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What Does the Reformation Mean for Us?
A Roundtable Discussion
An Encounter with Grace
Alissa Kretzmann   |   all discussants

I remember one class session during my freshman year when we were talking about the Bible. The professor asked us, “So who believes this stuff?” I was the only one who raised my hand. I realized then just how diverse Valpo’s campus is in regard to what we believe and what we don’t believe. While Valparaiso University has a rich Lutheran tradition, it is naive to assume that all of us here are Lutheran! Not all of us are Christian or people of faith. But this conversation about the Reformation is for all of us to wrestle with what it means to be a part of a university rooted in the tradition of the Reformation. Our diversity and our questions and our differences of opinion and experience are what make this conversation rich.

One thing we do probably all have in common is the experience of feeling inadequate. Think about that for a second. Think of a time when you felt like you weren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, brave enough, attractive enough. Feeling like you aren’t good enough or that you don’t belong can be cause for torment. In contemporary society we place excruciatingly high expectations on ourselves and others. The result is that we fall short of these expectations pretty often. This dynamic is perhaps especially present in contexts where we are graded, judged and scored, such as college. But that experience was also common in the 1500s, when Martin Luther was alive. Luther was a part of a culture in which people thought about whether or not they had done enough to be saved, to be in good standing with God. That question tormented Luther. But at some point, he realized that he had it backwards. He realized that God’s love and forgiveness were unconditional.

When I was a student at Valpo, this realization changed my life. It’s a longer story than I have time to tell here. But, basically, when I first arrived on campus I was under the impression that there was a lot wrong with the world and that it was my job to fix it. I was very drawn to social justice and activism and was a part of the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT). But at some point, I realized that I had been doing some of those things because I felt pressure to do so. Somewhere along the way I encountered God’s grace and realized that there was nothing that I could do, or not do, that would make God love me more or less. In a way, I realized that God didn’t need me; the salvation of the world was not all on my shoulders. That realization was very freeing to me. Out of that encounter with grace I began to see loving my neighbor as something that flowed out from God’s unconditional love for me.

Luther saw that the church was turning into an institution that taught and practiced that God’s love and salvation were conditional. That’s what sparked the Reformation. The Reformation was when Luther and others called upon the church to tear down the requirements and prerequisites that were keeping people from experiencing the unconditional love of God.

As members of a university community that is part of the Reformation tradition, what does this mean for us now? What requirements and prerequisites have we put into place, intentionally or unintentionally, that make some people feel distant from the unconditional love of God? In terms of our campus community, are there unspoken cultural or social rules that make some people feel like they are “in” and other people feel “out”? Are there expectations that make some people feel good enough to be at Valpo and other people feel like they aren’t?

When I was on campus, the gay, lesbian and trans students were calling out the fact that they didn’t feel particularly safe or welcome at Valpo. There were certain spoken and unspoken norms that made them feel like they weren’t truly accepted as Valpo students. My queer friends, on a really basic level, wanted to feel like their bodies, their voices, and their presence belonged on this campus as much as anyone else’s, without condition.

Perhaps part of what it means to be a part of this Reformation tradition is that we call out the theologies and practices happening in our own community that make some people feel like they aren’t worthy to receive the unconditional love and welcome of God.

Let me give you an example. Some people are celebrating the Reformation by eating German food and dressing up as Martin Luther. This is nice and all. But those of us who are Lutheran need to be careful that we don’t unintentionally suggest that in order to be Lutheran, or that in order to experience God’s love, or that in order to appreciate the Reformation you must be European American and like eating bratwurst. Do you see what I’m saying?

What if the Valparaiso campus community celebrated the Reformation by destroying some of those unspoken prerequisites and expectations that still exist on this campus? Are we ready to do that kind of reform? Are we willing to do the work of tearing down walls that make some people feel welcome and others feel alienated? Are we open to doing what it takes to really live into the claim that God’s love is truly without condition?

Alissa Kretzmann graduated from Valparaiso University in 2012 with a bachelor of social work degree. She received her master of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School and is completing a master's degree in Lutheran studies at Luther Seminary. She is awaiting her first call as a pastor in the ELCA.

 

Read more from other Roundtable participants:

Brian T. Johnson: Setting the Stage
Ronald K. Rittgers: Loving the Unlovely
David King: Freedom Under the Cross
Nura Esther Zaki: Honoring Our Heritage
David Rojas Martínez: The Chapel of the Resurrection as a Pilgrimage Site
Katie Benjamin: Screwups and Saints
Amelia Schroeder: Moving Beyond Disagreements
Thomas Albert Howard: Remembering the Reformation and the Problem of Christian Disunity 

 

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