Brief Biography

Though I can say that I’m really a book person, I’m starting this blog, partly because time is slipping away, my life’s time. And a great deal of time has elapsed since I first recorded the stories of Hungarian people, especially pastors who suffered during the 40 year dictatorship between 1949 and 1989. I first became interested in the Hungarian Reformed story when I heard the Genevan Psalms sung in Reformed churches in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. I’d like to tell you a bit about myself and begin to explain why this experience unsettled my thinking.

Here I am in Budapest hearing questions
from Andras Visky, June 2003.
So here’s a bit about me, past and present. My reading sometimes takes me in surprising directions especially when I’m limited to what is at hand. Occasionally it’s cereal boxes, but recently is was a journal, First Things. In a review of a book by Reuven Ziegler about Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, this line stopped me: “Ziegler stresses Soloveitchik’s insistence that an authentic religious philosophy will always feature powerful dialectical tension, that genuine religious life is ineluctably pervaded with dynamic inner conflict.” (First Things, May 2013, p.56) It couldn’t have come at a better time for me, because I’m feeling lately that for most of my adult life, I’ve been dynamically, (but maybe not ineluctably) conflicted about all sorts of things: politics, religion, family, sex – anything really important. It was comforting to know that I am not alone but am part of a community, though perhaps small, that regularly takes antacids to calm the ineluctable inner tension.

One of my brothers recently suggested that what I perceive as dynamic inner conflict might better be called hardheadedness, a stubborn delight in arguments, and when we were young, a bane to him and our siblings. I know that I was a recipient of many under-the-table kicks when they were sick of dinner table arguments, eager to get outside to play ball. My compulsion to argue drove them crazy.

The arguments took on a fierce sort of quality soon after I entered college. The book, Summerhill, accidentally left on the floor in our living room, did not escape my father’s scrutiny. The result? Another loud and heated argument, this time about progressive education. Though I wasn’t really sure what I believed at that time, I couldn’t let his assertions pass without a fight.

But it was the church and politics that really raised the volume. Black Like Me, and a sociology class at Calvin College absolutely converted me from being a latent Republican, (yes, I helped the George Romney campaign when I was in high school!) into a diehard Democrat, a condition that lasted for many years. Back in the early 1960s (yes, this confession does date me) I wanted to go to Mississippi alongside the freedom marchers, but was reminded by my Mississippi brother-in- law that the good ole boys down there were not so good, in fact they were terrifying. I didn’t go but was shamed by my participation in a Christian community that ignored the needs of the poor and closed their ears to stories of Jim Crow. And I had no patience for those who preached the Gospel but to my mind, ignored the sins of society.

So where was the tension there? The tension lay in the quiet voice of my mother. In different forms and at different times her questions went something like this, “So are you saying that we cannot preach the Gospel until you have fixed all the problems of society? Or, “If the church’s job isn’t to preach the Gospel, what should it be doing?”

One Christmas during the late 1960s, after I was married, our front porch sported a Christmas wreath adorned with a peace symbol. We took it down, though, to honor my mother’s plea for peace at an upcoming family gathering. In the following years, I can say and confess that I stayed safely in a community of compassionate Christian Reformed folk. I echoed the calls for shalom and social involvement, and was caught up in the language and mission of the serving church. As our children came along, I tempered my voice, but remained a “bleeding heart.” And my mother’s questions remained, so what is the mission of the church? What ought Christians do about the sins of society? Though I echoed my community’s answer, I wondered.

After my children were all in school, I spent nearly 20 years in the field of education, still implementing what I considered to be the best parts of progressive, child-centered education. And then I visited East Central Europe and heard the voices of those who suffered and saw first hand the results of forty years of communism. I was led to re-examine my own assumptions regarding the mission of the church and forced to examine the understanding of mission that gave birth to the World Council of Churches, influenced many within the official Hungarian Reformed Church leadership, and shaped many trends within the evangelical community in which I am embedded.

So I confess that I am still arguing. I prickle when I sense that my “justice” friends seem to be pushing me toward a particular political persuasion. On the other hand, my libertarian sister shakes her head when I challenge her assumptions about government. So you see, it’s the ineluctable tension that gets me. Can one be a conservative “bleeding heart?”

~Beth Lantinga

1 comment:

  1. Well, you are the most dear conservative "bleeding heart" that ever was! This is a wonderful synopsis of YOU, Beth. Thanks for writing it.