform. He was everything one could hope for in a Deputy, a trusted and skilled second-in-command and a good friend with a great sense of humor! It was great to see him again . . . until it came time for the toast. Dan had brought a rare bottle of a special reserve anniversary edition Irish whisky he'd been saving for several years and chose to open and share it on the occasion of our reunion. He asked me to do the honors—to open and pour and give the first toast. We stood there in my kitchen, holding our glasses, unable it appeared to say a word—but staring into each others eyes and speaking volumes! Finally, I raised my glass and found myself saying: “To those who are still there, God keep them safe; To those who have come home, God grant us wholeness; and to those who didn't come home, God bless their memory and comfort their families.” Both of us had  tears in our eyes before finishing the last part of that toast. Our glasses clinked and we drank the warm, sweet Irish whisky. It was a bittersweet drink. We were silent for a few moments . . . and then we refilled our glasses and moved to another room to sit and sip and talk . . . and laugh. It was great to see Dan . . . but for a few moments, at least, it was hard to be seeing each other at home. I think we both felt in some way like we needed to be back in Afghanistan with those still there. That that was where we belonged. At least I know that's how a part of me felt. For a few moments, at least, I didn't like being home.

Well, that may not have been what you had in mind if you wanted me to continue blogging?! But it's been therapeutic for me to write this. And I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Please remember  to pray for those who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress and with PTSD and for their families . . . and for the families of those who won't be coming home . . . and for all those in harm's way and their loved ones waiting anxiously for their return.

Again, thank you for your warm and caring welcome.

Pastor Scott Dunfee,
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

Posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - 9:24pm in Scott Dunfee's blog

As I prepare to leave Afghanistan, March 1st (it will be another 3-4 weeks before I’m actually home—with stops in Qatar, Germany, Norfolk, VA, and San Diego), two recent experiences stand out.

One is with children—children who have been orphaned by the war. PARSA, one of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) whose work is supported by the Chapel Community at Resolute Support Headquarters (RSHQ), brings children from an orphanage in the city of Kabul out to their “farm”, which is part of the Red Crescent Compound (Muslim expression of Red Cross) on the outskirts of town. It gives these children, ages 4 to 14, a chance to get out of the city, to pet the horses and goats, play with the puppies, play games, eat fresh food grown on the farm and prepared in the Culinary School PARSA also runs. Members of the RSHQ Chapel also go to the PARSA Compound on days when the children from the orphanage are there. We bring school supplies, fruit and nuts and candy, clothing and stuffed animals we have collected from folks in the United States and other nations, and we play with the kids, do art with them and share a meal.

St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Gladstone, where I serve as Pastor has a Pre-School and active Sunday School and Youth Groups . . . I’m used to seeing children of all ages and spending time with them daily. It’s been a strange and depriving part of my time on active duty in Afghanistan to see so very few children. I see a dozen or so “street kids”, who sell scarves and bracelets they make, as I walk several times a week (with an armed escort) to the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) in my role as Senior Advisor to the Religious & Cultural Affairs Directorate of the Afghan National Army (their version of a Chaplain Corps). These kids have come to call me “Grandfather”, an Afghan term of respect and endearment for an elder. I try to buy a little something from each of them every payday. They all try to go to school and several want to be doctors or teachers . . . many also help to support their families, which are usually large, and some of these children and young people are their family’s primary support. While we talk about their studies and families and joke and even laugh for the few minutes it takes me to walk from the Coalition Base to MoD, I’m wearing body armor and a helmet and must keep moving. It’s not exactly “quality time”! The time with the children at PARSA is.

Jamal, the little boy in the picture, is one of the youngest children in the orphanage. He’s about 4 years old. His parents were killed by the Taliban—according to social workers and eyewitnesses in his village, it may have happened right in front of him. He does not talk. One can understand why—he’s been traumatized. He’s still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. As I’ve heard several people say, “The whole nation of Afghanistan suffers from PTS!” Despite his trauma, Jamal smiles and looks wide-eyed at the world, as in this picture. The teddy bear he had just been given probably contributed to his smile and look of wonder. Jamal and I did art together. While he does not talk, he mimicked me in making the sounds made by the various animals we drew . . . and grinned and laughed after each rendition. I’d like to think it was some small way to bring Light and Life to a precious Child of God. He sat on my lap to do art since he could not reach the table sitting in a chair. Much of the time he was just content to sit in my arms and let me do the drawing. May he be held in Divine arms until he feels so safe he can he can begin to speak! And may no fear ever silence him again!

Aliya, the young girl in the picture, took me by the hand and led me outside to play games . . . and never let go of my hand for the next two hours—held on until it was time for us to leave. She never said it—and I wouldn’t have known if she had, as Aliya doesn’t speak English and I only know a few words in Dari, but it was like she said, “Here’s the deal: I get your hand to hold, exclusively, for the rest of the time you’re here . . . so, don’t try to let go—it’s not gonna’ happen! I don’t get this kind of attention and caring very often and I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity!” She led me many places around the Compound—petting the animals, playing games, just sitting in the warm sun  on a winter day, eating candy—but  I did it all with one hand . . . the other hand was held tightly by a precious Child  of God. I continue to pray: “Dear God hold her in the palm of Your hand . . . and never let go!”

These children are forever in my heart. It’s hard to leave them. And, as Brigadier General Mohammad Mukhles, Deputy Director of the RCA, said to me at our last meeting:  “It’s not as important for us to be among people, so much as it is to be in the hearts of people.” After General Mukhles said that he added, “And you will be in our hearts.” I had just told him that he and the Mullahs and RCA Officers I had met would be in my heart and my prayers back in the United States. Which leads me to the other recent experience that stands out for me.  As I mentioned earlier, during my time here one of my jobs has been to advise the RCA—the Afghan Chaplain Corps—all Muslim. They call me a Mullah, but I don’t advise on religious matters. I try to help “professionalize” their Corps--assist with training in such areas as Post-Traumatic Stress, conflict resolution and peacemaking, planning and policy, coordinated messaging and communications, and  advocacy for women’s and children’s rights.

In particular, I mentor BG Mukhles and Major General Mohammad Amin Nasib, the Chief of the RCA. Both have become dear friends, as well as professional colleagues, and we have shared regularly and deeply about our respective faiths and personal faith journeys.  They make it clear—repeatedly—that the Taliban and ISIL and all the extremists don’t represent Islam and don’t teach what the Holy Quran actually says. Indeed, according to MG Nasib and BG Mukhles, the horrible things the extremists do and the hateful things they preach are unholy and evil.  “Violence is not the way of Islam,” the Generals have repeatedly told me. They are deeply and genuinely grieved that most of the press in the west only report on the violence of the extremists.  I made it clear that the Christian extremists don’t represent my faith tradition—at least not today-- nor are their teachings the only way to interpret the Holy Bible. My Muslim friends and I disagreed about some things and have been honest about it, and we have come to the conclusion many times in our conversations that Muslims and Christians have more in common than we do separating us. And we have concluded that even when we disagree, it does not preclude our working together for justice and peace—that Muslims and Christians—and Jews—are all Children of Abraham and Sarah. I cherish the depth of spiritual conversation and mutual consolation we have shared and the “bridges” that have been built . . . built I believe, by the leading of the Spirit of the Living God.

And so, I was deeply touched by MG Nasib’s actions at the end of a Religious & Cultural Affairs Directorate Seminar in which I was invited to participate. General Sher Mohammad Karimi, Commanding General of the Afghan Army, presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation “on behalf of the People and Government of Afghanistan”, which reads in part: “It is humbling for me to acknowledge and recognize the tremendous efforts and sacrifices that you have made to support a professional National Army protecting the citizens of Afghanistan.” I can only think about the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by my dear wife and family, the St. Stephen Community, its Interim Pastor and the Oregon Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Thank you all for the many emails, cards, letters and care packages I have received while in Afghanistan. Often they arrived in those dark moments, when I needed a lift. Your support is humbling to me. You have all helped make anything I accomplished here or to which I contributed, possible. And I know many more were praying for me. God bless you all!

After General Karimi presented the Certificate, MG Naisib handed him the badge worn by an RCA Officer in the Afghan Army—it depicts a Mosque and the Holy Quran with the words, “God is Great”-- and the General pinned it on me! He said, “My dear brother, we now make you an honorary RCA Officer” . . . the first Christian Chaplain to ever be so named. I was so deeply moved . . . at this tangible sign of the bridges built, . . . the acceptance, . . . the unity that is ours in our Common Creator . . . in the midst of all the stereotypes and prejudice and misinformation and misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians. John Philip Newell put it this way in his devotional book, Praying With the Earth—a prayer I’ve quoted before and to which I keep returning. And this is my prayer as I leave Afghanistan and return home:

“O God . . .
May we know that we are of You
May we know that we are in You
May we know that we are one with You
Together one.

Guide us as nations to what is deepest
Open us as peoples to what is first
Lead us as a world to what is dearest
That we may know the holiness of wholeness
That we may learn the strength of humility
That together we may live close to the earth
And grow in grounded glory.” (p.20)

Amen!

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United Sates Navy

PS: In case you would like to learn more about the work of PARSA, check out their website at http://afghanistan-parsa.org/

Posted Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 8:27am in Scott Dunfee's blog

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I—“the war to end all wars”, they said when it was finally over. America did not enter the First World War until 1917, so this anniversary has received little attention in the United States. For European nations, however, it has been a significant observance. Serving as Headquarters Chaplain with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan—the core of which is NATO and troops from primarily European countries—the centenary received a lot of attention here. On Veteran’s Day (the current U.S. name—Europeans still call it Decoration Day or Armistice Day) ceremonies at ISAF HQ included references to the 100th anniversary . . . and to the encouraging reality that a century later, those who were once enemies are now friends and Coalition Partners, helping to end terrorism and promote freedom and peace in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

The 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War meant this past Christmas was the Centenary of “The Christmas Truce of 1914”. Again, an event receiving little notice in the United States, but widely observed throughout Europe . . . and, consequently, also observed at the ISAF Headquarters Chapel in Kabul, Afghanistan—where I serve as Chapel Pastor. An excerpt from my Christmas Eve sermon follows—a version of which was also used at a “Carol Service” a few days before Christmas and recorded for broadcast by the BBC.

“When fighting began in August of 1914, most people on both sides of this horrible conflict thought it would be over and they’d be home by Christmas. But by December they knew it would not be so. Many religious leaders pleaded for a Christmas Truce—if not an honest attempt to make peace—but political leaders refused. Consequently the military on both sides were strictly ordered not to allow any kind of cessation of hostilities or truce for Christmas. Yet, in the darkness of the evening of December 24th, candles began to appear atop the trenches . . . and the sound of singing-- Christmas Carols—made its way across the desolate landscape called ‘No-Man’s Land’. Soon men left the trenches and made their way into  this no mans’ land—enemies—some carrying candles and singing—meeting there to exchange gifts of tobacco, candy, uniform buttons and badges . . . and something strong to drink that warmed the insides! All in celebration of the birth of the ‘Holy Infant so tender and mild’ . . . and the ‘heavenly peace’ promised and proclaimed by the Christmas ‘angels’! This was something spontaneous—against expressed orders. This was something spiritual—for apparently there is . . . no stopping the Christmas message of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all.’ (Luke 2:14)

And the one carol that both sides knew—albeit in different languages—was ‘Stille Nacht/Silent Night’. So, the guns fell silent on the Western front 100 years ago tonight, as all joined together to sing in their own native language:

‘Silent night, holy night;
All is calm, all is bright;
Round yon virgin Mother and Child . . . ‘

(from vs.1, words by Fr. Josef Mohr, 1816, & music by Franz Gruber, 1818—in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars)”

And later in the services on Christmas Eve at ISAF HQ Chapel, we lit candles—as did many of you on Christmas Eve. And we sang “Silent Night” in German and English—an international worshipping community of Germans, Brits and Scots, French, Americans, Romanians, Swiss, Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, Albanians, Kenyans, Nigerians, Spaniards, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, Maldavians, Filipinos, Polish and Irish, Venezuelans and Costa Ricans, Italians, Greeks, and Finns. And I’m sure I missed some! We sang and we prayed for “heavenly peace” . . . like they did in “No-Man’s Land” 100 years ago . . . like the angels and shepherds did in the fields of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. We sang and we prayed for “heavenly peace” in Afghanistan. Believing that God is somehow still at work . . . and despite the unexpected incongruities, the difficulties and the dangers, there is no stopping the eternal truth of “peace on earth and goodwill to all”.

Pastor Scott Dunfee
Captain, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy

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