From the President: Transitions

This is my final “Through My Window” article as MN South District President. I’ve served for two terms and will retire August 31. Our convention in June elected Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford to serve as our new District President. I’ve already prayed for him often as he transitions from parish ministry to that of ecclesiastical supervision. In his first year, he will no doubt be sucking on the proverbial firehose. I hope you will pray for him and encourage him, too, as he begins his service on September 1.

Transition is what our new president and I have in common. We will both be living in the middle of in-between for a time, repositioning, as they call it today. No doubt you’ve experienced something of this in your life. Truthfully, life is a series of transitions, and it seems to me that what matters most in a transition is to make the most of what matters.

Several years ago a very wise 14-year old, Jason Lehman, wrote a little poem titled “Present Tense,” which reads in part:

I was 20,

But it was 30 I wanted,

To be mature

And sophisticated.

I was middle-aged,

But it was 20 I wanted,

The youth

And the free spirit.

I was retired,

But it was middle age I wanted.

The presence of mind

Without limitations.

My life was over,

But I never got what I wanted.

(Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1989)

Even in transition, maybe especially in transition, it is important to live in the present tense. Otherwise, we will miss what the Lord is doing right now with His grace along the way. Otherwise, we will miss the relationships which bless us so richly. Getting from here to there doesn’t mean we leave people or values or callings in our dust. The time between the chapters of our lives matters. IN such times God grows our capacity for prayer, courage, perseverance, and hope.  

As I transition into retirement, I have some idea of what it might look like, but most of it is hazy. No doubt the same is true for Pastor Woodford as he takes on his new calling. Yet to live in the mist for a while, or the fog, or the mystery of things unknown, is not a bad thing. Wanderings, as in Israel’s transition to the Promised Land, do have their place in God’s plan for us. We do well to stay in the moment even when walking deserts or bridges.

Life here, after all, in all of its sad and joyous chapters, is a transition. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Cor 13:12 NKJV).

From the President: The American Flag in Our Church

I am occasionally asked the question, “Why do we display the American flag in our church?”

The question may come from someone who is simply curious about the traditional practice. It may also come from someone who is seriously concerned about our confusing Christianity with nationalism. That is, in displaying the flag we may be saying that God is on our side and our side only when it comes to the nations of the world.  Another way of stating this objection is to say that our Lord is bigger than any one nation; He is Lord of all nations. Or to put it still another way, we as individuals and congregations are called to go “into all the world” with the gospel, not just into the United States. Still others may object to the flag’s display as a simple confusion of church and state.

More than one pastor has stumbled into conflict by simply removing the American flag from the sanctuary. One Sunday it is there, the next Sunday it is gone. The above arguments may have been his motivation, but conversation and teaching are always best before a unilateral act which may be perceived as unpatriotic or controlling or both.

 

I would like to add to the conversation and teaching by presenting five good reasons for displaying the American flag in our sanctuaries. You might have guessed that I would come down in favor of such a tradition, but I do so for the following reasons:

 

1.      Our Lutheran teaching of two kingdoms reminds us that God works His will in both the kingdom of the right, the church, and the kingdom of the left, the state. Placing the American flag in our church affirms that our God is at work in the governing of our nation, just as our God is at work in the governing of every nation (Romans 13:1). Placing the Christian flag in our church is a strong visual reminder of our two kingdoms theology. It says we are one nation “under God.”

2.     The flag is a constant reminder that we are encouraged in the Scriptures to pray for our national leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), which many of our congregations do every weekend.

3.     The American flag serves as reminder to everyone in worship that a crucial setting for our Christian vocation is our American citizenship. We are not just spouses, children, parents, students, and workers. We are citizens, not of every nation, but of our nation. The flag in our sanctuary keeps our calling as citizens before us.

4.     The flag places before us, whenever we gather for worship, a reminder of those from our midst who are away on active military duty. Once again, it reflects our prayers for them and our hope for their safe return.

5.     The flag helps us remember those who in past wars and conflicts have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is a memorial recalling their sacrifice.

These are my thoughts on why I still love to see the American flag displayed in our churches. I understand the objections some might have to this practice. I take them as helpful cautions but not as objections strong enough to remove a flag from a place of worship. I know not everyone agrees with me. So, as always, I welcome gracious, thoughtful conversation.