Friday, March 21, 2014


Family of Faith                         


 Romans 5:1-11           


My family tells a story about my grandfather, who was born to Icelandic immigrants in either North Dakota or Manitoba in 1908. When he was up for an intelligence job in the U.S. Army during World War II, a lack of birth certificate warranted extensive background checks and a visit by Canadian Mounties to his father's house in Winnipeg. Sigvaldi Baldwinson, the story goes, was happy to affirm his son was born in North Dakota, but disappointed to learn that Halldor Baldwinson had taken the name of his informally adoptive parents. When Halldor was a young boy, his mother, Sigvaldi's wife, had died, and Halldor was sent to live with a new Icelandic immigrant family. Halldor apparently never got over what he perceived as abandonment, and he moved to California, then Arizona, never to return to his birthplace and always to call himself Dori Hjalmarson. 


So, what does this have to do with Romans 5:1-11? This passage - really the whole of the letter to the Romans - is about reconciling family - birth and adopted. In our world, we can read "justification by faith" as a claim of individual salvation of elect souls. But in first-century Rome, Jews and Jewish Christians were under attack, expelled, and then allowed to return, having lost their property, jobs, homes, businesses. If you were a Gentile Christian, what would your likely response be to a Jewish Christian who was returning to fellowship and community with you? If you were a Jewish Christian, what would your likely view of your community be?


"For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of God's Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life." How does the meaning of this sentence change if we view it in light not of the threat of post-mortem damnation or salvation of souls, but rather in light of the very present question of whom we are to include in our family? How are we to achieve reconciliation in our communities? Paul says that love is the very source of any hope we have in Christ. Love, not right belief. Love, not works. Love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.


My grandfather, who after World War II raised his seven children in Phoenix, Arizona, never did return to his birthplace. But he did achieve some reconciliation, I believe, later in life. In the early 1950s, he met a young woman, fresh out of high school, at the bus stop in Phoenix. She was coming for a visit from Manitoba. She was Helga, Dori's half sister, the daughter of Sigvaldi and his second wife. Helga bonded with her brother as she and her young niece, Margret, played and sang together at the family piano. And when Dori took her back to the bus stop after a weeklong visit, he put in her hand an envelope of cash, a gift for the road from a big brother. 

Dori Kay Hjalmarson     

SFTS M.Div. Intern