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June 27, 2014
Remarks from Ken Sehested
Memorial service for Glen Stassen
Saturday 21 June 2014
Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, KY
I never sat in Glen’s classes, except for a few times as a guest. But in early 1984 I had a conversation with him about doing a PhD in ethics under his supervision. Before I had time to fill out an application, the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s founding meeting occurred, and I fell hopelessly in love with the vision that emerged. There went my academic career.
I still have the letter Glen wrote as I prepared to open up the Peace Fellowship’s first office. The reality of what I’d agreed to do suddenly began to weigh on me. We had a couple hundred dollars in a bank account, but not even a stapler to our name, and I had 30 days to raise my first paycheck. That’s about the time Glen’s letter arrived, among the most encouraging I’ve ever received; and I dare say it kept me going through those first thirsty, hungry months.
Our common commitments repeatedly drew me into Glen’s orbit, especially his long-term service on the Peace Fellowship’s board, as well as other organizations and projects over the years.. When you’re together with someone over time you begin to peel back each other’s personal stories. Eventually we discovered we both were avid athletes in our student years.
In case you didn’t already know this, Glen was a wrestler. A pretty good one, no doubt, if not for talent at least because of sheer doggedness. Glen gave himself fearlessly, tenaciously, to everything he did.
When the inevitable hard news of his passing came, I, along with many of you, was forced for a time into stone silence. Mine blossomed into an epiphany, a waking dream as vivid as I’ve ever had.
In my mind’s eye I watched as Glen made his way up the long, long stairway to heaven’s pearly gates. Only Glen wasn’t walking. He was jogging, passing all manner of folk along the way, most having stopped to catch their breath.
Who knew? I guess I thought there would be an escalator or something.
Anyway, Glen reached the pearly gate and knocked loudly. St. Peter stood up, peered out over his perch, saw who it was, pulled out a really, really big book, and began scanning.
St. Peter is a speed reader, but it still took him all afternoon to read through Glen’s corpus.
Finally, St. Peter buzzed him in. Glen strides in—even his walking was determined. Just as he passes, St. Peter calls out to him: “Hey! Stassen! Wanna wrestle?”
And Glen turned toward St. Peter, smiling. When Glen smiled, his whole face smiled.
Glen was a wrestler. He wrestled endlessly with the church, with both passion and patience, urging people of faith to live up to their namesake, getting the church to move beyond admiring Jesus to actually following him.
Glen wrestled with God. He was no shrinking violent at the throne of grace. Like Jacob and Job and Jesus in the garden, his fierce intercessions were not impudence, but intense confidence that the One who planted the sun and the moon had a stake in the affairs of history, the One who is mobilized by the cries of slaves. Like Moses on the mountain, Glen leveled this charge against the Most High: These are your people. Do something!
I’m guessing more than once he got the same response Moses got: I am doing something, says the Most High. Who do you think put breath in your lungs?!
Glen wrestled with the church. He wrestled with God. And he wrestled with himself. I’m guessing more than once there was blood on the floor after those matches.
Glen taught us what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus,[i] later echoed by Clement of Alexander at the close of the second century, before the church in its creeds decided to skip over Jesus’ actual commandments by leaping from the crib to the cross[ii] to the crown of glory. Clement wrote,
If the loud trumpet summons soldiers to war, shall not Christ with a strain of peace to the ends of the earth gather up his soldiers of peace? A bloodless army he has assembled by blood and by the word, to give them the Kingdom of Heaven. The trumpet of Christ is his Gospel. He has sounded, we have heard. Let us then put on the armor of peace.”[iii]
Glen devoted his life to introducing people to such armor. We best honor him by getting fitted for our own.
[i] Ephesians 6:11-17
[ii] From the Crib to the Cross: A Life of Christ, Katherine Kent Walker (”Mrs. Edward Ashley Walker-actual name on title page), New York: Geo. A Leavitt, 1869). Edith Stein also uses the phrase in her writing: “The Mystery of Christmas,” The Writings of Edith Stein, Trans. Hilda Graef. Peter Owen Limited: London. 1956, p. 31.
[iii] Clement of Alexandria, ca 200 Protrepticus XI: Exhortation to the Heathen, p. 116.