Dorothee Soelle: Mystic and Rebel

Renate Wind, Fortress (2012), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Soelle (1929-2003) was a prolific theological writer (25 books in English translation), rethinking Christian convictions in light of WWII and the Holocaust.  She organized ‘evening prayers’ from 1968-1972 as discussion groups held in the Cologne’s St.  Anthony’s Church, fostering critical thinking.  The over 1000 participants found that ‘dealing with theological issues necessarily leads into political engagement’ (p 57); issues such as the Vietnam War, the arms race and especially the rearmament of Germany, third world development, and women’s roles were central to discussion.  Her doctorate centred on the relation of theology and poetry and made her a popular speaker; her outspoken opinions resulted in both state and church refusing to grant academic employment.  (Some of her statements:  ‘Every theological statement must be a political statement as well.’ ‘The Third World is a permanent Auschwitz.’)  1975 – l987 saw her engaged six months out of the year as successor to Paul Tillich at Union Theological Seminary, New York (the other six months were spent with her husband in Germany).

Wind’s book is a moving overview of Soelle’s life and writing, carefully augments and illustrated by Soelle’s poetry.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Read more ›

Ministry in an Oral Culture

Tex Sample (1994), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

The concept of oral culture hit Sample at university when he realized the contrast between everyday oral culture and philosophic analysis of the world around us, the difference between the worlds of discussion of Will Rogers and Socrates.  Oral culture, of the everyday living, was ‘not one of discourse, systematic coherence, the consistent use of clear definitions and the writing of discursive prose that could withstand the whipsaws of academic critique’ (p 3).  An oral culture makes use of proverbs, sayings; lives by storytelling (the family traditions); thinking in relationships ( an issue that comes up will be considered in terms of the family and communal ties; religious beliefs will be understood much more in relational than discursive ways’ (p 5).

Sample writes compellingly that ‘literate clergy and laity may become far more appreciative of and adept at working with people who face life and death, morality and faith, and G-d and the world with a traditional morality’ (p 6).  This means that a significant part of the ministry and mission of our churches needs to be done in an apprenticeship way….  The teaching occurs through hands-on mission’ (p 19).  Churches need to be both literate and oral, utilizing the strengths of each:  forming small communal groups telling their stories to each other, to work (in ethical formation) on a morality that is concrete, operational and contextual, eg the AA model.  A study I did with palliative care level patients identified the most useful and helpful of those they were involved with as being not medical or religious (chaplain) people, but the cleaning staff!

A wonderful book to understand better the church’s mission.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Read more ›

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  29 September 2016  •  No. 90

Introduction: Special issue on fear

Not every fearful moment is holy, but holy moments are almost always scary.

Think of Hagar’s deathwatch in the desert, the Hebrew people at the Red Sea, Elijah when surrounded by Aram’s army, the psalmist’s pilgrim in the valley of the shadow of death, the angels’ first words—fear not!—to Zachariah, Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds; then later Jesus’ resurrection greetings to the disciples. Read more ›

Days of hysteria, promise of hilaria

Response to a presidential debate

by Ken Sehested

There is a certain pathology in our current season,
electoral follies punctuated by fresh tales of human
fury and nature’s duress—the combination exaggerated
if not unique. All the more reason to be reminded:

There is a life beneath, above, on the other side of this
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News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  23 September 2016  •  No. 89

¶ Processional. “Rivers of Babylon,” The Melodians.

Above: A caiman in the Amazon whose head is nearly covered in butterflies. Salt is critical to the survival of many creatures like butterflies and bees who sometimes drink tears from reptiles in regions where the mineral is scarce. Photo by Mark Cowan.
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Having a dream is not the same as being had by a dream

The genetic flaw of idealism

by Ken Sehested

       Any of you who spend time on Facebook know you will endure . . . well, uh, let’s keep it decent and say a pre-edited version of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” And not just from . . . uh . . . the incredulous and socially-challenged who have too much time on their hands.

        There are also memes from the seriously well-intentioned, like the one I saw recently proclaiming, in all caps and bold face type, “RACISM DESTROYED IN ONE MINUTE.” As if being able to state insight about a problem is equivalent to implementing the remedy.

        Like many, I thoroughly enjoy stimulating conversations exploring seemingly intractable problems and coming to what feels like actual clarity about what might be done to at least nudge reality toward just and compassionate solutions. Read more ›

Companions of comfort

A pastoral prayer

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Holy One, 

We give thanks for places of sanctuary to tend to the heart. Thank you for this circle who practices your way . . . who are quick to laugh, generous in mercy, hearty in hope. 

We give thanks for curious stories that nudge us to act with cleverness, creativity and compassion within such agonizingly unjust systems. May we be found as your church that has some tricks up the ole sleeve for the common good.  Read more ›

Remembering the Future

A World Communion Sunday sermon

by Ken Sehested,
Text: Hebrews 2:5-12 (The Message)

      The main title of this sermon, “remembering the future,” is a nonsensical notion. How can you remember the future since it hasn’t happened yet? Maybe if you love science fiction, or if you’re a fan of the actor Michael J. Fox, you can imagine going “back to the future.” But remembering the future?

      How silly is that, in a grown-up world?

      Maybe, in our growing up, we have actually grown in, grown in on ourselves, grown sour on the world, grown weary of illusions, grown cynical about pious propaganda, pious politics, as well as pious religion. Read more ›

The City: Besieged and Beloved

A collection of biblical texts for personal meditation and public liturgy

Racial antagonism, income inequality and urban decay go hand-in-hand in our culture.
The collection of texts below—for use in personal meditation or public liturgy—
bear witness to both the horror and the hope of our cities.

§ How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. (Lamentations 1:1)

§ Blessed be the Lord, for God has wondrously shown steadfast love to me when I was beset as in a besieged city. (Psalm 31:21) Read more ›

News, views, notes and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  15 September 2016  •  No. 88

Instead of the usual "Signs of the Times" column, ponder this new essay, and let me know what you think.


The taunt of Lamech’s revenge
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