Eerdmans Vice President and Editor in Chief Jon Pott gave the following remarks at the Reformed Church in America General Synod 2011 in honor of retiring RCA General Secretary, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, whose memoir we recently published, Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity.
Thank you for inviting me here this evening. My friendship with Wes has been intermittent but goes back a long way. And we have had parallel and sometimes intersecting interests and histories. We both grew up in Chicago, he on the far Westside near what is now O’Hare, and I on the Southside. We both had boyhood Catholic friends with a St. Christopher medal on their bikes!
We both came of age professionally in the radical 60s, he as part of the Sojourners community and its magazine, and I more quietly working in a book program publishing on behalf of social justice and against the war in Vietnam.
We both, in our own ways — his more organizationally explicit — have had over time strong ecumenical interests and connections, not to mention close friends we have shared.
We both have a growing interest — his far more educated and advanced than mine — in the church globally, as the church must increasingly think of itself if it is to be what it should be.
Most importantly, I might add, Wes has been piquing in me of late an interest in extending my enthusiasm for plain fishing to fly-fishing. For the religionist, of course, nothing in sport can be more ritually satisfying than tying a fly and floating a line.
So talking with Wes about his memoir, as we did over a number of happy and ruminative lunches in the past year — with emails in-between — has been a trip down memory lane for me as well as for him. The talks have also been instructive for me in many ways, professional and otherwise. That’s the way it goes with this guy. You try to be a little help, and, often enough, you feel that you’ve come away with more than you gave. And now we can all come away — as it were — with this lovely book.
Whatever the book’s ultimate seriousness, let me say right off, it’s also a lot of fun. Wes may be a consummate executive, but he’s nobody’s idea of a bureaucratic stick.
Immediately, in chapter 1, you can read about the urgent requirement laid upon him at age four by an anxious mother that he be born again — preferably before he headed out the door to the dentist. You never know when — and under what circumstances — you might be summoned to meet the Lord, and the dentist chair presented a more worrisome prospect than some.
If you are old enough to remember this time, you may want to check out Wes’s unlikely youthful connection with Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears, an early formative experience in Christian-Jewish dialogue!
If you are among the walking wounded who are fans of the Chicago Cubs, you may relish lingering with Wes next to the radio on a Sunday afternoon in 1957 as a Cub strike-out record is in the making, a lingering that seriously threatened his making it to the church on time for his own baptism later that afternoon. Of course, as Wes now recognizes, the whole crisis would not have arisen at all if he had been born into a proper Reformed home!
But not all of life’s deep lessons relate to the Cubs, and this book is rich with them.
There are lessons about grace.
There are lessons about the restorative blessings of silence and contemplation.
There are lessons about learning not to fear love. Karin had a bit to do with this, of course, as she has had to do with so much of Wes’s life — including this book, it seemed. In less august company, I might quote her response to one of our early suggested titles to the book. “Spiritedly agrarian,” one might say.
There are lessons about finding one’s calling(s) in life — or are they more about being found and claimed by a call? This book isn’t entitled “Unexpected Destinations” for nothing.
There are lessons about life in community and in that particular community that is the church, and about how to give vision and leadership to this life, here and worldwide.
At the end of the memoir, Wes goes back to the beginning: Just what does it mean to commit one’s life to Jesus, as he was so earnestly enjoined at four to do?
The book tells the story, then, of how one man has tried over his life thus far — whatever the failings, the hesitations, the false starts — to discern the meaning of that commitment for his life, and to live out faithfully what he has, by God’s grace, been able to learn. And the fact that his life can indeed be told as a story and is not — whatever the unexpectedness of the destinations — a mere random and meaningless sequence of happenings, testifies to a lived coherence, integrity, and wisdom from which I think all of us can learn. I know that I have. And so I thank you my friend for this gift.