What’s in a name?

by jpserrano on June 28, 2016 · 0 comments

I just heard a very thoughtful Pastor (Gypsy Pastor) ask the question, “I wonder why we get so wrapped up in proper names?”

I think it’s a question worth asking.  I have to confess, I do find myself getting wrapped up in proper names. I think proper names are important; when I use proper names, its because I want to show respect to the person who has given me their name.

I appreciate when I am in an environment where people can self-identify using the name they want to be called, the gender they wish to identify as, the pronouns they want others to use about them. I think names are important because they tell others how they want to be identified.

I know a tiny bit about multiple names.  As a twin I go by two names.  If you call out my name, or my twin brother’s name, in a large crowed of people, I will respond to both.  Not because I’m my brother, but because I understand that other’s may be making an honest mistake.  I am never bothered when people call me by my brother’s name unless they’re being rude and are trying to tell me that I am my brother.

We leave room for everyone to self-identify, yet we seem to have trouble with that when it comes to God. God has chosen to reveal God’s-self in a specific way, yet we seem to just give only a slight nod to that and say, “there must be more.”  So instead of focusing on how God has chosen to reveal Gods-self, we see similarities in other religions and proclaim “Look, God is there too.”  I am not denying that God is at work in other places, at the same time, we seem to neglect the place God has promised to be revealed, and that is through Jesus.

Proper names are important because they identify and differentiate the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Ba’al, Molech, Ashtoreth, and for all you Game of Thrones fans—The Many Faced God and Lord of Light. 

On the one hand, Christians praying to “Allah” should be no big deal—we’ve been doing that for thousands of years—Allah is God in Arabic.  On the other hand, if by Allah we mean the God of Islam then there’s something that needs to be clarified. The God of Islam is not the same God revealed in Jesus Christ nor are the Gods’ of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism (among others).

In fact, it’s offensive to many in those other religions to claim that they worship the same God we do—Jesus by another name.

So, I think it’s important that we allow God to self-identify, as Christians believe God does in Jesus.

We as Lutherans have a ground up, earth to heaven, physical to metaphysical way of doing theology. We begin all of our understandings about God through God’s self-relation in Jesus Christ who we believe is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1).

Jesus is God on earth according to scripture.  When we look at Jesus way of being in the world, we are looking at God’s way of being.

For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9)

He [Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb 1:3)

Likewise we know who we are to follow as God’s revelation.  We follow Jesus because we believe that he is God’s self-disclosure to the world, especially in his act of sacrificially love.

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son [Jesus]… (Heb 1:1)

It is to this God. This self-revealed, specifically named God, that we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”

When we use a name for God from other religions and call all God’s the same we are no longer identifying God in the way God chose to be self-identified.  We are not taking God’s self-revelation to heart.

I think names are important and I get wrapped up in proper names because I want to show respect to the person named, including God.

With all that said, I don’t have a problem referring to God as the Great Spirit, or Creator, or Olodumare, or Waengongi. Let us be clear in what we are doing though—we are using foreign names and appropriating them to identify the God revealed to Abraham and Moses, who came to earth as Jesus, and who is the One God now and forever. 



What does a Lutheran look like?

by jpserrano on May 3, 2016 · 2 comments

When I first became Lutheran I understood it to be a theological movement.  I was brought into a church by a pastor who said, “If you can mix your Catholic upbringing with your recent Evangelical faith, you will do well in the Lutheran Church.”  That pastor went on to mentor me in the Lutheran Confessions, teach me how to read scripture, show me how to think theologically, and bring me up in the Lutheran Christian faith.  I stayed Lutheran after he died because he showed me a way of being Christian that resonated with both my Catholic and Evangelical sides.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that some people have combined very specific ethnic traditions with their Lutheran faith.   I have now heard all kinds of ethnic insider language that was, and to a large extant still is, foreign to my experience of being Lutheran.  It seems like this language usage centers around Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German identities, all cultures with which I am not familiar.

I remember hearing my first Olly and Lena joke and needing someone to break it down piece by piece because I didn’t understand.  
I remember my first St. Lucia festival at church thinking I’ve never even heard of this.  
I remember my first smorgasbord, needing to have someone explain lefse and smelling lutefisk for the first time.

All of these things were explained to me as Lutheran things, but I didn’t get it because it seemed very foreign to have Lutheran things that are not theological.  I didn’t comprehend why it was such a big deal for people to do this in a Lutheran Church.

I knew Lutheranism for something else—theology.  But, for some people it is a whole cultural identity.  

There has been a muddling of ethnic identity and the Lutheran theological movement. I get this.  My family often mistakes Mexican-American norms for Catholic norms.  But, they mostly understand what they’re doing.  They know that not every Catholic church has menudo after the liturgy. This seems to evade a large amount of Lutherans who equate the Scandinavian/German/Minnesotan cultural norms for Lutheran norms.

What has been a sense of pride among Lutheran churches is now divisive and exclusionary, rather than inclusionary.

The Lutheran church has grown outside of those cultural traditions for some time.  We have Lutherans on every continent in the world and they know Lutheran theology with their own culture.  Specific cultural jokes and insider language aren’t “Lutheran,” it just doesn’t make any sense to those outside that culture.

While we can uplift and celebrate different cultural traditions let us not equate them for our faith. 

So, what does a Lutheran look like?

A Lutheran is a person who….

1. believes in the 3 creeds of the church.
2. understands the Augsburg Confession to be a faithful witness to scripture.  
3. knows that Jesus is the lens through which we understand God.
4. reads scripture as both law and gospel.
5. receives baptism and communion as gifts of God’s grace. 

There are more I could add to this list, but this is a good start.  Notice that none of these are culturally based.

The #decolonizelutheran memes that are going around seek to expand on the Minnesotan, Scandinavian, and German cultural norms that are prominent in the Lutheran Church in America.

My hope is that we get rid of the cultural norms in the Lutheran church and focus on what we believe as Christians in the Lutheran tradition.  Our belief in Jesus as the savior of the world is what binds us together not any cultural marker.


Other voices on this topic:
#DecolonizeLutheranism by Tuhina Rasch

Mixed Race, Tortillas, and #DecolonizeLutheranism by Joshua Serrano


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