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Resiliencia

Servicio Religioso FUSBC

11 julio 2019

Resiliencia

 

Tengo buenas noticias y tengo malas noticias. ¿Cuáles quieren escuchar primero?

….

Bueno, vamos con las malas:

En algún momento del semestre que en esta semana arranca, usted va a necesitar una resurrección. Lo digo con una cierta confianza, porque la matemática me respalda.

Considere esto: un semestre consiste en seis meses. Hoy es el día 11 julio y me tocó nacer un 11 de enero. Por lo tanto, he vivido 120 semestres y hoy me lanzo a las aguas de semestre número 121. Es decir, respecto a semestres, tengo experiencia y si me permite coquetear por un momento con una declaración prepotente, cuando se trata de semestres sé de lo que hablo, pues hoy estoy estrenando Semestre Número121.

Una cosa que he observado a lo largo de 120 semestres es que con cierta regularidad uno necesita una resurrección. La vida está rodeada de muerte, que toma la forma de la enfermedad … el cansancio … la depresión … la violencia … la injusticia … la desesperación … el pecado y mil formas de muerte más. Pues, la muerte no es tan creativa como la vida, pero sí es creativa. Sus caricias malévolas nos llegan en mil formas. Cuando el muy oportunista brazo de la muerte asciende del Seol y te agarra el tobillo, necesitas una resurrección.

Ahora para no volverme sentimentalista o exagerado, me aclaro que estoy hablando de ‘resurrección’ con ‘r’ minúscula. En lo que a este semestre concierne, no quiero hablar de accidentes de tránsito, divorcio, cáncer, enfermedad mental, despedidos injustos y despedidas dolorosas … tampoco de las demás circunstancias que en esta vida nos llevan al borde de la muerte. Es decir, no quiero insinuar que en las próximas 16 semanas usted u otro hija o hijo de nuestra comunidad vaya a enfrentarse con la necesidad de una resurrección tipo ‘R’ mayúscula. Es más, espero que no. Dios guarde.

Pero estoy trayendo malas noticias, si tan solo por un momento, para hablar con sinceridad … para no esquivar la realidad: Tarde o temprano, tú vas a necesitar una de aquellas también … es decir … una Resurrección, tipo R mayúscula. La vida es así. Rodeada de muerte. Tarde o temprano, te va a tocar. Nos va a tocar. Es cuestión de tiempo.

Decir otra cosa sería mentirles. Y aunque tengo instintos de cobarde y siempre los he tenido, no soy tan cobarde como para mentir a los miembros de mi familia, que es ahora lo que ustedes han llegado a ser.

Tú vas a necesitar una resurrección, tipo ‘r’ minúscula pronto y probablemente durante este semestre. Además, vas a necesitar una Resurrección tipo ‘R’ mayúscula eventualmente.

Esas son las malas noticias.

¡Qué alegría haber comenzado con las malas!, ¿no?

Ahora, vamos para las buenas …

    *.    *.    *.

Primero, una observación.

El servicio religioso que practicamos en FUSBC es un carnaval de ironías.

En la hora cuando menos tiempo y atención tenemos, nos reunimos para recordar, juntos y en la presencia de nuestro Hacedor, las cosas más trascendentales de nuestra vida … los detalles más importantes de nuestra vocación como siervos de la misión de Dios.

Entre Hermenéutica 1 a las 7:00 a.m. y Teología Cristiana 2 a las 10:00, llegamos a este espacio con la ambición de encontrarnos con Dios. Cuando el alma todavía tiembla con las ocurrencias del Profe Nigel en Teología de la Misión y momentos antes de los asaltos del Profe Andrew en Historia de la Iglesia, apartamos 60 minutos para cantar, orar y recibir los avisos comunitarios que son la expresión verbal de nuestro quehacer comunal.

Es mucho, pues, esperar que en esta hora presten atención al rumiar de un profesor como este servidor, mucho menos que recuerden en detalle los ángulos que sus palabras trazan.

Por lo tanto, permítanme simplificar. Recuerden, por favor, solo una cosa:

Experimentamos el poder de Dios en nuestras vidas principalmente en la forma de la resiliencia.

 Ahora, definamos términos: Un investigador define la resiliencia así:

Resiliencia: la capacidad humana de asumir con flexibilidad situaciones límite, sobreponerse al dolor emocional que producen y seguir proyectándose en el futuro, a pesar de los acontecimientos desestabilizadores o condiciones de vida difíciles.

Esta definición se refiere a una capacidad humana, y lo es, gloria a nuestro Creador que creó la capacidad humana.

Pero hoy quiero convencerles de que la resiliencia es también la manera principal en que tú experimentas el poder de Dios en tu vida. Es una forma de resurrección.

Lo digo a partir de ese empalme mío donde se conectan 120 semestres de observación y experiencia de muerte y resurrección, por un lado … y el testimonio bíblico, por el otro. De esos 120 semestres, quizás 20 han traído en su abrazo el olor acre de la muerte.

Me permito hablar así por que a mí me ha tocado el poder de la muerte … y a partir de esa muerte he conocido el poder de Dios en mi vida para poder superar vivencias matadoras con vigor y con esperanza. Lo digo por que ando en este cuerpo y en esta alma los cicatrices que me ha dejado la muerte … pero camino hoy con el paso de hombre resucitado. Y yo, con todo y ese cojear con lo que los tocados por la muerte caminamos, casi no puedo esperar para ver lo que hoy y mañana nos traen. Lo digo porque en varios momentos de mi vida pensé que todo se me había perdido. Pero, al contrario, el Señor me regaló canto nuevo en mi corazón y una Aleluya en mi lengua. Digo estas cosas porque la vida se me está volviendo doxología … alabanza.

Recuerda tan solo esto: Experimentamos el poder de Dios en nuestras vidas principalmente en la forma de la resiliencia.

Viendo retrospectivamente a partir del primer día de mi Semestre 121, me pregunto cómo podría haber sido diferente, pues somos hijas e hijos de un Creador que se deleita en la resurrección.

Los rabinos captaron en parte este deleite divino y humano en levantarse para descubrir lo nuevo de Dios, pues imaginaron cada madrugada como una nueva creación, un momento en que aquel Adán que es cada hombre se levanta de su cama para descubrir una nueva creación al lado de su Eva, que es cada mujer.

Pero toca que la Biblia nos hable con aun mas claridad.

Les ofrezco un texto representativo de cada testamento:

  • el primero, largo y complejo testamento, ese mar de géneros literarios, idiomas e imperios que algunos estudiamos.
  • y luego el testamento pequeño y sencillo que es el estanque del Profe Christopher y otros.

Para no complicar, hablemos de dos textos bien conocidos.

Sorprendemos en pleno chillar al poeta que llora en las conmovedoras líneas de Lamentaciones desde las cenizas de Jerusalén destrozada:

(El Señor) me ha estrellado contra el suelo; me ha hecho morder el polvo. Me ha quitado la paz; ya no recuerdo lo que es la dicha. Y digo: «La vida se me acaba, junto con mi esperanza en el Señor.» Recuerda que ando errante y afligido, que me embargan la hiel y la amargura. Siempre tengo esto presente, y por eso me deprimo. Pero algo más me viene a la memoria, lo cual me llena de esperanza: El gran amor del Señor nunca se acaba, y su compasión jamás se agota. Cada mañana se renuevan sus bondades; ¡muy grande es su fidelidad! Por tanto, digo: «El Señor es todo lo que tengo. ¡En él esperaré!» (Lamentaciones 3:16–24 NVI)

En el verso 22, donde solemos entender ‘El gran amor del Señor nunca se acaba …’, el vocabulario (si no el paralelismo) sugiere que debemos entender otra cosa: ‘Es por el gran amor del Señor que no somos consumidos …’

En el dialecto del Antiguo Testamento, estas palabras son declaración del poder de la resurrección. Ellos carecían del lenguaje que Pablo y otros convertirían en pan diario nuestro. Pero conocían la mismísima realidad: que el amor poderoso de YHVH—suחסד—no puede permitir que la muerte sea la última realidad.

Por eso, y solo por eso, no somos consumidos.

Por semejante intuición, los profetas del exilio se percataron de que el exilio—la muerte nacional de Israel—no pudo tener la última palabra. Por tal revelación, nace un Israel que descubre el poder de su Dios en la resiliencia que le regala una nueva mañana … nace, un pueblo de YHVH resucitado de una experiencia que fue diseñada para matar … y que supo matar … y que efectivamente mató y exterminó pueblos ahora desconocidos.

Ahora, nuestro apóstol. Ahora, Pablo que entiende las conexiones irónicas entre creación y nueva creación … entre primera vida y vida hecha nueva … entre muerte y resurrección … entre el poder de Dios y la resiliencia humana. Palabras conocidas:

Porque Dios, que ordenó que la luz resplandeciera en las tinieblas, hizo brillar su luz en nuestro corazón para que conociéramos la gloria de Dios que resplandece en el rostro de Cristo.

Pero tenemos este tesoro en vasijas de barro para que se vea que tan sublime poder viene de Dios y no de nosotros. Nos vemos atribulados en todo, pero no abatidos; perplejos, pero no desesperados; perseguidos, pero no abandonados; derribados, pero no destruidos. Dondequiera que vamos, siempre llevamos en nuestro cuerpo la muerte de Jesús, para que también su vida se manifieste en nuestro cuerpo. (2 Corintios 4:6–10 NVI)

A veces no entiendo al apóstol Pablo. A veces el tipo no me cae muy bien. En otros momentos, siento que habríamos sido mejores amigos.

Pues en unos 20 de mis 120 semestres, he sido atribulado … pero no abatido; perplejo … pero no desesperado … perseguido … pero no abandonado … derribado … pero no destruido … medio muerto … pero resucitado por el mismo poder de Dios que levantó de los muertos a mi hermano mayor, Jesucristo.

Experimentamos el poder de Dios en nuestras vidas principalmente en la forma de la resiliencia.

Es posible que alguno de ustedes sea un Elías, convocando a 400 profetas de Baal a las llamas que los consumen. Es posible …

Es posible que entre nosotros anda aquel profeta que levanta aquella poderosa voz profética de Dios y declara sobre la ciudad de Medellín su vocación y su destino. Es posible …

Es posible que nuestra comunidad abrigue al Billy Graham colombiano que con temperamento genuino y humilde declara la redención que hay en Jesús y observa que miles y miles se acercan a la plataforma para conocer a este Jesús. Es posible …

Que el poder de Dios opere así entre nosotros, quizás con la excepción del masacre de los profetas paganos.

Pero para la mayoría nuestra verdad es otra y no es menos: Experimentamos el poder de Dios en nuestras vidas principalmente en la forma de la resiliencia.

En este semestre de tu vida o en otro, algo va a pasar que casi te mata.

Pero vas a sobrevivir. Es más, vas a conocer el poder de Dios como el poder de la resurrección que es, pues ¿cómo un Dios que se autodenomina Yahveh—Hacedor de Vida—podría tener y dar poder que no fuera para crear vida?

Vas a ser una hija o un hijo del Altísimo hecha/hecho para la resiliencia.

Hay un detalle más, pues les dije que hay malas noticias y que hay buenas noticias. Pero esa fue una mentirilla blanca.

La realidad es más interesante: Hay malas noticias … hay buenas noticias … y hay noticias excelentes.

Ahora, quiero darte las noticias excelentes: Con el poder de Dios en tu vida … y con la voluntad de experimentar las garras del Seol cuando tu vocación lo requiera … y con el horizonte escatológico por delante que contextualiza el misterio de tu vida y le da sentido …

Con todo esto, no vas a ser meramente una persona de resiliencia: ¡Vas a ser sencillamente imparable!

Así sea, familia. Así seamos.

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What have we learned on the road?

Global Forum of Theological Educators

20-23 May 2019, Orthodox Academy of Crete

 

Χριστός ανέστη! // Christ is risen!

If it should turn out in the fulness of time that the Global Forum of Theological Educators, Verson 2.0 @ the Orthodox Academy of Crete should require a title, a refrain, a remembered rallying cry, a raison d’etre, I believe we will discover it to have been this:

Χριστός ανέστη! // Christ is risen!

We have asked ourselves in these days here in this magnificent location several questions about learners on the way.

We have, for example, followed Havilah Dharamraj as she’s queried ‘What does Abraham learn on the road?’ We’ve tracked with our brother Daniel Ayuch as he in turn has asked, ‘What do the disciples learn on the road to Emmaus?’ This very morning Laurie Brink has dared to ask aloud, ‘What did Jesus learn on the road?’

All the while a nearly invisible Listening Group comprised of seven of your peers has been laboring to understand ‘What have we learned on the road?’

I’d like to ask the members of your Listening Group to stand so that you can recognize them. They are Daniel Ayuch, Janet Clark, Rufus Ositelu, Kirsteen Kim, Gemma Cruz, and Zakali Shohe.

The we that stands as the subject of that sentence—’What have we learned on the way?’—is of course you. That is, we have tried our best to listen to you and now to speak back to you what we believe all of us have learned on our shared journey down this GFTE road.

There is of course a high degree of subjectivity in this enterprise. And with that subjectivity comes our renunciation of any claim that we’ve got this exactly right and certainly of any suspicion that our intuition captures exhaustively the learning that has occurred here this week in our second gathering of the Global Forum of Theological Educators.

Nevertheless, we have been earnest about our work and so it’s with a sense of sobriety that I now offer you some conclusions that represent both the results of the attentive listening that your Listening Group has exercised on your behalf during these days and my own interpretation of events in the light of that listening exercise.

I hurry to add that this is something other than a summation of the proceedings and so I’ll mention only a few presenters by name. I hope that none of you who has served us from this platform will feel diminished if your name remains un-spoken, for this in no way will reflect upon the value of the gift that you’ve given to us.

   *    *    *

We have found common cause in these meetings around one or two of the great hymns of the Church. Do you remember the first?

Father Abraham has many sons.

Many sons has Father Abraham.

I am one of them.

And so are you.

So let’s just praise the Lord.

That, at least, was how I captured Willie Jennings’ suitably pious version of this grand old hymn.

The version I remember from my own misspent youth makes a more Stoic claim.

Father Abraham had many sons.

Many sons had Father Abraham.

And they never laughed.

And they never cried.

All they did was go like this:

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock …

It’s no wonder that Willie grew up and turned out so well, while others of us lagged so sadly far behind … and have such difficulty expressing our feelings.

I’d like to lay hand in this moment to another great, resonant hymn, one that my grandson Connor and I have intoned together no fewer than seven thousand three hundred times.

I wonder whether you know it …

Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout.

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the spout again.

Theological education sometimes feels like that, especially in these days of elusive sustainability and reductive vision and crushing market forces and contexts that move like tectonic plates under our feet.

Dan Aleshire lowered himself down to dinner at table beside me two nights ago with a vast, world-weary sigh and said, ‘These conversations are so difficult. There are three poles and if you could lock down any one of the three, the conversation becomes easier.’

I asked Dan what the three poles are. ‘Well, the first … ‘, he intoned with extraordinary self-assurance ‘… is region of the world, that is, where one comes from. The second is a cluster of hot topics around identity, involving race, gender, and human sexuality.’

‘Yes, Teacher, but what is the third?’, I asked, though candidly Dan by this point was on a roll and didn’t need my encouragement to continue. ‘The third’, quoth Dan, ‘is confessional identity, which in our home contexts is fixed but here at GFTE is decidedly unfixed’.

This, in my view, is the genius of the GFTE concept to date: that we have chosen not to lock the third pole down but to engage the other two as the motley collection theological educators from six Christian families of theological educators that we are.

Whatever the GFTE experiment accomplishes, it most certainly does not make the conversation easier.

So one can be forgiven for feeling a little like Itsy Bitsy Spider on his or her infinitely daunting journey up and down the waterspout. Some would call it a futile journey though, as you’ll hear, I do not think that you do … I do not think that we do.

But let’s leave our sad little arachnid for a moment and attempt to speak concretely about some things we have learned on our road.

I offer seven things, not because of any insinuation that seven is the perfect number, but only because it’s our number.

One: Our Bible reading and our theologizing are inevitably located.

For a goodly number of us, one of the highlights of our gathering came right at the start with Havilah’s framing of Abraham, Sarah, Abimelech, Hagar, and Ishmael. In fact, what Havilah appears to have done is to reassemble the sequence of those names with her eye on the margins.

We did not so much trace the story of Abraham, Sarah, Abimelech, Hagar, and Ishmaelas we did these:

Hagar, Ishmael, Abimelech, Abraham, and Sarah.

That our Bible reading is a socially located exercise is not new news to anyone in this room. Yet we learned it all over again together as though it were, under the expert tuition of an Indian woman who has found her voice in proximity to foundational texts like Genesis 12-20 and then handed that voice over to us as a generous gift.

We saw with freshly open eyes how YHWH does not own Abraham’s abjection of Hagar and Ishmael but cares for and blesses outcast mother and child in a way that manifests ‘the wideness of his mercy’. Yet Abraham in the act and Israel in the memory simply cannot forget these alien figures who haunt their margins.

At our table immediately afterwards, I learned that the young Asian woman just there and the Filipino immigrant to America just there have always read this text through Hagar’s eyes while I, naturally and without question and for reasons that will be self-evident to many of you, have always seen it through Abraham’s.

But not anymore, not now, because we’ve been on this road together, we’ve lingered over these texts together. So we are changed.

Our Bible reading is inevitably located. But this is no counsel of despair. Rather, it’s an observation that invites us to listen to the located readings of our sisters and brothers and in the listening to touch Providence’s deeper wisdom.

In fact, one Listening Group member asked a quite pregnant question, one that I think surprised even her:

Is this conference really about listening?

Two: We must be dreamers.

If I’m not mistaken, we’ve groaned a little together. We have shared our disparate experiences of Itsy Bitsy Spider and her accursed rainstorms, our lives weighed down by budgets and FTEs and ‘economic contingencies’ and the tenacious grip of hard-wired injustices and non-viable institutional legacies and … two little steps forward and one bit step back …
So it’s refreshing to have been reminded that we must periodically lift our calloused hands from the business of pulling weeds and mopping up spills in order to dream withand forour students. A handful of years ago, in the context of lots of men in blue blazers at a North-South assemblage of seminary presidents in Brazil, my boss—a diminutive Colombian woman who guides the seminary I’m privileged to serve—loosed a cry of the heart. ‘Please let us dream!’, Elizabeth Sendek pled.

Let us remember why we do this, let us recall the unsolicited passion that invaded our lives and metastasized into vocation right smack in the middle of our complex context! Let us do it our way in our distinct places because our deep roots in those places tell us that we know a thing or two about them that are not well served by the abstractions and techniques of a ‘globalized’ monologue!

Now here comes Willie Jennings, providing us with some conceptual fodder for remaking our institutions—incrementally or otherwise—by doing again what got us here in the first place: dreaming dreams.

Willie is inexhaustibly quotable, but here is arguably my favorite line from his talk:

We are all the inheritors of someone else’s dreaming (both good and bad). Let’s find the points of alignment, of convergence, between our predecessors’ dreaming and our own.

One Listening Group member said, perhaps more vicariously than she knew, ‘I’m always obsessed by outcomes. Maybe dreams are more important than outcomes.’

Another offered, ‘Dreams are an activity of faith.’ Then, gathering steam, she observed ‘Dreaming is praying … Dreaming is hope.’

We must dream. Or, perhaps, we must remember what it was like to dream. And then find release to dream again … for and with our students.

 

Three: We are changed by the people we meet on this road.

This was the observation of our most prolific Listening Group leader.

It’s a home truth, a kind of rule of life. It’s not a newthing. Yet, in the delight we took in her recitation of it there was novelty, there was discovery.

‘Never in my life have I heard this!’, someone exclaimed of a text that he had heard a thousand times.

‘When we listen to the other, Scripture comes alive’, someone else chimed in.

When we walk the road with people who are very much like us, we belong. We are loved, we are strengthened, our wounds are bound up, our dreams recycle referents that are familiar rather than alien.

This is the ordinary traveling, the walking where one has been placed. Without doubt, it is a deep blessing, the ground of stability.

When we meet new, curiously different people on this road, however, we are changed.

For most of us in this room, the candidly beautiful internationality of this gathering is not the new thing. Many … perhaps most … have grown accustomed to this, our lives made the richer by it.

But the interconfessionalty of GFTE, the blooming six-family-ness of it conjures a meeting—to borrow my Listening Group colleague’s dialect—a meeting that brings the alien into a space that is up close and personal.

So we are changed by the people we meet on the road … on this road.

Four: Hospitality is arguably the defining quality of GFTE.

We heard about hospitality, we experienced hospitality, we practiced hospitality at every turn.

I think we could call this the Global Forum of Theological Hospitality and not risk being fined for telling a fib.

We are not, if I may use a contested expression from my own country, a melting pot. In fact, we are quite chunky.

What we have in common are just two things—trust in the Triune God and a common vocation—and not very much else.

Yet the divine hospitality that has welcomed each of us is something that we’re more or less working out how to practice with each other as we slowly realize just how precious—indeed, how priceless—that shared trust and common vocation truly are. Both alone and in concert.

I lack the courage to be a polemicist and yet I remember the conscious effort it took me to remind myself that I need not contest a table partner’s confidently declared opinion, one with which I could hardly disagree more completely. I felt better a few minutes later when a senior leader from another confessional family volunteered over lunch that he had had what I silently recognized as the very same experience at a different table and at roughly the same hour of the day.

It was related to me that a participant—again, from a confessional family not my own—had declared, ‘I have been unable to find a theological family … until now.’

In my view, GFTE has over the last 72 hours evolved from being a particularly interesting seventh-grade science experiment into being a thing. And I believe the defining quality of that thing may well be a divine one: hospitality.

As your listening group loitered longer than you were given the opportunity to do over yesterday’s Bible reading, we pondered this intuition.

On the road to Emmaus, eyes were opened to recognition of Jesus at the nexus of memory, interpretation, and hospitality. (prophecy)

Deliciously, we’ve enjoyed all three here at GFTE. Perhaps we, like they, have seen Jesus and then been providentially abandoned to our little community of two or three who gather in his name.

 

Five: Our capacity for empathy … indeed for shared journeying … is best enhanced by narrative … by the sharing of our stories.

For a moment, yesterday, it didn’t matter which of six confessional families Molly belonged to. We were all with her in her story. For a moment, we were all Molly, save her particular chains and any bruises she chose to leave unseen.

In the telling of our narratives, we discover who are neighbors are. Often they speak the shared language of our conference—English, the Latin of our day—with an alien accent. Often they name a different ecclesial family. Yet it turns out, sometimes, that they are neighbor. Indeed, sometimes they are kin.

Yet we didn’t know it until we heard their story. Until we learned of Molly’s first board meeting at a Kansas seminary. Until Cristian Sonea spoke my evangelical language of conversion in the first person of a Rumanian Orthodox priest. Until Davina’s narrative of daytime classes in Singapore with three students, nighttime classes that were full, and a Pentecostal seminary reborn. Until we learned that Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are celebrated by many of our African Initiated Church brothers and sisters as the first and mother churches of their movement. Until a breakfast conversation with a colleague who in her institution was ‘marginalized’ from theology to missiology and then in that un-sought space converted by her students from Asia and Africa to a new understanding of mission.

Until …

Well, I suspect that many of our narratives are still to be told. Still to be heard.

 

Six: Theological education is best understood as an enterprise on the move.

One of our members declared as her first words in our Listening Group yesterday: ‘My words for today is mobility’.

One would have to be living in the proverbial bubble not to have experienced theological education as an enterprise that is conceptually on the move. Our methods, our student populations, our various constituencies, our justification for the craft in which we engage … all of these things are in a state of flux that roughly corresponds to the flux that defines every angle and corner of our world these days.

Yet we are also on the move as theological educators because we live in a world of massive migrations of human beings. Entire communities, however defined, are in movement and their churches with them. In Colombia, the country where I’m privileged to serve, 14% of our 48 million people have been internally displaced by half a century of war and political violence. Entire churches have been displaced with the communities they call home—a mobile home—as turns out. This fact has not been without redemptive significance for savaged Colombian communities that have found themselves homeless but not churchless.

Our Listening Group, having listened to you, mused whether this on-the-road-ness of theological education and its constituencies might best be considered normal for a Christian movement that in its earliest moments became known as The Way

Perhaps our moment, in historical terms, is not the uniquely deconstructing crucible that we imagine. Perhaps it is a more normal thing to find ourselves on the roadthan we have thought.

Perhaps, even, we are at our best … perhaps our opportunities are the most rich … when we must both engage and rest from the stress of mobility … when we are exposed before both the warming sun and the clotting dust of our road.

 

Seven: We didn’t learn new truths. We re-learned old truths in community.

Some may be left unsatisfied by the absence of reference to the skills, techniques, or performance of theological education in this review of what we’ve learned along the way.

That’s not an accident. And I can assure you that my notes are peppered by Listening Group members’ comments upon these things.

Yet none of them, in our conversations and in my estimation, rises to a level that would sustain a place as one of the top seven things we’ve learned. In fact, discussion of theological education’s vision and vitality in contexts seems to me to have served as the warm, moist, soily bed on which relationship and mutual understanding germinated and rose towards the sun.

There were moments when a ‘content cynic’ might have wondered whether our group would have thrived if our conference topic had been ‘Techniques of 19th-century Basket Weaving’. I think not, but it does seem that this group was—may I use a quasi-Pentecostal adjective—anointed in a way that made it a quick thing for us to recognize the neighbor, the fellow traveler, the family member.

A friend observed, ‘As an outcome of these meetings, my language has changed when I speak about other faith realities. I see the faces of the participants with whom I’ve worshipped, shared my passions, etc. It’s changed my language and my sense of identity. Before, I might have said of a certain seminary, “Oh, they’ve become liberal”. Now, I would not use language in their absence that I would not use as I looked into their faces. Now my observation might become “Their vision seems to have changed. I wonder what situation they are attempting to respond to.”’

That is, something quite powerful happened in the re-learning of old truths … together … on the way.

 

Conclusion

Well, your Listening Group was industrious and diligent. They flooded my inbox and my ears with many more fine observations than can be collected here. Time has done its violence to our task, but time is a force that must be welcomed rather than lamented.

How shall I draw these interpretative conclusions to their close without taxing your patience more than I should?

Let us a recall a home truth of ours: When a narrative ceases to speak life and becomes death-mongering instead, it’s time to change the narrative.

Let’s re-read a great hymn of the church from the social location of theological educators from six Christian families gathering to find common cause in just two things: a shared trust in the Triune God and a common vocation:

Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the waterspout.

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

And Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the spout again.

Here’s what I hear, with regrets that this is not the moment for table conversation to tease out what you hear:

Itsy Bitsy Spider is not alone. And she is not climbing the only waterspout.

In fact, there are six spiders, of whom Itsy Bitsy is one, working out her vocation in the place in which she has been called to live and serve. Indeed, there may be more …

What’s more, this house has six waterspouts, each with its own busy, faithful spider. Or is this not merely a house? Is it a temple?

And Itsy Bitsy Spider’s iterative climbing up and being washed down are not the monotonous exercise in futility that has been claimed. Itsy’s vertically oriented lifestyle is in fact a liturgical rhythm. Itsy’s life oscillates between heaven and earth, for don’t temples always represent that space where heaven and earth intersect?

Itsy’s upward-oriented doxological movement is complemented by the downward, liquid rush of her Spirit-empowered reassignment to her world, where two or three gather and where so many groan for creation’s redemption and final consummation.

Some have conjectured that Itsy climbs a bit higher each time she makes her way up the waterspout, though others have felt that the mere insinuation of this belies something of a Pelagian spider-ology.

Regardless, the view from Itsy’s waterspout allows her to glimpse the other waterspouts. Indeed, she has come to recognize the spiders that climb those waterspouts as her neighbors … as her sisters … as her brothers.

Itsy finds this an empowering recognition, for she had wondered in her relative isolation whether those other spiders even belonged to her species.

Now will you rise to your feet and join me in singing together this great hymn of the faith … its narrative reframed so that it can give to us all the life that it has in it?

Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the waterspout.

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.

And Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the spout again.

Χριστός ανέστη! // Christ is risen!

 

As Jesus’ ministry gathers steam in Luke’s telling, we glimpse the drawing up of battle lines in the three-times-repeated memory that Jesus rebuked a collection of enslaving adversaries.

And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ (Luke 4:33–36 ESV)

The verb that abbreviates Jesus’ belligerent command over the ‘unclean demon’ that holds this unnamed man in bondage is ε͗πιτιμάω (traditionally, to rebuke), supplemented in the people’s astonished after-commentary by ε͗πιτάσσω (usually, to command). As mentioned, Luke deploys ε͗πιτιμάω three times in close proximity, two of them of loud confrontations with demons reluctant to leave their hosts and once of Jesus’ command that an incapacitating fever should leave Simon’s mother-in-law.

And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Luke 4:38–41 ESV)

In those who heard Jesus teach and observed his stern command over enslaving powers that is abbreviated by this word, it elicited recognition of Jesus’ authority (ε͗ξουσία; 4.32 of his teaching, 4.37 of his forcing the demon to depart).

By means of this flurry of words, we are meant to understand a powerful confrontation between Jesus, on the one hand, and enslaving tyrants on the other. The latter may be the difficult-to-describe phenomena that the text routinely calls demons or the hot fever whose departure allowed the afflicted woman to resume her customary habit of serving her guests

It is worth noting the uneasy cohabitation of accommodating truth and religion, on the one hand, and madness and religion on the other. Jesus’ teaching on the sabbath astonished by virtue of its authority, in implicit contrast with more customary sabbath instruction that appears to have lacked this. And Luke locates the man with ‘the spirit of an unclean demon’ precisely ‘in the synagogue’ at Capernaum.

Luke describes Jesus as the sworn enemy of those powers that imprison human beings in a cage of madness, destructive self-absorption, and enervating disease. It is possible that his narrative subtly means to include ‘teaching without authority’ among this roster of enslaving enemies of the newly arrived Jesus.

More, Jesus represents the front edge of a campaign to banish these from human experience.

In the passage at hand, such powers simply leave (έξέρχομαι, ἀφίημι), though often with a loud and frightening pout as they go, as though to signal that ‘This is not over …’.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?

Not so much.

 

 

There is a fruitful agony, a suffering that bears life rather than merely pushing open the door to death. Jesus’ agony was of this kind, in spades we might say in retrospect and from the angle of hope’s full flowering.

Yet the moment left its early evidences as well.

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). (Mark 15:20–22 ESV)

As many have noted, Mark’s narrative mentions two names that don’t much illuminate the crisis of the moment: Alexander and Rufus.

The story as it’s told reads well as an indicator that Alexander and Rufus were members of the community of Jesus’ followers in which Mark and Peter, his apparent source, nourished the memory.

Simon of Cyrene was just a passerby, forced by uniformed Romans with little concern for local courtesies to carry their murder weapon when their victim became too exhausted to carry the tool of his own death. There was absolutely nothing premeditated about it. If the Romans had not grabbed Simon, they would have press-ganged someone else. He just happened to be ‘coming in from the country’ when the little drama of Jesus’ execution was taking place.

Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So it would appear.

Yet the little mention that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, two men whom Mark’s readers in his community of followers of Jesus were expected to recognize, suggest that there was more in play than bad luck. Something happened to Simon by the time he had dragged the lumber of Jesus’ murdering to Golgotha. If it did not happen in the moment, then perhaps shortly thereafter.

That something was passed on to Simon’s children, whose names became household names among the daughters and sons of this new faith, names that could be mentioned familiarly with no special elaboration.

As Jesus stumbled his final steps to Golgotha, faith’s seed was already finding fertile soil in the heart of a bad-luck farmer who had showed up at the wrong time.

As my wife likes to abbreviate such complexities, ‘That’s how God works.’

Things are seldom as they appear.

 

 

What have we heard?

ICETE Triennial Listening Team report

2 November 2018

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Ps. 24.1 ESV)

This is the note that has been sounded, at least as the psalmist might well have expressed it were he listening in, during these days together in Panama.

While that note has rung, in plenary addresses and workshops and mealtime conversations and walks along this ocean that YHWH has created for his enjoyment and for ours, a group of your friends has been listening in as well.

I think I’d better explain … Continue Reading »

By way of his ambitious Living as the People of God (1983), Christopher Wright attempted61B2R7pA2mL._SY346_
to address the paucity of serious reflection on Old Testament ethics by providing ‘a comprehensive framework within which Old Testament ethics can be organized and understood.’ The intervening two decades between the book’s original publication and the 2004 updating of that work as Old Testament Ethics for the People of God had witnessed a florescence of writing on the topic. While the reawakening of popular and scholarly interest in Old Testament ethics is to be welcomed, no part of it lessens the value of Wright’s enduring ‘comprehensive framework’.

Wright has inherited from his mentor, the late John R.W. Stott, the knack for wrestling complexity into clarity without lurching into simplistic reductions. Already in the book’s introduction, we see evidence of this in Wright’s ‘ethical triangle’: 

God, Israel and the land—these were the three pillars of Israel’s worldview, the primary factors of their theology and ethics. We may conceptualize these as a triangle of relationships, each of which affected and interacted with both the others. So we can take each ‘corner’ of this triangle in turn and examine Old Testament ethical teaching from the theological angle (God), the social angle (Israel), and the economic angle (the land).

Wright apologizes, even if not fervently, for the absence of the individual that some readers will note in this schema. Yet in this reader’s estimation, that missing individual will show his or her face often enough in the pages that follow, particularly when one is poised at the ‘social angle’ corner of Wright’s admittedly artificial but nonetheless instructive triangle. Continue Reading »

41TErMtvHSLHow does a book like this even happen?

Sue Hubbell loves her Ozarks and the people who live there, loves her bees, and by all appearances has a thing going with words and the art of stringing them together. It seems that beekeepers now join flyfishers as unlikely creators of great writing.

Who knew?

Hubbell weaves her tales of bees and sweet countryside around the four seasons of her craft. This makes for four long chapters, perhaps the only defect in an otherwise enchanting read. Along the way we learn a fair piece about keeping bees (much of it in the ‘let them be bees’ category). We also taste and feel the Missouri seasons and warm to the spirit of a woman who has learned to live so well in her adopted countryside.

The result is a book worth reading at least twice. Then, after a rest, perhaps a third time.

Somehow the book’s simple title perfectly frames the easy lilt of its prose. Nothing is difficult here. Just beautiful.