Walter Wink

Is the Proliferation of Denominations a Failure to Die to Ourselves?

Photo via Jeju Forum

Denominations proliferate in Korea, Rev. Lee said, because church leaders have failed to die to themselves. People are concerned about recognition and their reputation, taking the glory for themselves, instead of for God. And Rev. Lee identified income inequality in South Korea as one of its greatest problems. Again, it calls for dying to the idol of wealth, and putting God’s love, along with serving one another, at the center.

The expected ecumenical agenda of economic justice, peace, protection of God’s creation came before the Jeju Forum in clear and forceful ways. Agnes Abuom, from Kenya, who is Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, said we are slaves to the larger economic and political systems; that’s another way in which we have to die to ourselves, echoing words from the Rev. Lee’s sermon.

And God Said, 'Let There Be Darkness'

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

I’ve always had a curious sort of sympathy for the bad guys. I cried when King Kong died. I wept at Darth Vader’s demise. And I felt like the whole melting thing was a little bit harsh for the Wicked Witch of the West.

Maybe they didn’t really want to be bad. Maybe they were just written that way. Could be that they had a rough childhood, or people made fun of them for being green, or big and hairy, or breathing through a big, black mask. I mean, imagine that on the playground …

Ever since my childhood I’ve felt more comfortable in darkness than most kids seemed to as well. My 10-year-old son won’t even go into any unlit room in our house without being accompanied by our dog, Maggie. But I actually enjoyed being in the dark. It seemed like the one place where I could let the otherwise literal, concrete parts of my brain take a rest, and allow my imagination to run wild.

Theologically, we’re taught to hate, or at least fear, the darkness. We are children of light, God called light into being, and it was from this light that all things were formed. So what use do we have for darkness?

King, Clowns, and the Third Way

Photo:  IMG_191 LLC / Shutterstock.com

Photo: IMG_191 LLC / Shutterstock.com

"The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice," proclaimed the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It may bend towards justice, but it does not bend gently. It bends behind sweat of the brow, creativity of the mind, and love from the soul of those who believe that every living soul not only desires justice and equality, but has a right to it. You see, justice is not a passive pursuit. The moral arc will not bend without encouragement.

Dr. King was a living example of the kind of person who encourages the moral arc of history to bend toward justice. He is also an example of the only effective way to bend that arc — non-violently. We cannot hope to bring about justice by unjust means. Might, physical confrontation, and other forms of domination will ultimately only result in nurturing an understanding that domination is an ineffective way to resolve issues of justice — and domination is the exact opposite of justice. As King says, "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love."

Beer & Hymns: Imagining Christianity

Wild Goosers worship in the "Beer & Hymns" tent Saturday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

As we attended workshops and concerts, met new people, and tried to make sense of the larger impact this gathering might have beyond us, we kept coming back to that statement we heard early on about Walter Wink. What is Christian imagination? How do we imagine Christianity? Whatever it means, imagining Christianity is exactly what happened at Wild Goose.

Here's an example: Throughout the weekend, Fullsteam, a craft brewery in nearby Durham owned by an alumnus of Wheaton College (yes, that Wheaton) sold selling beer to quench the thirst of Goosers during late night sessions and performances (a la Homebrewed Christianity, etc.). And on Saturday afternoon — call it an early evening happy hour — a group of rag-tag musicians, armed with a few folk instruments, a trumpet and percussion, led a jolly crowd of more than 100 in Sunday School choruses and old-timey spirituals. They called it, “Beer and Hymns."

There, caught up in a holy wind of hops and hope, we reimagined what church might be during an ad hoc version of “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands.” We the motley worshippers alternated “He’s got the whole world” with “She’s got the whole world,” proudly singing at the top of our lungs, “She’s got the liberals and conservatives / the gays and straights / and a big ole mug of beer/ in her hands.”

Walter Wink: Remembrance and Reflection

Walter Wink preaching, from the Fellowship of Reconciliation archives.

Walter Wink preaching, from the Fellowship of Reconciliation archives.

Walter Wink, 76, a world-class biblical scholar and non-violent practitioner, crossed over to God on May 10 at his home in Western Massachusetts. Following a slow decline, he had been in hospice for several weeks in the company of his beloved June and their family. (See "Confronting the Powers," Sojourners December 2010)

As a first year seminarian in New York City, more than 35  years ago, I was fortunate to have Walter as my New Testament instructor. In a seminar session on the "pearl of great price" in Matthew, I have a vivid memory of him breaking the discussion so we could go round the circle and each reply to the question: "For what would you be willing to die?" I don't so much recall my own halting answer, as the depth of the question he understood was put to us by the text. It's since become my conviction that no one should escape seminary (or baptismal preparation for that matter) without facing with that query.

Which is to say he was himself an engaged scholar, connecting the academy with the risk of the streets. While filling his first teaching post at Union Seminary in New York he was simultaneously serving on the national steering committee of Clergy and Laity Concerned about the War in Vietnam (1967-76).

He was notorious for foundation-shaking works. When I met him, Walter was a rising star in the biblical guild, on the fast track at Union. Then he published a little polemical book called The Bible in Human Transformation (1973) which made bold to declare, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt." It assailed the myth of scientific objectivity, the disembodied approach which kept the text at arms length and pre-empted commitment. In many respects it anticipated the contextualizing hermeneutics of feminist and liberation readings, but it didn't win him friends in the academic guild.

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