Tag Archives: Worldview

Words Destroy or Hallow

“Let’s put him on blast!” I hadn’t heard the phrase before, but I instantly knew what it meant: whatever the business’s misstep had been, the call was sent out to grab it by its social media handles and tear it down. A bit of photographic evidence, a globally-audible, locally-tangible siren, and the business was tagged: the company was now “it”—a toxic bit of business that infected whatever and whoever it touched. So, tear it down and stay away.  This doesn’t just happen with businesses. People get blasted, too. People scrub their Instagram and Twitter pasts to wipe away any bit of (perceived) filth before their Facebook posts are pressure washed with the words of others.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas noted the power and danger of dirt. We fear the filthy; dirt threatens disintegration. The best way to handle such dirty danger, whether located in the business misstep or social media slip up or political pariah, is to “blast” it: to use words to show the other’s filth, to distance oneself from the defiled, and to wash up the mess—all with one sweet Tweet.

But public humiliation is not new. In the fifth century, Augustine warned of the risks of wicked words (Confessions I:29):

  • Watch out for hatred! We do more harm to ourselves by hating another than the other can do to us.
  • Watch out for hostility! Harbored hostility toward another harms the self, even if it isn’t acted upon.
  • Watch out for hubris! To pursue fame is to place oneself under a human judge and to perceive others as competitors.

Hatred, hostility, hubris: A deadly combination in a fifth century social spat where one was careful to pronounce every word correctly without care for the actual human being who happened to be the victim of their verbal evisceration. Canceling another with words isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon: the form of the public put-down has changed, but the feat remains en vogue. Neither have the effects changed. Words aimed to take down a livelihood or life do not simply impact their target. They also impact the speaker-typer-texter-poster. Like shrapnel flung back upon the grenade lobber, words of hostility, hatred, and hubris score the soul who would blast another from the silent side of a screen.

C.S. Lewis also warned of the effect of destructive words, the most powerful of which in his series The Chronicles of Narnia was called “the Deplorable Word.” The Word, uttered by the Empress Jadis to arrest the forces and very face of her sister as Jadis’ defeat loomed large, stopped all living things, including her own forces and subjects. Jadis had spoken the deplorable word to destroy everything but herself, preserving her own life until the time was right and she could be awakened. And while Jadis, the White Witch, isn’t quite human, her verbal blast poses a warning for every Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve. Jadis’ own world (and its flagship city of Charn) is over, but she has been let loose in the new world of Narnia, and Polly and Digory’s own world is not immune to the temptation that took her down:

“When you were last here,” said Aslan, “that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That world is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.”

“Yes, Aslan,” said both the children. But Polly added, “But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?”

“Not yet, Daughter of Eve,” he said. “Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware. That is the warning.” (Lewis, 1955/1980c, p. 164)

The Queen presents a warning for using our own deplorable words. Contrasted with the singing of Aslan that brings Narnia into being, Jadis’ deplorable word only arrests death; it does not bring new life. This is not a passing theme. Jadis’ words reduce things to dust. In Charn, Jadis reduces “high and heavy doors” to “a heap of dust” (p. 57). In London, she attempts to turn Digory’s Aunt Letty to “dust” just as she had the gates in Charn (p. 76), but when she realizes this power of “turning people into dust” has left her (p. 77), she settles for hurling Letty across the room. Finally, in London, Digory believes that Jadis has reduced several policemen to “little heaps of dust” (p. 79). Her words and actions are powerful, no doubt, but they are not creative. Her words result in death and destruction. Her words, at best, only arrest her own death.

Likewise, the White Witch’s leadership in Narnia was only possible to arrest spring. She does not bring joviality; she can only keep it out. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas says, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I’ve got in at last” (Lewis, 1950/1980a, p. 99). The Witch’s leadership is not fruitful because nothing grows in winter. While Charn had grown to become a great city under her ancestors, one assumes that the Witch’s leadership in Charn was likely similar to Narnia: it stunted growth and stifled life. In The Silver Chair, the owls say she “bound our land” (Lewis, 1953/1970, p. 52). In word and deed, the Witch cannot lead to anything of life; she cannot bring newness or construction. She can only preserve from death or bring to dust. Such is the life and soul of the one who would wield the deplorable word.

What might we glean from Augustine in the fifth century and from Lewis’ fiction? The justice-by-Tweet temptation is real, but yielding to that temptation is not for the one who would follow the Word made Flesh. For in the world of this Word – the only true world – we must foster, not hatred, hostility, and hubris, but instead, holiness. Within a sacramental worldview, every word is a kind of prayer. There is no word that is not overheard. God, the giver of words and the Word, is present. But the Word who allowed himself to be blasted, to be torn open as he was raised up, was deplored so that deplorable word users could become his preachers and prophets; so that words could be bound up in lives that do not simply arrest death in futility and bring pseudo-justice through rhetorical rage, but lead and love not with words of hubris, hostility, hatred, but of humility, peace, and mercy.


Augustine (1997). The Confessions (The Works of Saint Augustine I/1). Trans. Maria Boulding. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press.

Lewis, C. S. (1970). The Silver Chair. New York: Macmillan. (Original work published 1953).

Lewis, C. S. (1980a). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: Lions. (Original work published 1950).

Lewis, C. S. (1980b). The Horse and his Boy. London: Lions. (Original work published 1954).

Lewis, C. S. (1980c). The Magician’s Nephew. London: Lions. (Original work published 1955).

Lewis, C. S. (1980d). The Last Battle. London: Lions. (Original work published 1956).

Featured image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Omar Al-Rikabi ~ The Stuff of Life

Note from the Editor: Enjoy this…fascinating sermon from Rev. Omar Al-Rikabi.

In a first for Wesleyan Accent, we recommend listening for ages 13 and up or at parental discretion.






Tammie Grimm ~ Our Story Is for All Ages

Our weekend sermon comes from Dr. Tammie Grimm. Enjoy the text below or listen to the attached audio file.

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. ~ William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

This quote, from seventeenth-century Quaker William Penn, serves as an epigraph on the opening pages of the seventh installment to J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular magical wizarding series, Harry Potter. Like it or not, a major reverberating theme throughout Harry Potter books is death. For those of you unfamiliar with the details of the story, or who may be only vaguely aware that earlier this summer there was a midnight book release party to celebrate this fictional character’s birthday as well as the premier of a Harry Potter play in London, death plays an important role throughout the story.

tammie-grimmFrom the opening pages of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone for the original UK audience) to the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and even the latest installment, Harry’s journey is punctuated by death. He arrives to us on the pages of the first chapter as an infant, who has miraculously survived a killing curse that leaves him an orphan left to be raised in the home of his awful Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and with their equally horrible son, Harry’s cousin Dudley. Living in a muggle family (non-magical people) who disdain him and his magical kind, Harry never really fits into the Dursley’s family life and believes his parents died in a car crash. It is not until the fateful day when a letter arrives inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that the truth is gradually revealed. Both his parents were killed at the hands of the evil, self-proclaimed Lord Voldemort, who is his archnemesis. The whole series of seven books—even this latest theatrical installment, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in which Jo Rowling collaborates with playwrights—centers on Harry and his loyal friends, Ron and Hermione, continually thwarting the escalating attempts of Voldemort to completely vanquish Harry in Voldemort’s quest to “conquer death.”

For those of you wondering if the imaginary, magical world of Harry Potter is even appropriate to discuss in a Christian sanctuary, be not afraid! Though I have been known to dress up as Hogwarts’ transfiguration teacher Professor Minerva McGonagall—complete with witch’s hat, robe and wand for the last two book releases—I have not forsaken my Christianity to become a witch in any supernatural sense of the term. You see, the plain truth is that my Christian formation and worldview, my understanding of the Bible and theological education, both in the local congregation and in formal graduate studies helped me fall in love with Harry Potter in the first place. It actually was not until my final year of seminary, when the fourth book came out, that I became aware of who Harry Potter was and what a cultural sensation author Jo Rowling’s story had created. The copies I originally read were owned by a friend, my former Director of Student Life at Asbury Theological Seminary, who graciously allowed me to borrow them to enjoy as a reward for myself at the end of a busy semester. Over the years, it has been with other Christians who know the biblical story with whom I have enjoyed the most analytical and animated discussions about our hero, his friends and the significance of particular lines and descriptions Rowling crafts in the telling of her story.

From a literary point of view, Harry Potter is not allegory like Hinds’ Feet on High Places or Pilgrim’s Progress in which the story has hidden meaning. Nor is it like The Chronicles of Narnia which C.S. Lewis referred to as being a “supposal” as he was not out to write allegory. His intent was to “sneak past watchful dragons” by writing a story in which he “supposed” if there was a world like Narnia that needed redemption much like ours, what might it look like with talking animals and creatures of fairy tales and folklore? Those of you who read that series in a summer book club with me five or so years ago, know religious overtones were abundant and many of you were quickly able to recognize that the lordly lion Aslan was a Christ figure in the ways he overcame death, created Narnia and offered forgiveness.

But Harry Potter, despite being “the boy who lived,” is not really a Christ figure, or at least he is not in my opinion. snowy_owl_imageHe has neither power over death nor does he ever vanquish death himself. It is when he is invited to take his place at Hogwarts that he discovers his parents died trying to save him. And eventually, we readers learn along with Harry that it his mother’s choice to try to prevent Voldemort from killing her baby, by sacrificing herself, that cast a protective charm onto her child because her actions amount to the ultimate sacrifice of love that any person can offer another—to give their life for another. His mother’s action is a Christlike sacrifice to be sure, but its magical power in Harry’s life falls woefully short of the miraculous power that Christ affords to all humanity—for those who choose to accept his life-giving gift. Throughout his years as a Hogwarts’ student, Harry is time and again confronted with the forcefulness of death. He learns of its suddenness and savageness and discovers what it is to be horror-struck by its violence and viciousness. The loss of life is never easy for Harry, just as it is seldom easy for us mere mortals.

Yet, Rowling’s story points to life beyond death. In as early as her first book, Rowling comfortingly hints at and then progressively works (throughout the series and in this summer’s play) to assure Harry and all her readers, young and old alike, that death, in its simplest form, is merely the other side of the coin to life. At significant junctures along the way, she indicates that there is an appropriateness that all earthly life must come to an end. And, furthermore, she demonstrates that there is a tranquility associated with death that awaits those souls as they let go of their hold on this life. In counterpoint, to deny the reality of death we all face, Rowling indicates this is not necessarily so for the witches and wizards who choose to haunt the halls of Hogwarts. In a poignant scene at the end of the fifth book, after losing a cherished link to his parents, Harry questions a ghost named Nearly Headless Nick about death and the afterlife. In response, Nick says,

“I was afraid of death. I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t have…Well, that is neither here nor there…In fact, I am neither here nor there…” He gave a small sad chuckle, “I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead.”

It is Hogwarts’ beloved headmaster Albus Dumbledore who typically helps Harry grapple with our limited understanding about the afterlife. “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more,” or when he tells Harry that, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Yet this lesson of accepting the inevitability of death and the mystery of an afterlife is as hard for Harry to comprehend as it can be for any of us. Harry’s childhood was largely bereft of love. As Harry grapples with a profound sense of loss and bewilderment at all he has missed, Dumbledore tenderly prods him, “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great need?” This idea echoes the sentiments of William Penn’s passage that the living and the dead share a communion that persists even though persons exist on either side of the veil drawn between death and life.

As Harry matures into a young man, he is finally able to visit the grave of his parents. There, carved into their headstone, he reads the inscription, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” This verse is not some made up line of the author’s invention, but a direct quote of I Corinthians 15:26. As Harry struggles in the enormity of this moment to comprehend what it could mean, his friend Hermione gently helps him. “It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.” For the Christian reading, as Hermione speaks those words aloud, a verse further down in the same chapter of Corinthians comes to our hearts and minds. “Where, O death, is your victory, Where, O death, is your sting?” For those of us who struggle with death and loss it is the Gospel story—our story— that teaches us the truth of love, death and life. Life triumphs over death and death does not have the final say. Death for us is just a mere portal through which we will pass in order to fully celebrate eternal life with God.

Eternal life. It is the requirement to inherit eternal life that prompts the lawyer in the Gospel of Luke to inquire of Jesus. And the response is the repeated refrain of what we refer to as the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For those of us who are already fans of this series, the presence and power of love is something of which we are readily aware. We run out of fingers and toes to count up the references to love in the Harry Potter series. Lily Potter’s sacrifice for her son is borne of love, and her love magically protects Harry until he is seventeen and leaves his aunt and uncle’s home for the last time. Love is regularly commented upon by Dumbledore. Love, he admits to Harry, is what blinded him and caused him to be predictable and act “exactly as Voldemort expects…fools who love to act.” And love is an ever present thread in the friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione, and it is the driving motivation in this summer’s play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Our scripture lessons this morning help demonstrate that it is by knowing the biblical story that we can see more into Rowling’s story. The Greatest Commandment is not just about love—it is about loving holistically, loving things whole—integrating the very aspects of our being, heart, mind, soul and strength and becoming whole in who we are and who we love. To love God with our whole heart, whole mind, whole strength and whole soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves is to inherit eternal life.

What can stand in starker contrast of loving wholly than Voldemort’s hatred for humanity and his attempt to attain eternal life by splitting his soul into seven pieces? Voldemort is not just the nemesis—the evil villain of the story. For Christians reading the story, he is the very antithesis of how we are called to live. Our lives are to be made whole and patterned after the example of Christ, one whose life and the manner in which he lives is emblematic of the death he died on the cross of Calvary; whole, complete and filled with the love of God and love for neighbor.

For those of us who know the biblical story and read Harry Potter, countless situations and conversations become more significant and carry deeper meaning. One line of dialogue between Harry and Dumbledore illustrates this when Dumbledore tells Harry that the sad tragedy of Voldemort is that he “never paused to consider the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole.” (Another favorite Dumbledore quote is when he says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Indeed, I think a sermon on Wesleyan theology and the decision to accept God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working through us is hidden in that little nugget.)

Please do not misunderstand me, Rowling’s intent was not to write a Christian story, like that of Pilgrim’s Progress or The Chronicles of Narnia. Harry’s purpose for existence is not to introduce the reader to Christianity nor is his story written as a moral tale really intended to make people better Christians. Rowling makes it clear Hogwarts exists in the context of many faiths and is not a religious school. Yet, her Christian understanding is present. It is her intent to weave Christian parallels into her writing even as she incorporates ideas from world mythologies and folklore. Therefore, when we read Harry Potter with a Christian worldview and understanding of the biblical narrative we see so much more of the story than what Rowling has very ably written.

The story of Harry Potter from the first installment written 21 years ago to the play that debuted in London last summer is captivating literature. They are wonderful stories of a magical world that is fun to enter and to enjoy, whether you dress up for special events or wear a t-shirt proclaiming the name of the house into which you’d be best sorted or even if all Harry Potter remains for you is just a story that can be pulled off the bookshelf and returned to from time to time in order to escape the real world.

The wizarding world is not real. Storybooks are the stuff of fiction that enlivens our imagination and brings us pleasure. But it is the biblical story, or as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it, “The Story of God, the Story of Us” that enlivens our very lives! Our story is not simply the Gospel texts, but extends back into the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis and read with the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament to which faithful Christians testify. It is our story in which we read the truth of this world, indeed of all creation. And it is this truth that enlivens the Christian disciple’s imagination, heart, mind, soul and strength to allow us to see further into other storybooks that we love and cherish and read and re-read.

It is our story, the Gospel story, that is a story for all ages, young and old alike, yesterday, today and tomorrow, in this age and the next. This is the story that we are called to live day in and day out, 24-7, 52 weeks a year, all our life long. The real life of Christian disciples is a choice to live fully and completely, integrating all our love for God, heart, mind, soul and strength, sharing that love with our neighbor. It is the Christian’s choice to live into God’s calling to be wholly and entirely like Christ, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing in part, segregated, walled off or closed up and returned to a shelf when real life enters in. The Bible lives and breathes through us, loving us and others through life and in death. Strictly speaking, the biblical canon contains 66 books, but our Christian story is one that continues for eternity—long after we turn the final pages of a storybook and read the words, “The End.”

Listen to the audio file here: 

Aaron Perry ~ Do We Create Ourselves? What It Means to Be Human

The global West’s current fundamental battle of narratives is whether or not there is a context to being human. The Christian (and Jewish) narrative, of course, affirms a theological context: human beings are made in God’s image. The conflicting contemporary narrative, growing with uncritical acceptance, is the denial of God’s image—or any image. Instead, this competing narrative argues that human beings invent their own image. The only context that exists for being human is that there is no preceding context for being human.[1] Not biology, not theology, not genetics.

This open context is what sets humans apart: in order to be human, one must be able to invent what it means for one to be human. Even more, it seems: the greater the reinvention, the greater the humanity ascribed to the one doing the self-inventing. The lionization of euthanasia as the final courageous act; the mixture of sympathy with sadness for the one who chooses suicide; the trumpeting of Choice! in the abortion debate all affirm that one’s ability to invent his or her own life—what it means for them to be human—is of ultimate importance. Even if the choice being made is not widely understood, we see value in the person being able to decide for themselves. It also means that if one is very young, very old, or very sick—and hence without the power to (re-)make oneself, then their purchase on being human may not be worth as much as it once was (or would be, given time).

This is not a battle of narratives in which one may tell and let-tell. No, these are competing narratives. And they are at war. The activity of the hard left, meant to empower the person to act without restrictions, necessarily curtails all forms of authority—parental, governmental, ecclesial—so that the individual may flourish. This is a fundamentally atheistic theology: in order for there to be an authority in the individual to select their own human-making image, there must be the death of any and all outside authorities. Sartre’s legacy lives on!

With this in mind it is clear to see why, in the postmodern world, there is a rejection of, or at least decreasing interest in, the afterlife. Since death is the end of one’s human life, then it is the end of one’s ability to invent him- or herself. If there is life-after-death, then there is a greater context than simply one’s absolute autonomy. Note the dilemma: If there is an afterlife, then the self is not free to invent their own image (because death has not been the end of the self); if there is no afterlife, however, then the self may be free to invent the self, but without eternal meaning. In the face of this dilemma emerges the Facebook selfie with the caption, “YOLO!” (You Only Live Once).

The reinvention of human beings in light of sexuality provides the clearest example. Bondage. Submission. Power. Flesh. Sacrifice. The words are as powerful today as when John Wesley was using them with frequency, but for something radically different.

Wesley used the words to describe humanity’s fallen state, death in sin, and inability to love God and others. Wesley saw submission to God as the way to freedom from bondage, and the sacrifice of one’s fleshly desires as the way true power. Today, however, submission, bondage, and flesh do less to describe the spiritual life and more to describe one’s sexual desires. The stronger drive is not to rid oneself of inappropriate desires, but to find ways such desires can be fostered in secret and/or with willing participants.

We have modified the Kantian ethic that we should never treat people as means and always as ends, by adding a short rider: People should never be treated as means and always as ends, unless they desire to be a means. Human beings ought not to be means to ends unless they so choose. People can choose to be means if that is their way of being human. There is no moral guideline but the affirmation that one can choose their own context for being human so long as it does not impede another’s context—unless an outside impediment is the context they want. (Take a moment, listen to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” and you will hear what I mean. I’ve also written about it here.)

In the face of these developments, we can turn to Wesley. Specifically, we turn to Wesley’s critique of reason.[2] One of the critiques Wesley leveled against reason was that reason could not produce faith. By this critique Wesley meant that reason cannot produce a firm conviction in or understanding of the invisible world. He suggests his readers put reason to the test, urging them to try reason out for this purpose: see if reason can produce a conviction of the unseen!

Perhaps Mr. Wesley would urge a similar undertaking for those attempting to understand or invent a human being without theological context: see if human reason alone produces faith—a conviction or understanding that claims purchase for the whole of reality. In the face of this challenge to stretch the bounds of reason, though, Wesley offers this caution: “You may repress [your doubts] for a season. But how quickly they will rally again, and attack you with redoubled violence!”[3] No less stunning and incisive a critique today than it was in the 18th century, personal satisfaction took the brunt of Wesley’s challenge. He knew where to challenge the worldview of his contemporaries and we can alter it to our current context: Even if biology no longer presents a context for being human, one’s personal satisfaction, lived out over time, just might. How poignant, then, the observation of comedian Louis CK: “Everything’s amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”[4]

At this point let me offer a “perhaps.” Perhaps the reason for the current anthropological narrative equivalent to Burger King’s “Have it your way” campaign is the fact that it deals with suffering and with guilt. First, this narrative handily dismisses guilt. If one is empowered to choose for him- or herself then people with power may hold others less and less responsible for their own happiness. Every man and woman has become an island, equipped with internet, cable television, Facebook, and, just in case, Ashley Madison. On this island, no one else bears responsibility for another’s self-fulfillment. Where there is power for one’s own self-action, there is also absolution for any sin. I am not responsible to another if they have the power of self-creation. Any failure to thrive is the other’s burden. After all, they have the power to create their own context and I bear no responsibility to them. As such, when there is equal power, there is no such thing as guilt.

Second, perhaps this narrative is appealing because it helps human beings to understand suffering. Always a challenge in the Christian worldview of the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God, suffering remains a challenge in the atheistic worldview. But it is not a rational challenge. There is nothing incoherent about suffering in a world without God. Instead, it is an existential challenge. In this worldview, as we have seen, death is not necessarily our enemy but the confirmation that the self is one’s own standard of authority. But if death is not the enemy, then what is? Suffering. Death is not the final enemy to be overcome, as it was for Saint Paul; no death is the final and necessary validation for inventing one’s own context—and ending it as one pleases. In the unexpected reconciliation between human beings and death, suffering has emerged as the universal enemy. And so we must help people out of any and all forms of suffering because suffering threatens the human image, unless, of course, suffering is chosen to be the context one chooses. Suffering, unless chosen, must be avoided.

Yet here we see an opportunity for Christian witness. In a culture concerned with the pragmatics of its studies—how do I avoid suffering?—the articulation of a Christian anthropology—human beings are made in the image of God and happy is the one who fosters this image—will be ineffective in witness in the short term but effective in the long term as people see a Christian anthropology lived out. Remember that it is by witnessing the death of Jesus that the Roman centurion becomes the first human in Mark’s Gospel to confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Suffering is not to be avoided. No, it is a sign of endurance—and one of the greatest manifestations of the image of the long suffering God. Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan captures it precisely: “Suffering is not a failure or degradation of [a human]…; it is an endurance of affliction, and the good of [humanity] displayed through endurance, too.”[5]

Suffering is not the enemy, but it is a sign of an enemy. So, do Christians ignore and forget those in suffering? No, of course not. Christians recognize that some suffering simply cannot be alleviated without rejecting the theological context of being made in God’s image. As such, the rationale, and parameters, for the alleviation of suffering is different. Christians minister to the suffering one not because suffering threatens the identity which they would take for themselves, but because humans beings are made in God’s image and are never lost from this royal position outside their own permission. Where suffering can be alleviated without denying this context, then it is, in part, a living out the image of God—a symbolic, imperfect, incomplete expression of the God who heals. Where suffering cannot be alleviated without denying this context, then there is reaffirmation that the one suffering remains made in God’s image.

The Western world is currently taking up Wesley’s challenge of using reason to demolish any and all barriers to the context of being human. In due time it will see how well (or poorly) this narrative works. And gradually there will be a decline in this narrative because it will fail. As we await this failure, Christians must maintain and practice a Christian anthropology. We must continue to tell the story that there is a context for being human. We are not made in the image of our choosing, but in God’s glorious image.

We can only tell this story as we live it. Christian anthropology is lived out through lifelong testimony of enduring suffering and patiently, symbolically, and lovingly ministering to those who are suffering. This narrative will only be effective over time because there really is a context to being human. The world is not looking for yet another story to make them happier; it is looking for a story that will hold true when all other stories have fallen apart.


[1] Stanley Hauerwas calls this the project of Modernity, with a typical memorable Hauerwasian phrase, that I have adapted: “[People] should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.” http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/07/02/3794561.htm.  Accessed Sept 8., 2015.

[2] John Wesley, “The Case of Reason Impartially Considered.” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-70-the-case-of-reason-impartially-considered/. Accessed September 8, 2015. I am indebted to Chuck Gutenson for turning me to this line of thinking.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEY58fiSK8E

[5] Oliver O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 91.


Talbot Davis ~ Lost Religion


Some of you might remember when this happened in an NFL football game:

And that gave rise to a whole breed of commercials called “Not In My House!” – in the world of sports, a way of saying, “there is no way I am going to let you come into my home field, home court, home stadium, and beat me, taunt me, or take away what’s mine!” It’s sort of macho, but it sort of works, and the deal is if you can go into someone’s “house” and beat them at their own game while on their own turf, well, you’ve done something: a victory for the ages. (I looked for some kind of parallel in tennis but it’s not like Harvard used to get all macho and say to the Princeton tennis team: not in our house! They’d be more likely to say, “I’ve got an interview on Wall Street later, can we hurry?”

Well, as we get to our second installment with Elijah in our series “Lost And Found,” it’s a “not in my house!” kind of deal. Here’s what is going on: the people of Israel had lost their faith. There had been a civil war, a division into north and south, and in the Northern Kingdom King Ahab was on the throne and quickly staking claim to title of Worst. King. Ever. By marrying a woman named Jezebel, he (and she) brought the worship of Baal into the kingdom of the Lord.

Look at I Kings 16:32: “He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.”

Who and what was Baal? A god they could make with their hands.

The people had lost patience with the invisible God and so they decided to make one that was visible. As we saw in the first installment, since Baal was a fertility god, worshipping him involved rain dances and temple prostitutes. I don’t care how good a church’s band is, that can be hard to compete with as far as “gettin’ the men in church”!

In the wake of these events, Elijah tells Ahab there is going to be a drought. This is to prove that God – the invisible one – is more in charge of the rain and the sun than Baal could ever be. Elijah pronounces the drought and then disappears for three years. The people all around him had lost their religion because they were busy making gods, and so Elijah opposes it and then vanishes.

But I wonder, are we done with that? Are we really finished with making our own gods? Now: not too many of you are making ceramic idols, but did you know that a survey of American Christians showed that 22% believe in reincarnation, 23% believe in astrology and 15% have seen a fortune teller? More to the point, maybe you have made a god of a relationship in your life. It’s not a healthy one, mind you – toxic, actually – but you feel like if it is taken away from you, you won’t be able to breathe anymore. That relationship, in spite of its turmoil, gives you security, identity, and meaning. Or maybe you have made a god of your resume. If you can’t hand a business card with a nice title on it to people you meet, what’s the point in living? It’s a god you have made. You know what it is for me? Church! Reputation! How those two intersect! My own image is a god I make and tend and protect and obsess over. Yeah, ancient Israel had lost their religion because they had traded the original, invisible god for a visible substitute, and we do the same.

Here’s what’s even more true: if you are at that place of thinking about leaving faith – “I don’t really believe anymore. I believe nothing.” I’ve been there. Most have. But you need to know that you are really just substituting another god in God’s place: most likely, you! You have a god, whether you know it or not. The question is whether it’s the One who made you or the one you are making.

Back to Elijah. He proclaims drought’s coming and then he’s gone for three years. He returns to public life in I Kings 18, meets Ahab, and look at what he does in 18:16-19: “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’ ‘I have not made trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.'”

So he wants everyone who is anyone to gather at Mt. Carmel. Why Mt. Carmel? He could have chosen any mountain in Israel; why this one? Because it was the center of Baal-worship. Baal had home court advantage on Mt. Carmel! And so Elijah wanted to see Baal’s “Not in my house!” and raise it by “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!” and put his Hebrew National football right on Baal’s 50-yard line star. Ahab and the prophets may believe “Baal’s gonna protect his house!” but Elijah knows “No he ain’t! I’m gonna ROCK HIS HOUSE!”

And Elijah challenges the people in I Kings 18:21: “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.'”

And note the people’s answer in 18:21c:

“But the people said nothing…”

They said nothing: all the folks who have lost their religion and gone to follow a god they made just sit in silent observation.

And what does Elijah want to do in Baal’s house on Carmel? Stage a contest in which they’d kill a bull – these were the days before PETA – put it on a pallet, and the Baal prophets would pray to Baal, and Elijah would pray to the Lord, and whichever god sets the bull on fire is really God.

So here’s the big question: is Baal going to protect his house or not? He’s the god people have made, he’s the one for whom they have lost their religion, and that’s the question. And I love the people’s reaction in 18:24: “Then all the people said, ‘What you say is good.'”

Good idea! They have gone from silent to intrigued!

So the contest starts and it’s really a thing of comedy. Baal’s reps go first in 18:26: “So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘Baal, answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.”

Elijah taunts them in I Kings 18:27 (not very Christlike, but then again, Christ hadn’t been born yet, so Elijah gets a pass).

“At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.'”

When it says “busy” there in the original language, the inference is that he is “using the men’s room.” The longer they pray, the more notable the non-answer, and the more panicked the Baal followers become, as we read in 18:28: “So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.”

And then the loudest silence in Scripture: “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.”

The panic and the escalation is exactly what we do with the gods we make. When you beg your boyfriend or girlfriend to stay; when you think one more hit of the drug will satisfy; when the next job will finally be the one to make you happy; when the cutting you do will make you calm. Increasing desperation yielding smaller rewards and it’s all because of the gods you make.

So Elijah steps up for his turn. First, in a nod to Jewish history, look what he does in 18:30-32: Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come here to me.’ They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, ‘Your name shall be Israel.’ With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed.”

And then he declares what he has demonstrated in I Kings 18:36:

“At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.'”

He traces his prayer to history. Not fertility, like Baal, not the seasons of the year as with idolatry, but to the way God has acted in the history of the people. The way that Elijah knows that he is just the next in a long line of people to whom God has been faithful. “Lord, I’m just one in this tree of folks you have touched and held and protected.”

Then the prayer’s simplicity & brevity stands in marked contrast to the panicked offerings to Baal in 18:37:  “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” And the answer in 18:38: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.”

The gods the people make: nothing. The God who made this people, all the way from Abraham to Elijah: fire from heaven. And I see that for this people who had lost their religion because they have substituted something they’d made – and how what they’d made disappointed them – and I see how that still happens, and here’s the deal: the gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go.

Because look at the crowd! Remember how they were silent and then intrigued? Look what I Kings records next of their response: When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!'”

That’s it! That’s the moment! That faceless crowd is actually the most important character in the story – even more than Elijah, more than Ahab, more than the bull! It’s their trajectory from silence to interest to confession: the God who makes us is the only God there is! El Yah! We remember who made us now! We too are in the line that stretches from Abraham and Isaac to today. He made us and he’s holding us even when we tried to run away! But the gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go.

Can I ask you something that Elijah asked the people at the heart of the story?

How long will you waver?

If you are in the middle of losing your religion is it truthfully, honestly, because you’ve made another god? People do. Religious people do. Like the Episcopal priest out in Washington state who decided to become Episcopalian and Muslim. It sounds nice, it sounds all, “can’t we all just get along,” but intellectually it falls apart. You can’t be both. It’s why standing in the middle of the road you get hit by cars coming from both sides.

No parent, for example, wants your child so influenced by peers that you get overruled as outdated. That’s what we do with God. Whether it’s another religion or our horoscope or a toxic romance, drug use that yields inevitably diminishing returns, or preoccupation with image, it’s all wavering. If you stay in that place too long you make self-destructive decisions that have a long term impact and then BAM! you’re done. Some of you married or formerly married people let that guy or that girl be the god you’d made in the moment, and that’s why your marriage died.  The gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go.

I really love the introduction to Elijah’s prayer. Look at it again in 18:36: history, people, a line. It demonstrates that even when God doesn’t fix our circumstances – when he does in a sense “let us down” – he doesn’t leave us alone. He won’t let go that way. And who is it who reminds me God is real? I don’t have that vivid immediacy to say “the God of Abraham” like Elijah did. I might say “the God of Matt Ristuccia”!

Who is he? The New Jersey pastor who mentored me in college and then married me and Julie upon graduation. Lord, the God of Matt!

Or the God of Claude Kayler.

Who is he? The guy who is my best preacher-friend, who founded this church, and because he built it on Jesus and not on Claude it was incredibly easy to follow him. Lord, you’re the God of Claude Kayler and because I see what I see in him I believe in you! Or even the people who work here now.  Why? Because some of what has been poured into me through the years I can pour into them. Ministry gets multiplied. It shows that God is faithful, enduring, and he won’t let go. I may run, I may think he is invisible, but he’s still not letting go.

See, when God feels distant and you’re losing your religion, something else is going on. He’s like the sun. The sun is never “not on.” It’s always burning; never “not shining”. When it gets dark, that’s because the earth turns, not because anything happened with the sun, and it’s the same with God. He’s never not on. We lose our religion when we turn, not when he does, and when we turn, our hands get busy making our own gods. The same gods who invariably, inevitably disappoint.

Oh, turn back. Test him. Move from silence to intrigue to confession!  The gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go.

Down in rural Florida, a little boy was walking near a pond near the family home. (Child, water, Florida…you know what’s next). As happens down there, a gator bit on to the boy’s legs. Fortunately, the boys’ mother was near, saw what had happened, was filled with adrenaline and grabbed his little arms. A tug of war started. More tug. More war. The gator was stronger but the mother was more passionate. The great thing was, a farmer drove by, heard the screams, had a gun in his gun rack, took aim, and shot the gator dead.

Remarkably, the boy survived, though his legs were badly scarred. Several weeks later a reporter came to the hospital room to do an update. He asked the boy if he could see the scars on his legs. He pulled the sheets over so he could. But then the boy did something else: “But look at my arms! I have some great scars there, too. I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let me go.”


Because the gods you make will always let you down. The God who makes you will never let you go!

Talbot Davis ~ What’s the Alternative?

This is the second sermon (first HERE) in a series entitled “The Shadow of a Doubt.” 

We like to have alternatives in life, don’t we? Like if you went to a restaurant and opened the menu and there was just one item there, you probably wouldn’t be happy. Nor would you return. We like to have an alternative, to choose from a variety of options, to make choices. You go to a car lot to buy a car (can’t really order one online yet can you?) and you want to see it in blue or in gray or in red or even an alternative model. We LIKE alternatives, choices, and options. It’s why a Stepford Wives world scares even if they are all perfect! Just think about the rise of alternative music (a whole station on XM!), alternative sources of energy, alternative lifestyles. If you don’t like something, you like being able to opt out of it for something different.

It’s interesting the way our identity as a choice saturated culture does (or does not) intersect with our discussion in this series about faith and doubt. John 6 is one of the most revealing parts of Scripture and it includes a line from Jesus that exposes his humanity even more than Jesus wept. Now I’m not going to show you that line just yet – it’s coming – but I am going to tell you that as we get to John 6 Jesus’ popularity is on the rise. The ascent. A massive uptick in the way he is in the public consciousness. In fact, he just fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish earlier in John 6 and when the YouTube of that miracle was posted it went viral like that! At this stage, he is so well known and generating such good will with crowds that are bigger and bigger and so the sky really is the limit.

And just when it couldn’t get any better, Jesus keeps talking. And what he says is odd enough, shocking enough, perplexing enough that you know his handlers were like (throat slash) . . . STOP! . . . Cut it short & get out of the way! Don’t stop your own momentum! But that’s exactly what Jesus does when he says these odd, discordant words in 6:53:

 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.

The people were like, “Ewwww! Cannibalism!” (And incidentally, the concept of holy communion is still a very difficult one to translate into cultures that are brand new to the gospel.) But folks don’t know if he is speaking literally, symbolically, metaphorically, or just crazily. Whatever it was, Jesus kills his own buzz! Because look at the response in 6:60:

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”

His own followers! The ones who’d been making him run out of bulletins! All of a sudden they’re like, “I don’t think I’m coming back next week!”

Then look at what Jesus asks in 6:61:

Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, Does this offend you?

He knows there is a murmur and it’s not a holy buzz but an unholy grumbling. So in 6:66 (accidental?!) he goes through a preacher’s worst nightmare:

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.

Lord, I’ve made leadership decisions that have caused people to leave church. I’ve had a demeanor or a position or a style that have caused others to leave. I’ve had friends in ministry who have been decimated when people left in droves in the wake of something they said or something they did. And I can tell you from experience that having a John 6:66 moment shakes your convictions, ruins your confidence, makes me want to take up landscaping. And I don’t know what kind of blow to his self-confidence Jesus endured as a result of 6:66, but I do know he asks the all-time question in 6:67 (aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t speak in 6:66!). 6:67 is when Jesus’ humanity gets most exposed, more than his weeping. His closest aides are probably thinking “maybe we’ve been wrong to follow him.” So in the wake of losing the crowd, Jesus addresses the core with his most human of questions:

Not you too? Are you getting ready to join the exodus? Are you leaving me as well?

And the reason I zero in on the questions is because (well, partly because I’ve asked it more than once!) we are living in a John 6 world right now. The United States in 2014 parallels the John 6 atmosphere in more ways than I can count. It’s a world where the words of Jesus and of Scripture on a wide variety of subject seem so odd, so off-putting, so out of step, that people leave. Leave church, leave bible, leave faith. Think about it! Sex? One man, one woman, in marriage, for a lifetime? Revenge? Don’t get it? Pray for those people who wrong you? Self? You mean self-control is a virtue in the bible and self-expression is not? Money? Give the first 10% back to God instead of to my IRA? Or a new iPad?

Those kind of words out of the mouth of Jesus and from the words of Scripture sound just as odd and offensive today as his language about eat my flesh and drink my blood did yesterday. We’re in a John 6 world, we see some sobering stats about the influence of the church in our land, and every once in awhile it is as if we can hear Jesus still asking that question of 6:67: “You’re not going to leave, too, are you?”

And when some of you hear that question, you’re not quite sure how to answer it. Because you’ve had seeds of doubt sown into you. Maybe for those of you in college now or you remember college then, it’s that class. The professor is so smart, so agnostic, so belittling towards the bible and faith. He makes you feel small for believing it . . . and so part of you doesn’t anymore.

Or you’re in the middle of a marriage that is quite frankly miserable. You’ve heard it said from Scripture that God hates divorce and you wonder if he might just not hate your marriage more. Or you wonder if those words are from such an ancient time (people were dead before midlife crisis ever hit!) that they don’t really apply any more. Or possibly you have been really successful; you keep getting your quarterly bonus check, and you get them without Jesus’ help, thank you very much. So what’s the use? Jesus’ question to them has become his question to you? And it is a haunting question because I have seen people through the years answer with “Yep, I’m leaving faith,” walk away, make some of the most God-awful, life-destroying decisions, and then come back to faith five years later. And when they come back, they still don’t have their questions answered, they just have a debris field of wrecked relationships and ruined psyches in their wake.

Which is why Peter’s answer to Jesus’ all-too-human question in 6:68 is just perfect:

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.

To whom? If we doubt, if we leave, what’s the alternative? Is there a better idea? Who else has the words of eternal life? See, when you knock up against doubts and they make you consider jettisoning the Christian faith altogether, I want you to not only think about those burning questions, but, as one pastor said, I want you to consider the alternatives as well.

If I stop Jesus/Christ/Church/God, then what? If stop THIS, then WHERE? See, in discussing doubt we always wrestle with the questions; we rarely consider the alternatives to the beliefs we have. Is it nothing? That’s tempting, freeing, it will make you feel as smart as Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens. But it will likely lead to a descent of self-absorption – because, face it, you become God – and the trauma of being in charge.

Or maybe it’s another religion as the alternative? Is it like the woman who said to me years ago, “It doesn’t matter really what religion you have just so you are a religious person.” Huh. Would it be Islam? Of course, did you know that even the most devout of Muslims never have assurance of their salvation after death? Which explains the rise of Islamic martyrdom – that’s the one way in their belief to ensure it? What about the religions of the East, like Hinduism & Buddhism? Some of you wouldn’t mind a second chance at this – reincarnation! Did you know that in those systems, the goal of reincarnation is to get off the cycle and be absorbed into the universe? To become nothing? Deeply hopeless. What about Judaism? Incredible, great, our foundation, but again it is a bit murky on a notion of eternity much less on how you get there.

And then I know that because of your experience in AA, a lot of you adopt a “god of your understanding.” Which, again, is so laissez faire, so non-judgmental, it’s very tempting. It’s also what Paul encountered in Acts 17:23:

for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

Same here! And yet our answer is the same as was Paul’s in Mars Hill – that even in doubt, even with unresolved questions from really smart atheists, we have a name for the God of our understanding: Jesus.

See, here’s what I think will happen when you consider the alternatives in the midst of doubt’s shadow: you will realize that Jesus is the eternal who in the midst of a sea of whats.

You’ll end up echoing with Peter: To whom shall we go? Who else? Where else? How else? You’re the only one with the words of eternal life! Do you have a better idea? A stronger alternative? And the answer every time is no. He alone not only has the words of, but is the way to eternal life. So don’t just weigh yourself down with questions, weigh yourself down with the alternatives. All the other religious options say: do this, do that, do more (the non-religious: do nothing). Christianity alone says: done. On the cross: it is finished. Can’t be added to or improved on. God does for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. You look at doubts that way, weighing the options, and you’ll land with Peter: To whom shall we go?

Look how Peter follows it up in 6:69:

“We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

We’ve seen too much. There’s too much evidence. There’s too much that I’ve seen to doubt the One I haven’t seen. Oh, you’ve had that. You’ve seen. Felt. Heard. Answered. Whenever I’m ready to answer Jesus’ you’re not leaving too are you? with sorry, but yes, I remember my shoulder. This one. College. Tennis. Injured and would not get better even after four months of nothing but rest. And so the doctor suggests surgery which would have ended everything prematurely. But I asked a friend of mine who I knew prayed for healing to lay hands on me, to pray in tongues, and to seek healing for my shoulder. Julie joined him. 30+ years later and I still haven’t had that surgery. We have seen too much to go anywhere else! We have come to believe!

Or I even look out at all of you. Multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-hued. What we call full color. Makes no sense. Nothing in my background that qualifies me to be part of leading this kind of unique community. But God. Oh, we have seen too much to go anywhere else! We have come to believe!

See, time and time and time again you’ve seen too much and felt too deeply for it to be anything but true. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know; I’m simply reminding you of what you are tempted to forget. You’ve tasted too much goodness and sweetness through the years and so you know that the alternatives are nothing but empty promises.

To whom shall we go? Who is better? Stronger? More liberating? Who conquered death? No one and no thing. Oh, don’t be the one who walks away and then comes back 10 years later with no more answers but with a debris field trailing behind you. Ask yourself what’s the alternative before you leave and see all the options for the empty promises they are. And then fasten yourself to the eternal who towering over all the pretending whats.


Jack Jackson ~ Next Steps for Claremont School of Theology


In 2011 Claremont School of Theology (CST) joined with schools from Jewish and Muslim communities to form a new umbrella academic institution, Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). In creating CLU the partner schools envisioned an institution that would facilitate education and relationships across diverse religious traditions. Last month that experiment in partnership came to an end, and for that I am thankful. Continued relationship with CLU would have diminished CST’s commitments to a broad range of Christian traditions in general, and the United Methodist Church in particular.

There were many dreams for Claremont Lincoln. One of mine was that it would serve as a conduit for the development of deep friendships, co-learning opportunities, and joint vocational projects amongst students, staff, and faculty from a variety of religious traditions. The students in each school under the CLU umbrella would tend to identify with the religious tradition of their home institution. For instance, CST would continue to have mostly Christian students, many of whom were from the United Methodist or Korean Methodist churches. CLU would be a platform for relationship building and learning across traditions. I hoped that the relationships that developed from such a learning model would provide a foundation for people from different religious communities coming together to address both local and global challenges.

Over the last 18 months, it has become clear that my dreams for this particular model for theological education were not to be. During that time, the leadership at CLU has pursued a different direction that focuses on religious awareness in corporate communities. While this direction has some merit, it is not consistent with CST’s heritage or its future as one of United Methodism’s graduate theological schools. Given this divergence of missions, it seems best for both institutions to go their separate ways.

For many years Claremont School of Theology has been grounded in Wesleyan traditions, specifically the United Methodist and Korean Methodist denominations, while at the same time welcoming persons from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, Christian and otherwise. CST’s mission has always been excellent academic and spiritual preparation of persons for leadership in their community, be it parish ministry or otherwise.

I still believe that critical to that training in the 21st century is developing an awareness of, and relationships with, persons from other religious traditions. Learning from and sharing with persons from other religious traditions, some of whom are quite different and who may even have competing theological commitments, is necessary if our world is to survive, much less thrive in the next century. This hope of developing relationships with persons from other traditions that inspire trust, and an ability to collaborate on important projects, was part of the initial motivation behind CLU.

As Claremont Lincoln University shifts to a corporate and secular focus it’s clear the integrity of the initial vision behind the partnership with CST has been lost. Retaining the partnership with CLU would have trivialized CST’s Christian and Wesleyan commitments.The only responsible choice, then, was to wish CLU well and sever our institutional ties.

My hope is that Claremont School of Theology will continue in its commitment to preparing women and men, both Methodist and otherwise, for leadership in the church and world and in partnership with like-minded educational institutions from other religious traditions. My hope that CLU would prove the conduit for partnerships across religious traditions was short-lived. But the importance of creating communities of learning and relationships where people from very different religious communities, sometimes even with different values and commitments, come together for the betterment of the world is as pertinent today as ever.