Home Sweet Noem
Last week, we traveled a day and a half to South Dakota to join a Noem family reunion. It was everything that an MTV spring break special is not: a weekend packed full of sweet rolls, baseball, and thoughtful conversation marked by easy silence and friendly nods.
The most rambunctious it got was a family-wide game of charades, which was torment for the introverted majority. It was kind of what I hope purgatory is like—a little uncomfortable, but everyone’s pulling for you.
Noems are inconspicuous people, so it didn’t make much of a scene for 70 of us to get together at a hunting lodge on the prairie. Hugs were at a minimum, and even a handshake was optional. It was just a time to be who we are, together. Imagine Amish people getting together to drink beer and play baseball, and you’ll be pretty close to the reality, minus the beards and bonnets.
Our family has an immense quiet pride in its shared heritage. Though Grandpa and Grandma Noem have both passed, the family is saturated in their values—stable family relationships, integrity, faithfulness, hard work, stewardship of the resources of the land. You can see these values run through the whole family as obviously as if we all had red hair.
Coming together to reunite as an extended family is important because simply being together reminds us of who we are and what we are about. Belonging to this family means taking on Grandpa and Grandma’s values as part of my identity and passing them on to my own family. It is a lot to live up to, but it does not feel like a burden. This family identity is actually freeing because it lights a path towards a way of life that is so obviously and thoroughly good.
I had the feeling over the weekend that being a part of this family is a great gift—an unmerited grace. I’ve done nothing to earn a place in the Noem family—I belong simply because of who I am—and I am very grateful for this gift.
It strikes me that being baptized Christian is much like belonging to a good extended family. Baptism makes us part of a wider family and grounds our identity in the same way—it shapes the way we go about living. Baptism allows us to share in God’s life and to grow in holiness, similar to the way being a Noem calls me to aspire to goodness through a particular set of values.
And of course baptism is all unmerited grace as well. We do nothing to earn our way into God’s family. All we can do is respond to this gift by living into the identity we’ve been given. This way of life is not a burden or an imposition—it points us towards holiness and encourages us to aspire to it. It is a path lit with joy.
Silent and strong Norwegian farming families like mine are joyful, but not in a sprightly or expressive way. The weekend left an impression of contentment and confidence in being who we are, which is the type of joy that is related to deep happiness.
It was kind of what I hope heaven is like—with sweet rolls.