Larry Rasmussen delivers lecture - “Waiting for the Lutherans”

 Report by Carolyn Brostrom

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   On Thursday November 7, Larry Rasmussen delivered the Lutheran Heritage lecture, which was part of the Earth Year activities at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Rasmussen’s lecture was entitled “Waiting for the Lutherans,” and examined ways in which Lutheran thought is particularly positioned to protest and reform the current Western lifestyle of overconsumption and pollution.

   Rasmussen began the lecture by highlighting two characters from the Christian faith – Martin Luther and Jacob.  Both wrestled with God, he argued, and Luther especially had to discern how to live their lives in light of the realities of God, Satan, the church, and society.  Rasmussen challenged the audience to consider what our societal issues are by asking, “What is our Jacob moment?”

   Drawing upon scientific evidence, which he shared with the audience, Rasmussen asserted that  beginning with the Industrial Revolution, humanity is ignoring the earth.  Not only are we already exceeding the earth’s biocapacity by 25%, we are also ignoring the voices of the poor, the rest of nature, and future generations.  In a powerful visual display, Rasmussen included three empty chairs next to the lectern to provide a reminder of those who contribute the least to earth’s degradation, and yet it is these who experience the negative effects first.

    One of the major reasons we are stuck in such a wasteful way of life, Rasmussen argued, is because of our reliance on an inherently wasteful economic model.  In his view, unrestrained capitalism and ongoing exponential economic growth is unsustainable.  He noted the irony that while current political leaders are trying to bail out the current economy and are worried about getting our old model back on track, “We should be worried that it will continue.”  Furthering his point about our collective over-reliance on the current economic model, he stated, “It is easier to convince Americans of the end of the world than of the end of capitalism.” Instead of fixing a model that is inherently broken (sometimes called “greening the economy,”), we ought to work for a total reformation, he argued.

Much of Lutheran theology can contribute to this task of total reformation, especially, Rasmussen argued: theology of creation, sacramental theology, theology of the cross, a situational ethic, an ecclesiology that states that the church exists for the world (not one that states that people exist for the church), an emphasis on justice, justification, grace, and gratitude, and finally, a vision of a future that is in God’s hand.

   Lutherans also must address our institutional and systemic sin of species pride and arrogance, and the complacency in the prevailing view that the earth belongs to rich, instead of the biblical idea that the earth belongs to all people.  We must begin to regard nature as a neighbor, and must also confess our failure to love this neighbor as a sin.  Rasmussen called us to join in “Luther’s joyous panentheism” honoring the incarnation and the idea that the immanent bears the transcendent.

   Racism and other human justice issues are also tied closely to the earth crisis, Rasmussen reminded us.  The injustices of gentrification, colonization, zoning, property values, and plantation politics, for instance, are all issues of human injustice that are related to land.  Rasmussen ended with inspiration from one of the great leaders in the struggle against racism – Martin Luther King, Jr.  Rasmussen pointed out that Dr. King had a dream, not a nightmare, and that we need to reclaim hope and call upon our full humanity in order to address these problems.  For inspiration, we may also look to “the eight year old child who is elated to find a Cheerio between couch cushions” in order to remind ourselves what it means to be human.