How to live well, and book recommendations

by Bernt Hillesland

What is this Christianity thing?  As Larry Hurtado points out in his book, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, to some Romans it seemed less like a religion – with a focus on ritual obligations – and more a philosophy – where the focus was on how to go about living one’s life.  These days, of course, we might associate the word “philosophy” with cerebral discussions about whether trees falling in empty forests make sounds.  But many Greek and Roman philosophers were like life-coaches or counselors.

On a recent retreat, I read William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. In reading through even the chapter titles, my thought was, “these are questions and issues people bring to church.” Examples: “Duty: On Loving Mankind, Social Relations: On Dealing with Other People, Insults: Putting Up with Put-Downs, Anger: On overcoming Anti-Joy, Values: On Luxurious Living, and Old Age: On Being Banished to a Nursing Home.”

I also read Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh’s book The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, which comes out of what is, apparently, the most popular undergraduate course at Harvard University (aside from intro to Economics and Computer Science!).  Chapters include: “On Relationships, On Decisions, On Influence, On Vitality, On Spontaneity.”

In his introduction, Irvine questions where someone might go to find guidance on dealing with these issues and developing a basic approach to life.  “What if they …  turn to their local church? Their pastor might tell them what they must do to be a good person, that is, what they must do to be morally upstanding. They might be instructed, for example, not to steal or tell lies or (in some religions) have an abortion. Their pastor will also probably explain what they must do to have a good afterlife: They should come to services regularly and pray and (in some religions) tithe.  But their pastor will probably have relatively little to say on what they must do to have a good life.”  So, he says, whatever our religion, we end up living life as “enlightened hedonists” like everyone else, lusting “for whatever consumer products are currently in vogue.” (p.23)

The church Irvine imagines doesn’t sound very Lutheran: lots of demands, not much good news.  But what about his question.   Do we as a church help each other have a good life?  I think we at FLC are meeting this challenge.  This year, for example, in observation of the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation we hosted some conversations on a very Lutheran idea: vocation.  How do we live our faith, approach our work, seek balance in our lives?  FLC members working in the fields of education, technology, medicine, parenting and other roles (such as managing an architecture firm) shared their experiences, insights and questions.

I also think of the recent coffee and conversation about how to seek meaning, joy and purpose in the third chapter of life, of interest shown in a Silicon Valley professional’s group, and forums on church and state helping us to think of what it means to be citizens.  As we go into June, I’ll be doing a four week preaching series – “Alive to God” –  where I hope to put Paul’s writings to the Romans in conversation with approaches to the good life suggested by the Stoic and Confucian books I read.

In some of our vision work last year, we articulated our sense of calling to be a people and place where we seek wisdom for living in a complicated world.  Could God be leading us further in this direction?

Immigration, Ammparo and ways to help

by John Allured

In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2016, 530,250 individuals were apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security: of those, 59,757 were unaccompanied children (“UAC”) and 77,857 were family units. This was just one of several years in which large numbers of persons have fled violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to seek asylum in the United States. After a person is apprehended, he or she is either detained or released. Under federal law, UAC are released to a “sponsor,” either a   (1) parent, (2) legal guardian, (3) adult relative, (4) adult individual or entity designated by a parent or legal guardian, (5) a licensed program willing to accept legal custody, or (6) an adult or entity approved by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Usually, a person who has been apprehended is placed into removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge, where an application for asylum (or other relief from removal) is determined. Although removal proceedings involve only two hearings (excluding continuances, motions, and such), it can now take three to four years for a case to be resolved, even before appeals.  During the time that a removal case is pending, a UAC remains under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Court and must be supported by his or her sponsor. The sponsor is responsible for providing (or arranging for) food and housing, medical care, education, transportation, and the other ordinary needs of a young person. And because it is important for the UAC to show “good character,” the sponsor should help the UAC avoid any criminal activity (even minor offenses), find community involvement, and, in general, live an upstanding life.
This presents UAC and their sponsors with considerable challenges. To help address this, the ELCA has undertaken the AMMPARO project – Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities. (For more information, please visit this website )

With regard to an UAC in removal proceedings, church members and congregations can accompany in several ways. First, individuals or congregations may apply to serve as sponsors of a UAC.  While this involves considerable responsibilities, it is vitally important for sponsors to be available to UAC.

Second, even if not serving as sponsors, individuals and congregations may support sponsors — and the UAC themselves. Family member-sponsors or others may themselves have limited resources and so may be hardpressed to provide the complete support that an UAC requires and deserves. Hence, working alone or in small teams, individuals may help with food and housing, transportation, or the like. Even companionship and friendship can be a valuable contribution.

Third, individuals and congregations may offer financial support. An UAC and/or his or her sponsor might need financial assistance. In addition, preparing an application for asylum requires payment for
expert witnesses, interpreters, and other litigation expenses, and if a UAC cannot find legal representation on a pro bono basis, the UAC must either hire an attorney or go without. Not surprisingly, the presence of competent counsel itself can make the difference between gaining asylum and being deported.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which ELCA members can help. First Lutheran has chosen to designate itself as a Welcoming Congregation within the AMMPARO project, and so we as a church have the opportunity to be a “leader” in this effort.

The need is great, and the time is now. Please consider how you might make a difference in the life of a young person. For further information or assistance in becoming engaged, please contact Joe Haletky or John Allured.
Muchas gracias.

Worship 101 – Sunday mornings in May

9781451436051h

Sundays in May, 9:15 – 10:15am, with Pastor Bernt

Why worship, and what does worship have to do with our spirituality and life in the world?  How did the practices of liturgical worship develop?  What’s a stole, a kyrie, a lectionary and why do these things matter?  How do we feel more engaged in what’s going on from the pew?

Join newcomers and members of FLC in open conversation centered around our questions and experiences of worship, more loosely based on our denominational publisher’s latest resource introducing Lutheran worship.  A few copies of the book will be available at church for $8, but let us know if you’re planning to attend so we can be sure and have enough copies.  Learn more about the book and order your own here.

May 1: Why do we worship?

May 8:  The Bible is the Word of God?

May 15: What’s a Sacrament?  Baptism, Communion.

May 22:  How does worship teach prayer?  Involve bodies?

May 29:  Worship and the word: culture, mission, daily life, creation.

Thursday Art with Jill