Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thank God for Lutherans!

Please don't take this as me being snide, or some kind of bad joke -- I could not be more sincere about this post.  It was 10 years ago today that my wife and I were received into the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, myself by Holy Baptism and confirmation and my wife by confirmation.  Some recollections of that day are fuzzy, but others are crystal clear.  The young twin girls who were confirmed with us seemed like little kids then (they are now beautiful young ladies, both in college, and their baby sister who was about the age of our oldest daughter then is a teenager).  At the altar rail beside them, we felt like Gulliver must have felt with the Lilliputians.  Our Pastor -- who has quite a mischievous sense of humor -- poured a small amount of water on my head for "in the name of the Father, and of the Son....." but gave me quite an extra dose of the Holy Spirit right down the back of my shirt.  Then joked about it afterward.  While Lutherans, like Orthodox, tend to eschew subjective feelings as untrustworthy, the feeling at our first communion that the heavens had been opened was overwhelming.

We also have a lot of good memories since then.  When I hear a good Lutheran hymn, I still hear a certain parishioner's voice booming above the choir.  When I read a good Lutheran sermon, I still hear in my head our first Pastor's unmistakable preaching cadence.  When I read someone making a profound point dealing with Law and Gospel or sin and grace or Sacraments and liturgy or (especially) feminism in the Church, I hear our Deaconess' voice.  It was in the Lutheran Church that I learned to love liturgy, Church history, the value of good hymnody, good preaching and the Sacramental life. 
I also learned more theology over cigars and Scotch or beer on the porch than I ever learned in a Church building.  Having a Pastor who is both a spiritual Father and a good friend is an asset I probably took for granted at the time, but appreciate very much in hindsight.  I acquired an appreciation for the depth of human sin and the incredible gift of grace by living out the Sacramental life as a Lutheran.  I learned to live as a beggar before God, despite God's rich gifts to me and to never take those gifts for granted as if they were deserved or earned. 

We were childless back then -- we have three children now, all baptized in the Lutheran Church, by three different Pastors.  The first half of our 10 years as Lutherans was wonderful, rich, and comforting.  And while the second half of our Lutheran journey was quite a bit more of a struggle, we made a lot of good friends and were shepherded by a wonderful (by then, WELS) Pastor who cared deeply for us and our family.  We worshiped in a community center before building a parish building, and so in addition to our appreciation for sacred space and giving our best to God, we also learned that God is present wherever two or three are gathered in His name, and wherever that may occur.  While in the end we decided to leave that same parish, it was not for lack of love, support and friendship by everyone who occupied the building, all of whom we still consider friends today.

It is interesting what one remembers and how powerful the senses are.  Orthodoxy is not Lutheranism, nor will it ever be.  Yet the first time Stephanie and I attended an Orthodox Church, the aroma when we walked into the nave hit me hard.  When we left, my wife had lots of good things to say -- "I like that it's not about us," "their liturgy is beautiful," etc.  The only thing I could think to say was "I like that it smells like a Church."  That sounds ridiculous, but what I meant was "it smells like that first Lutheran Church."  I'm quite certain that's a coincidence of no particular import, but for the record, it still does.  So it was that in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we also were reminded that the Church worships with all five senses.  That may be one small reason we feel so at home there.  Another, for the record, is the "feel" of the parish -- going to midweek prayer services, feast day liturgies and the like I am reminded of the same weekly "rhythm" at that first LCMS parish we attended 10 years ago.  Yet another is the strong piety and sense of sacred space -- the sense that something awe-inspiring and transcendent is going on in this special place where God's people are gathered. Small tightly knit parishes in humble buildings filled with faithful Christians maintaining the liturgical traditions of the Church are certainly not necessary, but they are a blessing beyond words.  We left one to be closer to family.  After 5 years we finally found another.

I still owe a great debt of gratitude to too many Lutherans to enumerate here.  To all of our former Pastors, parishioners, friends and acquaintances, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 
We have been blessed beyond our wildest imagination because of you.  And to those we have let down or disappointed, please forgive us.  It's probably cliche to say "we wouldn't be Orthodox if it weren't for all the good things you taught us."  It might even sound like a backhanded compliment (it isn't intended to be).  But the simple truth is we wouldn't be Christian if it weren't for all the good things you taught us.  One more dose of pietistic self-righteous nonsense would have ran us out of the Church, and I doubt we'd have ever returned.  For that, we are ever grateful.