Clergy, theologians and the like are good at writing theological statements as you can see from mine (http://www.yatt.org/theology-and-calling.html) but when you get down to a story or episode which encapsulates that is it always difficult. As one of my colleagues said in the class where I was introduced to the This I Believebook, “how can I possibly get my beliefs into a story only a couple paragraphs long.” Honestly, I don’t think it is easy for anyone. But one of the ideas is that if you can isolate a core idea, then an entire theological perspective on life can smoothly follow.
For me, it is interesting because every time I write my “This I Believe” article it highlights a different story, yet they all seem to have the same components: Love, Justice, Compassion, and Perseverance. As I sat down to write my “This I Believe 2014” the image that came into my mind was that of Judy, my mother’s best friend.
I always think it is interesting how I remember Judy, because the last time I saw her I was 7, and she died when I was 9. But impactful people are always that way. Judy was one of the strongest women I have ever known and, being honest, probably will ever know. Her story was simple in its complexity. The same age as my mother, Judy was born with many medical issues related to a spinal degenerative disorder as well as other issues.
As I look back I don’t think we ever were put off by her wheel chair in fact as little boys it became a mobile jungle gym with a prize at the top, sitting and getting loved up by Judy. It is interesting because through my life I have met bitter and angry people, and if there ever was a person that could be that way Judy could have been that person. An incredibly intelligent woman, she was often the subject of discrimination because of her looks and wheelchair. But she turned those feelings into a fight for justice through love. In fact, much of the framework for what became the ADA laws started through her legislative work in Iowa in the early 70’s.
Granted I did not know about that part of her life until much later as I would talk to my mother about how I missed her. Judy died about the same time as I was having what would become my first surgery, so we all missed the funeral. I actually wanted to postpone the surgery to go, but that was not going to happen. The interesting thing is that I also remember thinking about her and achieving strength and courage at that time, and often when I feel the world is against me, I think of Judy and get the strength I need.
My mother had no ulterior motive for brining Judy into the lives of her three boys, but in a very core way she shaped and molded my core beliefs of what it means to be a person and what it means to be a Christian. First, that everything starts in love. Judy was alive as long as she was because her mother and her friends fought for her out of their love, and Judy fought in justice out of love for herself and love for those whom she had never even met but she knew were discriminated against.
Of course, for me, so many years later I still have a visceral reaction to discrimination of any kind. I feel for kids and adults who are marked as less then normal (whatever that is) because of a disability in one area or another. So as I think about a story that encapsulates just what I believe, I go back to the very beginning of my life and look to my first mentor who probably never knew she had such an impact, and can say that I believe that love can transcend just about anything. Moreover, when we love we cannot help but work towards building each other, and the world around us, up.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen