Richard H. Bliese's formative moments

February 8, 2011

My mother, after having experienced the power of the charismatic
renewal in the early 1970s, cornered my father, a faithful Lutheran
pastor, with the following critique: "If Lutheran theology is so good,
how did it miss the Holy Spirit?" He had no compelling reply, even after
studying again his books from seminary. He later followed her and my
brother into the "baptism of the Holy Spirit."

Later vacations
were dedicated to figuring out what had just happened to our family.
What was the right parochial language to grasp this ecumenical
phenomenon? Could our tradition adequately explain the experience or
would we need our Pentecostal friends for answers?

While still in
high school my oldest brother, Karl, took the leap into the uncharted
waters of spiritual renewal. At first, the rest of the family just
watched from the shoreline. Karl would later go on to college and
lead—as a Lutheran—two different campus groups: Inter-Varsity and the
Baptist Student Union. Ecumenism was born into our family.

Karl
was given these opportunities because of his considerable gifts for
leadership. The only thing slowing him down, from his premature birth
on, was cerebral palsy. He would motivate large groups with his
preaching; then they would pray for God to straighten his legs. I can't
count how many groups laid hands on Karl as a spiritual project. "It's
God's will," they confidently claimed. Their prayers for healing created
disappointment, accusations and spiritual confusion in these groups
and, ultimately, in our family. Why doesn't the Great Physician act? The
answers were never kind.

Karl's life, a spiritual roller coaster,
has been extremely formational for our family. Key questions resonate
again and again—questions about the relationship between renewal and
tradition; healing and doubt; mission and failure; power and weakness;
Mephibosheth and the pain in Paul's side.

These lessons have
become particularly instructive for me now that I'm the president of a
seminary. We educate missional leaders. We want these leaders to
transform congregations. Karl's life has taught me critical lessons
about the dynamics of this kind of transformative leadership; it is
Spirit-filled, passionate about communicating the faith, driven by
mission, adaptive in strategy and style and, ironically, not afraid of
vulnerability and weakness. The lessons of 2 Cor. 12:9, "My grace is
sufficient for you, for my power is made known in weakness," a text my
brother embodies, still call and challenge me.

Karl ministers
today to a Lutheran congregation from a wheelchair. The congregation is
small but thriving. The lessons about the Holy Spirit and mission
continue.

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