Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pericope of the Week: Wangerin

One of the great blessings of teaching at Valparaiso University is that one occasionally crosses paths with Professor Walter Wangerin Jr. In the years since I joined the faculty he and his wife, Thanne, have become friends. We have shared many meals together and I have enjoyed interloping several Friday-afternoon theological sessions between Walt and my other close colleague, Fred Niedner Jr. These two "juniors," both sons of Missouri-Synod pastors ("A wandering cleric was my father," is how Walt puts it), who have met regularly on Fridays for seventeen years, have helped me to expand my theological and intellectual horizons in so many ways, and for that I am grateful.

Long before I ever met Walt or Fred I had learned of and from them. In Walt's case, first was The Book of the Dun Cow, which won the American Book Award for Best Science Fiction Paperback in 1980 and was the New York Times' choice for best children's book that year. Then there was Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, from which I generously borrowed and often cited during my first years of pastoral ministry in West Dundee, Illinois. These great books were followed by others: Miz Lill and the Chronicles of Grace, which tells of Walt's first pastorate, The Book of Sorrows, among the best of our beast fables, The Orphean Passages, which is yet another story of a pastor and the drama of his faith, and As for Me and My House, which I think is the best book on love and marriage that I have read. (If you can believe this, I actually took a copy of it on my honeymoon to Antigua, many, many moons ago! I later used it with the young-couples group in my congregation in that first year of marriage.)

If you have kept up with news about Walt's health during the past years, you know that he suffers from lung cancer. Thankfully the cancer is now pretty much in check, although he must occasionally use oxygen and stop to catch his breath. While he has had to retire officially from the university, he continues to show up periodically at his office two floors down from mine. He still writes quarterly for The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the church body in which he is a rostered pastor. I recently learned from him that he plans to teach a masters-level course on campus next semester. And he continues to write. And write. And write. In fact, he's probably written more during the time of his chronic illness than before the cancer's onslaught. Just a few months ago he passed on to me drafts of some new poetry and fiction about which he has invited my response. (Likewise, he has been very gracious to give me feedback on my own attempts at non-fiction.)

This past weekend I was privileged to co-lead a spiritual retreat with Walt for 28 of our Christian students. We were out at a local Roman Catholic retreat center on Saturday and Sunday. He did the two presentations on "friendship" and "intimacy" and I served as facilitator of discussions and preached and presided at Sunday's eucharist. Driving to and from the retreat center gave us some time to catch up on our families and the latest about our respective writing projects.

So I thought it would be fitting this week to select the pericope from one of his books, the one from which he himself drew this past weekend. He spoke on three of "the characteristics of the marriage contract": (1) it is one's total commitment unto the other, its comprehensiveness ("I promise you my faithfulness..."); (2) it is one's timeless commitment unto another, one that is not affected or changed by time ("Until death parts us..."); and (3) it is grounded in faith ("that we have faith in the God who loves the both of us, who encourages such a relationship as marriage, and who is above time..."). And then he spoke on a fourth:

(4) Forgiveness. This is the single most significant tool we have for meeting and for healing the troubles which marriage shall surely breed between us. What those troubles will be, we do not know. But that they will be, we may be assured. And nothing--neither our love, our effective communication with each other, our talents, our money, nor all the good will in the world--no, nothing can make right again the wrongs as can forgiveness. This tool, so practical and so unequivocally necessary to the healthy future of the marriage, must have its own chapter, and shall (As for Me and My House [Thomas Nelson, 1990], 24).

And what is forgiveness? It involves "giving up," "giving notice," and "giving gifts." For these "givings," you'll have to read the book... Or go to his website to listen to his presentations:


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