This week my son started his senior year of high school. I have a video of him getting on the bus for his kindergarten year and yes, I am shamelessly emotional about this. It’s been a long summer, so I am giving myself some latitude.

It has been a long summer because we’ve hosted a “Norwegian son” whom we met when we lived in Jerusalem, and we wanted him to see plenty of America while he was here, which invariably led to us over-scheduling our days with day trips to Hershey, Washington, D.C., and New York. As an aside, don’t ever try to attend an Orioles game (or any baseball game, for that matter) with a non-American person. They don’t get it, and I found myself at a loss for words trying to explain the rationale of the game. At least the food was good.

It has been a long summer because as the church catholic we witnessed an act of racist terrorism perpetrated by an ELCA member against members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C. Seeing our presiding bishop on the dais with President Obama was highly emotional for me on many levels. Where were the rest of the white church leaders? Why is our ELCA such a homogenous church? I am grateful that Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and William Horne, an ELCA Church Council member, hosted a conversation about race, but I fear that they may have been “preaching to the choir” as white fragility stands in the way of growth and healing.

It has been a long summer because in the hours following the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in this nation, I have rejoiced with my brothers and sisters who no longer face discrimination but wept because of the reaction of others. Some faith-filled ELCA members feel as if they’ve lost their church and country to some sort of slippery-slope theology, which will lead to all sorts of public indecency and the ruin of civilization as we know it. As if having the temerity to legally recognize an elderly lesbian couple who’ve been living under the same roof and supporting the same congregation for 40-odd years is going to cause the apocalypse.

It has been a long summer because my friends and colleagues in the Holy Land are still facing systemic discrimination and oppression under military occupation, and there seems to be little if no effort on the part of the U.S. government to force a solution when our financial support of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority is a major leverage tool. It was an odd decision on God’s part to become incarnate in first century Palestine to begin with. I wonder if Jesus would even recognize the place, what with all the checkpoints and barriers. I’m glad that the ELCA and other international partners are present with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, but I am wary of the colonial overtones that sometimes emerge in the conversations.

It has been a long summer because the effects of climate change are becoming too pervasive and too dramatic to ignore. I am horrified at the thought of Holden Village, a beloved retreat center to so many Lutherans, being consumed in flames. I worry about the drought-stricken Southwest. I see dire predictions of even higher toxic algae blooms in the Great Lakes. The church catholic in all its expressions needs to express the necessity of dramatic paradigm shifts in our individual and collective stewardship if our species will survive to the end of this century. But even as I type this, my denial kicks in and tells me I sound like Chicken Little.

It has been a long summer, but there is still hope. Paul writes in Romans 5:5 that “hope does not disappoint us because of God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” We can grow. We can be the church God intended. The promise of baptism cannot be broken.

As I see my son off to school, I say a prayer for him, and all those like him who are the heirs of God’s promises, that in spite of long summers, there might be a change of seasons, hearts and minds as we strive to live according to the love that has been poured into our hearts. Amen.

Martin Zimmann
The Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmann is an adjunct professor of church and society at United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg campus. He holds a Ph.D. in American culture studies.

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