- Beth Lantinga
Living the Vision
After my second year of college, I married my heart-mate. Fortunately, he had and still has a calm and thoughtful demeanor that has saved me from many mishaps social and otherwise. We almost precipitated a family crisis one Christmas in the late 1960s. Bravely displaying our convictions, we had proudly affixed a large peace wreath to our front door. That year, my mom tactfully offered to come help plan the family Christmas gathering. Anticipating another blow-up, and with a tiny touch of irony, my mother innocently asked whether we would be willing to give peace a chance. She asked me to hide our peace wreath if only for a day. Reluctantly we did, but only for a day, and we didn’t abandon the peace movement, naïvely oblivious to its dark undertones.
Though we were not faithful attenders, we were members of an old established church, but began to look for something different, a relevant, socially conscious community that treasured children, especially after our babies began to arrive. We wanted something fresh, prophetic, and relevant. We wanted to be part of a body of believers for whom the Gospel had a strong horizontal dimension, a body that cared about civil rights, opposed war, and encouraged lay and female leadership. Some caring soul suggested that we look for the Fellowship of the Acts. After a couple of visits, we decided that this group would be our church home. We were warmly welcomed and drawn into a nurturing church family that also cared about injustice and suffering in our city and around the world.
Relying on the writing of Reformed theologian, Abraham Kuyper, we claimed every square inch to be God’s and confidently described how God’s love for humanity should look. We read J. Hoekendijk’s, The Church Inside Out, and influenced by his teachings, created small household gatherings. Together we creatively engaged the Word and collectively addressed the social ills in our city and beyond. We were extravagantly hopeful that the world might reach a state of peace and harmony in our lifetime.
The arrival of our third son brought with it a medical crisis that drew us closer to our family. Our parents pitched in with such loving support that the gap created by our political differences nearly closed. We didn’t have the time or energy for political fights. This event also created a beautiful bond with our Fellowship brothers and sisters. Their loving care was strong glue. As the health crisis resolved, we again engaged with our church’s efforts on behalf of the oppressed. We focused much of our effort on issues related to refugees, especially the victims of repressive regimes in Central America that seemed to survive on a steady diet of U.S. military aid. My husband and I welcomed a refugee into our family and helped others on their way through the United States to Canada.
One young man from Guatemala, a devout Christian refugee, shocked us when he announced that he was going back home. Fearful that he would become another victim of a right-wing regime, we reluctantly agreed to drive him to the airport in Chicago. On the way I voiced my worries for his safety until he quietly interrupted me with this. “Why, ma’am” he asked, “Do you Americans believe that you are responsible for all the ills of the world and also believe that you have all the solutions? Don’t you believe that God loves us as much as you? Don’t you think that we are responsible for some of our own troubles?” He was, I’m quite sure, quietly questioning my bright confidence in our ability to change the world – on our terms. I was part of the generation who loved the concept of the Peace Corp, convinced that the church’s main mission was to fix the social and economic ills of the world.
As we became more active in church business, the conversations with my parents took on a little more of an edge. One time I declared to my mother that the church had no business preaching the Gospel until we had cured the economic ills around us. She gently responded asking whether I ever considered that the Holy Spirit might not be a more effective healer of society’s ills. My father dismissed us by declaring that we were all materialists with a gloss of Christianity. During those years, our conversations with parents tended to stay away from political topics, but we loved their visits to our little five-acre farm. We learned from them a great deal about honey bee culture, gardening, raising chickens and tending fruit trees. We even cared for goats for several weeks one summer when our friends were out of town.
Though the Vietnam War and its fallout clouded the news, the decades from the late 70s through the early 90s were mostly a time of family peace. I became more and more entranced with my children. Watching them grow and learn prompted me to go back to college to qualify as a school librarian. This career, I thought, would suit my children’s summer schedule and complement my addiction to books. To qualify as an elementary school librarian, I needed some education classes and signed up for one that involved a semester in a real classroom. It took only a few weeks with a teacher friend to convert me. I abandoned the library idea and took all the classes to qualify me as a classroom teacher.
It was a satisfying but consuming career. The last two years teaching created a kind of internal tension for me. I was embedded in a theoretical Creation, Fall, Redemption mode of thinking. My understanding simply stated was: God created a good world, we humans messed it up, and it is our job to clean it up. I think that God wasn’t much involved except for justifying our prophetic efforts. But the school where I spent those two years was built on the belief that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives of wounded students could be healed. I didn’t feel comfortable there, uneasy, and at the time I wasn’t sure why, but now, looking back, I think that I was unable to reconcile these two perspectives. I decided to take a break and gratefully accepted a position revising a middle school Bible curriculum, embracing the Creation, Fall, Redemption motif.
After finishing my part of the project, I was contemplating my future when an education professor at Calvin College, invited me to present at a weekend conference in the Ukraine for Christian teachers. It was sponsored by the Ars Longa Foundation, a non-profit foundation based in Hungary. Though I was hesitant to accept, after I agreed, it was exhilarating and challenging to think through an approach for teaching the Bible using literary strategies. A teacher from Iowa and I were charged with fleshing out the professor’s ideas and suggesting useful practices.