James of Jerusalem

On this day the church honors a saint with a familiar name, but one who is often confused with other similarly-named apostles. Today is the feast day of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord.

St. James is noted in the books of Matthew and Mark as one of the brothers of Jesus. In the book of Galatians, St. Paul wrote that he met St. James on his first visit to the city.

In the same way that St. Peter led the church in Rome, St. James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and, with such a distinct role, you’d think we’d hear more about him in the scriptures…but we just don’t.

At question is his actual kinship with Jesus. In trying to highlight how singularly significant Jesus is in history, many Christian writers have struggled to let any siblings be a part of the story. But it’s worth noting that it would have been quite unusual for Mary and Joseph to have only had one child. In the ancient world that was not common family-planning. At the heart of this speculation, though, is not even really Jesus, but rather Mary. In an effort to keep her singularly virginal, all sorts of stories cropped up about a first marriage for Joseph in which he sired other children, making St. James the step-sibling of Jesus.

This is all fancy family footwork without any substance.

To add to the confusion, some historians of the early church suggest that this James is the same “James the Less” who was one of Jesus’ disciples with a different parentage altogether. The thought is that St. James was the son of Mary of Clopas, the younger sister of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. While it is true that the same word for “brother” can also mean “cousin” in the ancient world, this, too, seems far fetched and an attempt to solve a problem that is not really there.

Jesus had siblings. It’s OK. We can all get over it.

St. James of Jerusalem really first comes on the scene post-resurrection when he is met by the risen Jesus. The early church considered him an important piece in the first stories of the church, perhaps as a replacement for St. James, Son of Zebedee (who was martyred early on).

In the same way that St. Paul felt a special calling to the Gentile-Christians, St. James of Jerusalem spent his ministry with the Jewish-Christians. It is believed he was martyred sometime in the early 60’s, right around the composition of the first Gospels. Some early church historians even claim it was the priest Annas who ordered his stoning, though this is more lore than anything.

Today is an especially appropriate day to lift up prayers for the church in Jerusalem.

St. James of Jerusalem is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, of two important things:

First, when we attempt to make Jesus so “special” we actually rob him of the most relatable parts of his being. The idea that he had siblings is kind of neat to me because, as someone who knows what it’s like to juggle family relationships, he knows a bit of my experience…our human experience. I mean, isn’t a central thought of the church that we are all the siblings of Jesus? Why must it be correct theologically, but not biologically?

Religious folks struggle with biology…

Secondly, the church has always struggled with niche ministry, worried that it would rub too much against the norm. St. Paul felt a calling to the Gentiles, and St. James of Jerusalem to the Jewish-Christians. Today some pastors feel a call to ministry on the streets, or to marginalized communities, or even to Wall Street Brokers. Some pastors don’t feel a call to the pulpit, but rather to the pavement. Some leaders don’t even feel a call to the priesthood, but are feeling a push to live as prophets.

From the early church, specialized ministry was already happening, and yet we still struggle so much with those who want to “do something different” with their call or want to start communities that don’t look a lot like conventional “church” communities.


-most historical bits, with the exception of some of the commentary around controversies, aided by Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-Icon by Tobias Haller, BSG

Care for Those on the Margins

Today the church honors the Feast Day of St. Luke, the Evangelist.

We believe Luke was a Greek, and a Gentile, but we’re not really sure where he’s from or much about his life, other than he was a physician. He was a disciple of St. Paul and worked alongside him in missionary endeavors.

In Luke’s Gospel (which has a sequel in the Book of Acts) we learn that Luke was not an eyewitness to anything Jesus did or said. According to early lore Luke wrote his Gospel in Greece and preached in Bithynia, though we can’t verify any of that. Lore also has him reaching the ripe old age of eighty-four, a bachelor all those years.

Again, none of that is really more than speculation.

There is also an obviously dubious claim that he painted the first picture of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. For this reason many icons have him holding a painting of her.

The observance of this day as his feast day is quite old in the Eastern Church, and may be closely associated with the actual day of his death. On this day in many places people will make special donations to hospitals and nursing homes, an homage to this physician-evangelist, and there may have even been some “healing services” or anointing services happening in some churches (though, in the midst of a pandemic, I imagine this physician would rather churches not gather in person this year).

Luke’s spiritual sign is the patient ox, because he plods along in his story, slowly, recounting in detail much about Jesus and the life of the early church.

Luke’s Gospel is marked by special attention to women, the sick, and the marginalized communities in general in the ancient world. For this reason it is the favorite Gospel of many. Luke, for instance, has Jesus giving his main sermon not on a mountain, but on a plain…a sign of equality (and, also, a reminder that the Gospels don’t all match up). Luke also notes that “Blessed are the poor” in his recounting of the Beatitudes includes an economic element. Matthew changed it to “poor in spirit,” but Luke has it as “those who are in poverty.”

Luke, and in his recounting, Jesus, cares deeply for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.

He is a reminder for me, and for the whole church, that the church, too, has a duty first and foremost not to the powerful, but to those Jesus felt a duty toward: the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.

-icon written by Theophilia

She Was a Doctor of the Church

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite mystics and saints, St. Teresa of Avila, Visionary and Renewer of the Church.

St. Teresa was born in 1515 into an old Spanish family of note, and had nine brothers and sisters all told. Her mother died when she was fifteen, and Teresa was sent off to school at a convent where she read the letters of St. Jerome (whose saint day was not too long ago!). Inspired by his writing, St. Teresa decided to take vows and become a nun.

Her father, though, had other ideas, and forbade her from pursuing a life in the church. So, Teresa did what every teen does: she ran away from home and joined the Carmelites in Avila.

Soon after joining the convent, however, young Teresa fell deathly ill and lapsed into a deep coma which, after she recovered from it, left her paralyzed from the waist down for three years.

It was then that she began to receive her visions, though she was quite lax with her spiritual practices. It didn’t seem to matter, though, because she began to physically feel the presence of the Divine quite acutely, eventually prompting her to recommit to her vows and take the name, “Teresa of Jesus.”

In 1560 she decided she needed to reform the monastery, as she felt it had become too austere. Facing great opposition she found a way to have a new monastery built, and dedicated it to St. Joseph.

In a page that could have been ripped from today’s headlines, lawsuits ensued. Her nuns were shamed and called names, and their numbers remained quite small. St. Teresa, in her wisdom, actually limited the number of nuns she would take to 21 in sum total, believing a smaller cohort had more chance to create community.

Eventually the Pope blessed the order, now called the Discalced Carmelites (because they wore sandals and not shoes), and St. Teresa set about starting other reformed monastic communities, calling them from pretention and austerity to a more humble way of being.

Throughout Spain St. Teresa established seventeen other communities. They were always small, intentionally poor, and extremely disciplined.

St. Teresa of Avila eventually fell ill and died in 1582, having struggled her whole life to call the church to greater humility.

St. Teresa is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes small pockets of apocalyptic (that is, reforming) people can change the world and be remembered in the annals of history. No one recalls the large convents of her day, booming with money, golden candlesticks (or, as we might say today, screens and technology), but we all recall this slight visionary who struggled and led a handful of folks.

I mean, that story kind of sounds like Jesus, right?

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Theophillia

-critiques of megachurches all me

Still in the Headlines

Today I would propose that the church, and the world, remember a modern tragedy that is still all to relevant today: St. Matthew Shepherd, Son, Martyr, and Hate Crime Victim.

Matthew was born in Casper, Wyoming, and was known as a friendly kid interested in politics and theater. After moving around with his family, he eventually landed at the University of Wyoming in the town of Laramie as a Poli-Sci major. He was raised Episcopalian, and his father noted that Matthew had a knack for relating to most anyone he met, but especially those who felt like they didn’t belong.

Here is where I would usually write about what happened to Matthew, but in typing out the incident that led to his death I found myself unable to continue because it was so terrible, horrifying, and graphic.

And it made me think of my own two babies. My heart breaks for his parents, his whole family, still.

On October 6th Matthew was offered a ride by two men at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie. He left with them and, instead of going home, they robbed him, beat him, and left him tied to a fence in freezing temperatures. He was found the next day, comatose, and died in the hospital on October 12th.

The two men, and their girlfriends, were brought up on charges of first degree murder and accessory after the fact. Though their testimonies became convoluted, it was noted that they pretended to be gay to lure Matthew, and then killed him motivated by prejudice, homophobia, and hatred.

When I woke up this morning, I woke up to headlines indicating that the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden, resigned due to leaked emails containing misogynistic, homophobic, and racist statements. Statements from years of emails.

Just this last week it came to light that North Carolina’s Lt. Governor, in a SERMON, called homosexual and transgender people “filth.”

He’ll run for governor next cycle.

We remember St. Matthew, martyr, on this day, because the evil that moved in the hearts of people to kill him that night still move today.

It’s literally in the headlines.

And we need to call it out when we see it and hear it.

-icon written by Andrew Freshour

What’s To Prevent Us?

Today the church honors St. Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with Philip the Apostle…or any of the other nine hundred Philips in the ancient world. Seriously, it’s like they were short on names…

Philip was one of the Greek speaking disciples chosen in Acts 6 to distribute food to the widows and the poor in Jerusalem. This was the first organized ministry we have recorded by the ancient church, and note that it wasn’t planning a Harvest Festival, Rally Day, or a Christmas Bazaar.

It was feeding people.

Philip would go on to preach the gospel in Samaria, where Simon the Magician was said to be converted by him. It’s worth explaining that “Magician” in the ancient world probably meant “Sorcerer,” which is pretty cool if you think about it.

St. Philip would be the one to break down barriers in the church when he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and helped him make sense of the scriptures. This important Ethiopian was a sexual minority, and I think it’s important on National Coming Out Day (here in the United States) to honor the fact that St. Philip in the First Century welcomed a sexual minority in the church through baptism.

If only the modern church would emulate St. Philip.

Well, actually, it’d be best if the modern church would emulate the Ethiopian, wrestle with the scriptures, and ask to be converted.

St. Philip was also known to have four daughters who were called prophets in the early church. They hosted St. Paul on his journeys, and it is thought that he ended his ministry life preaching and baptizing in Asia Minor.

St. Philip is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that the organized faith has a long tradition of welcoming and affirming humans from all walks of life. St. Philip, when entertaining the possibility of withholding the sacrament of baptism from the Ethiopian, received pushback from the traveler, saying, “There is water here. What is preventing you?”

What prevents us from extending the accepting grace of God to people?

The question remains.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-I love this icon, but cannot find who wrote it. If you can find it, please let me know.

Crowned in Love

Today I would propose that the church honor two 4th Century saints who loved one another and died together: Saint Dergius and Saint Bacchus, Soldiers, Martyrs, and LGTBQ Icons.

Some calendars honor Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus on October 7th, but because the Lutheran Church honors St. Muhlenburg on that day, I would offer that today, a day when no particular saint is lifted up would be a great day to remember these two trailblazers.

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus were young nobles and high ranking legionnaires in the Roman army under Galerius. They were secretly Christian, and when this was exposed, they were arrested and told to make a sacrifice to Jupiter.

When Sts. Sergius and Bacchus refused, they were tortured.

It is reported that Sts. Sergius and Bacchus had pledged themselves to one another in love, and that in that same breath they pledged themselves to Christ, claiming that in their union they had also become one with Christ.

This oathtaking sounds very much like vows.

In the medieval era this oath was considered an act of “brotherly love,” but that moniker over their devotion to one another falls flat when compared to the sincerity of their words.

Sts. Sergius and Bacchus died at the hands of their torturers. It is reported that Bacchus died first and appeared in a vision to Sergius, saying, “My crown of justice is for you, and yours for me.” It’s interesting to note that “crowning ceremonies” were one of the ways same-gendered couples were formally joined in union in ancient Rome.

They are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that LGBTQ Christians are not only not recent, but have always been, from the very beginning of the movement.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-icon written by Br. Robert Lenz and was first displayed at the Chicago Pride Parade in 1994

-historical bits gathered from memory and a number of sites

One Church, One Book

Today the church honors the person considered to be the founder of the Lutheran Church in America, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Missionary to United States.

Born in the early 18th Century, Henry was the seventh of nine children raised in Hannover, Germany. He started his professional life as a school master after graduating from studying at Gottingen and Halle, but soon felt a different stirring.

The Lutheran presence in America was scattered and disorganized. Three disparate congregations in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, New Hanover, and New Providence) sent a joint delegation to London and Halle in search of a pastor who would unite the Lutherans together in the colonies.

Muhlenberg was chosen and sent in 1742. On his way he spent some time in London to learn about America, and while there adopted a new clerical garment that would be used by Lutherans in the colonies.

Henry arrived in Fall of 1742 and gained the trust of both the German-speaking and Swedish-speaking clergy…no small feat! Muhlenberg struggled mightily to unite the many churches that were so ethnic-specific. He traveled incessantly, wrote constantly, preached in German, Dutch, in English, and became known for his powerful voice.

He established the first Lutheran synod in America, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, in August of 1748. The delegates met together and ratified a modern liturgy that remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for forty years, and is still sometimes revived for use to this day and can be found in all the Lutheran hymnals up through the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). Muhlenberg had a dream of “one church, one book,” and he didn’t mean the Bible…that was already done…he meant a liturgy book.

Lutherans in this frontier land struggled with authority issues as it moved from a state-supported church in Europe to congregational-led communities in the colonies. Muhlenberg worked mightily with churches on both stewardship and education, two practices that could use a little reviving today. He even wrote a model congregational constitution, never needed in Europe, that helped to organize the disorganized faithful.

Muhlenberg was in favor of a distinct church in America, noting that local practices must hold hands with local customs. Despite this belief, he was quite pietistic, and had a low tolerance for chicanery or shenanigans from clergy or laity.

Muhlenberg and his children were leaders in American public life as well. His son John Peter dramatically left the parish to serve in the Revolution, becoming a brigadier general under George Washington. Another son, Frederick (also a pastor), became a member of the Continental Congress and the first Speaker of the House of Representatives…much to his father’s disappointment. Muhlenberg believed he would have made a much better pastor and should have remained in the parish.

Another son, Henry Ernst was both a pastor and the president of Franklin College where he excelled as an administrator and a botanist 9where did he find the time?

And Muhlenberg’s great grandson? He became an Episcopal priest who is honored on April 8th. Maybe that’s why Lutherans and Episcopalians in America love one another so much…

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg died in Pennsylvania on October 7th, 1787. You’ll find his remains under a monument where, inscribed in Latin, is this simple phrase, “Who and what he was future ages will know without a stone.”

Muhlenberg is a reminder for me, and for the church, that sometimes you can get a different calling in life (he and all of his children and a couple of vocations under the belts), and that listening carefully to that still, small voice can enable one to do much for the world.

-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Today the church remembers a 20th Century saint, Saint Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist, Reformer, and Firebrand.

Fannie Lou was born the daughter of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi in 1917.

The Mississippi Delta was not a kind place for a poor, black woman to be born and raised, but the wetlands of the South didn’t know who they were contending with in Fannie Lou Hamer. She left school at the age of 12 to work the fields, and in 1944 had married and was a plantation timekeeper on the estate of a Mr. B.D. Marlowe. She was appointed the timekeeper of the plantation because she was the only worker who could read and write.

In 1961 St. Fannie Lou was forced to have a hysterectomy while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor..

Yes, you read that correctly, she was forced to have the hysterectomy. The tumor could safely be removed without the removal of the uterus, but it was a common practice in the day to forcibly sterilize black women as a way that the powers of the world kept the black population in check. This was such a wide-spread practice that it became known as the “Mississippi appendectomy.”

This was in 1961. Some of you reading this will have memories of that year. And some wonder why we have to say Black Lives Matter…

Unable to have biological children, the Hamers adopted two daughters, and St. Fannie quickly got involved in the Civil Rights movement around voting rights. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and led 17 volunteers in registering at the Indianola Mississippi Courthouse.

There they were given a literacy test and, because some could “not pass it” they were denied the right to vote. On their way home the bus they rode on was stopped by law enforcement, and each individual was fined $100 because, and I quote, “the bus was too yellow.”

After successfully registering to vote in 1963, St. Fannie and some other black women were jailed for sitting in a “whites only” restaurant at a bus station in Charleston, South Carolina. They were severely beaten, and Fannie Lou would sustain injuries there that stayed with her the rest of her life.

Yet, she persisted.

In 1964 she founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that fought the local Democratic party of the South who was trying to suppress black votes. She went to the Democratic National Convention that year, demanding they be recognized as a legitimate party. She gave a roaring speech while there, and to prevent it from being aired live, President Johnson gave his own speech at the same time. But St. Fannie Lou would have the last laugh, as her speech was aired later to wide acclaim and party shame. She spoke eloquently about continued racial discrimination in the South, and called for action.

By 1968 she was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated party delegation. Her voice was heard, by God.

She went on to found the Freedom Summer and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She became one of the first black women to speak before Congress, protesting the rigged 1964 Congressional election in Mississippi. She lobbied for aid for poor black farmers in the south and launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative to allow poor black farmers to buy land together.

After years of travel and activism, St. Fannie died in 1977 of breast cancer.

She is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that it was not so long ago where all of the above madness was taking place, and it is not too far gone to slip back into prejudicial habits.

Indeed, many have never left, but just been under the radar.

It is also a very real reminder for me that not all heroes wear capes.

-historical pieces gleaned from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/fannie-lou-hamer

-Icon by Kelly Latimore Icons. You can purchase her stunning work at: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_5297/

Holy Wisdom, Holy Words

Today the church also honors something that defies explanation, other than to say “it is”: Sophia, or Holy Wisdom.

In the Hebrew scriptures Wisdom is spoken of using feminine pronouns, sometimes colloquially called “Lady Wisdom.” In the texts she attends the throne of the Divine, whispering in the Divine ear. Or, in other places, is the Divine breath breathed forth over creation.

Wind. Flame. Spirit. Inspiration. Holy Spirit. Muse. Divine Wisdom has been called many names by humanity over the centuries. In Celtic Christianity she’s identified with the Wild Goose, flying where it makes gut-sense to go in the rhythm of the seasons, loud and untamable.

I quite like that description.

October 5th is a day to honor scholars, sages, and wise persons. Most everyone has the potential to grow old, but not everyone who grows old grows wise. And certainly some who never reach old age are wise already! Wisdom is pursued and painstakingly won in life through observation, meditation, and experience that is analyzed. Every stumble and blessing can be, must be, a teacher.

Sophia, Lady Wisdom, Divine Insight…however you want to say it…is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that though we age, becoming wise takes effort.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.-notes about Sophia by me, though attention to the saint day was brought by Judika Illes in her work _Daily Magic_

-icon written by Maria-Tina Karamanlakis

In Service to All

Today the church honors not only important saints, but an important tradition and order of service within the church: the Deaconess tradition.

Frederike, Theodor, and Karolina Fliedner are honored today, October 5th, as Renewers of Society for re-imagining the Deaconess order, a movement of the church that continues today in Deacons and Deaconesses throughout the world.

In the early church, the ancient order of Deaconesses were utilized to care for the sick, for needy women, to instruct women for the catechumenate, and to assist in the baptism of women. We find this all documented in the 3rd and 4th Century texts, the “Didascalia” and the “Apostolic Constitutions.”

When adult baptisms became rare, the role of Deaconesses declined in popularity and importance, and by the 7th Century the female diaconate nearly died out.

Until the Moravians got a hold of it.

In the early 1800’s Theodor Fliedner, a newly ordained pastor in the Lutheran church, made a tour of Holland and England to raise money for the church. There he encountered Moravian Deaconesses engaged in Christian service. The Moravian movement had revived the role in the mid 1700’s.

Inspired by their work, Fliedner went back to Kaiserswerth (where he had his little parish), and started conducting services at the prison in neighboring Dusseldorf, the first Lutheran ministry of its kind. His prison ministry grew and spread throughout the Rhineland and Westphalia, and even into the Netherlands, England, and Scotland. He eventually opened the Magdalen home for released women prisoners, and then a nursery school in Dusseldorf.

Pastor Fliedner, inspired by all this movement, decided to reinvigorate the role of Deaconess within the church, and opened a hospital and Deaconess-training institute in Kaiserwerth, a largely Catholic city. In 1836 it was officially opened, and Ms. Gertrude Reichardt, the daughter of a physician, became the first Deaconess trained there. Frederike Fliedner. Pastor Fliedner’s spouse, became the first Mother Superior of the house, and almost immediately Deaconesses were deployed to serve in the city hospital at Eberfeld.

Frederike Fliedner was wise and wonderful. She practiced simplicity, frugality, and charity toward all, and instilled these virtues in her Deaconess charges. Unfortunately, Frederike would die in 1842, leaving a large absence in the institution.

Pastor Fliedner married Karolina Bertheau about a year after Frederike’s death. Karolina had been the director of a hospital in Hamburg, and quickly proved herself to be a talented Mother Superior, following in Frederike’s footsteps.

Karolina came to be known as Mother Fliedner, and led the Deaconesses in their work for forty years, about half of which were after Pastor Fliedner’s death.

In 1849, at the invitation of William Passavant, Pastor Fliedner brought four deaconesses to Pittsburgh to staff the Infirmary that Passavant had established there. Motherhouses soon began to be founded all over the world, from the Middle East (Jerusalem, Smyrna, and Constantinople), to Paris, Strasbourg, Dresden, and Berlin.

At the time of Fliedner’s death there were 30 Motherhouses around the world and over 1600 Deaconesses, from Pittsburgh to Jerusalem.

By the late 20th Century there were over 35,000 Deaconesses on every continent and in every province where Lutheranism has a presence.

Eventually a Motherhouse was begun in Philadelphia in 1884, with the support of John Lankenau (fun fact: Lankenau is still the name of a dormitory at Valparaiso University). This was the first Motherhouse in the United States.

Today Deaconesses and Deacons from this tradition serve as pastors, teachers, doctors, youth directors, non-profit managers, and in professions of all kinds. Deaconesses and Deacons serve where and how they are called. It has always been so, and remains so.

Check out the Diaconal community at Valparaiso University at http://www.thelda.org, and the ELCA’s Diaconal roster at https://www.elca.org/Resources/Word-and-Service-Roster.

The Fliedner’s are a reminder for me, and hopefully for the whole church, that we must raise up leaders to serve in all ways, not just in the pastorate.

-historical pieces painstakingly sifted from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-love and devotion for Deaconesses and Deacons everywhere by me