Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2004

Living Out Our Callings at Home

by Sheri Booms Holm, director of publications

I am an auntie. It's a position I take very seriously--even when I pretend to be a horse with my niece clinging to my back, or when I make silly faces at my baby nephew, hoping for a smile. I once heard that children have a better chance of growing up happy and well-adjusted when there are adults in their lives, other than their parents, who serve as mentors, role models and nurturers. I want to be that kind of person for Elizabeth and Nathaniel. So, my ears really perked up when Dr. James Nestingen, one of this year's Mid-Winter Convocation plenary speakers, talked of the "particularly important function" of the aunt or uncle in a family.


Plenary speakers Diana Garland, James Nestingen and Roland Martinson took part in a panel discussion. "Family" cannot be defined in general terms anymore, and neither can "home."

"They are close enough to parents to know firsthand both their gifts and their limits; close enough to children to share in their development without having to assume all the parental responsibilities." I laughed along with the rest of the Convo participants. But we understood. Aunt, uncle, grandparent, mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son: we all have important--even life-changing--roles to play in the lives of those near and dear to us. We each have a calling.

Nestingen, professor of church history at Luther Seminary, reminded the participants that Martin Luther considered one's role in the home--through marriage and the extended family--as one of the primary vocations to which believers are called.

But it seems "family" cannot be defined in general terms anymore, and neither can "home." In the ebb and flow of today's fast-paced, mobile, many shades of gray society, families can be "intact," "fractured," "blended" or anything in between. People are living longer, remaining single longer, moving more often, raising more children outside of the offices of marriage...the list goes on. Does Luther's vision of home and family as vocation still apply?

More than ever, was the answer, as Mid-Winter Convocation 2004 set about to examine what home means today, and more importantly, what God intends our roles to be in the midst of family and community.

Plenary speakers Diana Garland, Roland Martinson, '68, and James Nestingen, '71, '78, shed light on the historical, theological and sociological issues that shape family and home. Break-out sessions explored the specifics, looking at such subjects as: "Starter Marriages: The Role of Cohabitation," "Ministry with Postmoderns/Singles," "Getting Ready for Remarriage," "Families in the Face of Rural America," and "Healing Broken Lives and Relationships."

Location, Location... Vocation

Nestingen laid the foundation with the opening lecture "Justification, Vocation, and Location in Luther's Reformation." He took participants back to Luther's time, when feudalism and its barter system gave way to capitalism and the use of cash. This meant many longtime serfs were evicted from their ancestral homesteads. In a time when one's identity was tied with the land, cities began to burgeon with those who no longer knew where home was, nor their role in society. To these people, Luther "sought to analyze accurately, truthfully, the actual points or stations in human life--the down-to-earth relationships--in which the Creator calls the creature into cooperative enterprise for the care of creation," Nestingen said. "[Luther's] doctrines of justification and vocation shaped a witness that spoke to the urban migrants in the midst of their dislocation, providing a deep sense of identity in their new context... Released from the heaven-storming, hopeless pursuit of a self-transcending wisdom, the faithful get the creation back again, with its limits as well as its joys."

Nestingen went on to describe four areas of calling Luther upheld that shape vocations of everyday life: family, work, community and church.

Later in his lecture "Households as Masks of God: Going Home in Repentance and Faith," Nestingen painted a portrait of Luther's own marriage and family life. One of Luther's most important statements, said Nestingen, was from his 1531 sermon "Concerning Married Life," where he declared that husband and wife become God's face to one another. "In the give and take, the sharing and the challenges, the selfgiving and the hostilities, husband and wife literally share with God in one another's creation, shaping one another's lives. They are inextricably bound together."

From marriage and "through a combination of offices, as Luther understands it, the family lays the foundation for the community," said Nestingen.

But, "when two become three or four or more, the potential for conflict multiplies exponentially," he continued. Nestingen examined the modern-day family--also experiencing dislocation, as in Luther's time--but from a social rather than economic perspective. "Where do we find footings for the vocations of marriage and the family when the ground is shifting underneath us? How specifically do we begin to address those closest to us, our own families and congregations, as they are being dislocated?" he queried.

"True repentance and genuine faith follow when the gospel enters to say, 'Your sin is forgiven for Jesus' sake,'" said Nestingen. "With this word, the risen Lord takes upon himself your brokenness, your death, and with it the complexities and inevitable disappointments, the sorrows, and the pains of marital and family life so that your future is no mere reflex of the past, but is now shaped and conditioned by his love."

A New Model of Family through Christ

What of the 21st century household? According to Diana Garland, they are smaller, seem more fragile and are much more diverse than we ever imagined they could be. Garland is director of the Center for Family and Community Ministries and chair of the School of Social Work at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. In her lecture "Reaching Perfection: A Eunuch and Two Families" she began with the texts of Isaiah 56:1-5 and Acts 8:26-38 to illustrate how Christ brings healing, wholeness and a sense of family to those broken and alone. "Through Jesus, [the eunuch] was no longer excluded, no longer an outsider. He could be a part of the community of faith...This is the savior who gave us a new model of family."

Garland talked about how the church is captured by a culture that names families by their parts--or lack thereof. "If anything has been cut off, then we are labeled by what is no longer there. We are a single-parent family, a divorced family, a step-family, a widow, a single adult.

"Marriage is a good thing. But the good news of Jesus is that we don't have to be married or parents to be part of families," she continued. "In fact, it is families created anew from brokenness that are the best pictures of God's good news."

In her second lecture, Garland discussed how congregations need to become nurturing communities for their members. "If a congregation is truly a community of faith, then it is a place where people and families know one another not just by name, but also by their stories."

"It is clear that...congregations are already addressing the needs of many families who express the belief that they are stronger, more resilient in the face of crisis and more faithful in their life together because they are a part of a congregation," Garland said. But there is more a congregation can do to nurture a family's faith, she added, in particular:

1 Look for family relationships beyond the "of course" family: Make sure families outside of the traditional "married couples and their children" are ministered to.

2 Look for the strengths of all families: In her many interviews with families about their identity and faith, Garland discovered treasure troves of stories of faith and resilience in seemingly dysfunctional families that "defined themselves differently, accentuating their strengths, underscoring for themselves their own resources for tackling the challenges that confront them. The task for the congregation, then, is to find ways to identify the strength of all families--even when they have had troubles or have been troubling."

3 Encourage families to develop their own faith practices.

4 Provide ways for families to learn and serve together at church.

5 Provide ways for families to minister together.

6 Provide ways that families can eat together, or simply be together.

7 Be a place that evokes and listens to family stories of faith.

Putting It All Together...and Using It

"For two days now, we have explored that which is obvious, always in our face, ambiguous and in play as we live our way into a newly shaped and designed future," observed Roland Martinson, Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Luther.

He noted the conversations that took place in the seminars, in the halls and over coffee, and how they seemed to resonate with the lectures.

He then asked, "So what?"

His answer: "We are alive in a time when more is in play in terms of our social structure than ever before. This is the age of social transformation. As Peter Drucker stated...we are pioneering new ways of being, belonging and becoming. And we cannot not participate.

"Many people look at our environments in which we are being households, wring their hands, and look at it as an age of decay. Others see ours as a time of great opportunity. My sense is, they are picking up on the exceedingly important dynamic of the changes that are taking place for us in our primary life relationships," Martinson said.

He wondered aloud how Nestingen and Garland's lectures "might inform public leadership as that leadership shapes household, home, family relationships.

"As callings, our relationships are more than entitlements...They are, in fact, an opportunity to participate in being the face of God to a friend, to a spouse, to a nephew, to a niece, to a stranger, in a place of deep hospitality...to be a little Christ," Martinson explained.

He invited the participants to return to their congregations and "gather about you the people who preach and teach and carry on the mutual conversation and conciliation of God's people...and get deep into the question 'Where is God in all of this?' How do we carry on this conversation with men and women in all stations of life--single and married--such that they might ask: What is the mission of my role in my family? What is the mission of our family in our neighborhood? What is the long-term mission and vision that we have for the preferred future of who we are as those shaping the very fabric of the community?

"It would be interesting to meet a congregation where every household had a clearly defined sense of what their mission was in the family, the community and congregation."

The seminars offered participants the chance to explore specific topics and discuss with each other.


Want to read what the plenary speakers had to say? You can purchase copies of their lectures, Living Out Our Callings at Home, through Centered Life. Visit www.centeredlife.org then click on the resources page, or e-mail centered@luthersem.edu or call 651-641-3429.

CDs available, too! To order CDs of the plenary speakers and Convo worship services, contact Luther Productions at 651-646-5526, or visit the Luther Productions Web site at www.lutherproductions.com

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for Mid-Winter Convocation 2005: "Living Out Our Callings in the Workplace," Jan. 5-7.