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So many words…


“Lutherans just have so many words.”

It was said in the course of a lunch time conversation after worship yesterday. The subject was outreach, and there were a lot of good ideas kicked around about how we might do a better, more faithful job of bearing the Good News into our communities and inviting folks to share Christ’s abundant life with us. Things like music, discipleship, community were all on the table…salutary topics that must and will be addressed in this place. But the one item that I find sticking with me in mulling over our conversation is less about the substance of what we do and more about the media by which those things are conveyed. “Lutherans just have so many words.” While not exactly offered as a complaint, neither was it expressed as a compliment.

“Lutherans just have so many words.” Of course, we do. We Lutherans emerged as a theological tradition primarily on the power of a media revolution. Not to ignore the role of the rise of German nationalism: but really…were it not for the printing press, Fr. Martin and his co-conspirators would have had a very difficult time getting their theological points made and their reforms enacted. Lutherans have so many words because we were born in the midst of printed words. And we have relied on those printed words and the rising literacy they engendered to make our way ever since.

So how do we communicate to a world for which the printed word is waning? How do we make a 16th century handbook of the faith (still a faithful and relevant exposition of what it means to be Christian) accessible to a 21st century public programmed to receive and respond in digital visual forms? These are the questions we need to take seriously…or we might as well appoint the last person out the door to turn out the lights. And please note: this is not about merely being fashionable or throwing out the substance of what we believe. Quite the contrary: It is about learning to live and speak and share the profound insights of the Reformation in a way which today’s hurting and harried world can understand. I’m convinced that folks still need and can benefit from what the Lutheran tradition has to say. So, not unlike the lessons learned by missionaries of old, this is about the church learning the language of the culture to which it is sent.

Yes…we Lutherans just have so many words…beautiful, faithful, powerful words rooted in the Word. Why keep them to ourselves? Let’s learn to speak again.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    26March2012 11:13

    I’ve had parishioners–even cradle Lutherans say the same thing to me. “Too many words” was the exact statement. We are people of the Word, yet I get the sense that sometimes we don’t have so many words, but perhaps many unnecessary words–too many descriptives–too much “flowery” speech. I think people are looking for a true Word, yet in simplicity.

  2. 26March2012 11:41

    A good word here. My post on Wednesday will be tackling the same thought from a different perspective. Here is an interesting article about Luther and how the reformation went viral–i part because of the printing press and, to a greater degree, because of social media. Read and be interested

    As a precursor–There is a difference between the word of God and the Word of God…

  3. PTC permalink
    26March2012 12:57

    I spent last weekend with a congregation talking about ways that they can open up to the expanding power of a typical order of liturgical worship. No whistles or bells… no complicated theological debate — just receiving through word and sacrament the transformational power of Christ. It has to do with the preparation we practice before (or during) worship to really show up to the hour. Let’s put an end to “going through the motions.” I think one of the reasons we are debating the value of “more” or “fewer” words is because we are allowing ourselves to be preoccupied with other things we predetermine as “more important” than drinking in the Word. How can we as leaders plug into the power source so that we transmit something that transcends our human language? I think there is an opportunity to focus upon simple beauty with respect for our contemporary culture without mirroring the trends of culture. But, then, I happen to have been an English Major… and I love the beauty of words.

    I hope we never end a worship time with

    go n pc, srv th pr thx b 2 gd

    projected on the screen.

    It is right up there with Mry Xmas

  4. Mark permalink
    26March2012 14:45

    PTC, I understand your statement of the beauty of words. They are beautiful, and they are powerful. Yet, sometimes I get the sense–from some liturgical sites I look at, to Sundays and Seasons that there are some writers who are in love with their own words–meaning–they are infatuated with their ability to make phrases and metaphors. I’m not against these things. I just think that sometimes we get carried away.
    You are spot on with the question, “How can we as leaders plug into the power source so that we transmit something that transcends our human language?”

    • PTC permalink
      27March2012 08:02

      Mark, I think much of this (ie, referring to the question of leadership) has to do with submitting to the continuous process of dying to self. If we can daily ask that our ego (where we are infatuated with our own abilities) stay out of the way (even die) then what we DO write or say communicates something of God with simple clarity. The simplicity may point to something magnificent and elaborate — but it is not mucked up with ego infatuation.

      Do you write your own stuff for the prayers or responses at your church?

  5. 27March2012 09:22

    I’m trying to shed the title of leader. We are not called to lead–we are called to follow. When Peter tried to lead Jesus away from the cross he was called satan. The daily dying is a daily challenge to play myself behind Jesus. I am a follower–a first follower perhaps–but a follower none the less. I think we plug into the power when we let the Power, ie–Jesus, lead us. For more on this thought check out Len Sweet’s “I am a Follower.” Incredible book!

    I think words and titles are important in this respect.

  6. 27March2012 10:05

    No, I don’t write my own stuff. I have a couple sites that I like very much–and usually adapt what they offer for the congregations I serve. One of the things my spiritual director and I have been pondering in the last few weeks is the concept of being “in the middle of.” My whole intention when I use prayers, etc. is that they speak deeply to the situations of people today, and that the words be “nutritious”–that the congregation be fed, strengthened, and drawn nearer to Jesus.

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