Another Way for week of March 24, 2017
Lenten Conversations: John Perkins on Forgiveness
Editor’s note: Fifth in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians over several years.
He had one of the most terrifying opening lines ever for a story: “One of the sheriffs took a … pistol and cocked it to the side of my head and pulled the trigger. … in my mind I was a dead person.”
Speaking was John Perkins, a well known champion of social justice and reconciliation—who dealt in a personal way with racial brutality in Mississippi in the 1960s.
I did several phone interviews with John Perkins preparing a producer for a 2001 documentary which aired on ABC-TV, Journey toward Forgiveness. But I felt like I knew John, too, after hearing him speak at an American Bible Society meeting and then sharing a taxi ride with him to the airport.
John grew up in the south where his brother, Clyde, was killed by a town marshall after a disturbance in a movie theater line. Clyde had fought in World War II and had a difficult time readjusting to life in Mississippi where, as a black, he was expected to conform and stay quiet. John was devastated and angry after his brother was killed. His parents, who had been sharecroppers in the 30s, wisely encouraged him to move to California; eventually he served with the military in Korea, became a Christian, and then married Vera Mae back home in Mendenhall, Mississippi, and became a pastor.
John believed strongly in encouraging people to help themselves and in such a role, helped to organize an economic boycott. He was briefly jailed in Mendenhall, and then some students were arrested for organizing a similar boycott in a nearby city. John drove to the jailhouse to help the students make bond and the sheriff “couldn’t believe that I would come back to make bond,” John recalled. “I didn’t have any understanding of the hostility that these people had.”
The guards started beating John and the two others who were trying to post bond. “They started beating us … the sheriff began to curse us and say, ‘This is that smart _____. This is a new ball game [here]. This is not Mendenhall. You are in my county now.’”
The sheriff had cocked the gun at John’s head and at one point a fork was shoved up his nose. He was kicked repeatedly in the groin. In the eyes of his tormentors, John saw hatred.
“That hatred frightened me. You get just a little glimpse of it and say, ‘I don’t want that dark place in my own life.’ I made a bargain with God that night, I was so fearful. I was thinking I was gonna be killed. And I said, ‘God, if you’ll let me out of this jail, I really want to preach a Gospel that is stronger than my race, stronger than my economic interest. I wanna preach a Gospel that can reconcile black and whites together in the body of Christ.’”
What I admire so very much is that out of this experience, John started a foundation which still works at reconciliation between races, justice, and development for all.
John explained further, “Reconciliation to me is not so much for the white people I encountered. It is really for myself. I saw that hate in the eyes of the people that tortured me and I could feel myself needing to hate them back.” He went on, “I felt a weight on me. I began to recognize that and really hear the Scripture that says, ‘Unless you can forgive those who trespass against you, how do you expect your heavenly Father to forgive you?’”
John emphasized that forgiveness was his way to shed hatred from his own life. “Forgiveness frees me,” he said. “Not only have I been loved by God, but I’ve been loved by God’s people.” John used his nightmare to help others latch onto the freeing experience of forgiveness.
After hearing John’s story, it restored my hope and faith that people could get along across the many boundaries that divide us. He went beyond reconciliation to preach that unless people are empowered to pursue economic development, they will continue to struggle in many realms. John never received a college degree, but I could see he had the wisdom of a Solomon.
I still grieve and stress over the racial injustice we find in our world, and work to reach across boundaries for better understanding and more harmony. In this Lenten season as we move closer to the special time of remembering Christ’s death on the cross, we can reflect on how Jesus also turned to those who tortured him and forgave them. It’s a way to find new freedom and love.
Find out more about the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation at https://jvmpf.org/
These Lenten Conversations will be available as a free small booklet (PDF portable document format) right before Easter. You will be able to download it, or if you don’t go online, send your name, address, and two U.S. postage stamps and I’ll send a copy.
Send to email@example.com or Another Way Media, Box 363 , Singers Glen, Va. 22850.
Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.
Another Way for week of March 17, 2017
Lenten Conversations: Ken Medema on Really Listening
Editor’s note: Fourth in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians over several years.
I first heard Ken Medema’s incredible music and stories at a Mennonite Church convention but I’m not sure where or when. I say incredible because I don’t know of another excellent musician who can listen to someone telling a story and then make up meaningful lyrics and simple tunes while singing in front of a crowd and have them turn out so very well. Plus there’s the blind thing but he’s never let that stop him.
Now in his 70’s, Ken performs piano and voice concerts across the U.S. and Canada, and has recorded many albums. One of my close friends used to be a booking agent for a comedy duo at similar venues and through her connections and assistance, I was able to record an interview with Ken. He broke into a number of on-the-spot made up songs even during our interview, which I loved! My oldest daughter also sang in a teen choir at a youth convention and got to share a story with Ken while he listened, and then created a song from her story. Classic Ken Medema.
But I was especially charmed when he explained how that act of listening so intently until he caught the “nub” of a story is also a helpful and practical skill in relationships: with a spouse, children, friends, and even enemies. I dare say it was also a gift that Jesus possessed in spades—something to remind ourselves as we journey through Lent
For example, Ken and his wife Jane have greatly differing personalities. Ken is basically an introvert who, while he enjoys people immensely, after leaving a concert or crowd, needs to retreat into his own skin. He said Jane, on the other hand, is such a talkative people-person that she doesn’t know “what she thinks until she says it.” Jane needs people around with a lot of interaction, because that’s how she thrives. “And I can’t thrive unless I have lots of time alone,” Ken described.
So if Jane, for example (or either spouse in a marriage) is dishing out “a catalog of the ‘you don’ts,’ such as ‘You don’t send me flowers, you don’t seem to have interest in some of the things I talk about, you don’t seem to like the books I read,’ –how do I respond?” asks Ken.
Suddenly in that conversation, Ken said he hears an undertone of “I feel kind of second rate.” He said to look for a key like that in any discussion or disagreement. “I feel second rate” or “less than” or “not appreciated.”
Ken went on: “Rather than responding to her with ‘Oh yes I love your cooking, I love the books you read’—I can respond with ‘I feel kind of overwhelmed, because you are so full of energy and ideas and my mind is so slow sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.’” Those kinds of words—overhelmed, second rate, can be keys to turning a brewing fight into a conversation “and then we can work together at figuring out what’s going on rather than just making accusations,” Ken noted.
Ken shared how he listens to people and their stories the same way. “I hear a nub, I hear a little phrase, I hear the central focus of what the person is trying to say.” And that gives him a key phrase out of which to make a song!
In 2010, Ken and his wife were invited to move in with the family of one of their children. In this setting of living with loved ones but needing to work out some of the kinks of three generations in a household, he enumerated the advantages. “Kids are hard to raise,” Ken stated. “But when you’ve got four adults who basically agree on how to raise a kid, when one adult gets tired, another can take over” which is a huge help. In this setting he and Jane would say to the adult children, “You guys get out of here, go see a movie. We’ll take care of the kids.” Ken remarked, “The relief is palpable. It’s amazing how that works.”
He added, “When differences crawl all over us, we both can find our satisfaction being together among the kids and grandkids, and it brings us together in better ways.”
Ken and his wife have enjoyed many years together even though there were rough times. Their central focus has been serving God and the church. I can think of no better scripture for this little Lenten meditation than John 13:34 where Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Or as Ken sung at this point in our conversation:
“We’re such different people, but we’ve so much to share.
Sometimes I’m frightened, and sometimes it’s more than I can bear.
And yet I belong to you, and you belong to me,
And we both belong to Jesus, so let’s learn how to be a family.”
Have you met or heard Ken Medema? Stories or impressions?
Ken Medema’s music and concert schedule can be found at kenmedema.com. For a free booklet I’ve written called “Secrets of Long Marriage,” write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850.
Parts of this interview appeared earlier on the Shaping Families radio program and website. You can hear the interview here and hear Ken’s snatches of songs!
Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.
Gluten Free Cupcakes: The secret story of what happened to my first batch
These are cupcakes with a long story. Skip the tale and go straight to the recipe below if you want.
But the germ, (ahem, I use that word for a reason) of this story started in January when everyone was getting sick left and right. At work, at home, at church, among friends, among family.
We had planned to go celebrate my third grandson’s birthday at his house (two hours away), and I volunteered to make some gluten free homemade cupcakes from scratch, especially for his older brother but for the rest of us too. I had found what sounded like a fine recipe and I still had all those weird rice and tapioca and other flours that I purchased at Christmas, which I told about here. I spent a Saturday morning making the cupcakes for the celebration planned for the following weekend. And then I froze them as I always do cakes before frosting them. They frost easier and it makes the cake moister, too, I believe.
And then. That evening, I got as sick as a dog. Sicker if that’s possible. I had not, you know, made that many trips to hug the porcelain throne since I don’t know when. I was down for two days. It wasn’t influenza, I still think it was just a stomach bug that laid me out. A couple days later, I came down with a cold that I had been fighting since Christmas. So did my grandsons. two hours away. And their mom and dad didn’t feel so great either. The party was postponed until the following weekend and we hoped all of us would be better. Luckily it was the little guy’s first birthday so he didn’t complain about waiting seven days.
What to do with the cupcakes? My daughter called me to politely but firmly caution me she didn’t think we should use the cupcakes. Everyone had been so sick. She didn’t want to risk more illness. I understood. I would have felt just terrible if any of them had gotten sick again and had to miss more work and daycare. I would have hated to be in her shoes to make the call. I told her I would just buy a gluten free cake mix and make some new cupcakes from a mix for the party.
She ordered a small birthday cake from a bakery decorated as a cute little bright blue drum for the musical theme. The one-year-old enjoyed it very much and so did the rest of us, with the gluten-free boy making do with his cake mix cupcakes.
Back home, I couldn’t bring myself to throw those precious original cupcakes away. I hated to see the expensive flours and other ingredients go to waste. I had tasted one the day I made them and I knew they had an extra earthiness and wholesome flavor I loved.
Could I take them to the office and share them there—everyone’s fallback for helping clean up aging desserts or recipe failures? I immediately chastised myself for even pondering the thought. If my daughter felt there was a chance the cupcakes would make their family sick, how could I imagine foisting the cupcakes on my unsuspecting office mates! Of course not. But it was a thought, in order to not waste them.
So I left them sit in the freezer. Weeks passed. We were getting ready to go visit my other two grandsons five hours away (and of course their parents—always!) and I didn’t want my husband or I to get sick before we went. So we didn’t sample any more of those cupcakes in my freezer.
We had a grand trip to visit the other family, and neither one of us got sick. Small miracle. The two little boys already had colds and runny noses, but we didn’t pick up anything, and they held their own without fevers or ear infections. A big deal after all the illnesses, including (right before Christmas) a hospitalization and a trip in the rescue squad for those two young’in’s (separate illnesses).
Back from our trip, my mind kept returning to those cupcakes. Dare I eat them? Should I toss them? I decided to stealthily eat the cupcakes and see if I got sick—either with a cold or stomach flu. I had one after dinner one night (gave my husband an alternative brownie for his dessert). I ate several more that week with no signs of illness returning. Had I frozen any residual germs out of the cupcakes?
I’ll never know but I finally told my husband what was up with the stealth cupcakes. We ate the rest of them and neither of us got sick. Or anything. And. They. Were. Delicious. At least in my book.
Again, they had a full-bodied texture that was quite satisfying—not just fluffy cake. They tasted similar to the gluten free cake we had purchased from a local food truck baker who said she had worked very hard to perfect a gluten free cake recipe she liked. I decorated these cupcakes to share with you here, even though they never made it to any party.
End of story. Now my daughter knows my secret too. And here’s the recipe. Try it if you have a gluten-free family member. Or to delight your gluten free kid—keep a stash in your freezer when there’s a birthday party whenever he or she need to bring their own cupcakes.
Eat them if you dare!
Yellow Gluten Free Cupcakes
1 ½ cups white rice flour
¾ cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder (most is gluten free)
1 teaspoon xanthangum
1 ¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons gluten free vanilla
Mix flours and other dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, sugar and mayo until fluffy. Add to the flour mixture. Add milk and vanilla. Pour into 12-15 muffin tins lined with cupcake papers. Bake at 350 for 22 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in middle of a cupcake comes out clean.
Freeze (if desired) then frost and decorate. (I used canned white frosting and sprinkles.)
What would you have done? Stories?
Have you ever shared aging or less-than-perfect treats
or dessert with the “break room” crowd? Results?
Another Way for week of March 10, 2017
Lenten Conversations: Martin Marty on Family Time
Editor’s note: Third in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians.
One of the persons I felt most privileged to interview several years ago was Dr. Martin Marty, longtime editor, prolific author, and columnist at Christian Century magazine. That he would agree to an interview with a pretty much unknown writer/producer says something about his humble spirit. Among many laurels, The University of Chicago Divinity School named their institute for advanced research in the study of religion “The Martin Marty Center.”
As a Lutheran, Marty was named of course for Martin Luther, the great reformer. 2017 marks 500 years since Martin Luther wrote and nailed his “95 Theses” (on why the church needed reforming) to the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany. What an inspirational model for the young Martin Marty.
For years I enjoyed his weekly “M.E.M.O” column in the Christian Century. If Marty’s good health and remarkable mind continue, he will soon be 90 and still publishing (now contributes to the Sightings column). I will admit that his writing is sometimes too thick and academic for my inadequate brain.
Yet I will forever treasure his humor, his spirit (he always seems to be smiling as if keeping a
secret joke), and his willingness to welcome me into his Chicago condo and office looking out on a glorious view of Lake Michigan. I was recording an interview for the Mennonite church’s radio program on family issues, a denominational group which Marty respects highly. Marty of course is amply familiar with Mennonites from his wide academic study of religion, but he also came to know the small denomination through Richard Kauffman, book review editor at the Century for many years.
Marty also wrote the foreword for my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner: Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime. Publishers today have a bit of age bias as they look for up and coming younger names as foreword writers for books. But there’s nothing wrong, I hope, with folks pushing 90 and still publishing.
I started by asking Marty where he grew up: “I have a very strong sense of place and heritage, and though I’m very far from it, every day I somehow draw on my Nebraska roots,” he replied with feeling.
The Martys lived in a small town, but the children spent summers on the farms of relatives. It was the 1930s Dust Bowl era, and Marty says his parents had to have felt the agony of the Depression. “But we children were kind of protected from that.” His father went to summer school every year, so for six weeks he and his siblings were “farmed out” to relatives (grandfather and an aunt and uncle) on literal Nebraska farms. “They were almost a parallel family to us,” said Marty. They lived 65 miles away and costly to buy gas to go that far. “So summer was just unbroken pleasure on the farm. It was a warm, rich community environment, everybody knew everybody, and took care of each other,” Marty noted.
Marty and Elsa (his first wife, who died of cancer), also had the goal and joy of camping in almost every state with five kids plus two who joined the family as foster children. “We got to all states except Hawaii and Alaska, (and forgot Delaware!),” he recalled. Marty reflected: “If you take a three-or-so-week camping trip with each other, you really get to know each other. Each had his own assignment on tent set-ups and camping gear and so on.” Marty is happy to observe his children following the camping tradition with their own families.
At one point the Martys had seven boys aged 9-14 around the table every night. “My sainted wife managed that more than I did, although the kids always remember how every day when I came home, we’d toss the football. We lived near parks and had a swimming pool; of course a lot of friends came over.”
Even though Marty traveled a lot because of his professional life, he worked very hard to spend time with the family together, and on an individual basis. The children took turns traveling with him on business when it could be arranged. They also didn’t watch television during the week. “They’d watch hockey on Saturday some, but we watched very little during the week. We had a reading circle every night around the table.”
As Lutherans I’m sure they observed a “holy Lent” and read frequently from the Bible. They enjoyed rich discussions involving theology, the world and how Christians should put faith into action. I’m also sure they argued as well (because we all do)—even Mary and Martha in the oft-told story of Jesus visiting their home for a meal when Martha was all a flutter with meal prep. Mary, however, relished sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear his teachings and stories.
This past Sunday was “Children’s Sunday” at my daughter’s church, and we enjoyed a short children’s musical of the Mary and Martha story, ending with this reminder which is good for all of us as we find time to meditate this Lent: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away.” (Luke 10:41-42).
These Lenten Conversations will be available as a free small booklet (PDF portable document format) right before Easter. You will be able to download it, or if you don’t go online, send your name, address, and two U.S. postage stamps and I’ll send a copy. Send to email@example.com or Another Way Media, Box 363 , Singers Glen, Va. 22850.
Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.
Easy cut-up oranges for fresh fruit salad
This is the simplest of recipes; I wouldn’t even call it a recipe. It is mainly a tip for cutting up oranges to put into fruit salad that you may already practice. But I can imagine that beginning cooks might have not discovered this easy method, illustrated below. Basically it involves taking an orange, slicing it horizontally into 3 or four circular slices, then eliminating the middle fleshy part where all the segment skins join together. That leaves you with nice juicy sections that can mix with other fruits for flavoring.
We purchased a bushel of Florida oranges this past December from a great nephew who’s a high school band student, and I’m having trouble using them up, mainly because we didn’t quite have the Christmas we planned and I didn’t give away as many as I thought I would to my daughters, etc. So I’ve been making a lot of fruit salad (it goes particularly well to top off a “pancakes for dinner” meal like we had on Shrove Tuesday). Or anytime you have a heavier meal but want to grace it with something sweet, this fills the bill.
But at get togethers with certain friends, I have been asked to “bring your fruit salad” so I guess you could call it a recipe if people like it that much. In the 50s and 60s, our Mennonite mothers would make red Jello fruit salad using canned fruit cocktail for another easy dessert. I know some families who had a Jello salad for almost every dinner–and certainly for any company dinner! It was a thing. My kids were never fans of any Jello salad or even plain canned fruit cocktail but they did enjoy fresh fruit salad. Funny how habits and customs change over time and in families. The Bible is certainly full of references to fruit and comparing the benefits of following Christ to simple and glorious fruit.
Basic fruit salad
1 cup cut up oranges
1 cup purple or green grapes, left whole or cut in half
1 container canned mandarin oranges, with juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Add any other of your favorite fruits you have on hand: fresh pineapple, apples, tangerines, blueberries or raspberries. In summer, I add cantaloupe, watermelon, or honeydew melons. Add banana right before serving if possible, and squirt with some lemon juice to keep some fruits from turning brown.
To cut oranges into pieces for salad:
That’s a simple and healthy dessert! For us, it often hits the spot.
So, did you grow up having Jello salad frequently? Good memories or not so much?
Do you have a better method of cutting up oranges?
Esther Shank’s Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets is full of great tips like these that she prepared especially for her own daughters, which has gone on to be a continuing great-selling book. Order here.
Lenten Conversations: Mike Berenstain of “Bear” Book Fame
Another Way Column for week of March 3, 2017
Editor’s note: Second in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians over several years.
I was surprised when I learned that Mike Berenstain was to be commencement speaker at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University in 2011. But his son was graduating so I was pleased when Mike took time out of a very busy weekend for an interview for our little radio program, Shaping Families. I had to think how the stories and artwork he and his parents created were quite significant in shaping my own little family!
Berenstain Bear books were an almost nightly ritual at our house for a number of years. I still have 19 of the lovable books which teach so many good values, awaiting the years when my own grandsons will enjoy them. Both of the older Berenstains, Stan and Jan, who wrote and illustrated the books, are now deceased (Mike’s father in 2005 and mother in 2012). Mike counts it a privilege to have worked with them after the books spun off into TV shows and other products. He said his parents could barely keep up with the demands on their time in the late 80s. They never pushed Mike into the “family business” but he chose to study illustration in art school, and briefly worked in design for Random House. There he learned the ropes of publishing children’s books.
I loved that the Berenstains chose bears for their family of characters not because of the similarity to their last name, but for the simple reason that “bears were easy to draw.” As a kid, Mike was amused when fans would assume the Berenstain bears somehow represented Stan and Jan’s own family. People would say to Mike, “Well, are you Brother Bear?” Mike told me, “I always said, well, no, I have an older brother. So I must be Sister Bear.” Mike said his own kids took bear comparisons mostly in stride, enjoying the attention their grandparents received as the famous illustrator/authors.
I was interested in how Mike came to launch a separate line of Berenstain Bear books which are more directly religious. His father was culturally of Jewish background and his mother raised Episcopalian. Mike explained that “they taught us ethics from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but they dealt with their mixed marriage by really not teaching us religion.” But as an adult, Mike became a Christian and later in publishing, he wanted to express his own faith and launched “Living Lights” through Zondervan publishers.
Mike recalled the Berenstains had received an immense amount of feedback from people over the years saying that they would like books with a more overt faith message. “A huge proportion of our audience—our most dedicated, faithful audience —were people of very traditional backgrounds,” Mike pointed out.
There are about 12 original classic Berenstain Bear books that have been perennial best sellers. “But of the more recent ones published since then, the Living Lights faith books are the most popular,” Mike commented.
It was encouraging to hear that even though he wasn’t taught specific Christian faith stories as a child, his work has now been helpful for parents in raising their children to love God and follow Christ’s basic teachings. Lent and Easter traditions and activities can be special times with your children to bring attention to Christian faith and stories from the Bible.
This author added, “It’s very important that [in teaching good values] you try to give kids books that will give them a story which is attractive, entertaining, and interesting. It’s much less effective to give a kid a lecture.” Of course!
Mike is my age (born the same month in 1951) and if he is able to continue coming up with great story lines and ideas as long as his parents did (well into their 80s), he won’t be retiring anytime soon. His mother always quipped when she was asked if she was going to retire, “I think I’ll retire and take up painting!”
When I interviewed Mike, his mother was still living. He gave her great credit as she continued to paint. He said his mother would always be a “much a better illustrator because she had so much more experience.”
Mike’s faith story brings me to several verses for your Lenten reflection from the poetry of Isaiah 46:4 and 9-10. The verses concern the time when the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon. “I will still be carrying you when you are old. Your hair will turn gray, and I will still carry you. I made you, and I will carry you to safety. … I am God, and there is no other; … there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” We can take comfort that no matter what comes in the world, in our families, or with our aging bodies, God is there.
I’m collecting these Lenten Conversations into a free small booklet as a PDF (portable document format) to be available right before Easter. You will be able to download it, or if you don’t go online, send your name, address, and two U.S. postage stamps and I’ll send a copy. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850.
What is or was you or your child’s favorite Berenstain Bear book? Or… maybe not a fan?? Feel free to comment either way!
My husband and I recently spent almost a week (hence this late posting of Another Way column) at the home of two of our grandsons, helping with childcare during an especially busy time for their parents. We look forward to the time when the grandsons can come for part or all of a week for Grandkid Kamp at our house!
I’d love to hear your experiences with grandchildren or as a grandchild at your own grandma/grandpa’s house!
Another Way for week of February 24, 2017
Lenten Conversations: Stanley Hauerwas on Prayers for Our Children
Editor’s note: First in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians over several years.
Can you imagine going to bed at night not sure if you or your child will be alive the next day?
Stanley Hauerwas is a renowned theologian, prolific author, and a distinguished professor emeritus from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to interview some folks with names you might recognize. Sometimes the interviews were for TV documentaries we worked on at Mennonite Media, or for the Shaping Families radio program which had a sweet but short life from 2010-2012. For the six weeks of Lent which begins March 1, through the week before Easter, I’ll share highlights from some of those encounters.
I first became aware of Stanley Hauerwas’s writing and work when he and Will Willimon wrote the noteworthy and prophetic book Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Abingdon Press) in the late 80s. This now being 2017, perhaps I should note that Hauerwas and Willimon were not talking of immigrants here, but rather how Christians all are perhaps aliens living in a culture away from our true home in God’s kingdom or heaven.
Hauerwas’s lofty books and highly respected teaching didn’t stop him from living a nightmare. He endured the difficult personal circumstances facing many families living with someone with bipolar illness. Both he and his son have deep faith and gratefulness for the prayers of friends and colleagues who rallied to their support in those days.
“Prayer meant everything to me,” Hauerwas said in his interview. “I know that I would not have survived without intercessory prayer, I just know that. So we can always pray for one another in that way. “
Fast forward to 2012 when his memoir, Hannah’s Child had just been published, and he was speaking to a group of Mennonites meeting in Raleigh at North Carolina State University. The topic of that book was more domestic, not only about Dr. Hauerwas’s childhood, but how he came to deal with his wife’s mental illness.
In Hannah’s Child, he writes about his own mother, named Hannah. Like Hannah in the Old Testament book of Samuel (1 Samuel, chapter 2), Hauerwas’s mother prayed for a son and promised to devote her life to raising that son for God. Hauerwas jokes that that was “perfectly appropriate, but why did she have to tell me about it when I was just six?” Later in life he learned how those prayers and even being told of her dreams for him surely “had a great shaping on my life. It took me many years to understand that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Think of the Psalm that goes, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” (Psalms 139:5). Also in the book of Jeremiah, who was also a teaching prophet, Jeremiah was told, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (1:5).
Hauerwas’ father was a brick layer and at first Hauerwas was inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps. I loved the tribute Hauerwas gave his father in our interview:
My father was a wonderful, gentle man, who was in a very hard line of work. He was a craftsman of first order, and when I was taken on the job when I was 7, you have to learn all the subsidiary skills of the laborer before you’re allowed to lay brick. My father was a little hesitant to teach me because he wanted me to go on to college and he didn’t want me into the money [of bricklaying]. But I learned from my father essential work habits that have stayed with me my whole life.
I have no doubt that this early introduction to hard work did help Hauerwas as he lived through the manic episodes in his first marriage until she left him. He also credits his parents as instrumental for his calling: “My mother and father exemplified for me a very straightforward and unapologetic dedication of lives shaped by the church and the gospel, which always stayed with me. Their faith always gave them something to do. That is what faith does. It gives you something to do. Just think how wonderful that is, to have something to do with your life. You don’t have to make it up.”
What were or are your prayers for your children? Reflect on Psalm 139:5 printed above: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
I’ll collect these Lenten Conversations into a small booklet PDF (portable document format) that will be available right before Easter. You will be able to download it free or if you don’t go online, send me your name and address and two U.S. postage stamps and I’ll print and send a copy. Send to email@example.com or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850.