Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Risk of Love

Jon Larson, co-president of the senior class of Wartburg Seminary, 2010, gave a commencement response which included these words, ever more poignant, because he was in Haiti in January, surviving the earthquake in which his cousin, dear friend, and classmate, Ben, died.

Jon spoke of beginning a new journey, "a journey where we are equipped, guided and guarded by the Holy Spirit, but more than that, where we are now a part of each other. As we leave this place with our hearts full of all kinds of emotions, we also leave here with love for one another in our hearts. We are forever yoked together for strength in sharing the burdens and the accomplishments to come in the future. Even though we are not side by side, we can feel the love as we hold each other up in prayer, as we are a listening ear, and--if we are lucky--as we still feel the impression of a hug.

"We are bonded together and guided today by love. Love is oh so risky! We know this all too well. We are surrounded by individuals and communities who have risked much: those present in this room, those in our lives, and those absent. Love is indeed risky because in fully giving of ourselves in love we risk changing through the love of the other. Risking in love can be pain-full and can also be joy-filled, and it is everything in between. That is exactly what we are called to do: risk everything in love. We risk because we believe and proclaim that God has first loved us, giving us all we need, and Christ is our ultimate example of love.

"So we ask: "Will we risk? Will we love the people we are called to serve with all our being?" YES..we will, with the help of God." Brothers, and sisters, that is how we walk into the world."

Malcolm Ridgeway has been a friend of mine since the days when our families were neighbors in Detroit years ago. For the past eleven years he has been in prison and we have written many, many letters to one another: Living Epistles one might call them. Malcolm reminds me of the Apostle Paul because he carries on a ministry among the men as pastor, preacher, teacher, social worker, counselor and friend. A recent letter began:

"I pray that God's grace continues to abound in and through you. You hear God's call, 'Here I am Lord, send me.' We are fellow laborers in God's vineyard. I pray that God sends more laborers because the harvest is ripe."

In these years he has been moved around from Detroit, to a prison in rural Michigan, then to Muskegan, and now back to Detroit. He says, "I am once again in Detroit. I am overjoyed. If I have to be incarcerated, I'd much rather be here, close to family. I hate that they had to make that long drive to see me. I dearly miss the men I left in Muskegan. I developed some friendships that will last me a lifetime. It's like that every time I leave a prison. I'm like Joselph. Everywhere I go God's favor rests upn me and I meet people with whom I connect and in no time at all it's like we've known each other all our lives. But it was time to move on. Guys here leave and go home everyday, so there will be a lot of opportunities to put something on their minds as they head for the streets again. I give thanks to God for the people God has placed in my life. God is an awesome God."

Recently, after I had shared with Malcolm some of my own journeys away from Wartburg, he said, "I pray that God continues to open doors for you." To hear those words from a man in prison was amazing!

We are called, called together, to love, to risk, and to move on. Sometimes we have a say in where we are called. Sometimes we do not. Sometimes doors are open. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are locked. Sometimes we face life. Sometimes we face death. But God leads on the journey, on the risk of love.

To assist you in your journey of faith, I invite you to click on to "Grace and Peace to You: A Yearlong Devotional Journey Through the Epistles"

Saturday, May 1, 2010


How did my little 4-year-old legs climb all those stairs through the courtyards of Windsor Terrace apartments from Ingersoll to Grand Avenue? I remember my mother, my sister and I climbed up that steep hill home from the bus when we lived on Lincoln Court during the first few years of my life in Des Moines, Iowa. I climbed those many stairs again the last day of my journey home from Colorado and Nebraska. Why did I want to climb those stairs? The little bungalow is no longer there. The land is now part of Des Moines University. I guessed students now lived in Windsor Terrace.

Why does one look for, long for, "home" when even the house no longer exists? I have been on the road for eight weeks now, spending March teaching in Sweden and during April lecturing, preaching and leading workshops in many congregations in Colorado and Nebraska. Long drives allow one to count and take stock. I figured I have lived 17 places during my lifetime. And then I counted that the various places I have stayed these past two months added up also to the number 17. I can see each one of them in my mind's eye. Each in their own way was "home" if for 15 years or for only a night or two.

I lived in only two different places until I was 11, when my father died. And then we moved around a bit. By the time I left "home" (meaning my mother's house) in Mason City, Iowa, after graduating from community college, there had been six. We had owned none of them, always renting a bungalow, duplex or apartment. And then there were the young adult years of Valparaiso University, my first call in St. Louis, graduate school and Burton's first call, back teaching in Valparaiso: five more. During Burton's many years of pastoral ministry we have lived in six homes, three of which were church parsonages, and three of which we owned ourselves. Does that add up to 17? I think so. Oh, I could very well add the apartment at Iliff School of Theology in Denver where I lived for six months during my Ph.D. residency. That was actually the only place I lived by myself. I think it's important to do so at sometime in one's life, to discover who one really is.

Are the houses and apartments where you have lived still there? Can you see them? Do you recall feelings of joy and loss, struggles and accomplishment while you lived there? Whom did you love? Who loved you? Who is no longer alive? Who shared your life for a brief time? A long time? Who sat at your table in those places you called home? What strangers did you welcome there? During these past two months we stayed in Swedish hotels with Scandinavian decor a school/retreat center, and in a l000 year old parsonage. (Burton traveled with me.)

In Colorado and Nebraska I stayed 8500 feet high in Vail where homes are measured in the millions and out in the country in a parsonage of a four-point parish in rural Western Nebraska. I, traveling alone, was privileged to visit Wartburg Seminary graduates I have taught 5, 15, 20 and 25 years ago. And I learned at their tables, the tables in their kitchens and the tables of the altars in their churches. In each place people are "at home" whether the congregation has 2000 members or 25. I can see each one in my mind's eye. I heard about joys and losses, struggles and accomplishments. I, the stranger, was welcomed and loved. I give thanks for Christ who welcomes us all to each of those tables and in whom we find our home. And, as I go home to my office at Wartburg Seminary, where so many people through the years continue to "find Norma" I give thanks for that home, and for Christ's call that leads me, and all of us on all kinds of journeys. I have learned much in these past eight weeks. And I also hear the voice of Pastor Randy Fett, as I completed my last speaking engagement, "Norma, continue to teach."