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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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April 28, 2006

"...a life beyond"

Tuesday afternoon I was sitting with friends from other denominational magazines and news operations, gathered for our annual Associated Church Press convention. With wine and cheese provided by Cowley Publications, we were ready to hear the publicist talk about the spring book releases.

I’d received a few books already, including On Our Way Home: Courage and Faith for the Final Journey by Bob Herhold, long-retired ELCA pastor and occasional contributor to The Lutheran for more than 40 years. I was so glad Bob had found a publisher for this book of brief meditations, which he’d originally self-published—in the aptly named The Original Cottage Industry Press.

He’d called me about that book: He thought his musings and questions and, yes, statements of faith about death were important. He was too impatient to wait for a publisher to agree, so this 80-year-old had done it himself. He was right, and so the magazine printed one of these reflections in our Easter issue last year, which dealt with a comment about life after death from a renowned theologian: “...it is OK with me to be just a drop in a vast ocean.” Bob challenged that view, asking readers to consider that may not be OK with God, who, out of love for us, is “preparing us for a life beyond our wildest imagination.”

Tuesday afternoon the cover of the book flashed on the screen, and the publicist said, “I’ve just learned Bob died last week. I’d just talked with him. He’d been so eager to go out on a book tour.”

I don’t recall what else he said. I was thinking about my own last conversation with Bob. He’d called to pitch a story about his dear friend, teacher and mentor, the Lutheran theologian Joe Sittler. He had other ideas, too, about poverty and politics and war. We’d talked quite a while.

Today I’m looking through his bio file: Stories from 1965 on—about poverty and racism, church reform in Germany, why it’s better to listen to the sick than try to cheer them up, making singles feel at home in congregations, civil disobedience, a letter to a troubled teenager. Bob cared about living true, living in faith.

As I glanced again through his just-out book, my eyes fell on these words remembered from a conversation with Sittler: “I think that Joe believed the resurrection was too frightfully mysterious, too far beyond any human explanation, too foundational to the faith, to reduce it down to whether or not Jesus ate a McDonald’s fishburger on the beach with his friends. According to Joe’s way of thinking, to explain the resurrection is to trivialize it. He seemed to say that if we know the answer, it’s probably because we don’t understand the question.”

Bob Herhold liked questions, lived questions. He left the answers to God. And now he lives again in God’s life, “a life beyond our wildest imagination.”

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