Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wheaton By Way of St. Louis

I’m still recovering from our whirlwind vacation with The Kids, which involved daily travels up and down the Lower Peninsula, from Glen Arbor down to Westland and then back up and then back down to Frankenmuth on Monday.

Frankenmuth, particularly Bronner’s – the world’s largest retailer of Christmas bling -- was the high point of The Kids’ visit. You’d think that working for over a decade in the Orlando entertainment industry would have inured these guys to the charms of themed kitsch, but the two of them practically sprinted into this store, whose ginormity and blingosity defies description. We didn’t see them again for about five hours. I’m serious.

I enjoyed myself too, although I always have equivocal feelings about Frankenmuth. Being a German-American ex-Missouri-Synod Lutheran born and bred just north of the Saginaw Valley – well, these are my peeps. I get them; I get the schmaltzy sentimentality for idealized, several-generations-removed memories of Das Vaterland, and the strong Pietist roots of the community that manifest in everything from crosses prominently displayed in business windows to Bronner’s own “CHRISTmas WONDERLAND” logo. If you bow your head in a local restaurant and pray “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” your dining neighbors, instead of staring at you like a space alien, are probably thinking, “So what took you so long?” On the other hand, I always feel like the Dissonant Daughter when I visit this town, after several decades and many torrents of water under the theological bridge; I’m always waiting for a pair of ushers, Luther Roses on their lapels, to quietly slip on either side of me, hiss, “Excuse me, ma’am, but can you please step this way,” and firmly escort me outside the city limits where Auslander infidels belong.

So anyway, FT and I, having finally located our wayward and freespending children, are at the checkout with our own merchandise. I see a pile of small booklets next to the cashier, a fuzzy sentimental photo on the cover and a title like “A Time For Everything.” I think that perhaps this is a memoriam for the recently deceased, much beloved Wally Bronner, founder of Bronner’s and one of the local marketing geniusi who transformed Frankenmuth from a small farming community into a major tourist destination. I see the cashier slip a copy of the booklet into my bag.

Later on, when I get the chance, I dig through my purchases and find the booklet. I start reading it – and it’s a religious tract. It’s the kind of religious tract that informs you you’re a sinner – well, no surprise there – and then presents you with the good news that you need to make a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior…or else. The Sinner’s Prayer is even helpfully printed to assist you in this task.

What the hey? I think. This doesn’t look like it came from Concordia Publishing House. I check the bottom of the back cover and see that it’s actually from an Evangelical publisher in Wheaton, Illinois. I feel the sting of theological whiplash cracking my vertebrae, and remember theologian Jaroslav Pelikan’s comment that he turned to Eastern Orthodoxy when Missouri Synod Lutherans started sounding like Southern Baptists and the ELCA started sounding like the United Methodist Church. I even check the Missouri Synod website’s FAQ page to see what it has to say about decision theology. Whoa…major disconnect. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Of course, I remember back in the day when my childhood church – a church that wouldn’t let members’ kids join the Scout troop sponsored by the local Roman Catholic parish, and wouldn’t allow our youth group take part in the community CROP Walk because it was an ecumenical event where our theological innocence might be tarnished by prolonged exposure to heresy – nonetheless sent a busload of members to a downstate Billy Graham Crusade. Alrighty then!

All I can say is…if anyone reading this has an in with Concordia Publishing House, you might want to put a bug in that person’s ear that it may be worth Concordia’s while to come up with a shopping-bag tract for Bronner’s before Herr Doktors Luther, Walther et al spin completely out of their graves.

1 comment:

Trish said...

Jaroslav Pelikan!!! I used him in my Systematics Paper last semester! Awesome. Anyway, I wonder what these religious tract folk would say to the fact that in Christ, God has taken up all of humanity into Gods' self...? That even the people others say are lost and forsaken are still loved and treasured. Hmm. Thanks for the post. I have relatives in Wheaton, and just so you know, they're not psychos. :) See you.