Lutherische Kultur im Exil, by Jonathan Townsend

In what almost seems like a former life now, I worked for a professor who wrote a book called Literarische Kultur im Exil : Gesammelte Beiträge zur Exilforschung. Literature and Culture in Exile : Collected Essays on the German-Speaking Emigration after 1933 (1989-1997).   The man’s name was Dr. Guy Stern and he was one heck of a story teller – and he had stories to tell. His family sent him to the States in the late 1930’s while they all died at the hands of the Nazis. He returned to his homeland as an American soldier, interrogating those who persecuted his people. He went on to become quite the literary expert, especially on the figures that became exiles from Germany during the Nazi period and their work. He is still a most distinguished professor and is the interim director the Holocaust Museum in Metro Detroit (last time I checked…)

 

One day while faxing copies of sections of his book to his editor for fact checking and “editing” he started to tell me a tale about Bertholt Brecht that was related to him by Lotte Lenya. For those of you who do not know, Brecht was a famous author and playwright who wrote The Threepenny Opera (“Mack the Knife” is the famous song from it) and Lotte Lenya was the singer/actress who performed in it and was also married to Kurt Weill who wrote the music for Brecht’s text. So now that you know some basic late Weimar Republic theatrical history, I can continue on with the story… Brecht was a good communist, (or maybe he really wasn’t, now discuss!). According to the story given to me which was given to Dr. Stern by Lotte Lenya, Brecht would regularly be seen with a copy of  Das Kapital by Karl Marx. This is pretty much the Communist Bible and Brecht wanted people to see him carrying it. But, Lotte Lenya knew a secret; Brecht would regularly wrap the book cover of his copy of Das Kapital around whatever novel he was currently engaged in reading.

 

Here is where I come clean – I am as bad as Brecht. I pretty much carry around a copy of the Book of Concord but I don’t read it too often. I gave my brother a copy as a Christmas gift and he had the Luther seal from one of the pages tattooed on his arm, but we don’t discuss its content as we should. I have a copy of The Treasury of Daily Prayer that is in my computer bag and goes everywhere with me, but I only manage to read and pray it when I travel for business. Other things always seem to crowd out what truly are the first things.

 

My own attempts to read for myself have fallen short of my intent, but I am now getting a weekly dose from our Confessions. During Lent, our Pastor started a Matins service on Thursdays at 6 am. We sing a brief portion of the Matins order from Christian Worship (the WELS hymnal for those who do not know it), Pastor reads a chapter from one of the Epistles and then he reads to us from the Book of Concord. As of late he has been reading to us from Luther’s Large Catechism. This has become our Confessions Reading Group in a way, only he is the one reading to us. This may be my inner, lazy self speaking, but I have found that hearing the Book of Concord between prayers, scripture, psalms and hymns is a near perfect way to digest it.

 

As the title of this article suggests, I believe that Lutheran culture is in a period of exile right now. There is little room for those who hold to traditional, liturgical, confessional Lutheranism within the realms of power and influence within Lutheranism. The blogs we frequent and interact within are examples of a literary exile from the public face of our Synods. Does one see the wonderful, deep, theological expositions of the Confessional Lutheran Blogosphere on official synodical websites or magazines? No. We are on the margins of the prevailing culture. We are Lutheran Culture in Exile.

 

Sometimes I feel the weight of this exile: When I hear a Christless, crossless sermon; when I read of church growth, when it just seems the proper distinction between law and gospel amongst the ordained is lost. The weight is being lifted however. The “mutual consolation of the brethren……and the prayers and the breaking of the bread”, these things lift the weight and make the concepts of culture and exile non factors. Not only have I gone to the early Matins service, but also to the chapel service for the children from our school. On the one Wednesday I attended, I found a rather-semi-famous-lutheran-internet type also there – and he has no children in the school. We sat together and listened to our Pastor preach to the children and to us and sang “Father We Praise You, Now the Night is Over (Christe Sanctorum)”.   We talked sometime afterwards and our common experience was one of peace; peace from hearing the Gospel and continuing our own catechesis through the liturgy and from the readings and preaching given to us by our Pastor.

 

It is important to create more opportunities like the Matins service I have been attending. Maybe only a few people show up, but it does strengthen the weary – and I must add – it just plain feels better than internet interaction. A few years back I had a chance to attend a weekly gathering at Zion in Detroit called “Catechesis in Liturgy”, when Fr. Fenton was still the pastor there (and still Lutheran). On Friday nights a few people gathered in Fr. Fenton’s living room and discussed theology and the liturgy. This was just pure fun for theology geeks. The Confessions Reading Groups that are promoted by the Brothers of John the Steadfast are also something that needs further encouragement and promulgation. The opportunity to return from exile exists in the real world “speaking and hearing” of God’s Word.

 

If one looks around at the Lutherans in North America it is clear that Lutheran liturgics, preaching, sacramental theology and hermeneutics are in exile. But, take heart. Gather together more than on Sunday morning, if possible. Hear God’s word with your fellow strangers here. Sing praise to our Triune God. Forget the internet and pray and listen together. The night will soon be over.

 

 

Footnotes

1. “Father We Praise You..”

Father, we praise thee, now the night is over;

active and watchful, stand we all before thee;

singing, we offer prayer and meditation;

thus we adore thee.

 

Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;

banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;

bring us to heaven, with thy saints united;

joy without ending.

 

All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,

Trinity blessed, send us thy salvation;

thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding

through all creation.

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