Preaching Out Out ofof Place Preaching Place
Insights The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary
Saldine • Jensen • Andrews • Frierson • Bañuelas Yates • Hignight • Park • Rigby • Cuéllar 1
The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary Fall 2011
Editor: Cynthia L. Rigby Editorial Board: David H. Jensen, David F. White, and Randal Whittington The Faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary John Ahn Timothy D. Lincoln John E. Alsup Jennifer L. Lord Whitney S. Bodman Suzie Park Allan Hugh Cole Jr. K.C. Ptomey Lewis R. Donelson Cynthia L. Rigby William Greenway Kristin Emery Saldine David H. Jensen Monya A. Stubbs David W. Johnson Theodore J. Wardlaw David Lee Jones David F. White
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: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: austinseminary.edu
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, and the ATLA 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: atla@atla. com; web site: www.atla.com; ISSN 1056-0548.
COVER: “A Rock. A River. A Tree” by Synthia SAINT JAMES; 30" x 40," acrylic on canvas, ©2004. Used with permission from the artist.
Synthia SAINT JAMES is an international award-winning artist and designer of the first United States Postal Stamp for the Kwanzaa holiday. She is the recipient of The 2008 Woman of the Year Award for the 26th Senate District and her books have garnered a Parent’s Choice Silver Honor, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and an Oppenheim Gold Award. In 2010 she received the prestigious Trumpet Award celebrating African-American Achievement, the first painter to be so honored. Her work may be found here: www.synthiasaintjames.com
Theodore J. Wardlaw
Preaching Out of Place 4
Preaching Out of Place: Rootedness and Sentness in Proclamation
by Kristin Emery Saldine
Kristin Saldine Rooted and Sent: Where Is God Leading the Church of Today?
Cultivating a Sense of Place in a Texas Garden by Molly Jensen
Black Preaching and the Black Church in the Public Square by Dale Andrews
The Stewardship of Place by G. Archer Frierson
Pastors’ Panel Arturo Bañuelas, Stephen Yates, Kathleen Hignight
32 Required Reading
God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, written by Michael Coogan, reviewed by Suzie Park; Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the America Church, written by Kenda Creasy Dean, reviewed by Cynthia Rigby
34 Christianity and Culture El Pequeño Santuario by Gregory Cuéllar
’ve just returned from a long weekend in the Big Bend Country of Texas. Kay and I went out there last weekend, driving west on Highway 90. In all, it was an eight-hour trip—miles and miles of miles and miles—one county-seat town succeeding another as the landscape spread out to the horizons, and rolling hills gave way to spectacular mountains encircling vast basins of mesquite trees and ocotillo bushes and golden grasses. It was my first exposure to that remote destination amid the mountains and high desert. We were there for a couple of days taking in the art scene in Marfa, and then, on the last day, exploring the rugged end-of-theworldness of Terlingua. I thought in those days about the power of place. What brought adventurous easterners to the wilds of West Texas? The railroads? Oil? Cattle? And if their dreams did not pan out, why did they stay? I thought as well of another question: what are the special words which Del Rio pulls out of a preacher, and how do those words differ from the ones pulled out of a preacher in Sanderson or Uvalde? What “preaches” in a border town, and how does that differ from what “preaches” in a cattle town or a railroad town or an arts town? If you’re ever tempted to assume that the preached word is somehow equally and unquestionably portable from any setting to any other setting, then this issue of Insights is for you. Kristin Saldine’s essay on “Preaching Out of Place” is a brilliant testimony to the incarnational paradox beneath all of our words—that they, and the communities that they nourish, are both “rooted” and “sent” in always specific ways. This means, as Dr. Saldine puts it in her interview, that preaching rootedness “has to move outward because the movement of the kingdom is outward.” The power of place is that simple—and that complicated. Molly Jensen’s wonderful reflection unpacks what commitment to a particular place means, even when that particular place is a campus garden. At some point, she suggests, such commitment ceases to be just work, “and becomes an act of joy.” Dale Andrews’ thoughtful contribution, focused particularly upon preaching in the Black Church, explores the “proper place” of black preaching in a post-9/11 context in which the lines between religious tradition and national identity are more blurred than they used to be. Archer Frierson, a new trustee at the Seminary representing another generation of involvement here on the part of his family, writes in a moving reflection on “stewardship” of the power of place, and its claim upon not just his own heart but also upon the hearts of his ancestors. As always, a provocative pastors’ panel contributes ably to how preaching is influenced by its attendant place. And Gregory Cuéllar, our newest member of the Austin Seminary faculty, remembers serving a parish—El Pequeno Santuario—in which those otherwise marginalized found a sacred place. Gregory’s Old Testament colleague, Suzie Park, joins Cynthia Rigby in reviewing two new books that ought to be on your shelves. In short, this is a great issue of Insights, so find your favorite place and begin reading! Theodore J. Wardlaw President, Austin Seminary 2
Preaching Out of Place: Rootedness and Sentness in Proclamation Kristin Emery Saldine
he church is out of place, and for those called to proclaim the Word, some celebration might be appropriate. We live in an age of unprecedented social, economic, and political change—transformation on a global scale. The church, on the surface of this maelstrom, seems to have lost out and no longer holds the position it once held in Western society. As Darrell Guder describes it, “Christianity in North America has moved (or been moved) away from its position of dominance as it has experienced the loss, not only of numbers, but of power and influence in society.”1 Some call our ecclesial era the “end of Christendom,” a time when the Christian church has lost its relevance and the capacity to speak in and to the North American culture.2 Regardless of how we perceive or react, intellectually and emotionally, to the “post-Christian” descriptor, we can say that the church and Christianity are in a different place in a changing world. The church is no longer the official chaplain to the secular world. It is out of place. As suggested, this off-kilter, out-of-place church is a mixed blessing, both to those proclaiming and those receiving the Word. Being displaced from its traditional locality of influence and dominance actually empowers the church in its proclamation. It renews its authentic and original identity as countercultural, liberating giver of Good News. No longer a custodial institution, bearer and enforcer of soci-
Kristin Saldine is Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Austin Seminary.
She served Presbyterian churches in Washington State and Oregon before earning her PhD at Princeton Seminary. She was assistant professor and associate director of the Joe R. Engle Institute of Preaching at Princeton before joining the Austin Seminary faculty. Her interests in preaching look at the intersection of theology, visual rhetoric, and philosophical geography.
Preaching Out of Place etal and cultural norms, the church is free to stand outside these often too-easily accepted norms and to speak a word of God to society based on its unique identity formed in and through Jesus Christ.3 Douglas John Hall argues that this ongoing process of “de-constantinianization”—this severing of the too-cozy ties between political, economic, and religious powers—offers new possibilities for faithfulness and that the church should engage it deliberately and positively.4 In fact, Hall contends that the “intentional disengagement from the dominant culture is the necessary prerequisite for Christian engagement of the same culture.”5 Indeed, by no longer speaking on behalf of Western society, the church has the opportunity to use its authentic voice. In some churches today, the Gospel is proclaimed in new voices that are heard in novel ways. Some churches have already recognized and proclaim loudly that God can yet do “a new thing,” and they are finding fresh ways to articulate in religious terms how Christian discipleship in a North American context leads to the inbreaking of God’s very present community. Christians understand their faith, their lives, and their ministries in vibrant new ways. Within and beyond denominational boundaries, churches and church leaders describe themselves and their faith communities in a variety of ways: progressive, emergent, re-traditioning, liturgical, renewalist, even “hyphenated.”6 Change, and the desire for it, are alive and well in the church. These liminal, “not-here-not-there” times create daunting, exasperating, and exciting challenges for preachers: daunting because Christianity is undergoing a transformation that is rocking it to its institutional core; exasperating because the ecclesial territories keep shifting and new paradigms for church keep emerging; exciting because the Christ is alive and the church has Good News to share. Because of the movement and discovery unfolding within the body of Christ, pulpit proclamation must continue to be undertaken with utmost respect and seriousness, lest we forget that the promise of our present and future is Christ alone, in all his fullness. As John Dally writes, “if the church is going to live into a new ecclesiology, the pulpit will be one of the most powerful tools to effect that change.”7 If the church is going to live into its potential—not just as an institution, but as a bearer and articulator of God’s dream of a just and loving community of all God’s creatures— those who preach have a very important role to play. In this essay I propose two broad themes—two immediate necessities—for proclamation of the Word in these changing times. Preaching must incorporate a sense of rootedness—of being undertaken out of a certain place—and a sense of “sentness”—of being moved from or led outside a certain place. On the one hand, to preach out of place is to attend to the crucial task of local preaching. We preach out of place when we value the here and now and the local knowledge that accompanies it. We preach out of place when we seek the gospel in relation to the concrete social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and personal situations that are embedded in and that shape the individual and corporate lives of the communities we serve. To preach out of place is to be rooted in a community that emphasizes the importance of the local in faith and action. On the other hand, preaching out of place also describes the proclamation 4
Preaching Out of Place of the church as disestablished from the dominant culture in North America. We preach out of place when we are attuned to the also-otherness of the Good News. In this sense, preaching the gospel is a countercultural act. It decries the ownership of God’s kingdom by a particular culture or institution and announces God’s new activity that breaks in on individuals and institutions with surprise, judgment, and joy. When we preach out of place, we recognize God’s missional imperative of the church as witness to Christ and as participant with God’s redemptive activity in the world. Being rooted and being sent—these concepts are the foundation for preaching out of place in a “post” era (i.e., post-Christendom, postmodern, postcolonial). Both are lively characteristics of church, and both are rich with theological themes for dynamic proclamation. They are flexible ideas that fit a wide variety of preaching contexts, whether in large, established congregations, in small house church gatherings, or in everything in between. Both give witness to the present and the future God is creating for church and world.
Preaching Rootedness All our prayers in the morning, in the evening, start with the word “Here.” —Edmund Ladd
reachers who serve local congregations and faith communities are privileged to preach from a given place. We are privileged to enter into living rooms, backyards, neighborhoods, workplaces, and worship spaces. We preach in and from those places. It is in these places that we explore our human place in the world and God’s place among us. Our places of ministry are not simply sites or settings; rather, they are distinctive expressions of meaning, social relations, and physical, geographical place. Preachers proclaim the Gospel here, in this place, which is shaped by and is shaping the people who live here. Thus, a contextually attentive preacher is always aware of the narratives, values, experiences, memories, and norms of this place and the multitude of ways they are communicated. We minister and proclaim the Word to and in an embodied and inhabited physical location. This place is where those who would hear live! Our ordinary, daily lives are the proper place in which we can hear and speak God’s word of salvation. The primary landscape of faith for Christian life is the embodied community of worship and discipleship. These communities are, or can be, fertile ground of life-giving vitality—communities that, in hearing the gospel, respond to its invitation and engage the world with energy and hope. Nevertheless, in our postmodern paradoxes and paradigms, the value of the local has been undercut or is absent in contemporary North American culture.8 Our hyper-mobile, hyper-connected society envies and values speed and transience. Our electronically mediated lives are disconnected from physical spaces and face-to-face encounters. The explosion of the information age brought with it, on one hand, the potential to connect and empower. It also, on the other hand, created distance masked by superficial connection. In addition, the constant deluge of information 5
Preaching Out of Place has led to social fragmentation, personal alienation, polarization, and ineffective communication. We feel the foundations shake, glimpse the world spinning by, and wonder where home is. Rampant polarization gives the appearance of disparate worldviews that have no map or center.9 We hunger for belonging, for communion, and for deeper significance. Wendell Berry, poet, purveyor of wisdom, and human extraordinaire, articulates this renewed longing for the local: “I believe that there is hope in the increasing uneasiness of people who see themselves as dispossessed or displaced and therefore as economically powerless. Growing out of this uneasiness, there is now a wide-spread effort toward local economy, local self-determination, and local adaptation. In this there is the potential of a new growth of imagination, and at last an authentic settlement of our country.”” Christian individuals and communities of faith are rediscovering a gospel imperative to be fully present, fully planted, in a particular place. In Wendell Berry’s words, they are engaging the “difficulty and discipline of locality.”11 In congregations, in the new monastic movement, and in other intentional Christian communities, people are finding rootedness in particular places to be important enactments of Christian discipleship. Believers seek a spirit-led place for koinonia—a communal reality of sacred living, mutual support, and sacrificial service.12 Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a leader in the new monastic movement, speaks of a need to recover a “wisdom of stability” that affirms faith in a God who meets us in the place where we are: “In a culture that is characterized by unprecedented mobility and speed, I am concerned that the most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in place where we are.”13 Offering ground for fruitful consideration of our context, he asserts that “both our use of new technologies and our faithful response to God’s call depend on something more fundamental— a rootedness that most of us sense we are missing in our hurry to keep up amid constant change.”14 Stability in rootedness is a gift of God, found in God’s grace. It cannot be found through handy techniques or methods of self-improvement. Says Wilson-Hartgrove, “Stability does not depend on our ability to shore up crumbling foundations in the midst of change or confusion. Rather, it rests on the character of One who promises to love us where we are. Faith is a response to that love, rooting us in the reality of a God who is faithful.”15 When communities and congregations “inhabit” a place, they draw meaning from it and discover a sense of belonging. They discover themselves embodied, rooted, and committed to a given location. Preaching, understood as an interpretation of scripture in the context of a community of faith, specifically addresses this rooted, embodied, inhabiting community. Beldon Lane claims that a worshipping community’s ritualized way of perceiving reality—its habitus—draws meaning from the particularities of the environment—its habitat.16 This contextuality of ritual and meaning is critical in speaking of the incarnational nature of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ, fully human while fully divine, participates in the created order, in historical time and in geophysical space. The “Confession of 1967” is particularly clear: In identify6
Preaching Out of Place ing Jesus as being a Palestinian Jew from the town of Nazareth, it describes the incarnation of Jesus Christ in physical space and in historical time.17 Edward Dowey, one of the authors of the Confession, notes that his intention was to emphasize the humanity of Christ, and as such, to identify Jesus by name, address, and nationality.18 Recognizing that Jesus had an address points to the fact that his habitus was, in part, shaped by his habitat. Preachers who preach out of place treasure the gift of rootedness and appreciate the particularity of habitat and its effect on habitus. In preaching out of place, we reaffirm the incarnational nature of God’s accommodation to us, emphasizing that God still meets us where we are, in space as well as time. A rooted, incarnational love of God absolutely depends on community. We grow into our life in relationship with God by learning to dwell in relationship, in a place, with particular people. As Wilson-Hartgrove maintains, “Stability in Christ is always stability in community.”19 He knows full well how difficult life can be in community, yet his gospel sense is that when people give themselves to God and to one another in a particular place, they are living out a scriptural imperative: God’s plan to redeem the world through a gathered people.20 As my colleague David Jensen describes it, “the church is not an amorphous global conglomerate, but is embodied in local communities that witness to the world’s hope.”21 When preachers preach out of place, we affirm the gospel that is already present in a given place, and we commit ourselves to the living Word active in that place. Preachers would do well to explore two vital questions Wilson-Hargrove asks: Do you believe that God can meet you here? Can you trust Jesus to stay?22 Communities of faith need to ask and answer both questions, perhaps many times over, for authentic, rooted Christian community to flourish. Preaching out of place encourages preachers to discover and value the unique cultures and theological identities and expressions of the communities they serve. It also requires us to let go of an assumption that answers to our problems are always somewhere else.23 When we preach out of place, we reaffirm the conviction that God gathers this particular community of people to offer its witness of love and hope to neighbor and world. To do this, preachers bring the worlds of both the biblical text and the congregation together in such a way that the community hears itself as known, claimed, and transformed by the gospel in the place it inhabits. Thus, the congregation knows itself as gifted by the Holy Spirit to address the problems that act as barriers in its own context to living out God’s vision. Homiletician Nora Tisdale identifies five ways to consider the power of preaching that begins with a contextual, place-centered approach and moves outward to engage the world: • Preaching can affirm and confirm what the congregation already believes, values, and practices. • Preaching can stretch the limits of the congregation’s theological imagination. • Preaching can invert the assumed ordering of the congregation’s imagined worldview. • Preaching can challenge and judge the false imaginings of the congregational 7
Preaching Out of Place heart. • Preaching can help congregations envision worlds they have not yet begun to imagine.24 These preaching strategies begin by affirming the faith community already in place. They then stretch the community to move forward into new challenges. This dynamic action of naming and stretching leads us to the heart of the second theme for preaching out of place: preaching God’s sending.
Preaching God’s Sending The theological task of Christian preaching is to proclaim the gospel to the present of every age and thereby represent God as a living reality in the world. —Eunjoo Mary Kim
reaching rootedness provides a fresh sense of being in the world that elicits faithful and active response to God’s grace in and beyond the places we inhabit. But it does not mean preaching an insular, complacent gospel. Nor does it mean preaching for church maintenance, of clinging to the familiar and hoping for the best. As rooted, embodied communities of faith, we are compelled by God’s action within us to move into the world, to go into the unknown, to seek our own discomfort. We celebrate that God is always with us and yet always before us, moving and active in the world, beckoning us to follow. This is the missio Dei: “God’s eternal movement into the world, God’s ‘self-sending’ for the sake of the world.”25 A church participates in this divine activity when the community understands itself to be a people God has called out and sent into the world. This is the second sense of preaching out of place, the proclamation of a church disestablished enough from culture to speak to culture with the disruptive and redemptive claims of the kingdom of God. If we believe the promises of God are true for us and all God’s creatures, then we affirm that those promises have a claim on our lives that pushes us beyond our own established boundaries. This assertion does not diminish the importance of rootedness in community or the wisdom of stability. The church sent is the rooted church; it remains rooted but grows into the larger world. Preaching out of place means offering a Word that helps faith communities imagine and participate in God’s vision of a redeemed and reconciled creation, wherever they may be called to live into discipleship. Within many faith communities the understanding of, or attention to, being sent is too small. John Dally writes poignantly of how rediscovering the conviction of being “sent by Jesus” can awaken in preachers a new vocational sense that challenges what, for many, has become a hobbled gospel, constrained by expectations of church numerical and financial growth.26 Under this stunted homiletical paradigm, sermons end up being “shaped by the needs of the church rather than the demands of the kingdom.”27 Dally exposes the banality of this paradigm by reminding preachers that “Jesus did not send the Twelve or the Seventy to offer sermons that people would enjoy or find meaningful. ‘He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal’ (Luke 9:2).”28 Proclaiming the kingdom is a risky and life-changing 8
Preaching Out of Place
endeavor; it isn’t safe, and yet it is salvific. It announces that, “in Jesus, God was present in history, offering an alternative to human notions of power and destiny and forcing a choice of allegiance.”29 Preachers with a renewed vocational sense of their own “sentness” thrill in the knowledge that they do not rely solely on their own talents or abilities; they rest in the Spirit of the Lord and are “empowered by Jesus specifically for their work of proclamation.”30 Churches, too, can lose their missional identity of being sent by God into the world. Stagnancy and complacency plague the ecclesial landscape of our twentyfirst-century context. George Hunsberger identifies two trends that have contributed to the loss of ecclesial distinctiveness and missional urgency. “On the one hand, the churches of North America have been dislocated from their prior social role of chaplain to the culture and society.”31 In having lost their “once privileged positions of influence,” churches have allowed their relevance to be “relegated to the private spheres of life,” and far too often “churches have accepted this as their proper place.”32 At the same time, says Hunsberger, the churches have become so accommodated to the American way of life, which prioritizes (among other things) individuality, autonomy, and consumerist orientations, “that they are now domesticated, and it is no longer obvious what justifies their existence as particular communities.”33 In other words, the distinctiveness of Christian discipleship is lost as cultural norms become not just accepted in, but embraced by, ecclesial communities. In places where individualism, competition, consumerism, and entertainment value are worshiped and prioritized, our yearning for God’s kingdom becomes diminished and distorted. “The religious loyalties that churches seem to claim and the social functions that they actually perform are at odds with each other”34 When Christian discipleship has been so circumscribed and influenced by thoroughly unchristian understandings of what we are about—for what purposes we are sent— the possibilities for discipleship in a post-Christian era are threatened. Preaching “out of place”—reclaiming and reimagining the gospel priorities for the church and the world in the post-Christian North American context—becomes paramount. Hunsberger identifies three basic priorities for the church’s recovery of its missional soul. These three priorities can serve as preaching themes for renewing a congregation’s sense of being a gathered people called to receive and share the Good News of God’s reign. They provoke us to ask what the church is, what its public role should be, and what its voice should sound like.35 First, “in a free world of the autonomous and decentered self, and with a gospel of reconciliation in Christ, the churches must revive what it means to be communities of the reign of God.”36 Congregations and faith communities must understand themselves to be both rooted and sent, with a strong core identity as a gathered people of God and a holy expectation that they can be agents of change in the world according to the gospel priorities of love and justice. Second, “in a secular world of privatized religious faith and with a gospel of Christ’s reign over all things, the churches must discover what it means to act faithfully on behalf of the reign of God within the public life of their society.”37 Churches and faith communities must continually ask themselves what it means to be citi9
Preaching Out of Place zens shaped by discipleship and how the gospel engages the public square. Third, “in a plural world of relativized perspectives and loyalties, and with a gospel of the knowledge of God through the incarnate Christ, the churches must learn to speak in post-Christendom accents as confident yet humble messengers of the reign of God.”38 Christians proclaim hope; we are stewards of the Word that changes lives and worlds. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, quoting Eliot, phrases this eloquently: “God, who became the ‘word within a word, unable to speak a word,’ has put a measure of God’s own power into our hands and on our tongues.”39 The church must learn to speak about Jesus Christ in fresh, relevant voices.
Rooted and Sent: A Liturgical Conclusion No Christian assembly can gather without being dispersed, and no Christian assembly can disperse without gathering. —Mark Bangert
reaching out of place is a way of thinking about Christian proclamation for a changing church in changing times. It recognizes and reaffirms two core identities of faith communities: being rooted in common life and being sent in missional vocation. Not by chance, both of these core identities are enacted in weekly worship. As Edward Farley rightly contends, “this weekly event of worship and preaching has something to do with the way redemption takes place and the way congregations are empowered.”40 Preaching and our response to the Word are liturgical acts. They are missional acts as well, because the Word discloses what God is about in the world and transforms us into a people who are sent to share in that divine activity.41 Thus, the actions of the Lord’s Day are interwoven with life outside the church doors.42 In this regular gathering and dispersing there is a cyclical unity of worship and mission and worship—of local rootedness, missional sending, and transformed rootedness. Here, in the unfolding cycle of being gathered, being sent, and being gathered again, the church discovers its identity as the embodied presence of God in the world, sustained by Word and sacrament. The liturgical rite at the conclusion of the Lord’s Day service—the sending (including the charge and blessing)—enacts this one continuous cycle. Thus, the liturgical sending is more than a simple dismissal signaling the end of worship; it is, in itself, a missional act in response to the Word proclaimed and an invitation both to go and to return. It is the liturgical conclusion to preaching out of place. Notes
1 Darrell L. Guder, ed., “Missional Church: From Sending to Being Sent,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 1. 2 The focus of this essay is on the nature of the church in the North American context, especially in the United States and Canada. Outside of this context, and in many different cultures, Christianity is growing and thriving. 3 James R. Edwards, “The PCUSA: Mission to Culture, or Mirror of Culture?” A Speech Delivered to the Presbytery of Minnesota Valleys, Willmar, MN, April 2, 2011, 4. 4 Douglas John Hall, “An Awkward Church,” Occasional Paper No. 5, Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/op5.
Saldine pdf, accessed July 6, 2011, 1. 5 Hall, 18. 6 For definitions of these terms see Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 123-144. 7 John Addison Dally, Choosing the Kingdom: Missional Preaching for the Household of God (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2008), 27. 8 Lucy R. Lippard, The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (New York: The New Press, 1997), 5. 9 Gary Eberle, The Geography of Nowhere: Finding Oneself in the Postmodern World (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994), 17. 10 Wendell Berry, “American Imagination and the Civil War,” in Imagination in Place (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), 34. 11 Wendell Berry, “Imagination in Place,” in Imagination in Place (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), 8. 12 Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 145. 13 Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 1. 14 Ibid., 1. 15 Ibid 17. 16 Beldon C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 9. 17 “The Confession of 1967,” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part I: Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 1996), 9.08. 18 Edward Dowey, A Commentary on the Confession of 1967 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), 43. Italics mine. 19 Wilson-Hartgrove, 18. 20 Ibid, 2. 21 David Hadley Jensen, “The Big Mac and the Lord’s Table: A Theological Interpretation of Globalization,” Insights, 122, 1 (Spring 2007), 10. 22 Wilson-Hartgrove, 39. 23 Ibid, 40. 24 Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, “Exegeting the Congregation,” in Teaching Preaching as a Christian Practice: A New Approach to Homiletical Pedagogy, Thomas G. Long and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 84-85. See also Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), chap. 4, 110-121. 25 Paul Hooker, “What is Missional Ecclesiology?” http://oga.pcusa.org/formofgovernment/ pdfs/missional-ecclesiology09.pdf, accessed June 1, 2011, 3.’ 26 Dally, 33. 27 Ibid, 14. 28 Ibid 14. 29 Ibid, 13. 30 Ibid, 30. 31 George R. Hunsberger, “Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 78. 32 Ibid, 78. 33 Ibid, 78. 34 Ibid, 78. 35 Ibid, 109. 36 Ibid, 108.
Continued on page 28
Interview Kristin Saldine
Rooted and Sent: Where is God Leading the Church Today?
You say that the church has lost not only numbers, but also in power and influence in our society. Should we be trying to earn back our position as “chaplain of the secular world”? I don’t think the church can go back to a previous era. I don’t—in part because we don’t want to and in part because the only way forward is forward. The challenge for the church today, as it has always been, is how to be a faithful witness to Christ, and how to live out the Gospel priorities of love and justice. That’s different today than it was before. I see the movement away from Christendom as providential, as God’s leading. So, the church’s loss of numbers and influence is actually an opportunity for the church to reconnect more authentically with the culture? I’d like to minister in a church that wasn’t so worried about counting heads. I’m trying to figure out a way for us to be free of that single metric by which we judge ourselves. I like how Douglas John Hall frames the question. He says we shouldn’t feel a sense of fatalism or humiliation for the fact that Christendom has ended. The opportunity, the new possibilities, come when we decide to not just let it happen to us but to be proactive and start directing the process. We disengage from culture in order to more faithfully engage it. So I think we should ask ourselves: What’s unique about our identity in Christ? What does that voice sound like in the public square? What are the new possibilities for ministry? What do you mean when you say the church is “not-here-not-there”? I mean the mainline church is in an awkward phase. Denominations are verging on schism because we’re arguing about what church is to be, what it’s supposed to look like, what its voice is in the world. These are contentious times. The church could be this; the church could be that. We haven’t settled into one way or another. At the same time, we’re learning that church can be incredibly diverse. The church as we know it is not going to disappear, but there are other ways of being a church that are emerging.
Preaching Interview Out of Place Why is place important to Christian faith? Because of globalization, things are changing faster than they have in the past. The church is rushing to figure out ways to respond. If we were looking only outside of ourselves, I think we would be overwhelmed. Instead, I think we need to begin with rootedness. Christian community is the starting place of Christian faith and
I think our loss of awareness of the local means a loss of trust that Jesus actually meets us in a particular place. I think we have to ask ourselves the questions Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove asks, Do we trust Christ to meet us here, and do we trust him to stay?
practice. There’s always this encounter with Christ in a particular place at a particular time with a particular person or people. He meets people where they are. And the Gospel’s so intentional. It gets so excited about telling you where it happened: “in this house,” “by this lake,” “on this mountain,” “along the way,” or “as they were passing through.” In some particular place Jesus meets somebody, their life is changed, and then there’s this sending out to preach the Kingdom of God, to teach and to heal. Do we need to think about how what we mean by “rootedness” is changing in this increasingly globally aware, technological culture? It’s my impression, for example, that some folks might feel very rooted in Facebook or even in an internet church community like lifechurch.tv or on secondlife.com. Are Facebook and secondlife.com places? Oh, they are social communities. They are social realties. But I’m not ready to say, yet, that the gathered community—the incarnational, body of Christ—does not have a physical presence. 13
Interview There has to be body and blood? Yes, there has to be body and blood. And bread you can chew, and wine or grape juice you can drink. Why? Why do places and bodies matter so much? Because we’re physical beings who live in physical places. And because this is affirmed over and over in Scripture: the bodily nature of being in the world. I wish I were an expert in technology because a fascinating conversation is going on about what’s real and what’s virtual. But I can say this: I think our loss of awareness of the local means a loss of trust that Jesus actually meets us in a particular place. I think we have to ask ourselves the questions Wilson-Hartgrove asks: do we trust Christ to meet us here, and do we trust him to stay? Talk a little about how “being sent” follows from “being rooted.” Preaching rootedness is not parochialism. It’s not isolation. It’s not putting up walls around the church and saying we’ll just be our own, little, unique, special culture here. No, it has to move outward because the movement of the kingdom is outward. When I wrote this article, I was thinking specifically about congregations. I was thinking about how our preaching can help form communities of rooted people who then move out and into the activity of God in the world. It seems like you are saying the full presence of God we experience when we are “rooted” gives way to kind of abundant overflowing outside of itself. Yes. I think Jonathan Edwards calls this “effulgent grace”—God’s fullness overflows into God’s creation. What advantage do preachers have, preaching in our changing church of today? Within a changing church come voices of change. Technology has given us the ability to hear preaching voices different from our own in contexts other than our own, and the opportunity to learn from them. These voices cross denominational, theological, cultural and liturgical lines. Thanks to excellent preaching websites, the use of YouTube, and social networking, preachers are forming communities of encouragement, imagination and discourse that help sustain their preaching disciplines. I think that if we think of the changing church as being both rooted and sent, then preachers can tap into the wisdom and energy from both of these bearings. We learn to appreciate and attend to local wisdom. At the same time, we grow into the larger world as we open ourselves to encounter new voices and contexts. The preacher’s notebook comes alive in the interplay of these two dynamics.
Cultivating a Sense of Place in a Texas Garden Molly Jensen
The challenge, these days, is to be somewhere as opposed to nowhere, actually to belong to some particular place, invest oneself in it, draw strength and courage from it, to dwell not simply in a career or a bank account but in a community … Once you commit yourself to a place, you begin to share responsibility for what happens there.
—Scott Russell Sanders
ultivating a sense of place is indeed unconventional and challenging in our current age. Citizens of a global society conditioned to seek opportunity for advancement and economic prosperity near or far, we are tempted to surrender any tenderness toward or commitment to a particular place. The college students in my religion courses at Southwestern University learn about a dizzying array of international study opportunities almost immediately upon hitting campus. By exploring the world of ideas and traveling to distant locations, these students are invited to expand their horizons beyond what they have already come to know. The religion faculty, teaching a wide variety of religious traditions, plays a key role in expanding horizons. We encourage students to learn about religious cultures that are not familiar to them. And yet, my religion department colleagues and I are collaborating on a project to help our students cultivate a sense of place. While our project may be unconventional, we are not isolationists. In fact, the very opposite
Molly Jensen is assistant professor of religion at Southwestern Univer-
sity. She earned an MTS and the PhD at Vanderbilt University. Her scholarly interests include Jewish relational ethics, food and farming in the JudeoChristian traditions, and borderlands religious identities. Her essay “Fleshing out an Ethic of Diversity,” appears in Merleau-Ponty and Environmental Philosophy: Dwelling in the Landscapes of Thought (2007).
Reflections is true. We think that developing a sense of place may enable our students to build respectful and caring relationships in a diverse world and to promote justice and healing in our world. In the last several months, I visited with colleagues at several universities in the United States and Canada. Each of these colleagues is involved in place-based learning, which means that they intentionally teach in and with the community. For instance, one botanist in Arizona works closely with Native American farming communities to preserve and share native seeds and sustainable, desert-adapted farming techniques. Other colleagues in British Columbia collaborate with sizable First Nations and Chinese immigrant communities to introduce students to a variety of sustainable farming and food practices. Place-based learning encourages students to pay attention to the distinctive peoples, knowledge systems, and needs of their community. In this model, learning is both from and for the community. Many Western approaches to education focus narrowly on the concept of individual human success and sever student achievement from connections to context; instead, place-based educational models nurture mutual support, shared knowledge, and ecological well-being. As I witness a burgeoning sense of belonging among my students, I cannot help but wonder about the importance of cultivating a strong sense of place in our religious communities as well. In Give Me That Online Religion, Brenda Brasher argues that online religious activity “could become the dominant form of religion and religious experience” during the 21st century. The internet has become “home” to a number of virtual churches, some of which offer virtual communion. Founder and senior pastor of online sensation “Life Church” Craig Groeschel asserts that all churches are heading in the direction of his ministry. He draws explicit parallels between Life Church and early American “frontier” Christianity. The model of ministry is similar to John Wesley’s circuit riding, according to Groeschel. Convinced that the time of offline church has passed, he identifies media entertainment conglomerate Disney as his chief “competition.” Groeschel and others suggest that online religion is better suited to serving individual needs, schedules, and interests of worshippers than are emplaced churches. But, online church leaders dismiss too easily the value of place and belonging to our lives and in the life of the church. The accomplished writer and scholar bell hooks details her realization of the value of place. As the granddaughter of an African-American sharecropper from Kentucky, she recounts the freedom and magic of her early life in “the hills” and the lessons of hope learned as her family lived from the land. Hooks would move away from the hills with her parents and eventually “flee” to California and university at Stanford. Away from the Kentucky hills, she kept mementos of her childhood place to stand between her and “the madness that exile makes, the brokenheartedness.” After more than three decades away from Kentucky, hooks returns home and finds there the vital remnants of “a culture of belonging, a sense of meaning and vitality of geographical place.” Hooks does not return with rose-colored glasses and her reflections of home are not idealistic. As an incisive cultural critic, she delineates two worlds in her native place: a world connected to nature that served as a coun16
Preaching Out of Place
ter-hegemonic black subculture and a world of institutionalized white domination. Hooks is clear that the return from exile did not emerge from a sentimental assumption that she would find an uncorrupted world, but a reclaiming of “unbroken ties to the land, to homefolk, to our vernacular speech” that nourish and heal in a world of brokenness. Hooks’s story is a modern-day narrative of exile, a story that resonates with so many others in our contemporary world. Gathered in refugee camps and emergency shelters throughout the globe, people of all ages hold hopes of returning home. Too many of these exiles will never go home again due to violence, political instability, environmental devastation, and even death. A hope for homecoming pervades our world and yet the yearning for a place of belonging is too often ignored or dismissed as naïve, simplistic, or unrealistic. Realism, it would seem, is tied to denouncing ties to place; but, the abiding sense of place in the biblical writings suggests that belonging to home is no mere wistful nostalgia. The narratives of creation and exile and the visions of the Hebrew prophets convey a complex understanding of ancient Israelite geography and the deep awareness of the challenges involved in faithfully belonging to a wondrous, but fragile land. Biblical scholar Ellen Davis claims that a land ethic permeates the scriptures of ancient Israel and that such an ethic can come only from connection to a specific place or land, “only from a relationship with a place deep enough to shape the minds of writer and readers.” The biblical narratives are stories of a people who knew “where they came from.” As an example, Davis explains that Genesis 1 could not have been written just anywhere: “Genesis 1 represents in specific terms the plant world as it was known to those who occupied the highlands of the Levant.” The priestly poet of Genesis 1 describes with “startling clarity” the most important botanical fact about the land of ancient Israel, which is the astounding genetic diversity of a strip of land between three continents. And by referring to the “plants seeding seed,” the priestly writer refers to non-shattering seeds of hill country cereals and legumes. Non-shattering seeds can be collected, stored, and selectively cultivated to nourish human communities. Similarly, “fruit trees making fruit … with their seed in them,” demonstrates, according to Davis, the priestly writer’s familiarity with the diversity of native fruit trees, which were abundant in the microclimates of the hilly terrain and could be domesticated and propagated by agrarian peoples. The poet is alert to this particular stretch of land and the particular qualities of the land that enable human life to flourish; but, the scriptures also understand the delicate ecological niche of the ancient hill country of Judah and Samaria. This humble, semi-arid, steep strip of land, explains Davis, is one in which the Israelite farmers had “only the slightest margin for negligence, ignorance, or error.” Moses announces the fragility of the land even as he prepares the Israelites to enter their home. In Chapter 11 of Deuteronomy, Moses says that the land promised to the Israelites is a land of mountains and valleys which is not watered in the way of the Egyptians and that God looks after the land. Even as the people are led into a land promised by God, they are invited to attend to its distinctive and delicate 17
Reflections ecology; and rather than scorn the land for its fragility, they are called to embrace it as a precious life-giving gift of an abiding God. Valuing as divine gift and dwelling faithfully in their homeland requires that Israelites are attentive and mindful of the particular qualities and patterns of the land. When the faithful attention falters, the abundance of the land withers. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah offers a shocking vision of the land when the Israelites abandon their faithfulness. This vision, one of a wasted earth from which all the birds have fled and the fruitfulness has become desert, is intended to call the people back to a strong sense of belonging and faithful abiding with God and the land God promises. Even as Jeremiah delivers the divine vision of a wasted earth, he announces that hope is not lost. Jeremiah says that the hope remains, that God is not making an end of the people and that if the people return to faithfulness, they will return “to their own land” (Jeremiah 16:15). The vision of return is one of a particular, earthly abundance: “Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy fruit” (31:5). Jeremiah expresses divine hope most vividly in this specific detail of a renewed landscape. As hooks realizes when she re-claims the remnants of life-affirming community in rural Kentucky, and as Jeremiah suggests in his call for repentance, a sentimental search for an uncorrupted world will not carry us very far into a culture of belonging. A sense of belonging emerges out of recognition of what is precious, honesty about the dangers of our own alienation, and willful commitment to nurture connection. Signs of contemporary alienation from place lurk in feelings of disconnection, patterns of social isolation, and in the human-caused ecological degradation. The whole of creation seems to be groaning as people tune out of their communities and fail to care for one another and for an increasingly depleted and polluted earth. Given our current exile from connection, the path to a sense of belonging is certainly not easy; but from what I have experienced with students in a campus garden, regaining a sense of place can ground and nurture life in astounding ways. On each Saturday morning and some late afternoons, a group of students and I gather to tend the beds in the campus food garden. The soil, as we came to know it several years ago, was fragile and nearly lifeless. Over the course of many seasons of abiding with this land, in freezing weather and in scorching drought, we have enlivened this particular patch of earth and we, in turn, have been enlivened. Early on, I was inclined to abandon these communal cultivation efforts and focus on a nice, small plot of my own (perhaps somewhere far removed from campus, like in my own backyard); but at some point, the work in the garden stopped being work and became an act of joy. And, I have noticed that I am not alone in belonging joyfully in the garden. This hillside on a previously forgotten piece of land is exploding with life. I do not think I have ever encountered so much life in one place. From bees, to ladybugs, to dragonflies, to hummingbirds, to the occasional armadillo (this is Texas, after all), every critter within a ten-mile radius seems to flock to the garden. And, even
Preaching Out of Place
as Central Texas experienced the “hottest summer on record,” we harvested hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables, which we shared with local Meals on Wheels recipients at a nearby senior center. The college students, who might be excused for sleeping in or staying cool on the hottest of days, devote themselves to regular watering, weeding, and harvesting. And, new people are showing up all the time. Master Gardeners, many of whom are retirees, have come to share their expertise and garden alongside us. The Boys and Girls Club has asked that we teach them about gardening and help them create a vegetable garden for youth. We can barely keep up with visitors and volunteers and decided to double the size of a gardening workshop to respond to overwhelming interest. Perhaps the most significant outgrowth of our cultivation of place is a transformation in how we learn and engage others. Several of the gardening students have embarked on study abroad opportunities in the last year. One student went to Senegal in Africa, another to Costa Rica, and a couple to Germany. Without fail, these students returned to report that they had ventured beyond the formal learning environments of the host university programs to work with and learn from food growers in the regions they visited. These experiences of engagement were some of the richest learning experiences of their time away and they returned eager to share details of different types of plants and sustainable techniques for growing food. I am struck by the value they recognize in the “unconventional” wisdom of place and community, a wisdom best learned by building respectful relationships with those who dwell in and tend to their particular place. In many ways, the collaboration to cultivate a sense of place is still new. Everyday I realize how much more I need to learn about building soil health, composting, crop rotation, and seed saving; but I am also becoming more convinced that the accumulation of knowledge is less important to this endeavor for belonging than a deep willingness to attend and respond to and for this place. Davis, the biblical scholar, says that the Hebrew prophets consistently speak of and to a faculty they call l������������������������������������������������������������������������������� ē������������������������������������������������������������������������������ b, “heart,” “which is, in biblical physiology, the organ of perception and response.” The garden calls to me in a similar way, continually awakening my senses with delightfully surprising displays and provoking a response of devotion and responsiveness. Having a sense of place increasingly seems to be less about what I possess, in terms of knowledge or skills or materials, and more about the extent to which I am moved to commit to this small garden in Texas.
Do You Know Your Proper Place? Living in the Pastoral-Prophetic Tension: Black Preaching and the Black Church in the Public Square Dale P. Andrews
hen we dive into such a question as the proper place of preaching, we certainly must struggle with the purpose or theology of preaching itself. These struggles are not independent from challenges to the mission or ministry of the Church. We typically make pretty dramatic claims of authority and authoritative sources. For black preaching traditions, as with most Christian traditions, the more obvious claims of authority are theological appeals to sacred sources, specifically, divine inspiration and scripture. We claim the authority of divine revelation and divine inspiration as we prepare the sermon and as we proclaim the very Word of God. Scripture, then, is observably both a historical and metahistorical “deposit” of divine revelation that the church “discerned” as authoritative over time and with some difficulty. Even when church traditions wrestle with the theological and functional claims about the divine inspiration of scripture, the authority of sacred revelation or divine sanction is at the heart of the debate. The nature and tasks of preaching lie at the very heart of these debates over what it means to say we read, discern, and proclaim the Word of God. These debates claim a great deal of space in both our personal and public lives. Mirrored in the divine sanction of scripture, then, are theological claims of God’s own activity in preaching that seek to interpret scripture for contemporary life; in essence the lens of scripture acts also as a mirror reflecting divine sanction into the preaching event. Herein subsist critical questions for preachers: Are we addressing struggles within a local community of faith or the congregation’s engagement with an ever-expanding world? How does the authority of divine revelation and divine sanction of preaching translate into the mission of preaching in the faith community and in the public square? Is preaching primarily concerned with the life
Dale P. Andrews is the Distinguished Professor of Homiletics, Social Jus-
tice, and Practical Theology at the Vanderbilt University Divnity School. An ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Andrews is the author of Practical Theology for Black Churches: Bridging Black Theology and African American Folk Religion (Westminster John Knox) and co-author of Listening to Listeners: Homiletical Case Studies (Chalice Press).
Preaching Out of Place
of faith that nurtures spiritual formation? Or is it concerned more so with a public theology that seeks to transform social encounters, culture, politics, economics, and global engagement? Is the “proper place” for preaching within the walls of the church? Is witness limited properly to invitation to the party line? Or is the “proper place” of preaching within the public debates of local, national, and global life? Is public engagement of preaching limited properly to public appeals to charitable life? These questions, both explicit and implicit, receive a great deal of attention (in some form or another) in any homiletics text that wrestles with the theology of preaching or the mission of the church. Such questions explore the dialectic relationship between pastoral preaching and prophetic preaching. Our questions, however, are not always so clear to us today. If the past ten years since the 9/11 terror have not revealed the complex claims to the “proper place” of faith claims upon public life and political policy, we certainly have considerable difficulty delineating the line of the public place of faith in the current political climate gearing up to the 2012 presidential campaign. It is often difficult to distinguish between political speech and preaching forays into public claims of faithfulness. Faithfulness to religious tradition and faithfulness to national identity become blurred in the rancor of privilege and power holders. The conflicts become even more difficult to decipher when we consider the proper place of the marginalized voices of many black churches. The presidential campaign of 2008 in the United States exposed the conflicts dramatically when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached God’s disfavor for our nation or culture riddled with terroristic economic and political dominance of others within and without our borders. Can race or poverty or challenge to “faithful” dominance “by any means necessary” enter into the White House or—dare we say—“big house”? The fear of our culture or nation over any intended critical challenge to perceived divine favor continues to be stunning, though not surprising. What then is the proper place of prophetic black voices? If the Black Church has had such a historical role in our culture and nation, what then is the proper place of black preaching or the Black Church? This analysis attempts to explore much of black preaching that engages social crises locally and globally today; whether the pastoral-prophetic dialectic functions well in black preaching is one of my chief concerns. However, the need to sustain this dialectic is not a new argument. The recent crises facing black churches in such tragedies as Hurricane Katrina, the terrorism of 9/11, and our own terrorism of “preemptive” war expose deep theological problems in our preaching. This, therefore, challenges black churches to reflect further on the pastoral-prophetic dialectic for congregational life and the mission of the Black Church. The dialectic may be insufficient in and of itself to hold together the necessary balance or tension. Not only do we seek to hold to our political culture and principles in the separation of church and state, we also separate our faith principles between the proper places of pastoral and prophetic ministries, or so we think! Is there a priestly office to the church in society that wrestles with the pastoral and prophetic tension in understanding congregational faith identity, mission, and the practices of black churches that live-in-between the sacred and profane worlds, between spiritual formation 21
Reflections and liberations ethics, between worship and social transformation, between the places of parish and public theology? For historical black preaching traditions, even those debated between otherworldly and this-worldly preaching, the encounter between spiritual formation (or soul survival) and social crises (or liberation) is difficult to isolate because preachers often transport theological claims uncritically. This phenomenon remains prevalent today. We attempt to nurture faithful practices between spiritual discipleship and social engagement across forms of moral values, civil rights, public policy, economics, and global exigencies. In recent years we have struggled in sermons to address events like Hurricane Katrina, the unrelenting Middle East conflicts involving both desperate acts of violence and terrorism sponsored by both small cells and nation states, and the acts of terrorism in America with our own desperate deployment of terror in preemptive war. Occasions for the encounter of preaching to wrestle with the conflict between spiritual formation and social agency are not limited to these horrific events. Crises seldom emerge as a singular event. In fact, crises are hardly ever treated adequately as individual episodes. Political and economic systems affect and yet also respond to climates of moral values. The life of the church lives within such climates. How we clothe ourselves or move through life is not simply determined by the daily climate, but also by the theological worldviews, faith identities, and missions of the church. For the lives of hopeful witness within the church, preaching functions as a primary arbiter of the overwhelming threats upon personhood, personal thriving, and social engagement. We hear sermons formed directly from theologies of election, of triumphalism, of holding out for a raptured rescue, and even of conquest. Still, we also hear sermons formed in theologies of resistance, of engagement, of transformation, and even of reconciliation. What makes the diagnosis of our preaching difficult is that these strands are often confused in our sermons; we make incongruous claims upon God and divine sanction. A tragic irony emerges when we take a close look at the theological worldviews undergirding espoused moral values in lives of faith and in public life. When black preaching enjoins divine judgment in wrestling with tragedies or suffering, or perceives illness as divine judgment on supposed sin, or charges servitude and poverty as evidence of unfaithfulness or the “wrong” faith, then black preaching employs the same ideological and theological worldviews that have historically defined the violent domination and marginalization of African-American and African peoples. It is agonizing to decipher in that the judgment is directed both outwardly and inwardly. Whether by acts of nature or human agency, we preach the righteousness of violent reprisal as God’s judgment upon our own nation’s immoral culture. And yet, we also claim the call of election as the predominant Christian nation with the blessed inheritance and authority to represent or exact God’s judgment globally. Lest we believe such sermons are limited to the occasional episodes of national crisis, we find the same kind of theology and ideology in those sermons against homosexuality or sustaining gender subjugation. We select disparate methods of interpreting scripture and employ biblical authority to fit our ideology and theo22
Preaching Out of Place
logical presuppositions of empowered privilege. And we end up employing historical and ideological arguments used for racial oppression, now directing them for our own dominance of others in forms of exclusion and violence. In our current international, political climate we make similar charges when black churches join privileged power in the divine charges of faith to rid ourselves of the unfaithful other. We confuse the very real dilemmas of how to resist evil and witness to divine revelation, never far from the conquest of triumphant divine favor, where spiritual or moral piety is never far from political determinism. Privilege seeks to preserve its predominance, and apparently so does the mitigated privilege afforded black churches or black life. Such sermons delineate the evidence of divine sanction in mitigated privilege without a critical evaluation of human systems and relationships. The prosperity gospel preaches that privilege is the gift God grants, even intends, when grace and faith come together. Some black preachers preaching prosperity do not necessarily lack important social ministries seeking to alleviate suffering. Somehow, though, an uncritical attribution occurs that by implication ascribes suffering or hardship to a lack of faithfulness or a lack of the right faith. The result is that the preponderance of prophetic preaching determines that people need only to be saved from their sins in order to find liberation from their course of suffering. Of course, Christian theology has long wrestled with the notion of sin, with its effect upon human history, and with our own immediate frustrations over how we contribute to our own experiences of despair. Preaching salvation is, of course, central to the gospel message. However, when “preaching from the margins” roots our liberation in a distorted divine election beyond humanity’s shared created-ness and God’s commitment to the oppressed of humanity, we tragically enlist with the tyrannical pulpits of dominant society. The dynamics of election, privilege, power, faith, God’s faithfulness, and God’s desire to bless us converge in purported divine callings of faith identity and mission. These dynamics in our preaching are dramatically exposed in the Middle East crises of the American war upon Iraq and in the complex warring exchange between Israel and the Palestinian people. Despite the exposure, we have become unrestrained in various responses to violent tragedies. The sacred scriptures of all the three warring world religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—contain problematic interpretations of God’s self-revelation and violent intervention in human history, as well as promises of violent vindication in an eschatological future. In each of these faith traditions the divine sanction of human violence flies in the face of the very character of God as love, mercy, grace, and reconciliation. For example, the Israelite call to arms to dispossess the Canaanites, the Christian claims of a future secured with divine war, and Islamic divine and moral justification of violence in defending the purity of faith all conflate in common ideological and theological worldviews of divine election and liberation, held together by divine sanction of dominance and exoneration, if not justification of violent reprisal itself. What has happened in black preaching when it enjoins our experiences of even mitigated liberation with the voices of divinely sanctioned human domination? Like many of the white mainline churches, black churches have toyed with 23
Reflections tragic interpretations of catastrophe and have chronically given divine sanction to the ideology of elected domination. I believe two important factors warrant our exploration here. First, our preaching demonstrates that we may have replicated the tragic manipulation of God’s faithfulness or commitment to the oppressed of humanity into an ontological claim that divine election no longer simply sanctions our liberation; rather, it seeks to justify a misguided telos to join the ranks of domination. And second, when preaching responds to suffering, or simply to difference, with claims of divine sanctions or moral favor, if not violent reprisal, then there has been a tragic breakdown between pastoral theology and prophetic consciousness in preaching. A reconsideration of the “proper place” of black preaching and the Black Church in a global political economy could offer a forum to transform our preaching within a pastoral-prophetic dialectic—or in the terms of social justice, a reconciliation-liberation dialectic that involves spiritual formation, faith identity, and the mission of the church in public theology and even public policy. This essay is an excerpt of a lecture given during the Gardner C. Taylor Lectures for the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke University Divinity School, September 27-28, 2011; used with permission.
The Stewardship of Place G. Archer Frierson
ecently, I was asked to reflect on the idea of philanthropy, and what it means to me and my family. The classical definition of “philanthropy,” of course, at least according to Webster’s, is theoretically, “goodwill to our fellow man,” or in action, “efforts to promote human welfare.” Simple enough? Maybe not. To me, the idea of philanthropy is rooted in the idea of “stewardship,” that is, “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” In other words, I think philanthropy is a part of stewardship: a key ingredient of a broader idea. I think an attitude or—better yet—a lifestyle of stewardship leads to philanthropy. And when I think of the church, and of Austin Seminary as an institution, I think of stewardship. And so, dodging the question put to me, I want to talk about stewardship for a bit. The idea of stewardship was instilled in my three younger brothers and me at an early age, but from a whole different angle than you might expect. I grew up and have lived my whole life on our family’s cotton farm in the Red River Valley, a few miles south of Shreveport, in northwest Louisiana. And on our farm, it was, and is, and as far as I know, will always be, all about the land. Not Frierson Farm, not Frierson Plantation, not Frierson Acres, or some other fancy name, but simply, “the place,” is what we’ve always called our land. Our family’s relationship with our land has always been at our collective core, as far back as I’m aware. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Frierson forebears farmed cotton in Berkeley County, South Carolina, near the little town of Monck’s Corner, northwest of Charleston. In the 1840’s, I’m told, things were not going well, and so our thread of the family, at least, having heard of the rich, alluvial
Archer Frierson has served on the Austin Seminary Board of Trustees since 2010. A graduate of Washington and Lee University, he also serves on the board of the Washington Society of that school and on the boards of Centenary College, the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation, and the Northwest Louisiana YMCA. He is a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church, Shreveport.
Reflections soil in the Brazos River Valley of Texas, picked up stakes and headed by wagon train for what I suppose they perceived as the “promised land.” And like many of the Israelites, eons before, they never made it. Instead, arriving in northwest Louisiana in the midst of winter, they found the creeks and bayous too full to traverse, stopped and wintered in the piney woods. They liked it, and so they stayed: roughly eighty years in DeSoto Parish, where the little town of Frierson was established, and now, for more than ninety years in the river bottom at the railroad depot stop of Gayles in Caddo Parish. Stewardship of the land, or more specifically, “the place,” is in our blood. Those who went before, be it in South Carolina or Louisiana, instilled in each succeeding generation the notion of stewarding the land: of tilling the soil, of planting the seeds, of tending the crops, and of harvesting the yield, for their own welfare surely, but also for future generations. And each generation did its best to nurture what was entrusted to its care: the land, “the place,” certainly for their sake, but also for the sake of the future, for those to come. And now my brothers and I steward the land. It’s our turn; it’s on our watch. The idea—no—the obligation to be good stewards of the family’s land gradually grew into an interest, over the years, of helping to steward other places, specifically, the places where the family worshipped. In the 19th century, that place was Good Hope Presbyterian Church, established by Friersons and other Presbyterian pioneers in DeSoto Parish. In the 20th century, under the leadership of my greatgrandfather, L.S. Frierson, and my grandfather, G.A. Frierson, that place became First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, established in 1845. And gradually, over time, the notion of family stewardship spread to other worthy causes in the local community, and beyond. And then things changed, not in an earth-shattering way, but in a remarkable way, at least for the Frierson family. Someone called in the early 1970s and asked my late father, Clarence Frierson, to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and he accepted. For more than twentyfive years, Daddy served on the board, and his and Mama’s recognition and appreciation of stewardship, and of philanthropy, blossomed and broadened and grew and flourished. To this day, my mother almost waxes poetic over the acquaintances she and my father made at Austin, and about how many relationships with members of the administration, staff, faculty, and student body grew into deep, life-long friendships that enriched their lives, (and I bet enriched the lives of their friends, as well!) Just to name a few, Jack and Virginia Stotts, John and Carole Alsup, and Bob and Fran Shelton became familiar names in the Frierson household as my brothers and I were growing up. My parents had a love affair with Austin Seminary. That love was due, in large part, not only to their belief in the ministry and mission of the Seminary, but primarily because of their deep affinity and respect for the people of the Seminary. And they passed down that high regard of this place to their boys, my brothers and me. In fact, not more than a year before he died, long after he had retired from the board, my father took the four of us on a field trip to Austin Seminary, so he could 26
Preaching Out of Place
show it off to us! In my estimation, my parents were devoted to the Seminary, to this “place,” in a way unmatched by any other affinity of an institution they had, save our home church, First Presbyterian, Shreveport. Why were my parents so devoted to Austin Seminary? I think it was because they felt they had something worthwhile to which they could give of themselves. I think it was because they found an opportunity to be able to respond, in a concrete way, to the blessings that had been showered down on them. But perhaps more significantly, I think it was because a “place,” another place, needing good and faithful stewards, found them! May I suggest to you that what happened to my parents, Betty and Clarence Frierson, may happen, is happening, and might already have happened to many of us? And may I also suggest to you what I think motivated Mama and Daddy to contribute a big part of their lives to Austin Seminary? Listen with me to these familiar passages: Isaiah 43: 1-5a “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you, because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.’” Jeremiah 29: 11 “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Hebrews 12: 25a & 28a “See that you do not refuse the One who is speaking … (and) let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken …” I don’t know for sure, but that sounds like awful good news to me. It sounds like the Gospel. And the best part is that it is God’s gift to us. It is his gift of grace to us. It is God’s initiative of love toward us. But the question is, What are we to make of it? What are we to do about it? In his book, Ambushed by Grace, Tom Currie suggests that the single most difficult task of Christians who take their faith seriously may simply be receiving the gift of God’s grace. Currie prays, “What are we to make of a gospel that is a gift, O Lord? A project we could understand, a duty we could perform, but a gift? A gift we can only receive. So open up our clenched fists and make of them receiving hands, ready to grasp the gift put in our midst in Jesus Christ our Lord.”1 So, how can we receive the gift? At our worst, we simply choose not to; we decline the offer, we reject the gift outright, and go on living our little lives. And at our best, for the life of us, try as we might, we stumble again and again, for we have neither the wit, nor the wisdom, nor the will, to receive the gift. So what do we do? Maybe nothing. But maybe, even if we cannot receive the gift in the manner in which it is in27
Reflections tended, we can respond in a small way. Maybe, even if we can’t receive the gift, we can give, too. Maybe we can find somewhere, a “place” that needs good stewards. Maybe we can find a place where we can respond to the gift of God’s grace. Or, better yet, maybe a place will find us. NOTE 1 Thomas W. Currie III, Ambushed by Grace: the Virtues of a Useless Faith (Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick, 1993), 69.
Preaching Out of Place Continued from page 11 37 Hunsberger, 108. 38 Ibid, 109. 39 Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 21. 40 Edward Farley, Practicing the Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 84. 41 Clayton J. Schmit, Sent and Gathered: A Worship Manual for the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 44. 42 Schmit, 44.
Pastors’ Panel We asked religious leaders to reflect on the relationship between preaching, place, and context. Here is what they told us.
How does your geographical context have an impact on your preaching? Msgr. Arturo J. Bañuelas, Pastor, St. Pius X Parish, El Paso, Texas Tremendously. I live on the U.S.-Mexico border with its unique blessings and challenges. This brings a certain prophetic dimension to preaching. El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation and is located next to one of the most dangerous cities in the world because of the drug violence that impacts us daily. The border is the world stage for globalization markets and national security programs. We live in an area greatly affected by the gap between the rich and the poor, the pro/anti immigrant populations, and the challenges of advocating for ecological justice. More than anything, the border is a place where our human interconnectedness is celebrated by our common efforts to build cultural bridges and a place where our connectedness is scarred by racism. Through it all God is revealing a new movement of the Spirit in which hope impels us to build a better future. Fear is not an option. Rev. Dr. Stephen Yates (DMin’11), Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Destin, Florida First Presbyterian Church’s context in Destin, Florida, plays quite a significant role in how I preach—perhaps too much of one. A congregation started by the matriarchs and patriarchs of Destin, which sits on the Gulf Coast between Pensacola and Panama City, the church is deeply rooted in the past. Composed of mostly elderly people, the congregation is also facing the need to be “born again” since it is at the end of its current congregational life cycle. Because of that, I find my preaching tends to focus on the future and those biblical passages that stress how God is always creating and recreating in the world. Isaiah 65:17-25 and Ezekiel 37:1-14 being just two quick and well known examples. That said, and perhaps to my detriment, I tend to avoid making explicit connections between such passages and the church, choosing instead to trust that the implications are naturally being fleshed out by the congregation. Rev. Kathleen T. Hignight (MDiv’95), Benton, Louisiana The geographical context of the Deep South does have an impact on my preaching. It is not so much what I preach that is impacted, but more likely how I preach it. The Deep South still has some deep prejudices running through its rich culture and a great deal of cultural pride. You can preach about loving your neighbor, no matter who your neighbor is, but if you don’t approach it in the right way, there 29
Pastors’ Panel is not going to be much loving going on. This is why I think it is really important to build long-term relationships with these mostly small, Southern, rural churches. Allow them to learn to trust you. Then when you ask them to stretch out a hand and love their neighbor they are much more likely to do it. When you stand up in the pulpit on day one and start making demands about people and their moral compasses, you might as well keep your bags packed up and in the car. How often do you preach in places other that your regular congregation? What challenges have you experienced preaching in those places? Stephen Yates Amazingly, over the last nine years, there has been only one occasion when I have preached to a congregation different from my current one. It was for a chapel service at Austin Seminary during a DMin term several years ago. While I could talk about that experience, I prefer to mention another opportunity being developed that might allow me to preach to a very different kind of congregation in the near future. The Presbytery of Florida, of which I am member, currently has a sister relationship with the Yeosu Presbytery in South Korea. Since a delegation from the Yeosu Presbytery recently visited us, discussions are now underway for us to visit them sometime in the spring of 2012. If all the pieces of the puzzle should come together, I have been asked to preach in a Korean church as a member of the delegation from our presbytery. Now that will be a very different congregation from the one I am used to and have preached in for more than nine years! Kathleen Hignight I left my “regular” congregation about a year ago after fifteen years of service. It was time to move on and allow them some fresh blood. Since my husband is also a minister who was not quite ready to move on, I have been working in the secular world for the last year. But, I preach at churches nearly every Sunday supplying for absent pastors, etc. I think you have to access the situation in every congregation you enter. Each one is different in the South and in other places as well. Again, I find moving people to a full understanding of the gospel and who Jesus is has to be a time honored process, so, of course, a one-Sunday preaching opportunity does not always give you time or space to get your point across. I try to arrive early enough to just sit in a church and soak up the surroundings. I have been amazed at how accurate my guesses are as to what kind of situation I am dealing with. Churches literally have personalities and my experience is you have to pay attention to that. Tread lightly at first, learn the personality of the church, and then bring the gospel to them in a way that they can relate to without feeling “preached at.” Arturo Bañuelas Regularly I am invited to preach at border rallies, immigration reform rallies, marches, and similar events. This is very challenging because these large crowds are usually persons who are not regularly associated with a parish or congregation. To be able to preach credibly you need to take a stand on the side of justice and in 30
Pastors’ Panel solidarity with those who struggle daily to survive. I have noticed that the tone in this type of preaching is more motivational and inspiring to get the assembly more committed to the cause from the perspective of the gospels. Do you have a favorite place to preach? Why? Kathleen Hignight Yes. I was given the opportunity to speak at an African-American Presbyterian church in my area a few years ago. I will never forget the powerful presence of God in that experience. When the heads start to nod up and down and the “amens” start to ring out, you begin to realize that these people are REALLY listening to you. You start to see the heavy responsibility you have as the preacher to speak the Gospel in complete truth. The culture of the people demands the truth of the Gospel and they respond to it in a powerful way. I have never felt as empowered as a preacher, nor have I ever felt a room so full of grace as I did in that place at that time. Arturo Bañuelas My parish is my favorite place to preach because the community challenges me to keep growing spiritually, to keep the fire and passion of my ministry alive, to grow in my love of Christ and be able to proclaim it with conviction and passion. Stephen Yates While I don’t have a favorite place to preach, I will confess in my hubris that I have always relished the thought of preaching from one of those really high-hung Scottish pulpits that have sadly gone out of vogue. While I can easily appreciate the reasons such pulpits are no longer considered good form, part of me also laments their demise. After all, such pulpits, I think, tend to provide a natural degree of gravitas to preaching. And in an age when sermons have been largely turned into group therapy sessions so that congregations can learn how to live well-adjusted lives above all else, maybe a return to high-hung pulpits would not be such a bad thing. That is assuming, of course, that such a move would also lead to sermons that are once again about God’s unfolding kingdom and the need for us to serve as its ambassadors. Then again, maybe I’m just fooling myself for the sake of wanting to show off during a sermon as I loom in the air over a group of parishioners!
Coming in the Spring 2012 issue:
“Schism in the Reformed Tradition” 31
Required Reading Books recommended by Austin Seminary faculty God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says, Michael Coogan. New York: Twelve, 2010. 259 pages, $24.99. Reviewed by Suzie Park, assistant professor of Old Testament, Austin Seminary.
that separates the modern reader from the ancient world of the Bible. The sheer expansiveness of this divide is made evident in Coogan’s subsequent chapters, which examines biblical positions on topics related to sexuality and gender such as divorce, virginity, and marriage. For example, in the Bible, marriages were typically arranged and viewed as a contract legitimating the transfer of the ownership of a woman from the father to the husbandto-be. Polygamy was not only permitted but practiced by many of the Bible’s great heroes such as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Indeed, Solomon must have been a busy man with 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3). Prostitution was permitted and, at points, even lauded with certain members of the oldest profession, namely Tamar and Ruth, placed in the revered descent lines of King David and King Solomon. Even when a certain biblical idea seems familiar and modern, Coogan argues that the reasoning underlying it might be at variance with contemporary norms. For example, the Bible forbids adultery and rape, but not because it was immoral or violent per se. Rather, both acts involved a loss of the value of the property (i.e. the woman) for the husband or father. Similarly, while incest was not viewed upon favorably, the conception of incest differed, with cross-cousin marriages and half-sister or half-brother relationships deemed acceptable, or even preferable. Because such ideas about sexuality in the Bible so vastly differ from modern notions, Coogan finds that we need to take special care not to imbue the ancient text with our own contemporary assumptions and prejudices. Indeed, in a particularly important chapter on samesex relationships, Coogan argues that both liberal and conservative readers, at times, cherry pick and misinterpret the biblical text to support their own religious and political agendas. According
arlier this year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) amended its constitution to allow for the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians. Some were delighted, others outraged, with both groups looking to the Bible for insight and support. It was only the latest round in an argument that has been fought for millennia—what should we or shouldn’t we do in the bedroom? Michael Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says tries to tackle this thorny question. In clear, accessible prose, Coogan describes “what the Bible really says” about “sexual morality and about the roles of men and women” (xvi). Along the way, he finds that things are never as clear-cut as they seem, and his work will no doubt confound both conservative and liberal alike. Coogan begins his book by delineating the numerous terms and euphemisms that denote sexual behavior in the Bible. While these kinds of introductory chapters on terminology tend to be dry and dense, Coogan’s chapter manages to be both vibrant and illuminating. The Bible, it turns out, is flush with terms and references to sex. To name but a few—hands, knees, feet, flesh, to know, to lie with, to play—all form part of the Hebrew sexual vocabulary. This is no mere trivia, either. As a result of an awareness of the innuendo, we can decode many passages in the Bible that would otherwise be incomprehensible. Suddenly questions such as—Why did Ruth uncover Boaz’ feet during the night—come into sharper focus. The need for a detailed explanation of euphemisms and terminology attests to the wide cultural and historical gulf
Required Reading to Coogan, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, a tale frequently used by conservative interpreters as advocating an anti-gay stance in the Bible, is, at the end, really about hospitality, not homosexuality. Likewise, Coogan finds little biblical support that David and Jonathan were more than just friends, as some more liberal readers have argued. Hence, Coogan’s work shows that the Bible is not really as monolithic as we, at times, think it is or want it to be. As a result, our tendency is to misread the text and, at times, to manipulate these misunderstandings so as to force the text to say what we want it to say. Coogan’s book thus performs an important function by reminding us that knowledge of the historical and cultural contexts of the Bible is absolutely necessary if we hope to be responsible readers. And in so doing, his book warns us how easily our fallacies and prejudices can drown out the small, still voice that speaks out from the biblical text.
as we have taught them to think about it, Dean says. As something nice to have, oriented in relation to an ultra-nice God who doesn’t interfere much, but might help them out when the going gets tough. We have invited them into a faith some have labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (M.T.D.): a faith that serves as a kind of “balm” that soothes us as we move through a week, a month, a year, a life. The problem with “M.T.D.,” according to Dean, is that it does not support “consequential” faith. Consequential faith is faith that is “born out of a desire to love God and neighbor” and is in this sense “missional.” Those with consequential faith “know that the family stories the church tells … include them.” It both spawns and is fed by “generative” faith practices that reach out to the world.” Those who have consequential faith, Dean argues, are compelled to figure out ways to talk about it. Our reaction to this might be: “Talk about it? But—isn’t that going a bit too far?” If this is our reaction, Dean has already proven her point. If we adults will not commit to developing consequential faith, why would our teenagers do so? Dean suggests we adults are actually less interested in following Christ out into the world than we are in finding ways to look at ourselves with “benign positive regard.” She charges us to recommit ourselves to being Christ’s disciples. “Consequential faith,” Dean insists, takes effort and attention. In Part III of her book, Dean offers rich and concrete suggestions for how we who would volunteer for anything but mentoring youth in the faith might go about ourselves “cultivating consequential faith.” She discusses three spiritual “arts” we need to reclaim, as Christian believers: the art of translation (ch. 6), the art of testimony (ch. 7), and the art of detachment (ch. 8). “A missional imagination requires the indigenizing practice of translating doctrine and rituals into vibrant public witness,” she argues. Reflection on doctrine that takes place “behind the wall” of cultural pressure to be acceptable “refuses to foreclose on God’s creativity,
Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Kenda Creasy Dean. Oxdford, 2010. 264 pages, $24.95. Reviewed by Cynthia Rigby, The W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Seminary.
enda Dean nails it in this book. She doesn’t blame youth for refusing to make commitments. She doesn’t blame millenials for expecting to be affirmed, regardless of the quality of their contribution. She doesn’t blame American culture for robbing us of morals, soccer leagues for scheduling games on Sunday mornings, or social media for forcing us to forget why life is more meaningful when we sing and break bread together. Dean blames us. She blames we who are leaders in the Christian church for teaching a religion that is “nice,” but not transformative. Teenagers are thinking about what it means to have faith exactly
Continued on page 36
El Pequeño Santuario (The Little Sanctuary) Gregory Cuéllar
ituated in the north Oak Cliff area of South Dallas, El Pequeño Santuario (the Little Sanctuary) is a place local Latina/o immigrant families have consecrated for worship, prayer, and Bible study. This one-bedroom apartment/chapel takes its name from Ezekiel 11:16, which I translate as follows: “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I put them far away among the nations, and though I dispersed them among the territories, I will be to them as a little sanctuary [un prequeño santuario, RSV] in the territories where they have gone.’” From 2010 to 2011, El Pequeño Santuario was my parish community. It was here that my “sure results” of theory collapsed under the sobering weight of real people living hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, and undocumented (cf. Matthew 25:31-39). The next several lines are gleanings from my days as pastor of El Pequeño Santuario. Every Sunday afternoon, children gathered in this sacred place to hear a Bible story and create a theme-related craft. For a few hours each week, they were able to shelter themselves from the random drive-by shootings, broken beer glass, and unrelenting drug traffic. Most of the adults who came to El Pequeño Santuario were single working Latina immigrant mothers, with their only time off being Sunday afternoons. Although worn and tired, they entered eager to sing from the selection of Baptist Spanish hymns. After worship, community needs were voiced and
Gregory Cuéllar will become assistant professor of Old Testament at Aus-
tin Seminary in January 2012. He is the author of Voices in Marginality: Exile and Return in Second Isaiah 40-55 and the Mexican Immigrant Experience (Peter Lang, 2008) and Archival Criticism: The Interrogation of Contexts and Texts in Early Modern Biblical Criticism (Brill, forthcoming). He earned an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the PhD from Brite Divinity School.
Cuéllar written down in a community prayer list. After several minutes of prayer, I taught an adult Bible study, which often focused on the concerns and complexities of Latina/o immigrant life. Following community prayer, apartment/chapel leaders, many of whom were immigrants, provided a light healthy snack for both the children and adults. With snacks in hand, announcements were made on the week’s social and religious activities at the apartment/chapel. Our basic activities included survival—English classes on Mondays, Bible devotionals/prayer on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a women’s Bible study on Thursdays. Our partnership with the apartment complex owner afforded us free utilities and free rent for El Pequeño Santuario. Snacks, furniture, and craft supplies were donated by a local non-denominational African American church and an AngloAmerican Baptist church. On some occasions, my wife and I recovered discarded inventory from various dollar stores to supplement our craft supply (literally discarded goods serving a discarded community). Indeed, the complex issues faced by this particular immigrant community demanded an ample supply of materials for our daily cultural and religious activities at the Little Sanctuary. Organically, El Pequeno Santuario developed services and activities that were informed mostly by what the residents themselves perceived as important (i.e. unemployment, health and legal issues). For many local immigrant families overwhelmed by separation anxiety, marginalization, and poverty, El Pequeño Santuario is, as its name indicates, a place of refuge. Unlike the Judeans’ exile, the forces creating exile for many Latina/o immigrant families are the result not of their sins but of the power structures undergirding the practice of hyper-consumerism and the demand for low-wage jobs. Only as a last resort do they enter the fast moving currents of a global economy and consumable goods (i.e. discarded goods), hoping their flow is safely upward and across to the United States. Like disposable goods, many of them are worked to the point of exhaustion in the most unattractive and undesirable low-wage jobs. Depleted daily of their physical strength, their souls and minds seek a place of refuge and comfort. Unfortunately, many of the neighborhood jornaleros (day workers) turn to alcohol and illicit drugs to escape the realities of oppression, marginalization, and solitude. For others living in north Oak Cliff, refuge is offered in sacred spaces like El Pequeño Santuario, wherein the prophetic words “I will be to them as a little sanctuary in the territories where they have gone” are genuinely experienced. Such was the experience of José S. of El Salvador. One particular Sunday, José came early to El Pequeño Santuario to help set up chairs for our regular evening worship service. As usual, he came wearing his number 31 Dallas Cowboy football jersey and a black duffle bag over his shoulder. Up until this particular Sunday, José had never disclosed the contents of his black bag. With the chairs arranged, José asked to speak with me in the back classroom. He zipped open the bag and carefully took out a handful of loose papers. As he explained, each large and small piece of paper told the story of his journey into exile. They documented the persistent death threats he and his mother received from a local gang if they did not comply with 35
Christianity and Culture the gang’s demands for money. Amid neoliberal economic policies, inhumane work conditions, impoverished farmers, and high-unemployment, many Salvadorian urban youth either migrate to the North or join a gang. The most vulnerable to gang crime are poor rural farmers like José, who, as he explained, was forced to leave his mother and migrate to the United States. With years hiding from police, working in the underground, and sending checks back home, José S. came to the Little Sanctuary to find refuge for his story of exile. The re-collection, reconstruction, and re-telling of his passage from El Salvador to South Dallas was integral to José’s place of sanctuary. Although interpreted by many as an invalid story, José’s need to tell his story also represented a powerful form of resistance. The burden of his untold story of exile pressed on his shoulders each time he strapped on his black bag. Continually denied an audience, he was finally heard in the place where God was “to them as a little sanctuary [un prequeño santuario, RSV] in the territories where they have gone.” As I move forward in theological education, it is crucial that stories of the ‘Other’ find a place of refuge in my teaching. By listening to the non-privileged, invalid, unofficial stories of suffering, despair, exploitation, and oppression, the theoretical comes to terms with the relevant or, in the words of Ezekiel 12:16, the theoretical becomes a little sanctuary “in the territories where they have gone.”
we could articulate exactly why it is that we need a God who is around all the time. Perhaps we should revisit what it means to be sinners, discussing—concretely—what it is that God saves us from and for. At a time when our global culture represents power almost solely in terms of zero-sum quantities, it might also help us to reflect, again, on how the sovereign God’s power works differently. God’s power includes us. When God works providentially in relation to our lives, then, we are not replaced as actors. Rather, a place is made for us; a place is always there for us; our lives are returned to us again and again—by the grace of God—even when we have acted wrongly or not done what we should have. I am grateful to Professor Dean not only for offering a profound analysis of the faith of our teenagers, but also for challenging the church at large. I commend her book to all who are willing to work to model consequential faith; to all who are willing to re-commit themselves to living their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. If we are to have a church that is more than “almost” Christian, Dean is right that this is exactly what we need to do.
Continued from page 33 and in fact supplies young people with the imaginative tools necessary” for articulating how “Jesus Christ makes a difference.” These include, Dean reminds us, “metaphors and poetry, stories and songs.” Out of the depths of this theological reflection, according to Dean, we are called to bear witness (ch. 7). Following the lead of homiletician Anna Carter Florence, Dean debunks the idea that offering testimony means coming across as a pious know-it-all. Rather, to testify to why our faith matters to us is “to tell the story as best we can.” Serious consideration of what we believe, Dean observes, will inevitably de-center us, precipitating change or—classically speaking—“metanoia” (ch. 8). The point of such contemplation is that we might “shake loose old assumptions” and be open to “new possibilities … from which we can reconsider God’s action in the world and in us.” Dean provokes me to ponder what we can do to draw teenagers away from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and to the God who is with us always. Perhaps it would help if
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Board of Trustees Cassandra C. Carr, Chair Karen C. Anderson Thomas L. Are Jr. Claudia B. Carroll Elizabeth Christian Joseph J. Clifford James G. Cooper Marvin L. Cooper James B. Crawley Consuelo Donahue (MDiv’96) Jackson Farrow Jr. Elizabeth Blanton Flowers G. Archer Frierson Richard D. Gillham Walter Harris Jr. Roy M. Kim James H. Lee (MDiv’00) Michael L. Lindvall
Catherine O. Lowry Blair R. Monie Lyndon L. Olson Jr. B. W. Payne David Peeples Jeffrey Kyle Richard Cynthia L. Rigby Teresa Chávez Sauceda (MDiv’88) James C. Shaw Anne Vickery Stevenson Lita Simpson Karl Brian Travis John L. Van Osdall Sallie Sampsell Watson (MDiv’87) Carlton Wilde Jr. Elizabeth Currie Williams
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