When I was a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, training to become a pastor, it seemed like there were two types of students:
1) Cultural Lutherans who were raised Lutheran, are often from the Midwest and who hold many strange and wonderful German and Norwegian dishes and customs in high esteem. These Lutherans often call themselves “womb to tomb Lutherans.”
2) Those who chose to be Lutheran. These Lutherans often knew more about the sayings and teachings of Luther and spoke poetically about their conversion moment or the congregations that shaped their faith.
Of course, neither one is the right or wrong way to be Lutheran.
I grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., where it seems that even the Catholics are Lutheran, because Lutheran culture there is so integrated into the speaking styles and expected customs that I find it hard to separate any of the things that I do in my life from my Lutheranism.
I am a cultural Lutheran through and through. The words I use, each breath I breathe, each song I sing, each new person I greet is how I am living Lutheran.
There are certainly big parable moments that are inspired by some of the most memorable gospel moments. These are moments when I feel assured that I’m living out my call to do justice in the world in a way that echoes Jesus’ life and ministry.
Sometimes this comes in the still small giggles of a wriggly baby getting baptized in my arms. Other times it’s smelly and unsanitary, like when I’ve washed dried excrement off the feet and legs of individuals unable to get proper medical care or access to basic human services (like clean, safe bathrooms).
Other times I feel like I’m living my Lutheranism to the fullest when I’m able to listen to the deep needs and pains of the most vulnerable (or at least those we’ve determined ought to be labeled that way).
I’m currently on a speaking tour sharing the stories and history of LGBT homeless youth in San Francisco with congregations and LGBT homeless youth across the country.
As I listen to the stories of the great need for God’s people to work together to restore justice and provide safe, loving families and possibilities for fullness of life for all, I see God working in the basements of congregations, like Trinity Lutheran in Manhattan, that transform into much-needed shelters each night.
Others see me living my Lutheranism when their construction of who a pastor is doesn’t include jeans and Converse wearing, trans identified, female disabled bodied, dyke pastors.
They ask, “Are you really a pastor?” and I simply respond, “Yeah, I’m a Lutheran.” I’ve heard some exclaim, “That explains it,” under their breath as they walk away.
I’m proud to be a part of a church that is big enough for all my identities, diverse enough to include those who live their Lutheranism in a way that doesn’t always include me.
I’m proud to be able to be a part of a church that does such great justice work in the world, that even when I haven’t helped, paid my fair share or even noticed it was happening, I can claim it as a part of the way I live, as a part of the global Lutheran family in Africa, Haiti, fighting malaria and working for peace in the Middle East.
Whether you consider yourself “womb to tomb,” Lutheran by choice or you haven’t yet claimed your Lutheran identity, I hope that the church famous for the phrase “sin boldly, but believe more bodily still” will honor all the ways you live Lutheran. Together we’ll encourage each other and pray that we will all become healthier, safer and more faithful each day.
Megan M. Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations, who has served as a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.