Proud to be Lutheran

Dateline: Mon 26 Mar 2007

Growing up in Fort Wayne was OK, but it was better if you were German Lutheran. As a Lake (my maiden name) I was always a wannabe, a pretender to the Lutheran throne. Quite frankly, that suited me fine: I was embarassed by all those good Hitzemanns and Kleinschmidts and Wiernerschnitzels at Concordia Lutheran High School, altho I was secretly grateful for any kindness received from them. But still, being a Lake in a sea of girdled Krauts bestowed permanent status. My dirty face and grubby mitts were always pressed against the stained glass of German Lutheran churches, the Emauses and Emmanuels; I was outside, Mary Magdalene of heart and mind, looking in.

But then along came Walter Wangerin Jr., with his kiss of pure welcome. He is pastor and poet, author of the elegant "The Book of the Dun Cow," which still makes me laugh when I recall certain lines ("Head ACHE!"). He has written many other books, but the Dun Cow was the first I read, and it was pure magic.

He is also German Lutheran, or at least Lutheran, and German enough to have gone to Missouri Synod Lutheran seminaries and lived for a time in cities such as Milwuakee and Fort Wayne. He is now in Valparaiso, where he continues to write at the age of 63 -- an amazing outpouring, really, for one so young. He writes often about the people in his life: his wife, his children, and over the years, his sister with Down syndrome, the old ladies at his small church in Evansville, and always, of God.

Now he has cancer, and so he writes about death and pain and disfigurement, but with such promise that it almost makes you want to share that "head ACHE!" the rooster Chantecleer referenced so many years ago...

My friend George Stuteville, also a writer and a former Evansvilleian, gave me this news of Wangerin's cancer, which is in his lungs. George sent Wangerin's web page, which is very much worth sharing:

Interested as we all are in death, I find his essays on that subject most familiar and comforting. Again, it must be a German Lutheran thing. And I no longer feel an outsider.

I hope you will read him, too, if you have not already. He is a treat and a solace, and, as the Lutherans say, "May the Lord bless him and keep him."


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