Page 1

The Migrant People of God

Insights The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

Fall 2016

Aymer • Niles • Hong • Davidson • Carvalhaes Miller • Sytsma Bratt • González • Wall • Monie


The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary Fall 2016

Volume 132

Number 1

Editor: David F. White Editorial Board: Gregory Cuéllar, Blair Monie, and Randal Whittington The Faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Margaret Aymer Whitney S. Bodman Gregory L. Cuéllar Lewis R. Donelson William Greenway David H. Jensen David W. Johnson Carolyn Browning Helsel Philip Browning Helsel Paul K. Hooker Timothy D. Lincoln

Jennifer L. Lord Blair Monie Suzie Park Cynthia L. Rigby Asante U. Todd Eric Wall Theodore J. Wardlaw David F. White Melissa Wiginton Philip Wingeier-Rayo

Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

is published two times each year by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. e-mail: Web site: Entered as non-profit class bulk mail at Austin, Texas, under Permit No. 2473. POSTMASTER: Address service requested. Send to Insights, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. Printing runs are limited. When available, additional copies may be obtained for $3 per copy. Permission to copy articles from Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary for educational purposes may be given by the editor upon receipt of a written request. Some previous issues of Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary, are available on microfilm through University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (16 mm microfilm, 105 mm microfiche, and article copies are available). Insights is indexed in Religion Index One: Periodicals, Index to Book Reviews in Religion, Religion Indexes: RIO/RIT/IBRR 1975- on CD-ROM, Religious & Theological Abstracts, &, and the ATA Religion Database on CD-ROM, published by the American Theological Library Association, 300 S. Wacker Dr., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60606-6701; telephone: 312-454-5100; e-mail:; web site:; ISSN 1056-0548.

COVER: “The Flight Into Egypt,” by Erland Sibuea; ©2008; 40 x 40 cm, acrylic on canvas; used with permission from the artist.


2 Introduction

Theodore J. Wardlaw

The Migrant People of God 3

The Migrant’s God: World-Orientation and New Testament Theologies by Margaret Aymer


Migrating with a Migrant God

An Interview with Margaret Aymer



We Are a Storytelling People by Damayanthi Niles and Christine J. Hong

Migrant Theology in a World of Mobility by Steed Vernyl Davidson

Jesus Christ Crossing the Rio Grande by Cláudio Carvalhaes


Pastors’ Panel

Matthew Miller, Susan Sytsma Bratt, Jesús (Jesse) González

35 Required Reading New Songs of Celebration Render: Congregational Song in the Twenty-First Century, compiled and edited by Michael Hawn, reviewed by Eric Wall

37 Christianity & Culture Ministry in a House Divided by Blair Monie

Introduction “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression …” –Deuteronomy 26:5-10a


hese Old Testament verses are often described as Israel’s confession of faith. Migrants from Egypt, the Israelites were gradually formed as a nation as they fled a once-familiar land in order to inhabit a new land. At the root of our Christian faith is a story—repeated over and over again—of how God has accompanied us on a journey and has imbued that journey with a formative identity. In this sense, they are not unlike those words written on the pedestal that supports the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” These words have greeted multitudes coming to our country in search of a better life; they have reminded us that the migrant life is hard-wired into our national identity. And yet, we are living in a time of great ambivalence with respect to this aspect of our own stories as a people. There is much angst regarding the presence in our midst of “the other”—the one whose color, or accent, or language, or religion, or country of origin prompts among us deep fear and resistance. Have we forgotten our own stories of migration? The illuminating pieces that follow in this issue of Insights prompt us to remember the role that migration plays in our faith story. Margaret Aymer, from the Seminary’s Bible faculty, offers an intriguing glimpse of the way the Bible displays multiple world-orientations regarding migrants and suggests that our God in three persons is always a God-in-migration. Other angles on migrant theology are offered by Damayanthi Niles, a theology professor at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis; Christine Hong, a worship and evangelism professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Steed Vernyl Davidson, an Old Testament professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago; and Cláudio Carvalhaes, a worship professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. You will also enjoy reflections offered by pastors from our region: Matthew Miller (MDiv’03), pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albuquerque and a trustee of Austin Seminary; Susan Sytsma Bratt, associate pastor of Northridge Presbyterian Church of Dallas; and Jesús (Jesse) González (MDiv’92), a Seminary trustee and stated supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church of McAllen. Eric Wall, Dean of the Chapel and assistant professor of sacred music, offers a book review of Michael Hawn’s New Songs of Celebration Render; and Blair Monie, Professor in the Zbinden Distinguished Chair of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership, offers suggestions for pastoral leaders in our increasingly divisive society. Read what follows, and remember gratefully who you are and from where you came! Theodore J. Wardlaw President and Professor of Homiletics

The Migrant’s God:

World-Orientation and New Testament Theologies Margaret Aymer Si Dieu nous a faits à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu.1


ut the Bible says …” Entire arguments begin with these four words. These words presuppose that “the Bible” speaks with one voice. However, the Bible is not a book.2 It is a library containing diverse testimonies. This is particularly the case when one raises the question, Who is God? This essay highlights differences among New Testament (NT) authors’ testimonies about God. These testimonies reveal the truth of Voltaire’s somewhat irreverent quip: “If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.”3 This essay argues that the NT authors’ theologies reflect their world-orientations. Contemporary readers engage these ancient testimonies as scriptures, as lenses that shape our world-orientations and our theologies.4 In so doing, we can be unaware that we are “scripturalizing” not only these ancient theologies but their concomitant world-orientations as sacred.

Margaret Aymer is associate professor of New Testament at Austin Seminary. She has published four books: First Pure, then Peaceable: Frederick Douglass Reads James (T&T Clark, 2008), James: Diaspora Rhetorics of a Friend of God (Sheffield Publishing, 2014), Fortress Commentary on the Bible (Fortress Press, 2014), and Islanders, Island, and the Bible: Ruminations (Society of Biblical Studies, 2015). She is the new editor of Horizons in Biblical Theology. 3

The Migrant People of God To better understand world-orientations, I propose a heuristic from the psychology of migration and acculturation.5 Migrants (un)consciously negotiate our world-orientations toward our home and host cultures. These decisions constitute part of our world-orientations. Psychologist John Berry proposes a helpful, if perhaps simple, framework for understanding these choices.6 His framework suggests four possible migrant world-orientations toward our home and host cultures. Migrants who reject dystopian host cultures, turning inward toward their home cultures, have chosen “separation.”7 Migrants who reject their home cultures and embrace their host cultures practice “assimilation.”8 I prefer “segmented assimilation” here.9 This term denotes assimilation to part but not all of a culture (e.g. economically, but not in gender roles). Since no NT author embraces the imperial cult or polytheistic worship practices, segmented assimilation better describes this assimilationist stance in the New Testament. Rejecting both home and host cultures Berry calls “marginalization.” I prefer “liminality,” a term that highlights the migrants’ own experience of creating an alternative culture. Finally, those engaging both home and host cultures practice “integration.”10 I prefer the term “accommodation,” following sociologist Margaret Gibson’s work on Sikh immigrant children.11 By accommodation, Gibson means maintaining pride in one’s own cultural norms while, simultaneously, adopting communally approved cultural norms of the host community.12 Berry’s framework illuminates not only the world-orientations of contemporary migrants, but those found in the NT.13 Whether wandering preachers, like Paul of Tarsus, displaced after the fall of Jerusalem, or rhetoricized as “exiles” (1 Pet 2:11), many NT authors wrestle with their relationships to their home and host cultures.14 The NT library contains all four migrant world-orientations described by Berry. They validate these different world-orientations through their God-talk, their theological reasoning. Thus emerge four visions of the Christian God: visions of a God who, depending on the author, calls the Christians to separation, assimilation, liminality, or accommodation. To demonstrate this argument, this essay examines various NT writings. Here, both the world-orientation of these writings and their God-talk will be described. To close, this essay will raise some implications for contemporary Christians’ “scripturalizing” of these ancient writings.15

A Separatist World-Orientation Of the world-orientations suggested by Berry, separation occurs most frequently within the NT. This world-orientation requires rejecting host culture and turning toward home culture. The rhetoric of the letter of James reflects this. James names his audience “the twelve tribes in Dispersion” (Jas 1:2). This names James’ audience as God’s chosen people. Further, James calls them God-born of the word of truth (Jas 1:18) and the first-fruits of God’s creatures (Jas 1:18). They are called to hear and do the Law, bridling their tongues and caring for the widows and orphans (Jas 1:22-27). James revels in Torah, or “the royal law” (Jas 2:8), and holds his community accountable to its commands (Jas 5:1-6).16 Those outside of his community 4

Aymer are “the world.” “The world” can stain and destroy; it enters through the unbridled tongue, setting communities afire (Jas 1:27; 3:1-9). One cannot befriend the world without becoming God’s enemy (Jas 4:4). The community must thus turn toward God and one another and away from the world (Jas 4:8-10). 1 John similarly proposes a separatist world-orientation. In 1 John, the community of faith consists of God-born children of light (I John 3:1–13; 5:4). They have fellowship with each other and the Deity as long as they walk in “the light” and confess their sins (1 John 1:7-10). The outsiders are “antichrists” (1 John 2:18-23). This language may reflect a communal schism (1 John 4:2-3). However, the author blames this schism on “the world,” the realm of the “antichrist” (1 John 4:4-5).17 The “world” hates “the children of light” (1 John 3:13). However, says the author, the schismatics have been welcomed by the world from which they came (1 John 4:6). Nevertheless, claims the author, the God-born have conquered the world (1 John 5:4); the world’s power is passing away (1 John 5:19). Other NT writings also uphold separation. 2 Thessalonians contrasts the community, the first fruits of salvation, with the lawless one (2 Thess. 1:4-8; 2:3-4, 13). 2 Peter distinguishes between the community’s faith (2 Pet 1:1) and the defilements of the world brought by false prophets (2 Pet 2:20). And 2 Timothy reminds the community that “all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 1:8-9; 3:12). For these and other NT writings, the world stands in opposition to the community. In response, communities must shun the world and turn toward one another and to God. The separatists’ God loves and stands with them (1 Thess 1:4). God births these communities (Jas 1: 17-19; 1 John 3:1-10). God chooses them as first harvests of salvation (1 Thess 1:4-5; 2:12; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Tit. 1:1-2; 2:14; 2 Pet 1:13; Jude 5). God demands of them faithful purity (1 Thess 2:12; 3:13; 4:1-8; Jas 1:27; 4:4-10). God also grants them courage to withstand persecution (1 Thess. 2:2-4; Rev 2). The separatists’ God stands above and apart from the world (Jas 1:13-17; 4:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17). They believe that God will judge the world for its actions against God’s people (2 Thess 1:6-8; 2:1-8 2 Pet 2:4-6; Jude 6-19; Rev 6:10; 17-18). This divine judgment of a sinful world is the telos of history (2 Pet 2:7-9; Rev 21-22).

A Segmented Assimilationist World-Orientation The author of Luke-Acts best demonstrates a segmented assimilationist worldorientation. Luke’s two-volume narrative depicts a turning away from an increasingly hostile Jewish home culture toward a Gentile host culture.18 Luke’s opening foreshadows this, as Zechariah, the priest, doubts the oracle of God brought by Gabriel, leading to his muteness (Luke 1:20). At Jesus’s Temple dedication, Simeon prophesies that Jesus will face opposition (Luke 2:34). In Jesus’s first sermon, usually remembered for his quotation of Isaiah 61, Jesus warns that God’s messengers went not to the people of Israel but to Gentiles (Luke 4:24-27). Similar rebukes occur in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:26), the healing of the centurion’s slave (Luke 7:9), the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:33), the death of Lazarus (Luke 16:31), and the healing of the Samaritan leper (Luke 17:18). In each of these, the 5

The Migrant People of God righteous are outsiders; the unrighteous, those of the home culture. This critique of home culture continues in the Acts of the Apostles. The testimonies of the apostles and Stephen before the Jerusalem Council accuse these leaders of murder (Acts 3:22-23; 4:10; 7:52-53). Meanwhile the outsiders accept the evangelists’ teaching: in Samaria (Acts 8) and Ethiopia (Acts 8) and even to Gentiles like Cornelius (Acts 10). As the story of Acts continues, Paul declares to the Corinthian Jews “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (18:6; cf. also 28:28). The final chapters of Acts depict the occupying Romans as the reasonable characters who save Paul against home-culture violence (Acts 21-26). Acts ends with an argument between Paul and a synagogue in Rome. Here Paul declares: “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28). Thus, what starts in the Jerusalem Temple becomes a thoroughly Gentile affair. Luke-Acts stands as the sole example of segmented assimilation in the NT.19 However, it has great clout, because it alone provides a narrative theology of the post-resurrection church. The God of Luke-Acts constantly interacts with the world, through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:39; 10:44). Luke’s God offers immanent salvation to those who accept Jesus as Messiah (Acts 2:22-36; 3:13-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-53). God’s messiah comes for revelation to the Gentiles (εθνοι) and the redemption of all flesh (Luke 2:32; 3:6). God’s people extend beyond Abraham’s descendents (3:8). God pours out God’s spirit even on Gentiles (Acts 10) and recognizes all humanity as of the same ancestry (Acts 17:26). God’s judgment will come heavily against those who reject Jesus as Messiah (Acts 18:6), especially the Ιουδαιοι.20 In Luke-Acts, God’s people bear witness to God’s chosen, turning from home to the embrace of the welcoming Gentiles (Acts 28:28).

A Liminal World-Orientation The Gospel of John and the book of Hebrews share a liminal world-orientation. These writings also reject their home culture. In John’s gospel, the portrayal of “the Jews” demonstrates this (John 6-10). John reimagines many of the Jewish festivals in light of Jesus’s ministry. Judaism is his home culture. Yet their rejection of the Christ-believers, illustrated by the story of the man born blind (John 9), marks the rift between John and his home culture. In Hebrews, imperfection rather than antagonism motivates rejection of home culture. The preacher argues that the Law is “weak and ineffectual”; Jesus, as heavenly high priest, has ushered in a better covenant (Heb 7:18; 10). However, these writings also reject their host cultures. In Hebrews, all earthly structures are imperfect, and no lasting city exists for God’s people on earth (Heb 13:14). John writes that Christ comes into the world (John 17:14-16; 1:1-18; 18:36). The world does not know Christ (John 1:10), who made the world and comes to save it from sin, to give it life and light (John 1:29; 3:16-17; 6:33; 8:12). Thus, the world rejects Christ (John 3:19) and hates his testimony (John 7:7; 15:18). Christ comes to judge the prince of the world, which is accomplished by his being “lifted up” (John 12:31-32; 16:11), that is, by his being killed in and by the world. 6

Aymer Instead of either home or host cultures, both Hebrews and John imagine an alternative community. In Hebrews, this community seeks that heavenly city of God found beyond either home or host culture (Heb 11). John’s gospel also posits an alternative community, children of God “who receive … [and] believe in” Jesus’s name (John 1:12). The disciples become such a group. These are not called out of the world, even though they are not “of the world” (John 17:14). Despite the world’s hatred, they rely on the Paraclete and the protection of God (John 17:1518). They are called to bear witness to a hostile world so that others might believe and be saved (John 17:20-23). Hebrews and the Gospel of John seem to have divergent theologies. The former styles Jesus Christ as a heavenly high priest who serves the distant, heavenly God and opens the way to God’s rest for the faithful (Hebrews 3-10). The latter names Jesus the incarnate Word, one with the Father, who alone is the way to the Father (John 1). Yet, each asserts the need for an esoteric relationship with Jesus as God’s unique intermediary or incarnation. A liminal community maintains a special, faithful relationship to the only valid God-bearer: the high priest, the Son, the Christ. Christ as divine intermediary negotiates a particular relationship between God and God’s people. To Christ belongs judgment, salvation, and advocacy on behalf of the community. Those of liminal world-orientation thus maintain the distance and unsullied purity of the separatists’ God. At the same time, they insist, like the segmented assimilationists, on the immanent in-breaking of God into human existence, although, in this instance, through the Christ. They are called to initiate others into their esoteric community so that they may also believe and be saved.

An Accommodationist World-Orientation Paul’s epistle to the Romans holds an enormous influence on Protestant theology. Curiously, this epistle best demonstrates the migrant world-orientation of accommodation, upholding the importance of both home and host culture. Such a stance is not an uncritical attempt to smooth over differences. Rather, an accommodationist refuses to reject either culture, despite well-considered critiques of each. In Romans, Paul demonstrates accommodation by making an impassioned defense both of his own Jewish people and heritage and of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s plan of salvation. Neil Elliott and others have demonstrated that Romans should be read as a defense of Roman Jews after the Claudian expulsion.21 In light of long-seated Roman prejudices toward Jews, and the persecution of Jews under Claudius, Christian Gentiles of Rome would have had reason to believe that Jews had been “separate[d] … from the love of God” (Rom. 8:35).22 Against this, Paul argues emphatically. The gospel, he writes, is the power of God “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16). To Paul, his people are worthy of honor. They have been entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2); “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for7

The Migrant People of God ever” (Rom. 9:4-5). However, Paul believes that his home culture’s love for God and the Law is unenlightened, because his siblings do not recognize Christ as the end (τελος) or ultimate aim of the Law (Rom. 10:2). Yet, he denies that his own people have been rejected by God (Rom. 11:1). Rather, all of his people will be saved by the very God who has grafted in the wild-growing Gentiles (Rom. 11:26). At the same time, Paul’s accommodationist world-orientation celebrates his host culture, the Greeks or Gentiles. These, too, are God’s people (Rom. 3:29), justified by faith, dead to sin, and adopted into God’s covenant people through Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 8:15-17). Contrary to nature, these wild olive branches have been grafted onto the cultivated tree (Rom. 11:17-20). Paul calls for Gentile gratitude toward his home culture. His assessment of Gentiles includes critiques (Rom. 1: 20-23; 12:1-2), though he does not reject his host community as antithetical to God. Further, he calls all Christians to be subject to the leaders and laws of the host community (13:1-8). Paul, here, performs a balancing act, praising and critiquing both Jews and Gentiles, while calling for mutual forbearance (Rom. 12). His stance colors his Godtalk. For Paul, “God shows no partiality” between Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 2:11). Instead, God’s character of justice to the faithful and wrath against the unjust extends to all people (Rom. 1:17-18). So, too, does God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 1:16; 6:23). God adopts outsiders but has not rejected God’s own people (Rom. 1:26; 8:14-17; 11:1-2). God justifies all by faithfulness (Rom. 3:30). Paul’s theology thus presents a view of God that holds in tension God’s judgment and God’s mercy toward all people, Jews and Greeks.

New Testament Theologies: Gifts and Burdens Four different world-orientations invoking four contrasting images of God: this is the legacy bequeathed to contemporary Christians by the authors of the New Testament library. So, who, then, is God? The separatist world-orientation insists that God differs radically from, and exists separately from, the contemporary world. God is not our culture or our country of origin, a helpful reminder when faced with fascism.23 Yet, this theological lens can encourage a dropping out, or dismissal, of one’s culture. If the world is antithetical to God, then involvement in the world, as a citizen or protestor, might be theologized as wasteful or, worse, sinful. Segmented assimilationists, by contrast, affirm that God breaks into the world, calling outsiders into God’s community. However, this world-orientation can too-quickly dismiss old or conservative perspectives as rejecting God, just as Luke does with the Ιουδαιοι. Liminalists raise the importance of the Christ as unique conduit to God, whether as λογος or as high priest.24 For them, the community of faith represents God’s creation of an utterly new people. However, these run the risk of incarnational erasure. Just as John’s Jesus erases the importance of Jerusalem and Samaria, two holy sites with deep historical importance, so, too, can liminalists erase the incarnational difference among God’s people (John 4).25 While to some this may seem to lead us beyond social divisions, this kind of incarnational erasure can 8

Aymer leave us theologically impoverished and prone to continue social injustices. Accommodationists hold in tension the goodness and the fallibility of all cultures, while holding that God is both above them all and in-breaking among us. Still, even this sort of perspective has limitations. In its affirmation can hide an unwillingness to raise questions of power among cultural groups that can leave unjust power relations firmly in place.

Implications The New Testament is a library, but it is also more than that. We Christians use this collection of writings as scriptures.26 We actively use these writings as lenses through which we evaluate our relationship to the world, to God, and to one another. In truth, we tend to privilege certain writings over others. This can bequeath our local and denominational theologies a preference for certain world-orientations, a tendency to lean toward separation or assimilation, liminality or accommodation. In light of this, we must acknowledge that Christians who disagree on who God is can all be drawing from the New Testament, even in their disagreement. Moreover, if all of these writings can be styled as migrant world-orientations, a larger question attends for those who are landed, settled citizens with rights and privileges. Do such world-orientations illuminate God’s call to us non-migratory persons? True, societal change can be styled as a kind of displacement. Nevertheless, many US Christians cannot truly claim displacement. When non-migratory people style themselves as “aliens and exiles,” or simply as “not at home,” what social responsibility and stewardship might be lost? Is it even ethical for those of us who are not migrants to use these writings as scriptures? Yet we cannot abandon these writings. They are our scriptures, the ways in which we organize our faithful response to the world. There is another option. Perhaps the vision of God in our scriptures emerges from ancient contextual theological reflections: reflections on facing persecution, trying to hold two groups together, having to create something new, or turning toward a new home when they are no longer welcome. These contexts affected each group’s theological perspective, even when the authors were reading the same scriptures.27 We, too, like our NT forbears, must bear witness to the presence of God-with-us in our own contexts. That is, we are called to take seriously this theological library not as the final word about the nature of God, but rather as an invitation to enter into this ongoing process of contextual God-talk. Finally, we should be cautious not to land too firmly on any one solution. The testimonies of the NT library suggest that God is not that easily pinned down. The God of the NT, testified to in three persons, is always already a God-in-migration. As the Christ, God migrates into the cosmos: uninvited, undocumented, and unwelcomed—but a light to the nations. As the Holy Spirit, God takes up permanent residence among us as Paraclete and power giver. And even at the end of history, God descends not in an unmovable building, but in a tent, the impermanent resident of a desert wanderer. It is possible, here, that I, too, am embodying Voltaire’s satirical quip, remaking God in my own immigrant image. Perhaps. Yet, even if I 9

The Migrant People of God am, the testimonies of the library of the NT suggest that I am in good company. v NOTES

1. Voltaire, “Faits détachés et bon mots,” Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire 32 (Paris: Imprimerie A. Quantin, 1877), 561. 2. I use “Christian Bible” as shorthand, acknowledging that various branches of Christianity hold as sacred different canons. 3. English translation taken from James Geary, Geary’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Aphorisms (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), 64. 4. I am using Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s understanding of scripture as a human activity, a way that human beings treat particular rhetorical discourses (texts, stories, etc). Using these discourses as scriptures, “scripturalizing” involves evaluating the world and one’s place in it in light of these texts. Thus, NT texts shape the world-orientations of their readers. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, What is Scripture? A Comparative Approach (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993, 2005), 19. 5. Although I have been playing with this idea in various ways over many years, I am particularly grateful for the sounding board that Philip Browning Helsel has provided for me on this topic. 6. John Berry, “Immigration, Acculturation and Adoption,” Applied Psychology: International Review 46 (1997): 5-68. Berry has been correctly critiqued for not including factors in his framework such as power differentials, racism, xenophobia, and economics. Nevertheless, his framework—which was never intended to be a model in the strictest sense—can serve as a heuristic instrument to unpack migrant world-orientations extant in the rhetoric of ancient writings like the NT. 7. Ibid., 5. 8. Ibid. 9. Lissette M. Piedra and David W. Engstrom, “Segmented Assimilation Theory and the Life Model: An Integrated Approach to Understanding Immigrants and their Children,” Social Work 54:3 (2009): 272. Their work deals with economic models but one could also use it to attend to other social segments, such as religious practice. 10. Berry. 11. Margaret Gibson, Accommodation without Assimilation: Sikh Immigrants in an American High School (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), x-xi. 12. Ibid. 13. I have previously made this argument in James: Diaspora Rhetoric of a Friend of God (Sheffield Phoenix, 2015), and “Rootlessness and Community in Contexts of Diaspora” in Fortress Commentary on the Bible: NT, edited by Margaret Aymer, Cynthia Kittredge, and David Sanchez (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 47-62; as well as during the Austin Seminary’s Midwinters Jones Lecture, unpublished, 2013. 14. All NT references are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. 15. Smith, 19. 16. Much of the Letter of James can be read as a midrash or sermon on Leviticus 19. 17. For more on the communal schism in 1 John see, Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist, 1979), 93-144. 18. The gospels were anonymously written. I use “Luke” here for ease and convention. 19. One might make an argument for 1 Timothy as segmented assimilation, but it lacks the rejection of home culture necessary for that. Instead, it is probably an accommodationist text. 20. Ιουδαιοι can be translated “Jews” or “Judeans.” Within Acts, it seems to denote those in alliance with the movement’s antagonists in Jerusalem. 21. Neil Elliott, The Rhetoric of Romans: Argumentative Constraint and Strategy and Paul’s Dialogue with Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 43-59. 22. Ibid. 23. Thus the Theological Declaration of Barmen rejects “the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life” (8.23), Book of Confessions (Louisville: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2014). 24. In the Hellenistic world, the word λογος, “word,” pointed beyond the words on a page to a

Continued on page 22


Interview Margaret Aymer

Migrating with a Migrant God In this piece, you create a typology of ways biblical literature makes sense to people of faith as they relate to the culture they confront: separatist, assimilationist, marginalization/liminality, and integration/accommodation. For our purposes in this interview, I wonder if you’d just summarize those four. Of course. The typology is not mine, initially. It is, rather, a framework that John Berry created for the psychology of migration, looking at how migrants interact with the cultures into which they find themselves. His intention was really thinking about how migrants integrate into the society. That’s not my intention at all, but I find it a helpful framework. The ways in which Berry sets it out is migrants can turn toward or away from their home culture and turn toward or turn away from their host culture in particular ways. If there is a rejection of the host culture, that’s usually because of some kind of trauma experienced in the host culture—in which case we see a separation from the host culture and a turning inward toward oneself. You see this also in some of the books in the New Testament, as in James, for instance—which has been my bailiwick for most of my academic career now— where the world is evil. You are to be unstained by the world; if you’re a friend of the world, then you’re an enemy of God, and so on. So, there is this turning away from the host culture and turning toward the inward culture in biblical text, just as you see also as a migrant strategy for self-determination, for survival, within a hostile society. That would be a separatist. That would be a separatist, yes. The obvert side of that coin would be what I call liminality. Berry calls them marginalized, but I call them liminal because I think it’s easy to speak about another people from the perspective of those who want them integrated. But I would like to have us think about how they self-identify. How would you see yourself in a society in which you found your home culture to be something you needed to reject, but you found your host culture something you needed to reject also. You’d be creating a third space. Victor Turner describes this liminal status as “betwixt and between.”


The Migrant People of God

The Bible speaks in multiple voices, so we get to learn to, first of all, be generous with one another to say, Yes, that position is justified from the text. We need to hear that and own that the positions that we don’t like are definitely justified from the text. —Margaret Aymer

Exactly. Lots of different groups do this, conservative and liberal, across the spectrum. One can think of groups that have gone off and created hermetic societies like the Amish on the one hand. One can think of gay Christians on the other, who can’t go home; the church is not a good place and the host culture is not a good place, so they create a third space. We see this in the Gospel of John, which is very interesting because it is arguably the most popular gospel of the Christian church, that Jesus comes to his home and his home does not receive him. He comes to the world and the world does not receive him, but there is this third category or status. The God of the liminal is very different from the God of the separatist, because the God of the separatist is a God that turns you back toward the home and is the God that drives you out of your home. The God of the liminal is taking you much further out into a new space. Interestingly, these texts point to Jesus, that Jesus is that way to that liminal third place. Then you have the other two groups, the group that wants to basically turn away from the home culture and turn toward the host culture. There’s never a full turning toward the host culture in the New Testament because the New Testament is not polytheist. But you do see in the other most popular gospel, Luke, an increasingly problematization of Judaism all the way to the very last verses of the Acts of the Apostles. I’m no longer going to you, I’m going to the Gentiles—they will listen. So, the God of Luke is pushing the people out into Gentile territory and away from 12

Interview God’s own people, which is a very different perspective than, say, the God of James. So, it introduces a hermeneutic of generosity toward the Gentile. Yes, but also a hermeneutic of suspicion toward your own people. It’s both and. There’s a reading of the Roman occupiers in Luke, especially toward the end, when Paul is on trial. Somehow, these Roman occupiers that have conquered this land are the good guys in the trial of Paul. One would never expect a document that came out of the Jewish faith to say that about the Roman occupiers. So, already, you’re moving toward this kind of segmented assimilation. Of course, the other side of that is the fourth leg on which the Christian church stands heavily, especially the Protestant church, and that’s Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is a defense of both Judaism and Greek inclusion at the same time. The God of the accommodationism, God of the Jew first and also the Greek. A God that sees both as problematic, both as sinful. A God that redeems both through Jesus Christ. A God that, therefore, creates this community out of both, holding both in tension in a way that would be anathema to the liminal folk and would be confusing to the separatist folk and wouldn’t make any sense to those who are pushing toward segmented assimilation because the Jews are the ones who are rejecting them. So, each of these groups has a different understanding of who God is, and that is reflected in their writing, that is reflected in their theologizing. That influences, in turn, how we theologize as a church. Is this third thing eschatological? Well, in John’s gospel, it’s both real and eschatological. It’s both realized at the moment of belief and at the moment of entry into the community. “This has been written so you may believe, and in him have eternal life.” Belief, in John’s gospel, is the moment in which you receive eternal life. So, it’s both eschatological in that this is the ultimate hope, but it’s also realized immediately. Some readers might say the turn to the Gentiles is a turn to embrace a people, but to what extent is it really embracing a culture? It is embracing a culture in that, for instance, the question of circumcision is not a question. Acts 10 is fundamentally an argument against acculturating the Gentiles. The argument in Acts 10 is not that Cornelius must be circumcised before he is baptized, but rather that the Holy Spirit can fall on uncircumcised Gentiles, and they can have the same kind of experience as the Jews. In fact, some folks call Acts 10 the Pentecost of the Gentiles. We miss that because we imagine all of these reasons why Cornelius might come to Peter, but the story in Acts 10 tells us about a Gentile who’s praying, who knows of God, who knows of the Christ event, who has a visit by an angel—which we have not seen since Luke Chapter 1 and Chapter 2—and Peter’s only issue is who’s gonna deny this person the water for baptism? Cornelius is being kept out of the Christian church because he’s a Gentile. If 13

The Migrant People of God you’re not sure of that, you need to read the next chapter, Acts 11, and you’ll see that the problem that people have with Peter having gone to Cornelius’ house is not that he baptized him. It’s that he went into the house of a Gentile to begin with. Then, Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council, is all about whether or not the Gentiles need to be circumcised. So, it’s not an acculturation of the Gentiles. It’s a conversion of the Gentiles to belief in Jesus Christ, but it’s not turning Gentiles into Jews. Would Paul’s observation that “you worship the unknown God” be another example? Yes. In Acts, the Paul of Luke’s imagination sees all of this idolatry and says, “What a wonderfully religious people you are.” And back to the Paul of Paul’s own writings. “This unknown God that you say you don’t know about, this is who I testify to.” So, it’s really a push toward the Gentiles in a way that you don’t see in other books. One of the questions that this raises has to do with where we find ourselves today. We’re in the midst of this great cultural and ecclesial sea change. We see people on all sides of these different arguments, who want to be separatists or accomodationists at the extremes. The worship wars take these positions. So, I wonder what this suggests for Christians today. I think the first thing it suggests is, we need to be a bit more generous with one another because we have a tendency to treat the Bible as though the Bible is a book. The Bible speaks in multiple voices, so we get to learn to, first of all, be generous with one another to say, Yes, that position is justified from the text. We need to hear that and own that the positions that we don’t like are definitely justified from the text. I think, also, it means we get to read ambidextrously, to understand that there are different strategies, different world-orientations within the Bible, and there is just enough mystery in the text that it cannot be easily reduced to our preferences or ego needs. I think it also suggests that we need to think about who we are in our own location and how we’re taking on the locations of others. Whenever we read the biblical texts in a way that Wilfred Cantwell Smith calls “scripturalizing,” we turn them into a narrow way of seeing the world. Whenever we turn New Testament texts into a way of seeing the world, we have a tendency to turn off parts of our own lived experience to live into that language world. I think we do that in ways that are uncritical and unhelpful for where we are right now. So, we need to think about, Where are we? Who are we? How does the God of their understanding connect to the God of our own understanding? What parts of it resonate with us? What parts of it don’t? Why is that? What do they have to teach us, and what, perhaps, might we have to teach them? In your essay, you do a good job of affirming the diversity of hermeneutical lenses. And in that last comment, you’ve also affirmed we live out of diverse social locations. But in your essay, you also point to a kind of unifying center— you see all of this somehow caught up in the Christ event. A couple of sentences toward the end, you say. “As Christ, God migrates in the cosmos uninvited, 14

Interview undocumented, and unwelcome, but a light to the nations. As the Holy Spirit, God takes up permanent residence among us as Paraclete and power-giver. At the end of history, God descends not in an unmovable building, but in a tent. The impermanent residence of a desert wanderer.” Here is an argument that in Christ, we can glimpse all of these rhythms. Right. In the Christ event, in the God of the New Testament, we do see this tendency toward a God on the move, always migrating, as a triune God that is always already migrating, and that God will always be in relationship with these four frameworks. So, you have a God going ahead of the people into a host community. God pitching God’s tent in a host community. God always inviting us into relationship with that God, who is always already on the move, who is always already a migrant, who is always already displaced in some way and never fully from there—because we are from God, but God is not from here. God is other than here—otherwise God is simply of our own creation. It may just be that because I’m a migrant, I’m imagining God as a migrant. But there’s basis for making those arguments because those arguments are very much part of what’s in the text. I liked the idea of God as migrant and us as migrant pilgrims on our way to God … I was just thinking of Gregory of Nyssa, who has this notion of epektasis, which involves us through all eternity following God, never reaching because God is eternal, right? But always in this movement toward God and toward this adventure, from faith to faith and glory to glory. I think recognizing those aspects of God that are constantly on the move throughout the different witnesses pushes against our tendency to concretize and solidify God. God is not that easily housed, in whatever doctrine we wish to house God. God is continually moving. Thank you, Margaret, for a wonderfully provocative piece that is eminently useful as a way to read scripture, to understand God, and to view immigrants, including our own journey to God.



We Are a Storytelling People: An Asian American Reflection on Identity After Immigration Damayanthi Niles and Christine J. Hong


sians and Asian Americans are storytelling people. C.S. Song opens his book, In the Beginning Were Stories not Texts saying, “Stories are conceived within the womb of dreams and developed and nurtured within it … If the story is good— good in the sense of compelling—it will be told from one generation to another.”1 Diasporic Asians tell stories as a way of sharing who we are in dialogue with our community. For those of us who have been born in or made our home on foreign soil, stories nurture and inform us and help make sense of who we are and who we are becoming. This new soil also gives us stories. We find ourselves weaving our reality between the stories of where we come from and where we live. Postmodernists talk about this reality as living in the hyphen.2 Stories give us the ability to thrive in that hyphen. In these new lands we are given new stories and in their midst we negotiate new spaces. C.S. Song believes, stories hold “seeds of theology.”3 The thing about stories is that they are ever complex and never neutral. Stories have within them dehumanizing as well as liberative forces. For example, in the South Asian context, the goddess is understood as a dangerous, unpredictable creative power. Patriarchy has taken that to mean that men are needed to control her and use her productively thereby making a powerful figure merely a powerful tool. Romantacizing stories like that of the goddess leaves us vulnerable to the way they traumatize and diminish us. At the same time, being overly cynical blinds us to

Damayanthi Niles is professor of constructive theology at Eden Seminary. She studies contextual theology with a particular interest in Asia and the language of theology in a landscape of conflict and violence. She is the author of Worshipping at the Feet of Our Ancestors (2012) and is working on a forthcoming text, “Constructing a Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World.” Christine Hong is assistant professor of worship and evangelism and chapel worship coordinator at Louisville Seminary. Her current research interests include de-colonial approaches to worship and the critical examination of historical and contemporary forms of evangelism within the context of a multi-religious world. Her first book, Identity, Youth, and Gender in the Korean American Church, was published in 2015. 16

Niles / Hong their liberative and transformative power. Navigating the space between the danger and liberation of our stories is like eating fugu or blowfish, a delicious meal but deadly if not prepared and eaten properly. Our work is about how we negotiate life between these wonderfully liberative yet dangerous stories. One scholar who talks about such work is Chinese feminist theologian Kwok Pui Lan. She has reinterpreted Russian literary philosopher M.M. Bakhtin’s idea of dialogical imagination. She uses the term to define and describe the way fellow Asian scholars Emerito Nacpil, Shokie Coe, Kosuke Koyama, C.S. Song, and Suh Namdong fashion an Asian hermeneutics that wrestles with the multiplicities and complexities between and in our stories. Asians prefer the language of dialogue to the European language of dialectic because it moves one out of the opposing argument/debate logic to a more free flowing conversational framework for discovering new knowledge and wisdom. Fellow Chinese biblical scholar Archie CC Lee describes this work particularly when relating Asian stories and biblical stories as in cross-textual hermeneutics. He believes that reading classical Asian texts alongside biblical texts “sheds light on or challenges the other, so that creative dialogue and integration can take place.”4 It is not surprising that it is the theories in literature and biblical hermeneutics that come to our aid when talking about Asian and Asian American identities because they are all about storytelling. Kwok and her peers have significantly discussed the work before us. What we must remember is that it is more than just a description of our work but our very ontology. Imagination leads to existence and existence informs imagination. We are called to live not only with a dialogical imagination but in dialogical existence. German philosopher Martin Buber uses the words “dialogical existence” in his book I and Thou to talk about the purpose of existence as the conversation as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. We believe that the Asian and Asian American vision of a dialogical existence expands Buber’s idea of I-Thou to a We-Together, moving from an individual understanding of ontology to a communal one. We are aware that storytelling for Asians and Asian Americans is a communal act; our identities are shaped by the multiple communities to which we belong. However, as feminists we are also aware that there is a potential poison in the way Asian and Asian Americans think about community. It can cause the destruction of individual narratives for the sake of the whole rather than networking the individual narratives into a communal whole. Women are particularly vulnerable to this insidious instinct. For example a South Asian family married their daughter to a fellow countrymen living in the United States. It was an advantageous marriage that brought two families together and grounded two young people in their cultural community even though they lived far away. However, the young man, unbeknownst to his family, was gay. He did not wish to disappoint his parents or experience shunning from his community. As a result, he was frustrated in a relationship that was uncomfortable for him and he eventually took his anger out on his spouse. She, for a long time, tolerated the abuse because of her similar need to hold the community together. As in this case, when the community is privileged over the needs of the individual, individual stories become dangerous and oppressive. 17

The Migrant People of God If community is to be liberative, individual voices must be cherished and retained, taking part in the creation of the whole rather than being subverted or suppressed to create an artificial sense of communal wholeness. Immigration adds a new layer of stories. We not only inherit stories from the lands from which we come, we are given the stories of the new land which we have adopted. Asian American feminist theologian Rita Nakashima Brock describes life between the layers of these stories as interstitial space, “the places in between, which are real places, like the strong connective tissue between organs in the body that link the parts,” and the embodiment of that life as “interstitial integrity,” a hopeful and courageous incarnation necessary for the development of Asian American identity.5 The development of Asian American identity is a negotiation of space between inherited Asian and American narratives that are simultaneously dangerous and liberative. This is a careful construction of the “connective tissue” between Asian and American stories. It is important to be aware that some Asian American women never attempt a conscious negotiation of this space because it requires a confrontation with histories of co-option and brutality on both sides. Asian and Asian American women’s bodies have been the vehicles on which cultural and political narratives from Asia and North America are written and eradicated. South Asian feminist theologian Aruna Gnanadason speaks to this in her address to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Women’s Pre Council meeting in 2004.6 She stated that women are the primary victims and subjects upon which religious identity and cultural identity is created. For instance, rape has been a common weapon of war, where the aggressor plants his seed in the body of the victim as a way of overriding her identity and personhood. There is also the expectation that a woman’s clothing will represent her community’s identity and value. A young Pakistani woman dressed in jeans was traveling in Europe with her friends. A South Asian stranger confronted her and tried to shame her for not dressing appropriately. For this stranger, the woman had not correctly borne her nation’s identity and virtue on her body. This story is not an uncommon one to Asian and Asian American women. Interestingly enough the reverse is not true for men. The fetishizations, colonizations, and domestications from both streams of narratives that work themselves out on the planes of Asian and Asian American women’s bodies must be recognized and cast off. In order for her to thrive in the space between narratives and consciously negotiate new ones, she has to awaken from her self-imposed anesthezation. This concientizing requires courage, for it results in feelings of loss, anger, and isolation in the midst of interstitial space, but is also liberative and works to shape a resilient Asian American identity and womanhood that enriches her and, through her, her communities. As the Asian theologians before us worked out the hermeneutics that tied their Asian identities with their Christian ones, we need similar dynamic methods to tie our Asian identities with our American ones. The contexts in which we live become our texts. The cross-textual hermeneutics and dialogical imagination that help Asian Christian theologians create spaces of Christian identity can help us create 18

Niles / Hong interstitial spaces of Asian American identity which then allow us to live healthy lives in community and maintain the porous and open borders of our identities that make room for a multitude of enriching encounters with different narratives.7 As previously stated, dialogical existence is the simultaneous shaping and remembering of individual and communal identities. For Asian and Asian Americans and their communities, this means holding together our multiple and complex stories without overriding their unique contributions to the whole. The borders of the whole are dynamic and porous. New narratives are always being layered on top of pre-existing ones, and in these encounters new conversations are formed. Without recovering and including both the new narratives and the ones that have been lost, the Asian North American community continues to perpetuate the privileging of some voices and histories as representative of the whole. One example of this is the historic and continued marginalization of South and South East Asian histories and narratives within the larger histories and narratives of Asian America. Instead, it is East Asian narratives that are heard most prolifically and as representative of Asian American history and culture. The recognition of this marginalization and the inclusion of these hidden stories would make the Asian American identity more rich and complete. We need to be aware that for many Asian Christians, despite the good work done by Asian contextual theologians, Asian Christian identity has often been purchased through internalized colonialism and, ultimately, the sacrifice of personal connections to a unique heritage, culture, and religion. Several South Asian Christian communities demand that woman stop wearing symbols of the Hindu past, puttu (the red dot on the forehead) and thalli (wedding necklaces), in preference for more so-called recognizable Christian symbols like the wedding ring. In East Asia there was a movement fixed on destroying ancestor tablets and burning rosewood furniture with depictions of dragons and other perceived pagan art. Even in more contemporary times, some Asians and Asian Americans choose Christianity and Christianity’s western influences and narratives over and against culture and even family. These experiences leave a residue of pain, incur trauma and resentment, and cause some Asians and Asian Americans to be unable to understand the transformative power of transcultural and transnational contextual religious interplay both in Asia and America. Therefore, when the diversity of American religious experience is encountered, they respond to it with the same disdain with which they encounter Asian religious histories and experiences. They look with equal disdain at the Western conversations around inclusive language for the divine and human, LGBTQ inclusion, the indigenous religious practices of yoga or shamanism, and Asian medicine as outside the realm of Christian practice and therefore as irrelevant and even destructive to faith and identity. As we have already seen in Asian American identity formation, Asian American Christian identity also contains within it dangerous and liberative elements. For one, new immigrant Asian Americans can fall into romanticizing Christianity from the perspective of their homeland, experienced at the point of immigration, but which no longer exists in their homelands or on American soil. The need to pre19

The Migrant People of God serve culture, language, tradition, and the necessity of faith in navigating a hostile new land results in the fossilization of an immigrant Asian American Christianity and experience. This leads to the potential danger of theologically immobilizing future generations of Asian Americans. Fossilization is an inability to be present to and participate in the movements of history and the Holy Spirit, including theological critique, deconstruction, reconstruction, and reform. Asian American Christians who cling to fossilized faith become focused on narratives of survival rather than narratives of thriving. For example, the Korean American Christian who immigrated in 1967 practices the faith of a 1967 South Korea and passes on those theological underpinnings and spiritual practices to the second generation. At the same time, South Korean Christianity has undergone shifts in both theology and spiritual practice and, when placed side by side with Korean American Christianity, appears dissimilar to it. An Asian American immigrant Christianity and experience that strives to authentically encounter new movements in both Asian Christianity and North American Christianity is the liberative counterpoint to this dangerous narrative. Dialogical imagination allows us to envision ourselves connected with the stories from Asia, the missionary movement, and stories from the West. It invites us to reconnect with all of the contexts that have been, are, and will be a part of our narrative from both Asia and the West in their fullness and vitality, while acknowledging the potential for new dangerous experiences. This new ability to envision our transnational and trans-historical connectedness breathes new life into the “dry bones” parts of our communities which subsist on narratives of survival and isolation. Dialogical existence moves us into an ontological state where we remain in continual conversation with these moving parts of our narratives without colonizing or rejecting them. We read our texts together as we would read a good book. We turn the pages back and forth to deepen our experience of the reading, reflecting on what has come before and in anticipation of what will come. We do this instead of reading each chapter singularly, in and of itself, without regard for how it sits within the context of the whole book. In their struggle to survive and sustain their Christianity over and against new movements in Asian Christianities and the American religious experience, some immigrant Asian American Christians have ceased to live into what systematic theologian Sang Hyun Lee calls the power of their liminality. When harnessed, “Liminality’s energies are inherently directed to being incorporated into society and toward an enhancement of that society.”8 Taking Lee’s thought a step further, we argue that diverse Asian American liminal identities retain their distinctiveness in the midst of enhancing the community narrative while undergoing transformation alongside the community as a whole. Asian American Christians, when embodying their liminal creativity, live into their call of an open framework which allows for necessary conversations between forms of Asian American, Asian, and western Christianities. Moving away from fossilized Asian American immigrant Christianity requires that we become open to engaging how Asian Christianities have transformed alongside the Christian nar20

Niles / Hong ratives of other American peoples. Like with Asian American individual identities, which are not neatly subsumed into a monolithic and mythical Asian American communal identity, Asian American Christian identities also function to contribute to the larger community without losing their unique histories and qualities. Our Asian American Christian narratives, which are initially borne from the struggle for survival, transform into narratives of thriving through their authentic encounters with Asian and American narratives of faith.9 As scholars who have studied other faiths in both the Asian and American contexts, we have come to realize that there are more narratives to meet in our brothers and sisters of other faiths. We need these narratives and relationships to deepen and enrich our Christian identities. They enlighten us and complicate our stories in delightful and challenging ways. Rather than looking upon them through a narrative of survival—which instinctively isolates—we approach them through the same stance of dialogical imagination and existence that we have used thus far to negotiate our identities as Asian American Christians. Dialogical imagination and existence teaches us how to approach new stories with openness and wonder rather than with fear and hostility. As we were writing this chapter, we shared stories about transformative encounters in our relationships with brothers and sisters of other faiths. In telling one another these stories, we encountered new spaces between us where the same stories began to reveal new insights and lessons about their faiths and how we re-embodied our own. For example, a Muslim friend described the connection she felt between her body and heart as she prayed. She felt that In kneeling with her forehead to the ground, her body was echoing what was already happening in her heart, coming before God in humility. Her interpretation of her spiritual practice helped us examine our own practices of prayer and excited us about what it would mean to pray with our whole bodies. By including in our conversations Americans of other religious traditions, we are invited to learn from the way their religious traditions shape their identities in North America. We’ve also have the privilege to be part of global conversations as we watch our brothers and sisters embody their faiths in different ways in other contexts. Through both of these encounters we are given new wisdom about how to think about our own faiths and how we embody them in our diverse contexts. In addition, relationships with persons of other religious traditions help us examine and appreciate our own faith in new ways. Their perspective of our religious and faith beliefs and practices gives us the tools to understand our lives and our communities with new gratitude, wonder, and appreciation. Our stories, and the lived experiences that usher them forth, spiral in and out of another not only today and in North America, but through transnational and trans-historical spaces. We are a storytelling people, continuing to learn together how to live between the spaces of our dangerous and liberative stories, to make visible the hidden narratives, and to envision a richer, deeper, and wider version of ourselves as Asians, Asian Americans, and individuals. We seek to thrive together rather than merely exist or survive in isolation. In that thriving we create new stories that are then woven together to create a holy and wholly dialogical existence.v 21

The Migrant People of God NOTES 1. C.S. Song. In the Beginning were Stories Not Texts (Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011). 2. Ibid. 1 3. Ibid., 18. 4. Archie CC Lee, “Cross-Textual Hermeneutics,” in Dictionary of Third World Theologies, eds. Virginia Fabella and M.M. R.S. Sugirthanranjah, (New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 61. 5. Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1988), 190-191. 6. Aurna Gnanadason, “Women’s Perspectives on the Mission of the Church in a Multi-Faith World,” report from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. 3rd Women’s Pre Council (Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 2005), 69. 7. Sang Hyun Lee, From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 149. 8. Ibid., xiii. 9. Lee reminds us that these other American narratives include those of Native Americans, African Americans, Latin@ Americans, and European Americans.

The Migrant’s God Continued from page 10 philosophical concept used in a number of different ways. John’s gospel, in which Jesus is called the “λογος [that] became flesh” (1:14) most closely resembles the Stoic philosophers, who saw the λογος as the principle that animated the cosmos. Leaving it untranslated underscores that what is meant here is much more than script. 25. I have written more about this in an upcoming essay: “Toward the Stewardship of Incarnation,” in Adam Copeland, Making Stewardship Whole (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017). 26. Smith, 19. 27. Consider the difference between Paul’s reading of the Abrahamic narrative in Romans 4 and James’s reading of the same narrative in James 2.


Migrant Theology in a World of Mobility Steed Vernyl Davidson


obility sits in the background of our fast paced world. With phones and apps that enable connectivity almost anywhere on the earth, the haves and the have nots alike experience the conveniences as well as the disruptions of mobility. As in other instances, the socio-economic divisions of the world determine how we think about issues like mobility—another way of talking about migration. From the perspective of those with the resources and privileges to decide, migration is an orderly, intentionally planned, and legal life choice. From the perspective of those caught on the underside of global economics, politics, and war, migration is intentional but hardly an orderly or legal life choice. In fact, for those caught in the middle of the definitional fuzziness of “migrant” or “refugee,” this life choice is also a survival tactic. The recent events in Europe not only blur these distinctions but illustrate even further the political challenges around mobility in a bordered world. Theological reflection on migration needs to grapple with the politics of mobility if only because the politics appears to drive the theology. The Bible introduces the politics of refugee-seeking by positioning God as the protector of the refugee. From directing the mass movement of survivors after the flood (Gen 11:9), to guiding the steps of Abraham (Gen 12:1), to lighting the way of Egyptian escapees (Exod 13:17-22), and dressing the throng of survivors (Rev 7:13-14), God moves alongside those caught in the grip of dominant power. Theological responses on the matter of refugees tend to offer respect to the ordered political world borders and laws. As a result, theological reflection pays more attention to identity issues than the trauma generated by the push factors. Even when theological reflection suspends its fealty to the modern nation-state, charity and uplift become the operational position. Admittedly, no neat separation has ever existed between what

Steed Davidson is associate professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

at McCormick Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, as well as Luther College in Iowa. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he wrote Empire and Exile: Postcolonial Readings in the Book of Jeremiah and was co-editor of Islands, Islanders and the Bible: Ruminations.


The Migrant People of God we have come to call both politics and theology. Therefore, in this short space I pay attention to the difference the language of refugee can make to theological reflection on migration. The Hebrew word commonly used to describe the migrant, ger, is translated in various ways. The NRSV uses “alien” most of the time, while the CEB has adopted “immigrant.” These translations enable the native born as well as the legal migrant a comfortable and respectful distance with those who grapple with the additional problem of borders in today’s world. In rethinking immigration theologically, today’s challenges require more attention to exodus than exile. These mirror twins of biblical migration are also opposites that at times repel each other. From the perspective of the violence of empire, whether through military or legal means, exodus and exile sit at different poles. Exile as a biblical concept easily hides the violence that concentrated power like empire perpetrates upon people. Consequently, much theology of exile has tended not to focus on the experiences of people. Exodus, on the other hand, without the romanticization of both biblical interpretation and cultural reception, reveals the military, legal, and economic violence of the empire and the plight of those who seek to escape its grips. Time magazine’s October 19, 2015, cover story, “Exodus,” describes the journey of a group of Syrian refugees in which I find a number of similarities with the narrative of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. If the sea is the ancient form of the modern border, in today’s version of exodus, people summon divine strength to remove the obstacles by wading through waters or walking for miles around barriers. How we tell the story of exodus reflects the dialogue we have shaped around theology and politics of the past and present. In choosing to think of the Israelites as escapees from Egypt, I center several forms of mobility in today’s world as worthy of theological reflection. The departure from Egypt takes place with the Egyptian military in full pursuit (Exod 14:5-9). This one fact aligns the story with multiple forms of modern violence that compel people to escape to places of safety. Escape can be planned, orderly, spontaneous, divinely directed, frantic, fearful, or chaotic. The form leaving takes should not determine our theological reflection as much as the factors that push people to move from one place to the next. By providing a complex picture of global movements in the past, we enable a thicker understanding of the several categories of people on the move in today’s world. The fact that European migrants traversed what they considered to be a “new world” without regard for political, cultural, religious, and other borders and in search of adventure, resources, or freedom presents a different space for theological reflection on the movements of people. To talk about the exodus as divine redemption facilitates a discourse of generosity. The Christian discourse of generosity, while an important and necessary impulse, tends to further notions of cultural uplift and their imperial legacies. Anyone going through the process of resettlement in the United States will encounter this discourse in the government immigration agencies through posters as well as actual statements from officials. Immigration practices in the United States are predicated upon the display of national generosity rather than the economic and other benefits that come through immigration. Like God who rescues the hapless Israelites 24

Davidson from Egyptian slavery, the nation can see itself as part of the uplift of those around the world in need of help. This gesture on its own deserves applause, but it hides the ongoing role that several nations play in exacerbating the conditions that require people to flee dire economic and war-torn situations. Even in the exodus story, we can easily miss the role that Joseph played in building the Egyptian empire as told in the Bible (Gen 40-41). To simply blame the plight of the Israelites in Egypt upon one pharaoh (Exod 21:8) obscures the fact that the narrative indicates to us how the legal, cultural, economic, and military infrastructure facilitated their oppression. Celebration of Euro-American generosity on immigration needs to first hold those nations accountable for the part they play in the ongoing unevenness of the world. When that happens, the discourse can shift from generosity to justice. This movement to justice rightly moves those who play the role of empire today away from redeemer to perpetrator responsible for solving crises. The danger of making Syrian refugees the face of what it means to theologically reflect upon migration lies in making all modern movements of people simply political in the narrow sense of that word. The economics that fuel global inequities and exert forms of violence as revealed in extreme poverty as well as harsh labor conditions deserve theological attention as well. In addition to the political, economic factors, or better yet the intersection of economics with politics and other factors, are involved in the exodus retelling. The scandal of the Egyptian sojourn was not simply oppression in a generic sense but that Egyptians forced the Israelites to submit to a lordship that required their labor, their loyalty, their allegiance, and ultimately their bodies. Jon Levenson makes the case that Egyptian overlordship was sinful since Israel rightly belongs to YHWH. In Levenson’s thinking, liberation is not the main theme of the exodus narrative but rather service to an evil system. The narrative characterizes Egypt as a system of extractions and exactions, one that denied Israelites their full humanity. While not immediately visible, economic systems exert violence upon people that makes their lives unliveable, propelling them to either go in search of acceptable forms of work or settle into low wage jobs where their labor is exploited. Those suffering from the violence of economic systems either move internally from rural areas to urban centers or from poorer countries to richer countries. Since economic refugees do not bear the visible marks of violence on their bodies, they receive less attention in the media and are easily characterized as those who should patiently wait through intricate legal systems to migrate.5 Opting for one particular frame of migration for theological reflection creates a multilayered system that searches for the most “deserving victim� worthy of theological rescue. In the process, we can fail to notice the system that generates various categories of people in need of a better life and the challenge to biblically and theologically call out these systems. To the extent that mobility guarantees access to a better life, only those who leave stand the chance of improvement. Staying in place means living with the restrictions, inequities, and limitations that compelled others to move and therefore being denied the chance for any form of amelioration. A theology that celebrates mobility and aligns God with those who move can perform the unfortunate work 25

The Migrant People of God of denying the resources for a better life to those who do not or cannot move. The theme song from the TV show The Jeffersons replicates this ideal in its claim, “we’re moving on up,” where moving up means leaving behind a poorer neighborhood for a richer one. For the Jeffersons “moving up” means access to economic wealth. Certainly, if everyone associated moving out with moving up, stagnation would take hold in these communities and improvement would never come. The biblical picture supports this view up to the point of discouraging a view that life on earth is a sedentary experience (Phil 3:20). Recognizing how mobility shapes the representation of reality in the Bible calls attention to how our theology is colored by that view. Theological reflection on mobility needs to find ways to articulate the different opportunities and choices that can be exercised in a highly complex world. The interplay between exodus and other forms of movement in the Bible offers ways to shape community from the experience of the refugee. Embracing the ethos of the refugee not only lends a temporaneity to everything in life but also changes the character of communities to serving those marginalized by dominant power. In addition to the many precepts that Leviticus lays out on the treatment of the ger (19:10, 33), ultimately Leviticus indicates that its memory as a migrant community must constantly shape the character of the community. New people are incorporated as if they are native born thereby dismantling the distinctions of insiders and outsiders (19:34). While Leviticus does not deal with whether this means assimilation or not, keeping alive how ancient patterns of migration make the notion of “native” fluid in several parts of world, Leviticus offers the challenge for every community to reject the role of the insider and to constantly shape itself from the perspective of the outsider. The ultimate challenge for theological reflection on mobility comes from taking our cues from the earth. Like wind moving, rivers flowing, and seas in motion, nature moves not so much from the void to plenty but in the opposite direction. Reflecting on how the earth enriches itself through constant motion calls attention both to the ways that human actions impede and can be enhanced by the earth’s thriving. The motion of life that grounds us theologically comes more from nature and critiques of the historical patterns of migration and, with any luck, directs our current mobility. v Works Cited Michelle Foster, “Economic Migrant or Person in Need of Protection: Socio-Economic Rights and Persecution in International Refugee Law,” Human Rights and the Refugee Definition, edited by Bruce Burson and David James Cantor. (Leiden: Brill, 2016): 229-25. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002). John Howard Yoder, “Exodus and Exile: The Two Faces of Liberation” 1973 Cross Currents 23: 297309. Jon D. Levenson, “Liberation Theology and the Exodus, ” Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, edited by Alice Ogden Bellis and Joel S. Kaminsky. (Atlanta: SBL, 2000), 215-230. Karl Vick, “The Great Migration,” Time (October 19, 2015): 38-46.


Jesus Christ Crossing the Rio Grande Cláudio Carvalhaes Oración del Emigrante Padre Santo, tú que enviaste a tu hijo a proclamar el Reino de los Cielos entre nosotros, y Él obediente a tu voluntad llevó a cabo la misión que le encomendaste, te pedimos por intercesión de Santo Toribio Romo que me cuides y protejas, te encomiendo también a mis familiares ahora que he tenido que dejar la casa para partir a tierras lejanas en busca de superación, que siempre me mantenga firme en mi fe y que pueda regresar pronto a mi hogar a reunirme con los míos fortalecido en el alma y cuerpo. Por Jesucristo nuestro Señor. Amén.


ur collective humanity should impel us to extend to every human the same weight, validity, honor, sense, equality, rights, and responsibilities. But is this sense of “human rights” enough given the variety of humanities we carry or experiences we live? Our human history shows how often some people are considered to be “more human” than others and how human dignity is not a given. If we think of our humanity in relation to the earth and the animals, the disasters continue to pile up. Throughout our uneven, brutal human histories we have had unbalanced human relations: men worth more than woman, whites worth more than blacks or browns or reds or yellows, heterosexuals worth more than LGBTQ people, able people worth more than people with disabilities, adults worth more than children, citizens worth more than immigrants, city people worth more than rural people. These uneven relations come out of ideas and concepts that construct and shape our ideas about what humanity is all about. These concepts are based on religious, theological-ontological, civil, economic, juridical, and political values that come to us with the weight and authority of traditions which have shaped our realities in a myriad of ways. Can we find a time in

Cláudio Carvalhaes recently joined the faculty of Union Theological

Seminary in the City of New York as associate professor of worship; previously he taught at McCormick Theological Seminary. Carvalhaes is the author of four books, including Eucharist and Globalization: Redrawing the Borders of Eucharistic Hospitality (Pickwick, 2013), and he was the editor for Liturgy in Postcolonial Perspectives (Palgrave McMillan, 2015).


The Migrant People of God human history when there was no patriarchy? Empires, caste systems, social class struggles, racisms, gender troubles, slavery, and so can be traced everywhere in different times. Our time is but a continuation of this uneven systems of relations. These uneven relations and power dynamics create social movements across the globe. There are about one billion migrant people moving around the globe today for many social reasons: economics, politics, state problems, violence of all kinds. Immigration encapsulates many of these problems, and it has become one of the most important and difficult social movements, filled with political, economic, theological, and social underpinnings. Around the issue of immigration there always are very clear understandings and values about what being human means.

What is it to be Human? A Theological Response Societies are filled with competing narratives trying to define people and how we should relate to each other. Political parties, religions, civil institutions, medicine, law, economics—all compete for prominence in people’s minds, in living in and through their narratives. What we think and feel about immigrants, what they value and where their place should be, is a result of social movements and forces that create policies, laws, and politics. All in all, the narratives around immigrants and immigration are nothing short of a disaster. The immigrant has become a specter, hovering around us like enemies and monsters who, if we allow them in, will one day destroy us or threaten economic demise. Diseases, violence, filth, immorality, lack of proper thinking and boundless emotions, lack of proper civilization, social limitations, strange habits and religious practices are the surrounding qualifiers in the immigrant narratives. A theological claim is fundamental in this process of criticizing these inhumane narratives and offering counter narratives that will dispel fear and place us on common ground. In many ways, this very issue you are reading, and especially the article by Professor Aymer, is a form of resistance that challenges them. The best theologies are the ones that reread the sacred texts alongside those who are suffering. Liberation theologians found ways of reading the Bible from the perspective of God’s love for the marginalized, from those who have been denied dignity and honor, turned into garbage, and led astray by economic, social, and political powers; in other words, those who have had their humanity taken away. Undocumented immigrants are surely among those whose humanity has been reduced to a pile of flesh and bones to be profited from and than discarded. Visiting women in South Texas, Dr. Daisy L. Machado discovers women who have been brutalized, the bare bones of their dignity stripped. In one of the most moving theological pieces I have ever read, she tells the story of Elena, a 29-yearold mother of two who had her nose cut off after being threatened in her own country. Sadly, her entrance to the US was denied prior to her being harmed. One can mercilessly say that Elena’s problem is not a US problem; we are not responsible for her. But the social evidence and the gospel tell us something very different. The social evidences have to do with the fact that we have a broken system of immigration which has divided families throughout Central America. Children without 28

Carvalhaes documents grow up in the US, living through systems of gangs in their US schools. Many of them are, at some point, deported. When they go back they repeat what they have learned here and develop a bigger version of gangs that give them purpose, money, and power. As for the theological reasons, Christians should always treat other human beings as neighbor. If they love God they are commanded to love all who are God’s creations. However, our difficulty is in seeing undocumented immigrants as carrying God’s image. Do immigrants carry in their bodies and souls the image of God? Yes! The image of God is something to be found in every single human being in spite of any situation or circumstance or predicament. It is an ontological quality, so to speak. Because of a covenant God made with humankind, we all carry a value in ourselves that is beyond ourselves, that is essential to our very understanding of who we are. We might be good or bad, live here or there, do this or that, participate in this or that religion or no religion, but in every situation or circumstance we carry in ourselves the imago Dei. Always! The problem is that we place this essential sense of the imago Dei on the notion of what it means to be human only after we check it with our prejudices and political views. The imago Dei in every human being and creature is not dependant upon what or how we see things and people or how we organize our thinking and actions. Our political theologies are fundamentally a reinstatement at a public level of that theological notion that everyone carries the image of God. Because of this they must be treated with honor, care, shelter, food, kisses, hugs, celebrations, and blessings.

Against the Imago Dei­­—Cristo as Surplus The difficulties of attending to the theological notion of the imago Dei is everywhere. One case in point in Texas shows how this understanding is so difficult. At the end of the summer and beginning of the fall of 2004, near Eagle Pass, Texas, US Border Patrol agents found a life-seized fiberglass statue of Jesus Christ stuck in a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande. When it was removed, a massive number of people arrived at the Eagle Pass Police Department to see Jesus. While many could only see a fiberglass statue, many immigrants and other religious people saw in that figure not only God’s visit to them but the imago Dei breaking into their lives and claiming justice for them. God intervening in their lives was clear and palpable: Jesus decided to cross the Rio Grande along with all the other immigrants. The faith of those people turned the police department from a frightening place into a holy place. There was no way to explain why this statue was there. No way to know who did it, who made it, how it got stuck there—no reason for its very presence. In a like manner, the description of the way this Jesus was found in the river parallels the stories of Jesus’s resurrection. Nobody knew how Jesus had resurrected or how he came to talk to the women who visited him. The women who went to visit Jesus in the tomb were like the pilgrims who went to see the Jesus of Rio Grande. They were in awe and could only testify to the glorious presence of Jesus. Both groups—at the 29

The Migrant People of God tomb and at the river­—received the news of Jesus as God’s presence to them. Surely these two groups deviated from the proper religiosity of their times, but that is how they found meaning and purpose and strength for their journey. In both situations, the coming of Jesus was always unexpected; a reminder that when death looms large, life is still possible; when we feel abandoned, we realize God has never left our side; that most of the time we have only God to hear our cries; that we may feel ridiculous believing in stupid, awkward appearances, but those appearances keep us going; that Jesus comes from unexpected places in unexpected forms to put to shame all the rationality of our times; that in spite of the laws being always against the least of these, the mercy of God is very often opposed to people’s laws; that the imago Dei cannot be taken away, and, in the words of Veronica de la Pena, “He’s telling us he’s alive and he is here with us … he’s trying to tell us that there is hope.” Later on, a fantastic statement by the authorities said that if no one claims the Christ, it will be released as surplus property. That statement carries the very crux of the imago Dei! The imago Dei is the excess of God’s presence in our bodies, the overwhelming manifestation of God’s incarnation, the overflowing of God’s baptismal waters in the Rio Grande. That idea of God’s property, God’s people, drenched in God’s surplus grace is the statement to counter the surplus of the market that always disposes of what is not necessary or important. That police statement resembles perfectly how immigrants are seen and treated today: as surplus property. The United States “owns” so many undocumented immigrants for its own well-being. The whole rhetoric of extraditing immigrants is simply a way to play the game with the US population that blames undocumented people for almost all of their problems. Yet the undocumented people are fundamentally necessary to keep the US economy running without inflation; by paying miserable salaries, much less minimum wages, to overworked people, the price of food can be kept low. The paradox of capitalism, however, is that 11 million undocumented persons who live within the US borders are considered disposable-surplus-contingency, while actually they are fundamental to the well-being of its economy. They are the very hands that prepare the bread and the grapes for our holy eucharists! These people also contribute billions of dollars into the economy through taxes; money that will never return to them since they use fake social security numbers. Lately, the private market has seen the presence of undocumented people as a new way to make money. Private prisons across the United States keep the undocumented, the surplus of the economy, in private cells. A bed mandate makes it law to keep in jails a certain number of immigrants. Again the paradox of capitalism: immigrants are desired! and their suffering is necessary for a few people to make money—all with the support of the government. The rule of capitalism here is to attach divine authority to the market, to the Constitution, to the individual, and detach it from the poor. The people come after the rules and economic needs and political agendas.



Concluding Jesus Christ crossing the Rio Grande is God’s statement that everyone crossing that river carries the imago Dei, a clear signal that God’s presence is with all crossing walls, lands, and waters around the globe, including the refugees trying to get into Europe. Even if considered disposable, these people are the very image of God. Even if against the law, they are God’s very image! And we as Christians must continue to proclaim that truth against any form of power. Because in all of these crossings, God is on the side of the immigrants and refugees and colonized, placing governments on the side of those judged to receive God’s wrath. Here in the United States, we have no help from the government. The undocumented people crossing the river have very few people on their side—like the infant Jesus who, with his parents, had to cross borders in order to survive. They were alone! However, Jesus had God on his side, and the immigrants also have God on their side, mirroring what happened two thousand years ago. The same Jesus Christ who fled to have his life spared knows the situation of the immigrants and refugees well. That is why Christ came crossing the Rio Grande. Again. With them. And if Jesus Christ is crossing the Rio Grande with them, who are we to say no? v NOTES 1. Machado, Daisy L., “The Unnamed Woman: Feminists, Justice and the Undocumented Woman,” A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, edited by Maria Piar Aquino, Daisy L. Machado, and Jeanette Rodriguez (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), 161-176. 2. Robinson, Walker, “Statue of Christ Found in Rio Grande,” posted on September 28, 2004, and accessed on June 13, 2016. 3. Ibid.


Pastors’ Panel

We asked religious leaders for their reflections on biblical interpretation in light of this issue’s lead article. Here is what they told us.

As a pastor, how do you hold in tension the different voices of the New Testament? Matthew Miller (MDiv’03), pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico To me one of the gifts of the New Testament is the plurality of voices all bearing unique witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in its many iterations: first as an announcement of good news, as an invitation to enter into the realm of God’s active presence among us, as a challenge to established religious habits, as a chronicle and correspondence in resurrection living as a community of disciples, and as a vision for future redemption in the midst of present turmoil. It is a gift because it is an ongoing caution against a kind of Christian mono-culture. There is no singular right way to respond to the call of Christ. You could say that the New Testament was postmodern before postmodern was a fashionable thing to be. So pastorally speaking, these tensions are held joyfully, with the knowledge that the gospel is as multi-faceted as the people and world it is intended for. It is a tension that makes room for difference and plurality within the contemporary body of Christ. Susan Sytsma Bratt, associate pastor, Northridge Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas I am grateful for the tension that emerges from different voices in the New Testament. To build on the metaphor of voice, a choral piece needs tension built in for there to be color and movement. Sometimes the voices of the New Testament are in unison, harmony, or they are dissonant. What I appreciate about the different voices are the varying perspectives and rich tonal quality they provide. One voice does not ring true for all, and the rich layers of voices—and the tension—provide a resonant sound. The challenge for me as a pastor is to continue to listen to the various voices in the New Testament and be challenged by all of them. It is often far too easy for me to preach or teach from scripture that I prefer. The challenge for me is to explore, lift up, and lean into the tension and variety. Jesús (Jesse) González (MDiv’92), stated supply, First Presbyterian Church, McAllen, Texas I have come to terms with the circumstances and times of the different writers. The agenda and the intended audience of the evangelists are not necessarily the same for the non-evangelists. And the non-evangelists were influenced by the power of 32

Pastors’ Panel the Roman Empire and the immanency of the parousia. We must compare the views of church-planter Paul with other apostles and writers with different themes. My tension is how to make all these voices relevant to my day and age. What’s your favorite book of the New Testament to preach and teach from? How might its world-orientation affect your theology? Jesse Gonzalez: I like the open letters and among them I prefer the practicality and objectivity of James. Without naming persons, places, and particular arguments in specific communities like Paul does, James addresses time-transcending human attitudes such as: riches and poverty, temptation, good conduct, prejudice, faith and actions, the role of speech, wisdom, quarreling, pride and humility, judging others, boasting, patience, and prayer. Matthew Miller: While not addressed in Dr. Aymer’s framework, I am a huge fan of Mark’s gospel. This stripped down, urgent telling of the Jesus story calls to mind Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, “See, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). It hums with the energy of a good mystery story, one in which the things that happen raise more questions than they answer and an ending with unresolved ambiguity that demands our own engagement with what we’ve just heard if we’re to move toward an understanding of what it means. Mark is considered the first gospel, and its opening, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” continually calls me to a beginner’s mind when it comes to following Jesus. It seems I am always beginning, failing, and beginning again—each time with that same urgency to understand what it means; not as an intellectual exercise but as a summons to repent, believe, and trust that the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand. Susan Sytsma Bratt: My favorite book of the New Testament is the book of Romans. I’ve always been drawn to the way in which Paul lifts up the tensions between Jew and Gentile and seeks to re-shape and reform the early church in new ways. Romans 12 is my favorite chapter given Paul’s metaphor of the body. The metaphor has shaped my theology and ministry because it allows one to honor distinctions, but also provides unity. The congregation I serve ministers to refugees, and I’ve drawn on the body of Christ in our ministry in this area. The world-orientation of accommodation—lifting up both home and host culture while acknowledging the tension—has impacted my theology when it comes to mission and ecclesiology. In a culture where fear of the stranger is heightened, Paul’s worldview and call to embrace Jew and Gentile and work together as the Body of Christ has given me courage and continues to challenge and encourage me in ministries of hospitality. How might those who are not migrants describe “God-with-us” and God’s call to discipleship? Susan Sytsma Bratt: Dr. Aymer helpfully points out that most of us reading her essay are not migrants. God-with-us is an invitation to me as someone in the dominant or host culture, to welcome, honor, and learn from the stranger. God-with-all of us means that even those I might categorize as “other” or stranger are also fellow


The Migrant People of God children of God. The call to discipleship then is a call to live in this tension, to not run from it in fear, or try to isolate ourselves from it. That’s a challenge. There is a cost for me as a disciple to welcome the stranger or seek to learn from another person about their experience of God and the world. Matthew Miller: What I tend to see is that those who are not migrants describe “God-with-us” as a kind of house guest. For those who are settled, it is difficult to see where we are as anything other than “our own place,” rather than as a gift that is ours to steward on behalf of the landlord who is with us. Perhaps the call to discipleship in that case is the call to repent, to change the way in which we think about our role in the place that we find ourselves. Jesse González: Generations upon generations of Hebrews were reminded of the slavery conditions of their ancestors and were asked not to forget that even in the Promised Land they were wanderers. All those considering themselves nonmigrants have to realize that someone in her/his lineage was a migrant; and once they became followers of Jesus they trusted God’s call to discipleship affirming the Emmanuel. v

Please support the publication of Insights by making a gift online: or by returning your gift in the enclosed envelope.


Required Reading Books recommended by the Austin Seminary faculty New Songs of Celebration Render: Congregational Song in the Twenty-First Century, Compiled and Edited by Michael Hawn,

of songs, the instruments we welcome, and the language we use (including musical language). New Songs of Celebration Render brings into one volume the authoritative voices of authors, composers, and leaders who have devoted themselves to navigating these streams of song. The book identifies seven broad streams of song, but always with the reminder that these are connected waters. Because Vatican II had a seismic impact on singing in the Roman Catholic church and sent shock waves and ripple effects to the rest of the church, the Stream One, and Chapter One, is “Roman Cathlic Liturgical Renewal Song,” by Kathleen Harmon, which gives a generous overview not just of song and hymns (and published collections of them) but also of what Harmon calls “the hierarchy of musical elements”—that is, what music’s role in liturgy is. We sing not just hymns but things like liturgical responses and psalm settings which are partnered to liturgy and movement. It is a fitting first stream because it reminds the reader early on of the broad possibilities of song’s place in worship. Stream Two is identified as “Classic Contemporary Protestant Hymnody,” discussed by Emily R. Brink. “Classic hymnody” in this chapter refers mainly to the English hymn tradition that has formed what many congregations would think of as a kind of core repertory of song. The late twentieth century witnessed what is often called a “hymn explosion” (several of them, in fact), and authors of texts and composers of music in the past several decades have given the church a remarkable flowering of song. Brink also reminds us in this chapter that hymns have been increasingly characterized by emphases on inclusivity and justice. Stream Three is given to African American congregational song. In this chapter, James Abbington discusses singing and song genres as fundamental

Gia Publications, 2015, 408 pages, $42.95. Reviewed by Eric Wall, assistant professor of sacred music, Austin Seminary.


ichael Hawn is one of the most significant song enliveners and church music teachers of our time. Here in Austin, we know him as a colleague only several hours to the north in Dallas, where he will soon retire from a remarkable tenure at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Since 1992, he has served there as University Distinguished Professor of Church Music and Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program. Perhaps fittingly for someone who has spent a lifetime gathering songs, his most recent book gathers the work of other giants in church music. New Songs of Celebration Render: Congregational Song in the Twenty-First Century brings together Hawn and nine other creators and practitioners of congregational song. One of the most helpful metaphors for the rich variety of church song in our time has been aquatic: the idea of streams of song. Words like genre or even style suggest finalized forms or fixed categories, but in the twenty-first century, fluid metaphors seem more apt. Parallel streams may flow into each other; single streams may divide; tributaries and offshoots find their way in and out of larger currents; and of course streams have speed and force as well as volume. In congregational song, the metaphor has been helpful in understanding musical currents. The church’s worship has evolved in dramatic ways in the past several decades. What we sing, how we sing it, and who leads it might have had assumed answers in the mid-late twentieth century, but much has changed in terms of the origins


The Migrant People of God and ecstatic orientation.” He discusses publishers, styles of emerging worship, and renewed interest in historic hymns. The largest chapter is given to Stream Seven, “Global and Ecumenical Congregational Song,” and is coauthored by Hawn and Lim Swee Hong. The musical gifts of the church around the world are divided into five broad sub-groups: historical perspectives (by Hawn) and introductions to four regional hymnodies: African, Caribbean/Central/ South America, Asian, and Ecumenical Christian Communities. This chapter asks an important question early on: “What is global hymnody?” Hawn points out that “global” depends on where the question is asked and that it is both a universal and location-specific term. He also discusses the influence of missionaries and the problems of globalization and exoticism. All these questions are fittingly raised before discussions of actual songs, reminding us that cautions to our own cultural myopias and privileges help us receive the world’s gifts in ways that better honor their origins. The placement of folk music at the book’s center is, in a way, important. It reminds us that all church song functions in a very real sense like folk music. It does storytelling; it expresses the deep questions of what it means to be human; it becomes a music that we “own” and a repertory of language and image that we draw on. Its origins, though, are still important, ethically and theologically. We do not sing alone, and songs reflect all of God’s creation. Pablo Sosa, in this book’s preface, writes that when “group singing comes so close to the mystery of our own existence, it has a chance to become a revealing instrument, a healing balm, and a strengthening power.” This is part of the folk-music character of all church song. Michael Hawn has given us a “revealing instrument” in this book and in his life’s work, for which the church will continue to be grateful. v

expressions of black theology, traced through spirituals, black-meter music, improvisations on Euro-American hymns, African American hymn writers, gospel music (traditional and contemporary), and today’s praise and worship music and holy hip-hop. He discusses the interplay of congregational singing with choirs and ensembles, hymnals, and the influence of recording artists. He also touches on “the historical struggle of the black church with the appropriation of the sacred and the secular, the culture, and the integrity of God’s church.” Streams Four through Six are separate chapters, but as a group they illustrate how song traditions are fluid and mutually influencing. David W. Music, in Stream Four, discusses gospel and revival songs in the twentieth century, tracing nineteenth-century roots of gospel songs and the fervent themes of these hymns, such as repentance, testimony, God’s love and grace, and the call to salvation and to service. Music gives a helpful list of common features of revival songs (refrains, first person language, and an emphasis on gratitude, testimony, and action more than on doctrine). Stream Five is folk hymnody, discussed by Deborah Carlton Loftis who explores the characteristics of folk music: obscure origins, singerto-singer transmission, evolving and changing music and words. Loftis touches on ancient folk music such as carols; the use of folk tunes for hymn texts; musical characteristics such as call-and-response; the emphasis on story-telling and the broad sense of communicating with God; and twentieth/twenty-first century folk music in the church: songs like “I Danced in the Morning,” “Seek Ye First,” “Tú Has Venido a la Orilla,” and “I Am the Bread of Life.” For Stream Six, Greg Scheer discusses praise and worship music, or what is often called Contemporary Christian music—music drawing from evangelical traditions, pop musical culture, and, as Scheer says, “a personal


Christianity & Culture

Ministry in a House Divided Blair R. Monie


uch is being written and discussed these days concerning the polarization of American society, especially in this election year. The lines have been starkly drawn between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives. We are also keenly aware of the resurgence of racism in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has occasioned impassioned arguments over just whose lives matter and in what way. We are divided on immigration, gender equality, sexual orientation, and our response to police violence and violence against police. Churches are divided theologically, with members who cannot seem to live in unity with other members with whom they disagree. As Henri Nouwen presciently wrote, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” Anger seems to be all the rage these days. My Dallas friend and colleague George Mason writes, “Political pundits see seething masses behind the presidential campaign success of candidates in both parties. Each in his or her own way taps into frustration with the way people feel the world is organized against them, and/ or with the direction of social mores, and/or inequality in economic outcomes—for

Blair Monie is professor in The Louis H. and Katherine S. Zbinden Distinguished Chair of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership at Austin Seminary. He served for nineteen years as senior pastor of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Monie earned the MDiv and DMin degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary where is a trustee. He has served on the General Assembly Council for the PC(USA). 37

The Migrant People of God the middle class especially.” Mason goes on to suggest that while anger may serve the positive effect of motivating action, it can also paralyze us and make honest debate impossible. Robert E. Hall, a Presbyterian elder and relationship consultant, has put his finger on some of the root causes of this breakdown of civility in his book, This Land of Strangers (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012). Hall describes breakdowns in what he calls “the three pillars of relationship,” family, friends, and community—the arenas where most of us learn (or fail to learn) how to live together. Family is the basic classroom of relationship, and dysfunctional families often produce people whose ability to form relationships is stunted and damaged. Recent research on friendship conducted by the American Sociological Review found that “the number of people who report they have no one with whom they discuss important matters has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, with the average number of confidants decreasing by about a third (from 2.94 to 2.08). Further evidence of this growing isolation comes from a US Census report published in 2009 that the percentage of people living alone jumped 59 percent—from 17 percent in 1970 to 27 percent in 2007—while the average household size declined from 3.1 to 2.6.” On top of these alarming statistics, the research revealed that not only do we have fewer social supports and networks, but our community networks are narrower: “We are exposed to less diversity: Christians hang out with Christians, affluents hang out with other affluents, and so on.” Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam described this breakdown of social networks in Bowling Alone (Simon and Schuster, 2000). For Putnam, “Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue” that holds communities together in the kind of reciprocity in which we need each other to function effectively. Putnam offers a quote from Yogi Berra as the most succinct definition of reciprocity, “If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours.” We are no longer the joiners that the previous generations were, and institutions from the church to the Rotary Club have suffered decline as a result. Robert Hall also observes that “the global economy, technology, and worldwide mobility have exposed us to unprecedented diversity.” While this diversity sounds healthy, Robert Putnam’s recent research has shown that “the more diverse a community is, the less likely people in those communities participate in elections, volunteer, donate to charity, or participate in community projects.” The study found that “the more diverse the community, the less neighbors trusted each other.” Such are the factors that might explain our polarization: the breakdown of the three pillars of relationship, family, friends, and community; the reduction in social capital; and the gifts and challenges of a more diverse society. We add an additional factor, described by Sherry Turkle in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015). Turkle, a former professor of psychology at M.I.T., was contacted by a New England private school where the staff was concerned about an apparent decrease in empathy on the part of students. Turkle found a strong link between increased digital communication and the inability to empathize with others. When students commu38

Monie nicated mainly by texts, emails, and social media, they showed decreased skill in face-to-face communication. Without immediate, personal feedback, it was easier to express anger or rage at a safe, digital distance. Real conversation suffered. Any of us who utilize social media see that regularly. News, and opinions about news, reach us instantaneously; and we respond instantaneously. We become “tribal” in our list of “friends.” There is less diversity, for we can easily “unfriend” those with whom we disagree. Enough diagnosis—for after diagnosis must come treatment. The factors described above will sound all too familiar to pastors and church leaders. The divisions, the polarizations, the conflicts, and the tendency toward tribalism and schism are things we experience almost every day. So what kind of leadership is called for? The first step is the recognition that, despite our challenges, the church as a community may be the ideal place to begin. Yes, the imperfect, struggling church that some days is our blessing and other days … well, you know. Because the church is still the place where we can at least work on being a community that is not quite like any other. Then, as Rachel Held Evans suggests in writing on behalf of the Millennial generation, “What Millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” That is probably true of more than merely the Millennial generation. A positive change in substance might begin with a new and fresh examination of Jesus as the model for how to live our lives, love God, and love the neighbors whose names we may not even know and who may be quite different from us. A change in substance might take the form of learning and practicing the art of genuine, authentic conversation—especially with others who may hold different opinions than we do. A change of substance might mean getting rid of what Scott Peck called “pseudo-community,” in which we pretend to be one happy family by agreeing on a long list of subjects we don’t talk about in order to keep the peace. A change of substance may well mean taking on the hard and important themes and hanging in with each other and with Jesus until together we understand things better and more deeply and reach greater clarity. And what will leadership look like in this “substantive” church? In an insightful column in the New York Times (June 24, 2016), David Brooks (borrowing from Richard Rohr) suggests that in a world of “insiders” and “outsiders” perhaps the most helpful and faithful place to be is “at the edge of the inside … These people are within the organization, but they’re not subsumed by the group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges, and entrance ways.” He quotes Rohr: when you live on the edge of any group, “you are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways … A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group and know how to move between these two loves.” Of course, the challenge of being at the edge of the inside for a pastor or church leader is that no one is going to be completely happy with you. The insiders will think you should be “more inside,” adopting long-held practices and prejudices that may need to be confronted. The outsiders will be suspicious of your “insider” ties 39

The Migrant People of God and commitments. The role of the leader will need to be, as Rohr suggests, a “doorkeeper,” facilitating conversation between insiders and outsiders. A close examination of the life of Jesus suggests that this is exactly where he stood. He was fully a part of his Jewish heritage, and he worshiped in the Temple “as was his custom” (Lk 4:16). However, he was criticized by powerful insiders for “eating and drinking with sinners” (Mk 2:16 and Mt 9:11). Apparently “the edge of the inside” was the place where Jesus was most effective in his ministry. I can’t imagine a better or clearer call to faithful, creative leadership. After all, that’s what the prophets have always done, standing inside the community, but at the edge of it. From there they saw things more clearly. From the edge of the inside they could call their people to substantive faithfulness. From the edge of the inside they could put people in meaningful (and sometimes painful) dialogue. Such leadership may be our greatest hope for the future of this troubled and polarized world. v

Coming in the spring issue: Professor Carolyn Browning Helsel on “Interpreting Whiteness”



THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY Theodore J. Wardlaw, President

Board of Trustees G. Archer Frierson II, Chair James Allison Whitney Bodman Janice Bryant (MDiv’01, DMin’11) Claudia D. Carroll Elizabeth Christian Joseph J. Clifford Katherine B. Cummings (MDiv’05) Thomas Christian Currie Consuelo Donahue (MDiv’96) Jackson Farrow Jr. Beth Blanton Flowers, MD Jesús Juan González (MDiv’92) John Hartman Ann Herlin (MDiv’01) Rhashell D. Hunter Steve LeBlanc

Sue B. McCoy Matthew Miller (MDiv’03) Lyndon L. Olson Jr. B. W. Payne David Peeples Jeffrey Kyle Richard Conrad Rocha Lana Russell Lita Simpson Anne Vickery Stevenson Martha Crawley Tracey Karl Brian Travis Carlton Wilde Jr. Elizabeth Currie Williams Michael G. Wright

Trustees Emeriti Stephen A. Matthews, Max Sherman, Louis H. Zbinden Jr.

Fall 2016

100 East 27th Street Austin, TX 78705-5711




AUSTIN Permit No. 2473

Austin, Texas


U.S. Postage

Non-Profit Org.

Profile for Austin Presbyterian Theological  Seminary

Insights: The Migrant People of God (Fall 2016)  

The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

Insights: The Migrant People of God (Fall 2016)  

The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary