Tag Archives: grace



Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.



is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

HOPING FOR MORE Book Review By Barbara Daiker, WTS Alum Spouse


Thompson, Deanna A. Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace. (Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2012), 166 pp.

Deanna Thompson called her life a “near perfect life” at age 42, as she had a caring and loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a career teaching religion at a Minnesota university. She also had opportunities to travel and observe the beauty of God’s creation, plus the blessing of family and friends who lived in close proximity and served as a great support group for her.  Along with all of this, she enjoyed the blessing of excellent health, so excellent that she rarely needed a doctor.  In fact, at age 42 she did not have a primary-care doctor of her own.

In the summer of 2008, however, this excellent health record took a major turn-about when Deanna began suffering major lower back pain accompanied by a burning sensation in her back.  This led her to appointments with chiropractors, doctors, and specialists. Finally, with the help of an MRI, Deanna was diagnosed as having a fractured spine and needing the expertise of a spine specialist.

The MRI revealed a mysterious fluid surrounding two fractured vertebrae – a fluid which was biopsied and revealed that she had breast cancer, a cancer that had spread to her spine.  The diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer.  Thus began months of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, tests, medications, and total emotional drain.

This is a powerful book which connects the fearful and painful recognition of our own mortality with the grace of God and the comforting assertion of the Apostle Paul that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Deanna Thompson is now living in remission, knowing that each day is a gift of grace.  She is awed by the way her family and her community have rallied around her.  She looks upon her cancer as a gift because, “the experiences of grace  that I’ve been privileged to have would not have happened had I not had cancer.”



Deanna A. Thompson

is a Professor of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota,
and the author of Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross. She lives with her husband and two daughters in St. Paul.


FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS by Denise Rector, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I am African-American. After Charleston, we as the ELCA need to go be Lutheran in African-American communities across the United States.

Within Lutheranism there are, truly, many ethnicities. But as discussed in the recent article in The Economist  (“The silent minority: America’s largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it” ) many of those European ethnicities have blended together. Could it be that they have assimilated into the modern American concept of whiteness?

The black/white distinction is not something created by African-Americans. This is an important point. The cultural distinction (to put it mildly) is something everyone is born to, yet only “other” ethnicities have to deal with. Whiteness has social and economic benefits, and thus, very practical dimensions.

Lutherans have a chance to proclaim and demonstrate a word of grace in the midst of exclusion. Black America needs a word of grace. Economics, stop-and-frisk, and other ills have left too many behind, and the African-American community sees a world going on about its business with little care.

Are we listening? Are we willing to partner for change?

Lutherans are “the grace people,” and we have a powerful work of grace to do. It is not neat. It is not fast. It is not easy. It is one by one, face to face, fueled by humility and an understanding of willing sacrifice.

I am willing to answer the question “Why are you Lutheran?” over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. But people can’t ask me the question if I am not out there, where conversations can happen.

Have you been asked why you’re a Lutheran lately? Is it because you are only around Lutherans? Then how will that powerful work of grace proceed, if we talk only to ourselves?


A PRESENT PARTICIPLE (“ing”) POEM By Rev. Dr. Ralph Quere, WTS faculty em.

A Present Participle (“ing”) Poem
How goes this conversing with death?
Is death at the end to be befriended or upended
By a dreaded enemy’s defeating by the spirit’s working
Often when in helplessness, hopelessness or pain’s distress
Death comes as respited releasing, awaited with eagerness
Tempting us to euthanasia or suicide: both rob God’s hands!
Scripture is clear: human life is enslaved by fear of death1
But there is an antidote, not a medicine, but a person
Called Resurrection and Life2 who killed killer-death

By dying—like many soldiers—dying to win a battle
And saving others, like Christ dying & sharing His kingdom
With others. Like the dying thief and offering it to all!
For many baptizings that begin it in God giving pardon,
New birth into new living that is lasting into the ages of ages
Linking us with Christ’s dying and living, kept by the spirit
Working faith & love toward the living word named Jesus.
St. Paul admits desiring departing and being with Christ!
A suicidal death wish? No, a longing for consummating Faith,
Hope and Love through the victory won by Jesus, swallowing
Death & defanging evil! This gift just keeps on coming
From the Father’s on-going so loving the world—

Rooting in the Son’s once-for-all-self-sacrificing and,
The undercover working of the creating spirit
Bringing the redeeming power of love3 & liberating truth
Of the triune deity’s trialogue displacing death’s dialogue
With the triune deity’s trialogue of
Christ, Grace & Faith!

The Dialogue with Death recommends that the dying “befriend” death. I agree that it is important to accept death when it is clearly approaching. The “Death and Dying” movement followed the literature about the “American Way of Death” the way the funeral industry helped in physical and psychological tools to mask and in effect deny death. Many psychologists recommend that funeral services should be “grief management.” The current fad in the “celebration of life” – a half step in the right direction. However that is understood and usually performed as celebration of the life of the deceased and paints plaster saint out of one whom the family and friends knew was quite the opposite. Even the best of the saints need to be remembered as “a sinner of (Christ’s) own reddeming (ELW p. 283).

So the one whose life should be celebrated at funerals is Jesus whose death and resurrection are our new life and sure hope for eternal life. Handel’s Messiah draws from Revelations 5:9-14 for the final chorale: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

Scripture makes it clear that death is a defeated enemy – it’s not a warm fuzzy friend (see the notes in the poem).

1Heb. 2:15
2John 11:24
32 Cor. 5:19-21

JONAH’S SONG by Rev. Peter Heide, Baraboo, WI, WTS, 1996

“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage,
That I, in darkness, must proclaim the light;
That I, sightless, must proclaim the vision;
That I, without sight, must see the goodness of creation
And bear witness to the forest of walking trees,
With grafted branches of cross-purposed fruit
That, lifted high in Easter light,
Know only self-gratified comfort in succulent wholeness given
Not seeing the bruised compassing their island fortune
Or windfalls, grounded, split and broken.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome by rage
That I, in uncharted spaces and fearful of misstep falling,
Must walk into the void, cane feeling, disabled,
No thanks to God for life and being,
Only thoughts of murderous envy
Of the ables, who freely move, not seeing,
Speaking ridiculing laughter, lamenting of pessimistic fate
And burdened lives of privileged living,
Insensate, offering aid of demeaning condescension,
Unintentionally stripping personhood and accomplishment without question.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage,
That I, cast down from judgment gate, must stand
And go to be swallowed up in color prejudice,
neon sirens’ calling, fashion statement wearing, and icon branding,
It rolls like building waves upon the shore.
To be spewed up on alien land, this Nineveh, to proclaim favor, restoration.
Far better would be shame and ashes—bended knee humiliation,
But your judgment hangs with grace
Forgiving even their unknowing
And my own empty railing.
“It is not fair!” I cry overcome with rage outside the walls of your embrace,
Away from challenging interaction and site of restoration relationship;
And I am angry enough to die.
Yet you continue to speak creation into being;
You surround me with spirit breezes blowing,
Song bird singing, wheat grass growing, grape vine clinging,
And words of forgiving interaction:
“You and all people, for the forgiveness of sin,”
Claiming me as justified partner, including me as one of them,
In conversation of mutual need.
“Thank God! It is not fair!”