Recently, Dr. W. Travis McMaken at Lindenwood University, where I’m currently adjuncting, asked if we could have a conversation on Julian of Norwich, who features prominently in my research. I said sure, and it’s now on Youtube.
This year, I’ve presented three papers on Julian of Norwich, comparing her theology to Augustine (AAR Midwest); Anne Dutton (NABPR); and Paul Fiddes (Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy). All of these figures speak about theosis, though not as we may expect.
There are many things I appreciate about Julian. She is a theologian, teacher, and a pastor. Her writings articulate her care for her community, her awe of God, and her desire to express the Triune God’s extravagant love to a people whose parents had witnessed the plague; whose church had been less than trustworthy, and whose leaders were intent on maintaining the status quo.
When I usually come across articles like the one describing Dr. Ashley Ray’s lament on the “feminist rebellion,” I usually ignore them. However, I am reminded of how comments like this reflect embedded beliefs and practices of many people. This is similar to Donald Trump’s and other candidates’ xenophobic comments, which seem exaggerated to the point of being grotesque, but actually reflect some peoples’ beliefs.
I’ve noticed that the word “humility” is used many times without a uniform definition. In my readings, I’ve seen it deployed in various ways. The concept of humility is why I chose to further my studies. Here’s some questions I’ve been considering that relate to humility:
Is humility a posture, virtue, ethic, something else?
How has rhetoric of humility perpetuated harm, especially on persons who have been continually humiliated in history?
Where is humility placed in theology? Where else might humility be discussed within the theological loci? (From my studies, I see the topic of humility situated within discussions on Christology.)
Is humility identical to kenosis? Why might we need language to differentiate the two?
What do we mean when we say a person is “humble”?
How is humility connected with concepts of the self? How is humility figured in the community?
Who speaks of humility? Who doesn’t speak of humility? Why is this the case?
Is the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 the best example of humility? What biblical texts may be overlooked?
How does humility connect to how we view the great cloud of witnesses? (i.e., how does humility shape how we view historical figures in Christianity? Or does it?)
How does language about humility shape how we view time in general?
When does deploying humility foreclose legitimate critique?
Ana Mercedes’s Power For: Feminism and Christ’s Self-Giving (London: T&T Clark International, 2011) details a view of kenosis that could be helpful for women. She is careful to admit ambiguities and problems related to kenosis and how they’ve been used to maintain a harmful status quo. She figures kenosis as “power for” instead of “power over.” Her work challenges me to think closely about humility.
Preaching on the Trinity—is this sermon doomed from the start? Is it even possible to talk about the Trinity in 20 minutes and have it be relevant to a congregation?
I preached on the Trinity this past Sunday, May 31, at Webster Groves Baptist Church. I went beyond the lectionary passage in Romans, using Romans 8:12-25. You can listen to the sermon here, beginning at around 25:00 minutes. Here’s some points I highlighted:
We need to make sure that we don’t use words like “flesh” and “body” as only sinful. Failure to do so can be harmful to bodies and reify the mind/spirit dualism. Our bodies are good, because they are created by God. Therefore, I interpreted Paul’s use of flesh as something narcissistic—living as if others did not exist. An opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself, so to speak.
I attempted to look at how our lives reflect the Trinity—we are the imago trinitatis, after all. In particular, I looked at community, hospitality (including adoption), and groaning/suffering. I connected each theme to the Romans passage, to the experience of the Triune persons, and to our own experiences. We realized the congregation already reflected the image of the Trinity in how they were practicing community, hospitality, and supporting one another in suffering and grief.
In the benediction, I called Jesus our brother (based on the adoption motifs in Romans), and the Holy Spirit our companion. Someone came up to me and asked about it. I got to thinking—what does it mean that Jesus is our brother? The Baptist hymnal in the church, in its topical organization, had topics such as “Jesus as Friend,” “Jesus as Savior” and “Jesus as Triumphant,” but not “Jesus our Brother.” I imagine most hymnals are similar. How might emphasizing Jesus as brother make a difference in how we think (and act) on Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity? (I have some ideas, connected to perichoresis, participation, and divinization).
My Great Cloud of Witnesses (aka, resources used for the sermon):
Kasemann, Ernst. Commentary on Romans. Translated and edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980. The reason why I used this commentary is that Kasemann emphasizes Paul’s connection of creation with anthropology (177), implying that Paul’s notion of the person is not the modern “I”. Plus, he highlights Paul’s attention to paradoxes.
This commentary from Working Preacher. Working Preacher offers commentary on the lectionary passages usually from seminary professors. Audrey West encouraged me to think about the dualisms present and to focus on the “nitty-gritty realities of life.”
Shannon Johnson Kersher, “Slanted Truth,” on Day 1. I appreciate her honesty in describing the mysteriousness of the Trinity.
Craig C. Hill, “Romans,” in John Muddiman et al., eds., The Pauline Epistles, updated selection. ed., Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 2010). His brief explanation about the purpose of writing Romans, and some details about the city of Rome itself, were helpful.
Having helped teach on the doctrine of the Trinity more than once, I had many theologians who were my “great cloud of witnesses” swirling in the background as I wrote: Leonardo Boff, Julian of Norwich, Jürgen Moltmann, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Augustine, Paul Fiddes, and of course, my mentors from my MDiv and PhD studies.
I’ve enjoyed preaching at Webster Groves Baptist Church. I find preaching as one of the more difficult tasks for someone studying theology, as it forces me to make sure I can communicate what I’ve learned in an accessible and meaningful way. I’m not serving as pulpit supply in the near future, so I’ll be writing on what I’m reading.