Is it “Faith”… or “Politics”?

There is a controversy infecting churches these days, and mine is among the many who are experiencing this.

The controversy revolves around whether beliefs that are expressed are reflections of faith or political positions.

This controversy has been gnawing away at me for the past 19 months, beginning a mere 3 months after arriving in my new parish. The first bites came after I preached a sermon about the injustices and poor treatment experienced by victims of our criminal justice system. I use the word “victim” because once an individual is incarcerated, they no longer have any control over their daily lives. They live within a regimented system that tells them how and when to do just about everything, and are at the mercy- or the lack thereof- of whatever prison system they land in.

Let me be perfectly clear about something. I believe that there are sometimes good reasons for removing people from interaction with the community. What I DON’T believe is that once they are removed they deserve to be treated with any less respect and dignity as any other child of God.

And here is my primary point. My belief about how they should be treated is primarily informed by my faith. I start with the teachings of Jesus, and use his teachings to shape and mold my convictions. It is inevitable that what I believe will shape the way I interact with the world, which is what “politics” means.

So, is it “faith” or is it “politics?” It’s BOTH. The important distinction is, which one is primary, and thus informs the other. For me, faith is primary. My political views may be obvious to people, but only because I try to be very clear about my faith. To assume that there is a way to separate the two is naïve, and we can only begin to have respectful and civil conversations if we recognize that they are irrevocably intertwined.

As a pastor, I have a deep responsibility to preach and teach from the grounding of scripture as it is understood in my church’s interpretation. We understand Jesus as having been very radical in the eyes of the religious and political establishment of his day, which put him in a position of controversy. Following the way of Jesus puts us in that same path. So I suspect that I will continue to be attacked for what I believe. I know that I will continue to love and care for all the people of the parish that has been entrusted to my care, and to pray for wisdom and the courage to preach and teach the faith as it has been taught to me.

Grace Gathering- Day 3

What an incredibly full and wonderful day! We started off with a workshop on Luther, Lutherans and Poverty, looking at our understanding of our call to care about people who are trapped in poverty. Even in Luther’s day, he understood this to be a part of our life of faith: Christians are to be taught that [the one] who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better a deed than [the one] who buys indulgences.(Martin Luther)

We had an opportunity to explore the displays and check out the Walk for Water which included information about malaria and the challenges faced by people in developing countries related to accessibility to clean water.

We celebrated Holy Communion with the voting delegates to churchwide assembly, over 1200 Lutherans singing, praying and worshipping together!

In the afternoon we attended a workshop on Lutheran-Muslim  Relationships. We learned that the US is the first country where Muslim students were treated as equals in the society. The US is the first Democratic country where Muslims have had an organized society for more than 50 years. Lutherans in the US have a history or welcoming Muslims, even sharing their church buildings for prayer and worship when new Muslim groups needed a place to gather.

We were able to hear a presentation by Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, who was the leader of a women’s movement of prayer and rebellion that played an active role in ending the civil war and genocide in her cuntry. She was part of a trio of African female peavcemakers who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. One of the most powerful statements she shares with us was this: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

The day ended with a banquet and a musical presentation by a group of young musicians called Glocal Musicians.

Below are photos of Leymah Gbowee, Glocal Musicians, a Reformation 500 banner from the front of the convention center, a picture of me with Pastor Megan Rohrer from San Francisco and Brian and I with Julie Hettig, a member of Faith Lutheran in Meadow Vista. We had the chance to meet fellow Lutherans from around the US and are coming home with new energy for preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and discerning new opportunities for ministries at home and beyond!

Tomorrow we will have worship and then prepare to head home to Grass Valley.

Shalom!  Pr. Eileen

20160812_223346 Glocal Musicians PE and Pr Megan Rohrer Leymah Gbowee Reformation 500 banner NOLA

Grace Gathering-Day 2

The day began with one of the plenary sessions of the churchwide assembly, and the report of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. She reminded us that we are the body of Christ, called to practice hospitality for our sisters and brothers in need, especially those who cannot return home because of war, persecution and destruction of their homes.

She challenged us to be bold n identifying ourselves as followers of Jesus, and telling people that we do what we do because of Jesus. Sometimes, she said,  “We hold the Lord’s name with such reverence that we don’t even speak it aloud.”

We celebrated Holy Communion together, with preaching in the African-American tradition by Bishop George E. Battle of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. “Can I get a witness?” he asked often, prompting out traditional Lutheran gathering to verbally affirm his message with applause and shouts of “amen.”

There were workshops in the afternoon, and I attended one on Music and Justice that traced the history of negro spirituals as they reflect the life circumstances and faith of black Americans.  Brian and I also attended a session on the new study being conducted to define the future direction of the ELCA, “Called Forward Together in Christ for the sake of the world.” If you would like to read what has been gathered so far from across our church and even add your own insights, go to

We enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant with people from the Sierra Pacific Synod, including our Bishop and his wife. They are looking forward to being with us at Peace in September!

Tomorrow will be another busy day. It’s inspiring to be reminded that we are part of a larger church body and connected to many other faith groups and churches who share our desire to discern God’s will for our work in the world.

Shalom.  Pr. Eileen

Grace Gathering-Day 1

August 10, 2016   8:45 pm CDT

Brian and I have arrived safely in New Orleans (NOLA), but the start of the Grace Gathering was a bit different that what we had planned. We were scheduled to arrive in NOLA at 3:15 pm, giving us plenty of time to check in to our hotel, then get to the convention center to register, eat dinner and attend the opening session of the Grace Gathering where Bishop Eaton was the keynote speaker.

We got on the road to San Francisco airport at 3 am from my daughter’s house in Concord. All went well until we boarded our connecting flight in Dallas, TX. After a 15-20 minute wait while a problem was being investigated, all passengers were asked to take their belongings and leave the plane. We were told there was a fuel line leak that could not be repaired and that a replacement plane was being secured. As we waited in the gate area, a police officer with a K-9 dog entered the jet way to the plane. Not sure what that was about, but I suspect something more serious than a leaking fuel line.

But, with gratitude for the averting of a possible problem, we awaited a substitute aircraft. Take off was about 2 hours after our scheduled time. Well, we thought, it will be a bit tight, but we should still be able to make it. It was not to be! We spent 30-40 minutes circling above the airport in NOLA because flights were backed up due to heavy rains.

We missed the opening session of the Grace Gathering, but we are here safe and sound, thanks be to God! We’ve been following news of the churchwide assembly, and learned that one of the guest speakers today was Dr. Sayyid M Syeed, the National Director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, in Washington, DC. Dr. Syeed was quoted as telling the assembly “An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions.”

Tomorrow we will have our first plenary session of the Grace Gathering and celebrate Holy Communion together. In the afternoon, there will be experiential learning opportunities. Brian is registered for “Access to Housing” and I am registered for “Music, Justice and Peace.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be able to tell you about new things we’ve learned and people we’ve met. I hope you’ll continue to pray for all of us gathered here in New Orleans as we seek new ways to be the church together.

Shalom.   Pastor Eileen

A beginning…

When I was young, and even more foolish than I am now, I thought that the older people got, the narrower their minds became. And while I certainly know people in the later stages of their life who find comfort in having things stay the same and who prefer to not be challenged to change anything, I have found that for myself, being unwilling to change or have my comfort challenged is a trap.

As I have prayed for insight into God’s wisdom, I have discovered that my way of living and thinking has usually not been affirmed, but challenged. God persistently refuses to allow me to define God’s will in my own way, but constantly challenges me to recognize the many ways I choose what will make me most comfortable rather than what will serve the will of God. So, I am learning, in my older years, that I need to be open to constant challenges and changes if I truly want to be a follower of Jesus.

I titled this blog “Dust of the Rabbi” because I had heard a legend that the phrase was used as an image of the students of rabbis, who always walked behind their masters as they journeyed and learned and thus became covered in the fine dust that was raised on the dirt roads they travelled.

In searching for confirmation of this legend, I discovered the blog of Lois Tverberg “Our Rabbi Jesus”. In one of her posts she speaks of this legend (, and shares the root source in the Misnah, Avot 1:4. “Let your house be a meeting-house for the wise; and powder yourself in the dust of their feet; and drink their words with thirstiness.”

Perhaps I am stretching the legend, but the image is a meaningful one for me as I journey. I wish to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to learn from his teaching and his life; to be “covered in his dust” as it were, a reminder of humility and my place as a follower.

I am a second-career (or third, counting my stint as a Navy corpsman as career #1 and nursing as career #2), ordained Lutheran pastor, mother of 3 grown children. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is sharing the journey, the challenges, and the changes (God’s divine gift of blessing and grace after 10 years alone following the disintegration of a 20 year marriage!)

For those of you who find their way to my pages, I look forward to having companions on the journey. I hope you find value in what is shared and that you will share your reflections, wisdom and stories.

Having become more and more dismayed at what much of the world envisions when they hear the word “Christian”, I have come to prefer calling myself a