Category Archives: From Pastor Clark

Being Public in the name of Jesus

I attended the Fall Theological Conference of the Southeastern Iowa Synod last week.

The theme this year was, “Being Public in the name of Jesus.” There were two presenters:

In going from private to public and serving in the name of Jesus, they invited us to consider four “movements”:

  1. leveraging privilege and power
  2. me to we
  3. speaking truth despite risk
  4. listening to voices that disrupt

Jason performed by heart the biblical stories of Esther, the midwives in Exodus, and the Good Samaritan. He invited us into a time of confession with music and an animated timeline of the Atlantic slave trade. He said:

It’s not about feeling guilty. It’s about taking responsibility.

Rozella read a powerful personal reflection on the Charleston massacre and being a black leader in the predominantly white ELCA. She also reflected on Isaiah 58. Later, she asked:

What is the truth of God that bubbles up inside of you, stays with you, and you just can’t let go of? What’s at stake if you speak it? What’s at stake if you don’t?

I returned reinvigorated for ministry at All Saints. This church is doing cool stuff, right along side Rozella, Jason, and their communities–including in partnership with Quad Cities Interfaith and Churches United.

Being public in the name of Jesus has long been core to who and why All Saints is.

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

bible basics: living Word

© Daniel W. Erlander ( From the book, Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life, page 11.

Dan Erlander is a pastor, teacher, writer, illustrator. He makes books to teach the faith that are almost like comic books or coloring books. They are full of images, and the words are his own handwriting. In fact, the image above comes from one of Erlander’s books, called Baptized, We Live. His unique style helps the meaning come to life.

In this “bible basics,” I want to talk about the Living Word. This little piece of theology helps me recognize God’s Word, whether I’m reading the bible or just living life.

Erlander is so good on this point: both his words and images. All the quotes below are his. He writes:

“What is the Living Word? First we need to understand the opposite…’Dead Word’–truth packaged in propositions with which we can argue, agree or disagree.”

Too many Christians see the bible as a book for Dead Word, says Erlander. Both conservative and liberal Christians read scripture for its moral code, steps to salvation, or universal truths–Dead Word.  Lutherans hear it differently, listening for Living Word.

“Living Word is truth manifest in an event, a story or an encounter through which God addresses us and calls for repentance, revolution, a redirection of life.”

Living Word isn’t just God speaking to us. It’s God changing us. Living Word is “God’s passionate, invoking, calling, begging, confronting appeal to us” that creates change.

In the Christian traditions I grew up in, people spoke of being “convicted” by scripture, a sermon, an experience, or even a person. They meant, God was inviting them to do something new or be a different person or change somehow.

In this way, I might say, “Maria in that slum in Mexico City convicted me.” God was speaking to me through her, her hospitality, and her story, changing me.  That’s Living Word.  That’s real Truth.

“Truth is the Living Word which breaks into our lives, into our history, shattering old ways and creating NEW LIFE, NEW VALUES and NEW COMMITMENT.”

So don’t look for answers in the Bible. Listen for the living voice of God, Jesus Christ.

Eric Law’s Kaleidoscope Bible Study method is a great, easy to use too for reading in this way. All Saints leaders use it at all their major meetings. You can use it too. Click for more.

Also, Dan Erlander’s books are so great, for kids and adults! Check them out online or visit Pastor Clark’s personal library.


sermon: “implicit bias and unconditional love”

15th Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

Unconditional love can be both give comfort and create discomfort—sometimes both at the same time!—but both ways, it’s love.

Click here to take an online implicit bias test.

Listen to Pastor Clark’s sermon. Thanks to Matt Reece for uploading.

our calendars, God’s time

Imagine the holiday sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I know you probably don’t want to think about it. It’s barely September, after all! But we can help each other through it. We can help each other keep our eyes on Jesus and who and what really matters.

So imagine those 30 days, Thanksgiving to Christmas. Imagine receiving a brief story or thought each day, with a bible verse. Short, sweet. Imagine these thoughts and stories came not from a stranger or “expert” but from an All Saints person like you, doing their best day-to-day to trust God. Imagine their reflections came to you on your time–via Facebook, or email, or All Saints’ website, or in print–whichever is best for you. Imagine each of them as a small invitation into God’s time, to spend a few minutes with God, preparing you for Christ to come.

Imagine what those 30 days could become, what might change about your experience of Christmas, what new seeds of relationship might be planted, how you yourself could be transformed–thanks to 30 extra moments with God, with God’s people.

Can you also imagine you yourself, investing a little time this fall to write out a thought or story to help your friends in Christ stay sane and centered? My dad says his local grocery store has Halloween displays up already. Consider this modest writing effort an act of resistance! 

We may keep the calendar, but it is God’s time, for us. The future is God’s good future. The present is where Jesus is for you. The past is full of stories of unnoticed grace.

If you decide to write, you’ll get to choose bible verse you will respond to. Laura Torgerud is coordinating this All Saints Advent Devotion Project. She will finalize the writers by mid-September and collect reflections by the end of October.

Reply to this message, or call, or email if you are interested in writing a devotion or if you’d like to receive them via email or print.

I’m excited. Peace, PC

“Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform”

I am a conflict avoid-er by nature. When a controversial topic comes up, I might simply listen and offer nothing of my own perspective, even though I may hold strong views.

But in baptism, Jesus calls us to boldness for love’s sake. That and All Saints’ and the wider church’s call to me as pastor includes “to speak for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed.” Justice is God’s love in the public square. Both baptism and ordination invite taking a stand on some matters of public controversy.

So even as I pray, “Make us bold, O Lord!” I also pray, “Keep us in love!” A spirit of hostility and division infects this country’s politics, media, and culture. That evil spirit infects us, tempts us.

As All Saints prays, its leaders also remind themselves of this congregation’s “Respectful Communication Guidelines.” These guidelines are not intended to help us avoid tension or hard conversation. Quite the opposite! They help us engage both in Christ-honoring ways. Oh, how this world needs people practiced in peaceful disagreement!

Immigration reform is a controversy that the Evangelical Lutheran Church has spoken to more than once–first in a social message in 1998 and again in a social policy resolution in 2009.  Both stand outside the particular politics of the moment. They affirm “long-standing Lutheran commitments to both newcomers and just laws that serve the common good.” They also lift up scripture that witnesses to a God who “identifies with the human stranger.”

The 2009 resolution affirms that the immigration system is broken–separating families, marginalizing people, putting communities at risk, and treating all immigration issues as national security issues. It invites leaders to “reunite families and integrate the marginalized,” “protect the rights of people at work,” “establish just and humane enforcement,” “revitalize refugee protection and integration,” and “address root causes of forced migration.” H.R. 15 isn’t perfect, but its passage would be an important step in these directions.

It’s on the strength of these statements and of my own sense of God’s justice that I will participate on Thursday in a walk and prayer vigil for immigration reform, hosted by Quad Cities Interfaith. It will begin at 4:30pm on Thursday, August 20 at the corner of 4th and Main Streets in downtown Davenport and proceed to the Irish Immigrant monument by the transit station.

I invite you to come, walk, and pray. Or simply read the ELCA statements above and consider how your faith informs your stance on immigration.