I am the son of two ELCA pastors, and I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, so I am familiar with Lutheran stereotypes.
Although some might call us shy, stubborn or out-dated, I think that the back-pew-saving, basement-coffee-drinking Lutherans exemplify a key characteristic of what it means to live Lutheran: commitment to community.
As a student attending an ELCA college, I have the opportunity to surround myself with other Lutherans from the campus ministry program who are passionate and eager to do God’s work.
But we take a risk when we only surround ourselves with people that act, think and believe like we do.
Too often we think of our brothers and sisters in Christ as an exclusive club: Jesus freaks only, baptized Christians only, Lutherans only, ELCA members only.
But by God’s grace, we (all of humanity) are all children of God; God’s saving mercy is for all of us.
For me, living Lutheran is showing God’s love on a day-to-day basis through tolerant interaction with all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I commit myself to be open to honest, thoughtful and respectful conversation, and I commit myself to looking for God’s love and beauty in people who differ from me.
Different beliefs, similar values
A few of my closest friends at college would fall under the “other” category in terms of faith. Some are agnostic, some are atheist, some are “skeptical” Christians, and some just call themselves “spiritual.”
One of these other-faithed friends of mine, who identifies himself as an agnostic, is constantly met with scolding or attempts to “save” him when the topic of faith comes up. Though he is well liked by most students and faculty, many label him as godless or immoral.
But these people do not see my friend for what he is: clever, hopeful and often selfless.
He, like many Christians, wonders at the beauty of the universe, rejoices when human compassion prevails, laments for other humans who suffer and does his best to use his talents to better himself and others.
Despite what my friend may believe, I believe he is a child of God doing God’s work and spreading God’s love.
I will admit that too often I am one of those people judging and labeling. I have found that sometimes the people that I have judged or labeled are the ones that have been doing God’s work all along, but I didn’t notice until I got to know them.
God loves us through each other
It can be as awe-inspiring to experience grace and beauty through someone who isn’t trying to do good, but nonetheless shines with God’s love.
Sometimes it’s more beneficial or meaningful to explain why you believe there is a God or to discuss the ethical implications of abortion legislation than to argue about who is going to heaven and who isn’t.
Too often we think of God’s work in terms of missions in distant countries, service projects in a less-fortunate neighborhood, or bake sales and car washes.
While I am an advocate of volunteering and other charitable acts, I believe it is important to recognize God’s beauty and love in the everyday interactions with the people around us.
While the glory of God is present in the Bible, it is in the faces, actions and stories of other people that we see the living Word of God.
I try to be a more curious, open-minded version of myself and to explore the parts of my community (both literally and figuratively) that I rarely visit, to venture into uncomfortable conversations, and to love someone that I think is wrong, without trying to convert them.
It is a struggle and I often fail, but I believe it is important to look for God in the faces of everyone around you, not just your family, friends or the people next to you in the pew on Sunday morning.
I invite you to join me in a quest to overcome the discomfort of differences and open our eyes to the works of God’s love in unexpected places.
Daniel Kunz is a junior at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., pursuing a degree in English with an emphasis in writing. He is currently interning at the ELCA churchwide office in the Marketing and Public Relations Department. He hopes to go into publishing, editing, marketing or any field that values wit and allows him to work with words. While he is the son of two ELCA pastors, he does not plan to become one himself.