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Behind the Violence

August 30, 2022
By Paul Emmel
A clipping from the Start Tribune newspaper
An August 21 clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes the rapid increase in the city's violent crime.

 

 One of America's most livable major cities, Minneapolis, is now becoming among the most violent. Although the same trend is true from coast to coast, citizens of Minneapolis take little comfort that their violence is not unique. Violent crime negatively impacts community life from corporate to personal dimensions. It is difficult to discuss underlying causes in seminars while lives are being endangered on the streets.

Nevertheless, there is one aspect of urban violence that is being ignored by the media and political leaders: the spiritual roots of murder, robbery and corrosive corruption.  Upstream from violence is a disdain and ignorance of the Laws of God as detailed in the 10 Commandments, particularly the Fifth Commandment: "YOU SHALL NOT MURDER".  (Exodus 20:13)

The central thought of this commandment is that God has created us to care about other people and to help them in their time of need. Or, as Martin Luther explained in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and support him in every physical need".

In other words, at the heart of America's crippling problem of violence is a willful and ignorant disobedience of God's will toward life itself. God creates, preserves and protects all life. He is caring and compassionate toward all He has made and He calls us to be so also. He forbids acting violently or abusively toward a child or spouse, engaging in reckless and self-destructive behavior. He forbids hating, despising and slandering other groups of people (prejudice, racism, and so forth).

As long as America continues to ignore and disobey The Fifth Commandment, few of its laws, legislation, law enforcement and government programs will make a dent on its overwhelming problem of violence. I regard this as a realistic prediction, certainly not progressive.

That does not mean that just laws and enforcement are unimportant but that they are very limited in restraining violence at the heart of the matter. The law restrains and accuses its citizens; it does not give them new hearts. Civil governments simply lack the ability to regenerate selfless thinking and behavior. I have witnessed this principle for 30 years in our prison system.

Nor should we expect people of little or no faith to suddenly have high regard and respect for God Law or will.  The responsibility of the Church is to preach and teach God's Law to the extent that followers seek repentance, new hearts and minds, so that the power of the Gospel can enable them to obey The Fifth Commandment.

Sadly, many churches neglect this function of the Law and focus on "other things" while their membership continues to disobey the Commandment in its subtler forms. Thus, they become part of the problem of violence in America rather than part of its solution. There is a special judgment reserved for such "churchly" neglect.

My urgent appeal is for people to stop and desist from viewing the problem of violence simply by its symptoms. Rather, deal with the ultimate cause behind it. Otherwise, we continue to get what we've always got: more of the same and it will only continue to get worse.

 
Paul Emmel

August 28, 2022
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

Responding to a World of Brokenness

May 27, 2022
By Pastor Toby Schmidt

Milwaukee. Buffalo. Laguna. And now, tragically, Uvalde, Texas. These have all been the sites of mass shootings in the last month. And as the reports of each new incident are shared, so many of us are again filled with anguish, confusion, anger, fear, and hopelessness. Tragedies like this are difficult to make sense of, so together we sit, empathize, grieve, and mourn.

It’s obvious our world is full of brokenness and in desperate need of hope and healing. As we sit with each other in the midst of this, think about God’s Word from Revelation 21: 3-6:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

With hope, we look to a future with God where there’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain. We look forward to a future full of God’s perfect presence and peace.

In the meantime, we know that, apart from God, nothing we can do will fully relieve the fear and anxiety that events such as these can cause, especially for children. If you have children who are struggling, you’re no doubt spending time listening to them, talking with them, loving them, and reminding them how important they are to you and to God (Mt 19:14; 18:6). But if you could use some extra guidance to help kids process recent events, here’s a list of resources to help you do that:

Finally, here are two important things we can do in response to the recent mass shootings in our country:

  1. Thoughtfully, respectfully, and lovingly get involved in your community, and work towards solutions that address all sides of these tragedies.
  2. Pray. Pray for our nation, our children, all who are struggling at this time, and our leaders.

 

God, our hearts break, and we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief at the senseless deaths caused by gun violence, and all violence. We pray that You would heal those who are wounded, comfort all who mourn, and protect all those who are vulnerable to violence. Let Your presence be known and Your peace be felt. We boldly pray that You would bring an end to the violence that surrounds us. God, give us Your hope, shower us with Your love, and help us to be a light in this time of darkness. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 
Pastor Toby Schmidt

May 26, 2022

Paul EmmelToby Schmidt is the Associate Pastor of Cross View Lutheran Church in Edina, MN. He and his wife, Rachel, have four children.  

 

Keeping an Eye on the Sky

March 04, 2022
By Paul Emmel
Snoopy hugging a heart shape.
Dramatic sunset over Minneapolis, from my bedroom window

 

 When I lived closer to the ground, I seldom noticed the sky.  Disconnected from clouds, sun, moon and stars, I hardly gave the heavens a passing thought. Trees and buildings kept them out of sight. My worldview remained earthbound and narrow. 

Since 2017, all that has changed. Now, through ceiling-high, wide windows, each day presents a heavenly drama of the firmament.  I have a comfortable venue for the greatest show on earth.

 I enjoy brilliant sunrises reflecting off glass office towers on the western horizon. Like a celestial rheostat, the sky gradually brightens. "The rosy fingered dawn" makes her daily debut. About once a month the setting sun presents a soul-stopping sky.

The weather unfolds in real time. Cumulus clouds gather long before storms arrive.  "On clear day you can see forever." The horizon extends miles in all directions. Cloud formations are ever changing.  Puffy, stratified and dense clouds, of all kinds and shapes stretch across the sky. Approaching jet planes appear way off with strobe lights; military jets make contrails providing special effects in an evening sky.

 I've heard it said that people who grow up in Big Sky Country and on The Great Plains are endowed with a wide perspective on life. They are resistant to the cloistered effect of urban life with its walls and fences. "Don't Fence Me In" their souls sing. Not liking the cubicle life, they feel at home with distant horizons and panoramic views. I think there may be some truth to that.

When I keep my eyes on the ground, gravity pulls my soul downward.
When I lift my eyes on high, burdens lighten, the horizon expands and 
life presents more possibilities.  Here's why:

     "The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims his handiwork...
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom
leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man,
runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from it heat."
 
Psalm 19:1-6
 
Paul Emmel

March 3, 2022

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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The Truth About Unconditional Love

December 17, 2021
By Paul Emmel
Snoopy hugging a heart shape.
"All we need is a hug."

 

Americans have invested deeply in the notion that "all we need is lots of unconditional love ." Eric Fromm, in his classic book The Art of Loving, says that the healthiest people he has known are those who very often grow up experiencing a combination of unconditional love along with very conditional and demanding love, one parent who accepts us as we are and another parent who expects more of us and pushes them to do better.

I know that this is not the current version of what is psychologically "correct," because we seem to think we need nothing but unconditional love. (Any law, correction, rule or limitation is another word for conditional love.)  As Fr. Richard Rohr observes, it seems we need a foil, a goad, a wall to butt up against to create a proper ego structure and strong identity. Such a foil is the way we internalize our own deeper values and dethrone our own narcissism. Butting up against limits actually teaches us a lot.

It has been acceptable for some time in America to remain "wound identified" (that is, using one's victimhood as one's identity, one's ticket to sympathy and one's excuse for not serving others, instead of using the wound to "redeem the world," as we see in Jesus and many people who turn their wounds into sacred wounds that liberate both themselves and others.

Those who only whine about strict parents and authority for too long invariably remain or become narcissists themselves. I say this after working with prison inmates for 30 years as a counselor and confessor. Thinking of themselves only as victims or oppressed gets people stuck in their own adolescent misery. They don't grow up as responsible adults.

Mature people invariably thank their harder parent, law-driven church, kick-ass coach, and most demanding professors - but usually years later. It is what we should expect to hear from 50-70-year-olds and what you seldom hear from 20-40-year-olds unless they mature quite quickly. Some, of course, have also been wounded quite lethally, as in situations of rape or abuse or bullying and it takes them a longer time to heal and grow.

Bottom line: we need both law and love for spiritual growth. We need to be taught how to live with both limits and freedom at the same time. Too much of one at the expense of the other leads to problems with our fragile human ego. Law and structure, as fallible as they often are, put up some kind of limit to our infantile grandiosity and prepare us for helpful adult relationships with the outer world.

"All we need is a hug?" Not true. Sometimes we need what we don't like and what we often resist: the real truth about ourselves. Sometimes our behavior is "not okay" and we need to do something to correct it. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt and not a pat on the back. It's all part of "growing up."

Paul Emmel

The Third Week of Advent 2021

For this essay I am indebted to Fr. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life(Jossey-Bass: 2011).

 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

 

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