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Posts from the ‘Theological Reflection’ Category



By happenstance viewing computer files  “Disc 1  Family photos 1958 to 1985 – Christmas 2007”  appeared on the screen. The theme:  THE CIRCLE OF LIFE – ENCIRCLED BY GRACE was the message shared with our children. This holiday season respect and empathy ought be given to the diversity of cultural and religious heritages of all in a multicultural-multinational society. All can resonate, perhaps,  in terms of their own cultural and spiritual context to FAMILY PHOTOS  –  THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  

“Disc 1 Family Photos                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Christmas 2007

Memories come to mind while downsizing our family slide connection to DVD format, 916 photos on four discs dated 1958 to 1985.  Picture taking time is usually a time of positive family experience. A quarter century of Bartling family photos suggests a theme similar to Disney’s animated film The Lion King. THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  A man and a woman marry, founding a family – children arrive – baptisms – infant years – school years – friendships made – holidays celebrated religious observances – graduations – camping and vacations – new beaus and courtship – engagements – weddings   – grandchildren and cousins – extended family relationships – reunions – grandparents and great-grandparents – uncles and aunts – the passing of loved ones. Family if a school for character and the microcosm of society. How meaningful then that our family is ENCIRCLED BY GRACE.  GRACE coming that first Christmas as God’s incarnate love will always as in our family’s past encircle your family in its future CIRCLE OF LIFE.  With love to our children and grandchildren for sharing our generation’s CIRCLE OF LIFE.  – Pater et  Mater Familias”



A scripture read at a recent service came from the prophet Malachi. His name means my messenger. Malachi warns (4: 1-2a) that the day of the Lord is coming. On that day evil will be destroyed like stubble in a fire, when “the sun of righteousness” will shine on those who fear God. Our Monday morning study group shares views regarding the scriptures to be read at the following Sunday service. What followed was a discussion as to what evil might be suggested to be like stubble to be burned in a fire? That led to describing and naming egregious symbols of inhumanity perpetrated against fellow humans.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, November 9, 1938 , associated as part of the Holocaust the study group saw as “symbol of inhumanity”. Kristallnacht was the pogrom resulting in broken glass strewn about – an assault against Jews agitated by Nazi Storm Troops, SS, and the Hitler Youth. The populace were encouraged to join the rampage destroying businesses and property of the Jews. Motivation was revenge and reprisal for the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a seventeen year old German Jewish youth. Instigated by Nazi officials locals targeted Jewish homes and business, 30,000  were sent to concentration camp, 1777 synagogues were burned, homes, schools ransacked and demolished, 7,500 businesses destroyed.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, recently a few days ahead of the anniversary called “Kristallnacht “one of the darkest moments in German history” and urged her countrymen to “ensure no form of anti-Semitism is tolerated”. She cautioned against the dangers of anti-Semitism violence on “The Night of Broken Glass”.  It is “almost inexplicable” she noted, “but also the reality that no Jewish institution can be left without police protection”. (The Times of Israel)


Rabbi Arthur Green, professor of religion at Brandeis University, lauds his teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, the “towering religious figure of American Jewry in the post-war era”,  for providing reason for not blaming God for the Holocaust, 1938-1945.

Rabbi Green writes regarding his teacher.  “Hershel, whose mother and sisters had died in Warsaw/Treblinka, felt it was too easy to blame God for the holocaust. The failure, he insisted, was essentially a human one. It was human beings, transgressing what he insisted was religion’s most essential teaching – the creation of every person in God’s image – who had brought about the unimaginable degradation of their fellow humans. Our task, Hershel insisted, was not that of reconstructing religion but of rebuilding humanity. If humanity had failed, the only thing to do was to be more human and to show others how to be more human.

He (Heschel) liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come and share with him in a ride in his coach. ‘But there is not enough room!’ a disciple cried out. ‘The rebbe will be crowded.’ The master replied: ‘Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.’ Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of God or the crowded, sealed railway car. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice.”



On the cusp of my 85th birthday (6/3/1928) a retrospective musing on YEAR 84 may be in order. Ruth and I celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary on December 27th, 2013. Anniversary observance was shared with four Twin Cities families that included mates and several grandchildren. High point of a delightful family gathering was sharing with each a copy of the homily I read that my father delivered at our wedding.  The homily text based on Isaiah 43 read: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. ”  Theme:  THOU ART MINE.  Subsequent to the family anniversary we shared a special evening with a daughter and mate  who were celebrating their twenty- fifth wedding anniversary on the same date as Ruth and myself.

Recently Concordia University observed the annual Employee Recognition Service. Recognized are years of service to Concordia University, St. Paul. Another category recognizes years of Service to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  The program notes in my behalf read:

Fred Bartling – 60 years

Fred came to Concordia in 1961 to teach at Concordia Academy and joined the College and  University faculty until his retirement in 1991. He treasures his years with the academy boys having experienced prep school at Concordia in Milwaukee, Wis. Fred’s tenure was most pleasurable and he thanks his colleagues, students and Lord or the privilege of his teaching vocation.

A footnote.  What appear above is the result of editing what I wrote. Dealing with teen age young men demands gentleness and understanding. I had experienced prep school and was familiar with the drill. I never had many problems with discipline. I simply responded to reality: “You can’t fight ’em – join, em”. We shared, in the main, personal regard and learned much socially and intellectually along the way. At the College and University level I taught a wide range of courses relating to American history. Especially meaningful for me was lecturing and sharing friendship with minority and South-East Asian students and developing new curriculum resulting from the Civil Rights 60’s. Matters of race, gender, and social equality had to be addressed.  This I did with passion.



Well advanced in age and well past the Biblical three-score and ten life has a new verve and satisfaction here at Becketwood – numerous new friends, couples, opportunities to serve in the cooperative. Ruth has committee assignments and so do I. Physical activity remains important and our individual choices in that regard are individual,  except in summer when the beach beckons. Relative good health has been a special blessing. But at heart – the attraction and love that bound us remain as always assured.  Most importantly the meaning and purpose of our marriage is our children, their mates, and grandchildren. The pleasure I had as father of six children enriched my life. Raised them in a shared playfulness and permissiveness, and, in my view, parenting without letting ethical value lose foothold is fundamental. Parenting discussed in my blog at this website regarding pygmy parenting sets the tone. I have little use for law unless it is informed by grace as bedrock for meaning in life. Law is the schoolmaster to draw us to the Gospel. I hope some of those values were reflected in dealing with family and marriage, and my relationship to my students over five decades.

My maternal forebears chose Psalm 103 as The Family Birthday Psalm. As a member of that lineage I claim Psalm 103 as My Birthday Psalm.  At age eighty-five with long life comes the reality that the day is far spent and the shadows of evening are lengthening. But Underneath are the Everlasting Arms. “Praise the Lord, my soul!” Psalm 103 is a hymn declaring the vastness of God’s love as supremely shown in love and compassion of his people as sinners and upholding them as frail mortals.  Indeed, “Praise the Lord, my soul!”



Sunday (4/21/2013) was Good Shepherd Sunday  in the liturgical church year   Where we worship the theme Hope in Recovery Sunday  was joined to the Good Shepherd emphasis. Joining the themes “recovery” depends upon The Good Shepherd and the support of the Shepherd’s sheep. The congregation sponsors an Alcoholics Anonymous group with a 12 – step: Singing and Dancing Down the Road to Recovery.  Two women met at the congregation’s sponsored group. They became sponsor/sponsee as a relationship team.  Both are on a “recovery” journey. Faith shapes their relationship and their recovery and what a faith community can do to help those dealing with addictions and find hope in difficult times. They spoke to Adult Forums bracketing worship services. What was made clear in the homily was that addiction takes various forms and “recovery” demands similar care by the Shepherd and, as well,  the Shepherd’s sheep.

The homily stressed the difficulty and fruitlessness in reliance for “recovery” from addiction on our resources. In context with that observation the preacher stated:  STOP TRYING TO PLAY GOD!  Operation “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”  proves fruitless. “Christian holiness”, as one theologian has it:  is “motivated by the love of Christ and gratitude to God rather than motivated by obligation or fear.” Near the close of the homily the preacher stated: “The Good Shepherd will shortly welcome all of us to His Table”.  At that Eucharistic Table the Good Shepherd as the Lamb offers Himself for our redemption uniting us as forgiven sheep as members of the Body of Christ.  As “forgiven sheep” in the Good Shepherd’s sheepfold we respond with love for fellow sheep “dealing with addictions so they may find hope in difficult times”

The homily on Good Shepherd Sunday stimulated my memory back 65 years to seminary days reading The Quest For Holiness, a translation of German Luther scholar Adolph Koeberle’s 1928 doctoral dissertation at Tübingen University.  The Quest For Holiness  importantly helped shape my theologian stance. Sunday’s worship reminded me of my debt to Adolph Koeberle.  There is no more liberating basis for Christian ethics, Koeberle asserts, than the doctrine of justification of sinners.”  As a Luther scholar he places emphasis on Luther’s emphasis that Christian “vocation/calling” (Christian holiness/sanctification)is motivated by forgiveness of sins.  Attempts to sanctify ourselves in God’s sight, he avers,  follows three paths.  First, emphasis upon the Will –  sanctification of conduct (moralism).  Secondly, Emotions –   sanctification of the soul through (mysticism). Finally, the Mind  –  sanctification of thought or understanding (speculation/rationalism). Koeberle elaborates on Will, Emotions, and the Mind as three ways of erecting ladders to storm the gates of heaven and earn entrance. God’s judgment, however, rests on all self-justification. The homilist’s injunction:  STOP TRYING TO PLAY GOD!  Christian holiness is motivated by love for Christ (Shepherd/Lamb) and gratitude to God for forgiveness of our human frailty.


Valentine’s Day: THE GRAMMAR OF LOVE

February 14, 2013

THE GRAMMAR OF LOVE:  a sentence has subject and predicate, a noun often necessitates a verb and often an active verb. Love manifests itself in loving. The personality  and essential character of my mate of sixty years, Ruth,  provided for her mate a consistent demonstration of that GRAMMAR. Divine Providence not wishing man to be alone, the Psalmist asserts, “sets the solitary in families”.  So my wife and I became one.  Expressed with the psalmist poetic imagery “my wife became a fruitful vine by the side of my house” and our “children”, the fruit of our union, “like olive plants about my table”.  Our children, each child ultimately precious and dearly beloved, together with parents in established family provided a rich, vibrant, most rewarding family life – the familial context as school for the shaping and maturing of character. The Psalmist’s final assurance for the father of the house, a promise in which the mate shares, has been richly granted, namely, that “he would see his children’s children”.  What privilege for proud grandpa to provide thirteen times repeated a golden amulet for grandma’s charm bracelet!  And what joy grandchildren and their parents bring to the enrichment of life!  And so you, Ruth, as wife, mother, grandmother serve most meaningfully as our family’s beloved matriarch.

Love kindled at first glance in the young heart of your lover as never altered. That same lover having journeyed a far distant six decades along life’s path but never alone with you as companion and wife pledges his constant,, unwavering love so long as life unites us.


Granddaughter Lucia – a voice for HOPE

December 9, 2012

The Sheltering Arms Orphanage sponsored by the Episcopal Church stood where the Becketwood Cooperative is situated. On the orphanage campus a small chapel still stands with a 1922 dedication cornerstone. Restored by Becketwood Cooperative it serves as place for Wednesday vesper worship. Members of various religious persuasion are welcome to conduct the service. Vespers last week was  conducted by a fellow Becketwood retired navy chaplain.  His Advent theme was a discourse on HOPE. This suggested posting for Advent Season using a six year old granddaughter, Lucia’s, use of the word HOPE. A note I sent to the homilist, a good Becketwood Mancave friend follows. It underscores the Advent theme of HOPE. Read more »


“Amazing Grace” – “great deliverance”

December 4, 2012

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound . . .”.  The author of those familiar words was John Newton born in London in 1725.  After serving on a ship involved in the slave trade he eventually became the captain of his own ship also involved in the slave trade. During a violent storm at sea (May 10, 748) he came to experience  what he later called his “great deliverance”.  God was addressing him, he later obsereved, through that storm and it was then that grace began to work on him. Later he became a minister and wrote the  words to the verse “Amazing Grace” probably between 1760 and 1770. The origin of the melody is not known but it is speculated (Bill Moyers special on “Amazing Grace) it began as a tune of a song the slaves sang. What is also interesting is Newton’s influence on William Wilberforce, the leader of the movement to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The hymn “Amazing Grace”  has always had a large place in the African-American community. For myself the hymn has always spoken importantly as underscoring not only the importance of spiritual freedom but also freedom from physical bondage.

Marian Anderson, the great African American contralto, singing “Amazing Grace” has symbolized for me a keynote in American history.  She sang, in my view, not only for spiritual freedom but also for remembering  the struggle for  freedom from the bondage of slavery.  She evoked for me the ongoing quest for justice in American society. Born in 1897 she rose to fame as a globally recognized soloist, especially in Europe. Returning to America she was turned down by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when she sought to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.  Eleanor Roosevely resigned in protest from the DAR and took a strong stand for  civil rights. Through her influence with the Secretary of the Interior the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were made available. Marian Anderson sang there on Easter Sunday in 1939 to an audience of 75, 000 people. “Amazing Grace” was one of her signature songs. This is the same location where 2000, 000 people gathered on August 28, 1963 to hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.  “Amazing Grace”, the Lincoln Memorial, Marian anderson, and Martin Luther King  – symbols for the struggle for freedom and justice in American history and life in the present..


“Godly Gossip” / “Bountiful Feet Announcing Good News”

November 18, 2012

The 1953 graduating class of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis numbered 102 graduates. That class of which I was a member will observe shortly 60 years of ministry. Over the course of the past fifteen years  Rev. Dr. Arlo Nau has kept classmates in touch by occasionally sending news of classmates headlined: Godly Gossip. Of the original 102 graduates 57 are still living. Members of the class came from the various Concordia colleges. Concordia College, Milwaukee sent  21 of us to Concordia Seminary in the fall of 1948.  Of that number 12  of the original number celebrate with their nine living classmates but “on another shore and in a greater light”.

As a postscript to Godly Gossip classmate Arlo has requested remaining classmates submit a brief piece describing an experience in ministry that resonates personally.  He plans to gather what classmates submit in booklet form.  I offered the following:

“Recently a celebratory event (10/17/2012) served as capstone for my teaching ministry. First some background as preparation for that event. The Fred and Ruth Bartling Scholarship was established by Concordia Academy students at their fiftieth class reunion two years ago to honor my role as their teacher. One year ago FREDSTOCK (10/28/2011) was an event celebrating five decades of teaching ministry at Concordia University, St. Paul. The Fredstock theme reflected my emphasis when lecturing often stressing freedom, justice, liberty, and equality both as idea and reality in American history. The Fredstock theme also reflected my earlier Sixties and Seventies years teaching at Concordia when I sported long hair and sideburns, wearing a collection of necklaces, and a purse strapped to my shoulder. Teaching emphasis was a response to experiences of ministry in the Jim Crow South in the late Fifties and early Sixties and subsequently when engaged in graduate studies in American history. The Fredstock event marked the major effort to fund the $50,000 endowment scholarship in my wife’s and my name. Scholarships are awarded to history/social science majors. This fall the scholarship reached $32,000 and became a funded endowment making possible the first scholarship award. The second annual Bartling Lecture Convocation (10/17/2012) was the opportunity to present the first Bartling Scholar. The Scholar is a senior majoring in history (my teaching discipline) and plans to go to seminary to become a clergyman. He visions himself serving the church in whatever way the Lord leads him. Indeed, fitting capstone for my teaching ministry.”

My ordination took place at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Richmond Heights, Missouri on July 26, 1953 with my father officiating. He presented me The Pastor’s Companion, a small companion of orders of service, psalms and prayers.  He inscribed:

To    Frederick A. Bartling

Your ordination day,

8th Sunday after Trinity

July 26, 1953

From      Victor Bartling

(Romans 15, 29)

Upon the occasion of observing my fiftieth year of ordination Dr. Robert Holst of  Concordia University, St. Paul  wrote,  May 15, 2003:

“Fifty years of service to the church is a commendable achievement. You have served the church with your wisdom, your theology, your care for students and their learning, and your global awareness. We at Concordia are glad that a portion of your career was spent on this campus.”

Presented on that occasion in calligraphy lettering:

how bountiful are the feet of those who announce Good News  How can they believe unless they have heard of Him? How can they hear unless there is someone to preach? How can they preach unless they are sent?  Romans 10: 14-15


Bahai and Cao Dai Religious Sects: Syncretistic Monotheism

November 4, 2012

Recently we visited The Bahai House of Worship (Temple) in Wilmette, Illinois, one of eight serving continental areas. This House of worship’s “ornamental tracery” is a celebration of the light representing the new revelation from the latest messenger of God, Mirza Husayn-Ali. “The temple design transcends any specific culture, forming a unique structure” characteristic of neither East or West.  Read more »



How approach my role as American citizen on national Independence Day?  Often  we may become distracted from our vocation as citizen in context of political divisiveness and pressing economic and social issues.  How place my calling as citizen in a more liberating and “relaxed”  context to celebrate more fully that citizenship?  That depends,  in my view, on the spiritual underpinnings of one’s  understanding of the role and responsibility of citizenship.  As a young student I Read more »