To whom are you indebted?

I’m sometimes given to a little bit of unjustified pride about indebtedness, because other than my home mortgage, I imagine not owing anyone anything.


Ah….but that’s palpably false. To assert that my only “debt” is mortgage debt is to reduce life to that which can be measured economically – an entirely too “American” perspective and an idolatrous one, as well.


In fact, of course, I’m deeply indebted to so many others that it’s hard to get a grip on the list. I’m obviously indebted to my parents who conceived me and nurtured and raised me. Like all parents the form of their investment was flawed at times, but I am immeasurably benefited for it nonetheless. I’m indebted to teachers and communities which placed value on education and saw to it that I availed myself of the benefits thereof. I’m indebted to folk I know and people I’ll never meet. The facets of my indebtedness run the gamut from pastors and Sunday School teachers who ensured that I would be formed in Christian faith to myriads of taxpayers who fund the construction and maintenance of roads upon which I travel every day for work and for play.


The notion of a self-made “man” (or woman, of course) is on the face of it, absurd. Anyone who imagines themselves self-made is so lacking in insight and awareness as to be dangerous.


richreading flipped 20130502The recent issue of “Christian Century” with Resident Aliens on the cover reminded me of another indebtedness. Among many teachers of the church – writers well known and not so well known – who’ve cultivated my capacity for faith and witness are Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. I was brand new to the United Church of Christ when I first encountered these two and the form that introduction took was Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People who Know that Something is Wrong (Life in the Christian Colony) (enough title for two or three books, I’d say!).


Willimon and Hauerwas gave me a framework in which to understand my calling in my new denominational family. They helped me make the move from bewildered and uncertain to focused and determined. I understood then (and even better today) that no single diagnosis of the ills of something as complicated an mainline Protestantism could ever be precisely right nor certainly not comprehensively right, but in their assessment I found a perspective I could deeply grasp and from which I could imagine a role for myself – a way to serve, if the church so desired me to do so.


The article in “Christian Century” includes 11 critiques. Some of the commentators take Resident Aliens to task (partly fairly, I think and partly from a 21st century perspective that couldn’t have been easily foreseen in 1989), but I remain grateful to its authors for giving me a handle to grasp ways my own experiences and history might be a gift to the church which was making itself a place of home for me.


Thank you, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. I’m grateful.


So…to whom are YOU indebted and for whom are you grateful? It’s important to know!





Rich Pleva
Iowa Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa

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