Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 8, Number 4
In this Issue:
The Christian Ministry
For many, at least for many of those involved in it, ministry is often thought of in terms of untold numbers of committee meetings, hours of study, keeping abreast of the issues of the day [see article, page 2], concern over keeping some semblance of peace among those with whom they work, concerns over the future of the world and of the church [note the writer's comment, page 8, paragraph 2], over church affiliation, the need to 'be on deck' for scheduled meetings in the church as well as in the community. All of it is wearing. In much of it, one begins to wonder, Why? Why the bother? Of what use is it all? But once in a while something comes along that brings one back to the basics... that brings ministry down to where 'the rubber meets the road.'
This "seeing of ministry for what it really is" is something that most persons in ministry experience from time to time. And it is good that is the case. There has to be more to it than what is described above, or, indeed, "Why bother?" "Why put up with it?"
For one of our pastors, the reality of what ministry is really all about stared him directly in the face as he found himself at "ground zero" at the site of the Twin Tower disaster in New York City (see brief article below). For another of our pastors, the setting was a little less dramatic, yet none the less, just as real (see article, page 6).
back to top
LMS Chaplin Ministers at Ground Zero
One of the unique features of the LMS is that, at this point, we have more chaplains than parish pastors on our clergy roster. One of these chaplains, Steve Unger, of Long Island, New York, is a hospital chaplain. He is also an FBI chaplain. As such, he was called to ground zero of the Twin Tower disaster. He was there by noon on the first day, and stayed there for nearly four weeks. He was put up in hotels and was able to go home only for two weekends. The hour and a half trip took nearly four hours.
As of press time, we have not been able to make any real contact with Chaplain Unger. But, this is a reminder to all of us, to keep these people in prayer in this most difficult time.
back to top
The Church, and The Matter of Sexuality
by Rev. Ralph Spears
The summer has passed with its usual rounds of national conventions among the nation's largest ecclesiastical bodies. In matters sexual in nature, it could be called a 'summer of discontent' as the matter of homosexuality was raised again and again for some sort of proposed acceptance by several of these bodies. The subject tore at those bodies with some agreeing to disagree in unsettled manner, while others including the largest body of Lutherans, deciding on the route of further study and dialogue. Many felt the subject has 'come of age' and deserves adoption while others just could not agree! Several observers have predicted that more than any other issue, the debate and disagreement over full 'gay' rights within the church, will shape and likely distort the form of what we know as - the church! [The bishops of the E.L.C.A. meeting recently in Chicago committed to a campaign which will last as long as six years and cost as much as one million dollars to "study" the matter of homosexuality and their ordination.]
Several years ago the article appeared in our paper, about a national Methodist body in its annual convention, considering whether or not to ordain homosexuals. Twenty years ago this summer -it was - and I read it and laughed aloud. What struck me as funny was the very idea, that any Church body would actually ordain the characteristics or foibles of a person, rather than ordaining the person himself. Wasn't a person to be ordained because of his faith and calling? Now in 2001 - it is not a laughing matter. The novelty of inconsistency is no longer. Now other groups caught up in the madness of the method, which first occupied the Methodists, fail to see the mistaken logic that the 'old serpent' has foisted upon them.
As we watch these other bodies make choices, choices of doctrine and choices of behavior (since they here, are the same), one has to consider a certain practicality of the matter, that is - what will work and what will not. The choice of homosexuality as a fully accepted practice will not work as an ongoing policy for official status because it never has in the past, not in society and certainly not in the church. It is really that simple. The 'old serpent' may beguile and say, "go ahead, perhaps you can make it apply now in this age! After all this is the 'xyz' century!" Why is this so? Because making our collective wills one with God is a rather complex thing. Some feel the need to try out what they think are other possibilities. Did God say this when it could be that? Won't natural order allow for acceptance of this in the modern time? God knows that this is in man's nature as one of the hazards of possessing a free will. In the wilderness experience of the Exodus, a kind of 'Survivors' adventure with God, there were hard lessons to be learned to temper man's will which made the journey a forty year odyssey instead of the forty days it could have taken to traverse the Sinai! In a deeper reading of those adventures, the Children of Israel were told to kill scores and hundreds of the enemy. This was commanded and those who wavered were soon punished. It would seem that the wavering on their part could really have been interpreted as a show of mercy. And after all, doesn't God love mercy as one of the Minor Prophets says? Admittedly, these passages make some of the hardest reading in the Bible. Would God really demand the death of so many at the hand of His children, and why? But this is not really about murder, it is not even about cruelty, rather it is about making choices and about being faithful. Amalek, is a strange amalgam of evil forces, almost a euphemistic people if you will. Allegorically, if the Israelites didn't kill the aberration - the sin, they would become that sin themselves and not survive the pit falls of the wilderness (much like the fictional Odyssey of Ulysses). We know that this is so, because Abraham, the father of the Faith had to make the same choice on an individual basis, and it was "counted to him as righteousness" because it was right. The 'survivor' in this case, was his Faith. In the same way then the Children of Israel became the Children of God, as they sorted through the will of God and the pitfalls of the earth and the many choices possible. As then - so now! The real struggle is within ourselves (just as the real Kingdom is within), to make the heroic choice and not just to follow the easy path suggested by the serpent and the way that we think should work today. So ensues a maddening process of trial and error, certainly more error than trial. The Ten Commandments to some, become ten 'suggestions' and the Law is given 'null and void' treatment: while inside the mind of the wise, a voice says "Oh no, here we go again! This will never work because it has never worked before." If we're going to be logical about the matter how about the logic of Dr. Martin Luther who tended to simplify an issue to bring clarity. It was the practicality of Luther that cut seven (7) Sacraments to two (2) primary Sacraments because of the confusion of practices which had crept in. If Christ commanded it AND it contained something of the earth - it was of primary importance. In other words, it made sense both in heaven, by possessing a divine nature, and in the earth, by having a practical function and value - which made it complete. So those two sacraments are true "on earth as they are in heaven" in a mutual resonance. [Of course a third, Confession/Forgiveness co-exists with the two because it is a vital part of both.]
Yes, I know what some will say; "If you were just more accepting, more expansive in your thinking, more willing to study the matter further, you couldn't and probably should not rule out an inclusion of "gay" behavior in some legitimate way." This is accompanied by an across the board acceptance of a 'gay' scenario eventually by implication. And so enabled or embolden-ed by this surge of logic, many trip over each other to hop aboard this band wagon of faulty logic headed for oblivion, because, it can't work and no amount of study can make it work. Other societies from the American Indians to the ancient Israelites (with the possible exception of the Greeks - and who knows what the Greek society really believed or practiced generally in this matter) steered well clear of the acceptance of homosexuality as kosher in mainstream society.
I say this having known more genuinely grand people than most - who were and are - of the homosexual valence. I have known them as students, as clergy of several denominations, as friends, yes, as good friends, as exceptionally creative artisans, writers, broadcasters, musicians, dancers, choreographers, and professional people. I have known them 'in the closet' and 'out of the closet.' But of most importance - I have known them as people. Some volunteered to me their anguish caused by the anomalies of their life style while others glossed it over. At least one debated the matter with me, often quite frustrated that I would not accept his life style even though he was quite sure that I accepted him. This gentleman was an Episcopalian priest and his bottom line of argument was that 'what adults did in the privacy of their own bedrooms was their own business!' He was furious when I suggested that God sees beyond all doors and that the murder of one's husband or wife could be justified by that same reasoning. This rector was once described to me as "flaming" in his life style resolve. I did not know nor could I prove this, but I strongly disagreed with him on moral and Biblical principle just the same. Another, was a close friend of my wife and me, a true pastor and a Lutheran, who was celibate and wondered after awhile whether or not his prolonged celibacy had indeed rendered him 'straight'? He counseled many of those who came to him to at least be faithful to one partner. This was on the East Coast several years before the great exodus from the proverbial closet when knowledge of the word - AIDS - was still fifteen years in the future. I mention this because an overwhelming number of people (especially in the mid-west) hardly know even a few people who are homosexual unless they are members of their own family. And they are often not aware of the unspoken anguish that these fine people endure. As Dr. Merton Strommen, a Lutheran and a research psychologist has observed, "few if any (gay people) have wanted or welcomed their orientation!" Furthermore, says Dr. Strommen, "We, as a church have not made a serious attempt to understand this phenomenon in ways that would enable us to introduce remedial measures." Rather, some in the church now compound the issue by receiving the 'gayness' of the individual almost more than the individual per se; a state which they struggle with morally, more than we might know.
There is a real risk in entertaining this subject. We might be better justified in just leaving it alone, but the continued interjection of this loaded item onto the agendas of a growing number of denominational bodies begs a question that must be addressed. Lately also the musings of a couple of retired Bishops of that largest of Lutheran bodies, sorely begs the very same question and warns that the beguiling serpent is still alive and about.
In a book co-written by these two, Herb Chilstrom and Lowell Erdahl, there is a great deal of self-indulgent preoccupation with revisionist thinking on the matter of Commandment Six. While being traditional in some of their review of sexual scene - sex before marriage- not a good idea, for instance. Their discussion becomes adulterated in the case of the subject of homosexuality. (In fact - one wonders if they wrote their two hundred page epistle, just to discuss this particular issue.) Dr. Strommen is a friend and acknowledged resource person to these two former Bishops who admit their indebtedness to him. Besides disagreeing with them that the orientation of people with homosexuality cannot be changed, Dr. Strommen also disagrees with them on two further points; 1) that homosexuals are born that way, and 2) that their state represents a creation of God that is equal to heterosexuality. Therefore, at least to be considered acceptable! Just a parsing of the word, ADULTERY, should give the first clue to the problem. What is being introduced here is an adulteration. By definition, to adulterate is to mix things that don't belong together, and to commit adultery is to mix the unclean with the clean, so that when two people come together that don't belong together, the mixing of the clean and the unclean, is adultery! Perhaps the problem is that some think that that, which is so personal and private, is not God given or God maintained. That was the reasoning of my former friend remember; that 'what happened in the privacy of the bedroom of two consenting adults was their own business'. Their own business, and not God's? How could that be? By definition, the homosexual act mixes the clean with the unclean so that it can never be clean and therefore, it can never be sacramental by nature.
But let's look at marriage itself! Ironically marriage is not a primary sacrament- at least according to Luther - because Christ did not command that everyone marry. However, as we well know, marriage is considered sacramental for those who so enter in and they should "weigh with reverent minds what the Word of God teaches concerning it". And yes, Christ does speak of the importance and the rightful binding of the marriage bond for "all who enter therein", that it is blest and nurtured, by God. Marriage has so much good and healthy mystery in it (as a world of love songs will tell you), yet it is at the same time - equal parts with good solid, down to earth - practicality. BUT the sacramental marriage bond is just for this earthly life, as much as good marriages are - as we are fond of saying - 'made in heaven!' That heavenly part is the binding of love and yet it is done so that 'the seed bearing its own seed' might rightfully be perpetuated. And what could be more practical! A homosexual relationship will never be able to accomplish this! It can neither "multiply" nor "bear fruit"! [As we might remember, the Roman Catholic Church came under criticism for asserting this very point about traditional marriage!] However, unless we miss another point, Robert Capon who wrote a delightful book, Bed and Board several decades ago on sacramental marriage, observed that there can be adultery in the marriage bed as well, when the clean and the unclean are mixed . There is a word that we use quite liberally these days until it's gone a bit out of control. That word is - experiment! When we experiment with something, we don't really do it, we are only experimenting with it and it is therefore expunged of harm. It is marked with that exponent "X" - for experimental and it is therefore at least acceptable if not safe! So "X" marks the spot or the point of departure, like an errant footnote, from the tried and true foundations, such as Scripture. At a time when the authentic 'voice' of the Church needs to speak clearly as never before, there are those instead liberally using the X (or is it, liberals using the X) to stand for whatever they want it to stand for, to put forward their point. Dr. Strommen says on this matter that, "both former bishops -Chilstrom and Erdahl - are ready to reinterpret Scripture to identify a homosexual orientation as something that God has blest. In doing so, they join the ranks of revisionists!" Further, "if they push the church to believe them" says Strommen, "then they are introducing schism in the church!"
I do not consider myself a conservative necessarily, rather, a Biblical centrist - or as the term really suggests, a Lutheran in the manner of clear theological insight. Clearly, the statements of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 refer to "homosexual offenders" says Dr. Pannenberg of Germany not to mention the strong statement of Romans 1:26-29. Thereby, he asserts the centrist Lutheran view.
Dr. Wolfhart Pannenberg, for years has been a highly regarded German theologian and professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich who has done interesting work on the synthesizing of fields of knowledge such as theology and philosophy. However, he has spoken out quite strongly concerning those in the church who, "allow [themselves] to be pushed to regard homosexual activity as no longer a departure from the Biblical norm and to recognize homosexual partnerships as an equivalent to marriage. The church that takes this step" says Pannenberg, "ceases to be an evangelical church in the tradition of the Lutheran Reformation!"
Many these days have the proverbial "itching ears" mentioned by Paul in his nifty little letter to Timothy (11 Timothy 4:3-4). Yes, I know that this passage has been quoted often in what some would consider only a conservative cause but read it again. Paul is so right concerning today's Church that it is remarkable. "For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the Truth and wander away to myths!" They will wander about and experiment and they will use the "X" liberally. And again the now familiar voice of the serpent is heard in the land. But the Scripture and the truth are clear. It is the work of the true church to speak the Word with certainty and with compassion.
back to top
The What of Christian Ministry - In Death, Hope!
by Rev. John Erickson
This past August I stood at a grave side once again. I have done so many times before. And a rough calculation would indicate that I, myself, have officiated at about two hundred such services. But this time it was different. This time I stood there as my mother's body was committed to the ground. I don't recall the exact words used by the Pastor that day. Maybe that is because the words I use on such an occasion were going through my head. "In as much as it has pleased Almighty God in his great mercy to take out of this world the soul of our brother/sister -- --; we therefore commit his/her body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, knowing as the Scriptures teach, that the end of all flesh is the grave, that in God is our eternal hope."
It is interesting... for when all is said and done... when, for example, I reflect on what my mother had done for me and what she meant to me - God "knit me together in [her] womb" (Ps. 139). God gave me the breath of life, through her. But more than that. She was a child of God, and the "sincere faith" I now possess, was a faith "which first lived in [my father and in her]" (II Tim. 1:5). And there was the interest and support she gave me throughout my years, in my schooling and in my choice of vocation, and when I changed vocation, and in my choice of a life mate, and the sincere interest in, and support she gave to my family. And besides what she did for me, the work she did not only in the local church but also on the district and state level. But now... all that was at an end. No more opportunity to respond to her show of interest in what I and my family are doing. No more opportunity to learn from her wise counsel. No more words of encouragement from her lips. No more knowing that I, and mine, are being remembered daily, in prayer. No more. No more. That is what struck me as never before. No more! There at that grave side I was brought face to face with the truth of Scripture, that indeed, "...the end of all flesh is the grave."
Ever since the fall of man into sin, man (we) enter this world under the sentence of death. We are all sinners (Romans 3:9-18)... and the soul that sins... it will die (Ezekiel 18:4,20). But into this dark, depressing, and hopeless situation comes another word... a quite different word, "in God is our eternal hope." This hope cannot be expressed any more clearly than we find it in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, I Corinthians 15, "...Christ has been raised from the dead... and in [Him] all will be made alive" (v. 20,22).
Now... standing at that grave side... I came to appreciate in a new way... those words I have heard so often, the words I, myself, have said so often. Here was one I cared for deeply. Here was one who had been part of my life for better than 58 years. And now she had been taken from me (us). But... it "pleased God" to take her soul out of this world. In "his great mercy" God took her soul "out of this world."
She didn't deserve to have her soul taken out of this world. But God had made her his child. She believed and she was baptized (Mark 16:16). Throughout her life she faithfully participated in worship and the Means of Grace (Mark 16:16; Matt. 26:28). And now... the One who saved her would be faithful to his promise, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26).
It struck me - this is what it is all about! Here I was (am), called by God and by my congregation to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. And this is the very reason the Christian ministry, the ministry to which I have been called, is so important. All of life is headed for the grave. All is subject to decay and ruin. But God broke into this most hopeless and depressing situation, and made possible for this sentence of death to be turned into life. Yes, "the end of all flesh is the grave." But, and at the same time, "God is our eternal hope." Not some sort of temporary hope... but our eternal hope! As Paul said, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." Christ Jesus is our eternal hope!
This message is for each and every man, woman, and child on this earth. This is the message God has given to his church to proclaim. Yes, all here will finally come to ruin and decay... but that need not be my end or yours. Those who are children of God, He, in his mercy, will take their souls out of this world and bring them to himself. And one day, their bodies too will be raised, and glorified. Soul and body will be reunited, and they will live with God forever.
back to top
"The Copper Plate"
by Mark Dankof
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
--St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4: 8-9
Biblical anthropology assures us that the condition of sin is one which is pervasive in all of humanity (Romans 5: 12f). There are assuredly many manifestations of sin in this cosmos and in our individual lives, but two which especially come to mind in the midst of the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 are first, the egregious tendency to focus upon that which is ignoble, evil, impure, hateful, and even clinically demonic. The second manifestation is related to the first -- that as the focus of our thoughts becomes despairingly dark, those things that are tangible evidence of Christ's love in our midst are simultaneously ignored or missed altogether.
My nights are often filled as of late with sleeplessness and concern over the future. One night after leaving work at midnight, I treated myself to a mile's walk with my long-haired Dachshund, operating under the assumption that this night trek in the colder air of Philadelphia's pervasive autumn would create an aura conducive to fitful rest. The assumption proved erroneous. After the walk came almost three hours in bed, fully awake, alternating the obligatory tossing and turning with prolonged stares at the characterless ceiling of my basement apartment. In this condition, my mind repristinated the images seen the previous day in the national and international media, snapshots of death, suffering, mass murder, economic dislocation, crumbling infrastructure, and promises of future atrocities yet to come against innocents both here in America and abroad. I could not turn it off.
About 3:15 a.m. I decided to watch a foreign film purchased recently at Barnes and Noble, a 1998 Iranian film with English subtitles, entitled "Children of Heaven." It is simply a marvelous film, the story of a poor Iranian working class family, with special focus on a young boy, Ali, and his sister, Zahir, and what transpires after the former accidentally loses his sister's shoes subsequent to a trip to the cobbler on her behalf. I will elaborate no further on the plot, in case you wish to see it, but will emphasize that at the end of two hours, my mind was no longer occupied with thoughts of terror, suffering, and national disaster. I was, finally, attuned to St. Paul's admonition in Philippians 4, thinking about that which is "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy." For this I thanked God and two Iranian children, neither of whom I have ever met.
I was still unable to sleep. The reason this time was the incessant mental image of a copper plate ensconced in the storage locker of my apartment. I had procured it a over a quarter of a century ago as a young man in Iran, from an Iranian Jewish entrepreneur who ran a copper and brass shop on Saltanatabad Avenue in north Tehran. The scenes from "Children of Heaven" continued to remind me of my self-imposed promises to polish and clean the plate for display in my study, as a reminder of better times in my life and in the world at large. I decided spontaneously, at 5:30 a.m., to retrieve the plate and to resurrect its condition.
I felt dyspeptic when the plate retrieval proved to be a brutal reminder of my own failure to provide adequate care for something special that was connected to a past life in a place I'd not be likely to ever see again. The dilapidated, oxidized condition of the plate seemed to be irreversible, the past beauty of the copper past redemption and resurrection. What it had been, and what I had allowed it to become, pierced me. I knew that the sole responsibility for discarding its beauty, and the memories attached to it, was mine. The Law of Paul and Luther had convicted me once more of the sin of irresponsibility, ungratefulness, the failure to love and to care. Duly pronounced guilty under the Law, I decided to begin the potentially fruitless attempt at a new beginning -- with two bottles of Brasso, a pile of cleaning rags, and as much physical application and mental concentration as could be mustered in a desperate attempt to recover the beauty of my plate. And the memories attached to its past -- and to mine. Over time and with excruciating effort, I managed to restore enough of the luster of the plate to restore a reflective image of myself. Being sufficiently encouraged, my polishing efforts were redoubled. As I worked incessantly, in the context of an ongoing encounter with my own visual image reflected in the improving bronze hue of the engraved Persian copper, my mind began to travel in a linear reversal, to an idyllic summer 27 years ago. I was suddenly 19 years old again, visiting my American parents in Iran. It was a time before the storm of revolution and hostage-taking, a time to learn about an ancient and Biblical land, and to spend weekends in quiet time with God.
The first night vision pertained to a place called Lar Valley. At night, one sees not individual constellations, but entire galaxies with the naked eye. It is entirely still, except for the constant flow of the river which runs through it. I do not know if the 14th century Persian poet had this hauntingly beautiful, surreal place in mind when he wrote:
"Lie down beside the flowing stream
And see life passing by and know
That of the world's transient nature
This one sign is enough for us."
The second night vision, as I polished the plate, returned me to old Armenia, now Azerbaijan Iran. I was again a pilgrim to the Armenian Festival of St. Thaddeus and to the Church of St. Stephanos. A man I had not known, and would never see again, encountered me on a narrow pathway through the mountains as I walked alone toward a higher plateau for a better view of the encampment and the festival below. He evidenced no understanding of my greeting and address in American English, but smiled, raised his right hand in greeting, and then used the same right hand to retrieve something from his pocket. He offered it to me and clasped my right hand with both of his own. I felt a metal object pressed into my right palm. Later that night at the camp, I would be told that the man had given me a "Cross of the Persian Christians."
The third night vision brought me to Pasargadae and to the tomb of Cyrus the Great, who inaugurated the era of the Achaemenid kings of ancient Persia, the zenith of the glory of Persia past. In this vision of the night I am standing on the Dasht-e Morghab, the plain of Pasargadae. The tomb stands alone in the midst of a starkly barren plain; the steps up to it are about five feet wide with the tomb chamber itself rising from six distinctive tiers. There is a single, narrow doorway on the northwest side. In my hands are the Old Testament book of Ezra where I am now heard reading the opening verses of this text, against the backdrop of the sounds of a moderate, steady desert wind and the accompanying displacement of particles of dust and dirt moving across the landscape, some of which strike the tomb edifice and me as I stand before it. My voice echoes the text which says:
"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
"This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you -- may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'"
This scene quickly fades from view. I am now transported to the fourth and final night vision of twenty seven years ago in the mysterious, linear reversal of time. I am once again in the Conversational English language school in downtown Tehran. My job is an easy one -- to repeat sentences and phrases in American English for two hours. The students range in age from about thirteen to thirty. Many of the names and the faces in this classroom are now flooding back. Out of all of these, I see the young woman who always sits in the front row, directly in front of my podium and chalkboard. She wears the chador to the class each evening, and does not remove it once inside the room. Her face, however, is unveiled and fully visible. Her eyes are vast, all encompassing, and all knowing. Her smile is radiant. I now remember her intelligence, which seems to border on a penetrating omniscience. But the most striking facet is this -- that the outward appearance of pristine beauty and purity is also internally real. This is the mystery and the attraction. The outside and the inside of the "cup and dish" are both clean (Matthew 23: 25-26). This I shall remember always.
The night vision continues. The principal of the school, Mr. [name withheld by author] , has consented to something controversial. The last hour of the last class for the week will be a time when the students may ask me questions in English about myself, my family, my history, and my belief system. He confesses that he is nervous about this exercise, just as he recognizes its value and its inevitability in the context of the Western classroom. After all, his students are striving to get a university education in America or Britain. Using the classroom this way is a new, vital, but potentially dangerous thing. He trusts me to handle political and theological questions with the greatest of care. I now recognize that this man does, in fact, trust me. His future as principal is now in my hands. The hour is a delightful one and Mr. [ ] knows at the conclusion that all has gone well. His students conclude their week in great joy. Mr. [ ] concludes his week in both joy and palpable relief. Our mutual trust is reaffirmed.
In the final sequence of this fourth night vision, I am arriving at the classroom early. It is the first session since the students' elicitation of my biography under Mr. [ ] watchful supervision. There is a plain, but unmarked box on the podium, accompanied by a plain envelope with the uncertain printing of my full name on the front. My instinct tells me to place them in a hidden compartment underneath the podium surface, where I will retrieve them and take them home at the conclusion of the evening class. More students have now arrived. The rote recitations and guided memorizations begin. The young woman in the chador is in her usual location. The source of the box and the envelope now dawns on me.
The fourth night vision concludes with a reading. I am alone in my bedroom in my parents' apartment in north Tehran. There is a letter inside the envelope, which is now unfolded and read. It says:
July 10, 1974
Dear Mr. Mark Dankhof [sic]:
I am glad that you come to us as teacher. I am glad that the IIAF [Imperial Iranian Air Force] sends you here for this summer. Mr. [ ] says you will come back each summer now and teach here. He likes you. My friends like you. I like you. I pray you will not tell Mr. [ ] about my writing.
I am glad Mr. [ ] lets me ask you about your God. It is a hard understanding about how your God is both one and three. And His Son is a Son and is also God. This is a hard understanding. I never hear of the Martin Luther from Germany. If I find his understanding, I find your understanding My father is IIAF officer. He says your father helps Iran's people, makes us the strong.
You have your writings. I have Koran, Hadith, and Ejma. I am Shiite. I have twelve Imam. The way from Mohammed is though [sic] daughter Fatima and son in law Ali. Ali is First Imam. I believe in Twelfth Imam, too. He is gone a long time. He will come. He will bring the Justice. All the leaders wait for Him.
You know Hoseyn? He is Third Imam, Son of Ali, Grandson of Prophet Mohammed. He does the suffer and death of your Jesus at Karbala. It is in Iraq. British teacher teaches it as Moharram, 680 your date, the ten day after.
Your Jesus -- has He the First Imam, the Third Imam, the Twelfth Imam? I find your understanding.
My box has book of Hafez, Rumi, Ferdowski [sic], Sadi, Jami.
Your [sic] learn please about Sufis. We are pure, clean, and love the people and God. We join with Him.
There is no God but Allah, Mohammed is His Prophet, Ali is his Assistant. British teacher shows me to write this.
I am your Student. Signed, [name withheld by author].
The mystery of 27 years duration is simply this. How does the woman in the chador know the date of my birthday? Is my student employment file with IIAF this wide open? She is indeed Pure, in Union with God, Omniscient, and, as Erasmus would have said, Knows the Sources. I shall not forget her.
The pungent odor of Brasso finally ends the labor of love and the night visions. It is now early dawn. The rags are piled virtually to knee level. My reflected image in the hue of burnished bronze is definitive. The storage room door bursts open. My wife is in the doorway. She asks, "What on earth are you doing in here? It's seven a.m. How long have you been in here?" My reply is an honest and simple one. "I finished cleaning my copper plate. I reclaimed it as mine." She then asked, "Is it time for me to turn on your Internet news sites or the news on television?"
"Neither," I replied with inner satisfaction. "Today, I'm going to think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. And the God of peace will be with us."
Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor pursuing post-graduate study at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In 2000, he was the Constitution Party candidate for U. S. Senate in Delaware. An occasional correspondent with the orthodox Lutheran weekly, Christian News, he has an upcoming review of "Seeds of Fire," the inside story of September 11 penned by internationally renowned author Gordon Thomas (Dandelion Books). The review will also be carried by Bill Topel's www.freedomwriter.com. Pastor Dankof can be reached through his web site at www.MarkDankof.com.
back to top
Scheduled LMS Events
The annual meeting of the LMS Ministerial
February 17 and 18, 2002
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
The Annual Conference and Convention of the LMS
June 21- 23, 2002
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
Visitors are welcome at these events. Contact the LMS for more information.
back to top
The LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational
expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth. It is a
'Forum by Subscription.' As a 'Forum' the intent is that there will be an
ongoing discussion of theological issues and concerns among clergy and lay
alike. The LMS-USA meets annually for a Theological Conference and this
publication, besides carrying news of the Ministerium and Synod, functions
also as a vehicle for this continuing dialogue.
For information or to make comment contact:
2837 East New York St.,
Indianapolis, IN 46201
P. O. Box 31
Chetek, WI 54728
email - firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
back to top