Dead Reburied: The 2009 Lutheran youth gathering Jesus, Justice, Jazz (JJJ09) was held in New Orleans July 23-26. With some 37,000 attendees, the event is the largest convention in New Orleans since the city was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005. We are confident that JJJ09 will dwarf the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to become the largest gathering of Lutherans in the U.S. this year.
The ELCA News Service was all over the event with headlines like
ELCA Teens Told to Make Community Service a Way of Life,
Youth Gathering Participants Engage in Social Justice at Interaction Center,
ELCA Youth Volunteer at Community Health Fair,
Gators? Snakes? No Fear, Say Lutheran Teens Planting Wetlands,
ELCA Youth Urged to Volunteer, Provide Hope, Make Dreams Come True, and
New Orleans Shops, Restaurants Get Boost from ELCA Youth Gathering.
But it was Lutheran Teens Clean Cemetery, Rebury Dead that finally got our attention.
The cemetery in question is Holt Cemetery, owned by the city of New Orleans. Holt Cemetery was established in 1897 as a burial place for the poor. Graves in the Holt Cemetery are inexpensive (a burial costs $450), shallow (graves are only 54 inches deep because the water table is so high), and transient (grave markers and caskets are typically made of wood). Multiple burials are allowed: a plot may be reused a year and a day after the preceding burial. And sometimes the dead do not stay buried. Bobbieann Lewis, coordinator of the maintenance effort at Holt Cemetery, explains:
There's no perpetual care. When it rains and time passes, the ground starts sinking in and bones are exposed.
On July 23, 158 Lutheran volunteers from JJJ09 assisted with the cleanup. They learned that it is not always easy to distinguish between the detritus left by Katrina and the makeshift markers that define many of the grave sites, and some of them encountered bones of the deceased and, with respect and a word of blessing, reburied them.
The ELCA contingent was not the first group of Lutheran youth to volunteer at Holt Cemetery last week. On July 20, a team from Grace Lutheran Church in Nashua, New Hampshire (working under the auspices of Camp Restore) helped clear weeds and shared their lunch with grave diggers preparing a plot for a burial.

50 Days, 40 Days: We hope you are participating in the ELCA 50 Days of Prayer initiative leading up to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
However, we confess that we are a bit frustrated that the devotional resources (based the lectionary readings appointed for the Churchwide Assembly) are organized by week rather than by day.
As an alternative, Pr. Ray Fitch


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Pr. Sophie is all a-Twitter. Again.
Pr. Sophie's Tweets:

    Hot Dish Hotline: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." What have you seen or heard that other people really need to know about? Use the Hot Dish Hotline to submit your item online.

    has put together Resources for 40 Days of Prayer published under the auspices of Lutheran CORE. We heartily recommend Pr. Fitch's approach to spiritual preparation for the Churchwide Assembly: daily themes are taken from the Augsburg Confession, Luther's Small Catechism, and Dietrich Bohhoeffer's book Life Together.
    We are writing on July 26, day 19 of 40, and the meditation for this day cites Bonhoeffer on the relationship between baptism and confession:
    What happened to us in baptism is bestowed upon us anew in confession. We are delivered out of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. That is joyful news. Confession is the renewal of the joy of baptism.

    Bargaining With the Devil's Whore?: Last week the good folks at Word Alone sent us email with the intriguing subject line A Layman's Guide to the Use of Reason. Our interest was piqued, and even before we read the details, we commented on the title to our friend Margaret Moreland (full disclosure: Margaret is in fact much more than a "friend"). With great glee Margaret promptly exclaimed:
    Well, it's about time some thoughtful layperson took on the thankless task of setting the clergy straight about reason.
    Eventually we opened the email and discovered that Margaret's enthusiasm was premature. The Layman's Guide is an article by Pr. Gary Jepsen of Puyallup, Washington, and it's complete title is:
    A Laymanís Guide to Quantum Physics the Use of Reason: Insights into what Luther Saw as the Proper Role for Reason in Christian Deliberation.
    Pr. Jepson wrote the article:
    ...to give the average person some tools for understanding the proper role for reason in the faith, life, and proclamation of the church.
    In our culture, there is a rich heritage of philosophical and theological discussion of the relationship between reason and revelation. Neither Pr. Jepson's article nor our comments will be the last words in that discussion. We commend the Layman's Guide to you, though of course we have some reservations. Pr. Jepsen, we believe, thinks too highly of reason, identifying it more with quantum mechanics, rocket science, and brain surgery than with common sense. In his view, reason seems to be the province of experts (as opposed to lay people). We think it more likely that we are immersed in reason like fish in water: reasoning, for human beings, is not something we turn on and off, but an involuntary activity, like breathing, like the beating of our hearts, and each of us is already an expert.

    Littering and Evangelism: In an article by Paula Schlueter Ross, the Lutheran Reporter noted the return of representatives from The Apple of His Eye (AOHE) to this year's Pridefest June 27-28 in St. Louis' Tower Grove Park where the AOHE volunteers handed out tracts and talked to passersby about Jesus. According the Lutheran Reporter, 5000 tracts were distributed at the event.
    At PrideFest in 2008, AOHE representatives were told to stop handing out literature or face arrest. A lawsuit ensued, and on June 11, 2009, a permanent injunction was rendered making the City of St. Louis responsible for educating its staff people at PrideFest about the rights of the AOHE missionaries and restraining the city from enforcing a city ordinance requiring
    ...the distributor of handbills to be responsible for the proper disposal of discarded handbills or samples within a 100 foot radius of the distribution.
    The Lutheran Reporter quotes AOHE founder Steve Cohen:
    We knew going in that our message was not in favor with those gathered to show pride in their lifestyle, Still, there was no direct hostility from the leadership of the festival, as they understood our legal rights and accommodated us accordingly.
    AOHE's primary emphasis is on evangelism to Jews. It is a partner in the ABLAZE! initiative of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

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