Monday, December 22, 2008

Unity in the Lord’s Supper: Voices from Around the World

A modifed version of the following write-up appeared in the editorial section of The Fig Tree 26/1 (January 2009): 10.*

A recent gathering of area bishops from various church traditions took place on Thursday, November 6, 2008 in Spokane, Washington. After a time of reflection offered by each bishop and certain participants in the audience on opportunities of outreach, sharing in ministry, and working through conflicts, we broke and ate bread. We were one Christian body. Divisions, theologies, and intellectual interpretations were set aside for a moment.

The experience brought to mind certain voices from Africa, Asia, and Latin America on the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. How can such voices from around the world, voices so different from our own, speak to us here concerning the ongoing need for Christian unity in the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper? How do Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans experience and celebrate this unique sacrament? The inclination among African, Asian, and Latin American Christians to address their social concerns (e.g., injustice, suffering, poverty, disease, hunger, exploitation, etc.) through the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood provides a direct challenge to ecclesial traditions in the West, calling us to move beyond our intellectual or rational understandings of the Lord’s Supper.

The African theologian Laurenti Magesa sees the Lord’s Supper as giving the church its very life and edification. African Christians tend to work out their social concerns through the Lord’s Supper. For Nguyen Y. Doan, a Korean theologian, the ‘living Christ’ instead of the ‘orthodoxy of texts’ makes it possible to address the needs of humanity in the world. Only then does the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at church become meaningful. The Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff ties the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to the liberating and transforming work of the Trinity throughout history.

Traditional voices (i.e., Orthodox, Catholic, and mainline Protestant churches) tend to concentrate on having the correct theological interpretation of the bread and cup (e.g., mystical, physical, real presence, or symbolic). Contextual-intercultural voices, however, celebrate the Lord’s Supper in terms of its communal benefits in addressing the physical, social, economic, and spiritual needs of human beings. The Western tendency to reduce the Lord’s Supper to a lifeless and intellectual custom is an urgent concern. If the sacrament is only a rational participation, celebration, or memorial of Christ’s death, then the church can legitimately ignore the real needs of people. Here the contextual-intercultural voices offer a biblical paradigm: God in Jesus Christ is placed at the center of people’s lives and worship practices. The motifs of ‘table,’ ‘supper,’ ‘eating and drinking,’ and ‘koinonia [communal participation] in Christ’s blood and body’ take on new dimensions pertaining to communal sharing and meeting the needs of human beings.

*For my in-depth discussion of ecclesial unity in the Christian meal, see Lace Marie Williams-Tinajero, “Christian Unity: The Communal Participation in Christ’s Body and Blood,” One in Christ 40/2 (2005): 46–61.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reflections on SBL 2008 in Boston

There is a first for everything, the saying goes. I just attended my first annual Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting in Boston--a city known for tea, lobster, baked beans, and chowder. I had only enough money for an expensive cup of chowder in a plush mall one evening. I left hungry. Whereas the regional Pacific Northwest meetings of the SBL occur every spring and attract a smaller, intimate crowd, the annual meeting remains unprecedented by attracting thousands of scholars world-wide every year the weekend before Thanksgiving. A highlight for me was attending a 2 1/2 hour session Sunday morning to hear a panel of experts reflect on Michael Fishbane's new book, Sacred Attunement. What made this particular session more memorable from the others? One word: Fishbane. After four scholars offered their remarks, some quite critical of Fishbane's lack of reference to Heschel and other profound Jewish thinkers, Fishbane took his stand. Without notes, without ego, without arrogant defense, Fishbane shared from his authentic, true self. "You have to start somewhere," he asserted. "In the book, I start where I am." Fishbane explained that he does not want to be ventriloquist who simply repeats what others have to say. What is most memorable was Fishbane's way of being. He spoke with conviction, power, and passion for Judaism, his family, and life. I felt compelled to go up to him afterwards to seek answers to some of my unanswerable questions: What is the meaning of life? What should I be doing with my life? He was surrounded by a great cloud of admirers. I left out a side door and disappeared in the crowd. Later, I saw him. It was as though I had spotted Santa Claus for the first time, compelled to share what I wanted for Christmas. I went up to Fishbane. I thanked him. As he shook my hand, he asked my name. In that moment, meaning return to my life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Costliness of Worrying about Money

Matthew 6 shows us the heart of Jesus Christ. The entire chapter is a continuation of a monologue that Jesus began in Matthew 5:3--the verse that starts the famous Beatitudes speech as Jesus taught the crowds. In light of the current financial drama, parts of Matthew 6 offer comfort or make the reader squirm.

Matthew 6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal" (NRSV throughout).

Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"

Matthew 6:31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'" [or 'When will we ever retire?"]

Regardless of one's financial position, verses like these remain unfashionable in a world that puts its trust in the god of wealth. For those who have suffered life-changing losses, it may seem impossible to reorient trust in God alone. Fears loom. Those who were headed towards retirement, but no longer, have a host of emotions to work through. I think of banks like Washington Mutual (Chase), how it left the stock holders (us included) with nothing while paying its chief millions. In the end, anger and worry end up costing more than just money.

The truth of Jesus' message in Matthew 6 remains unchanged despite the ups and downs in the market. The challenge for me is to live simply, to know the true source of joy and abundance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the Other Side of a Ph.D.

Getting a Ph.D. taught me something startling: that fixating on oneself produces isolation. It is in community, in others, that a person discovers one's true self rooted in God.

The news came via a phone call back in May: my external reader in Britain had given the nod to my dissertation. Finally, I was a legal holder of a degree that seemed beyond reach for seven years. My Ph.D. program in New Testament and Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary were years spent in a course-work residency including seminars, languages, directed studies, exams, and a dissertation. With all that filed in the past now, I have begun the journey back to God through others.

Solitude ought to be distinguished from isolation. There is nothing wrong with being alone. Solitude is a bud that must be allowed to bloom. Isolation produces a lostness, and all the time spent alone working on my Ph.D. left me without direction. Years of worry on how I was performing as a doctoral student left no space for others. Saying yes to my doctoral studies often meant saying no others. Whenever I chose to socialize instead of work on my dissertation, an Angst arose in my inner being. This form of internalization left me unable to connect with human beings. Simple acts of sharing a meal or going to worship felt machine-like.

How does life fill a struggling soul? It happens in those flickering moments of being aware of others: watching my expanding belly warmed by the life growing inside; connecting with a colleague today on theology, language, and Martin Luther; seeing my husband after work as he waited patiently for my arrival.

Locating oneself in community is to discover a joy that comes with connecting with God through others.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Scholer's Impact on my Life and Studies

The mentor relationship I had with Dr. Scholer was difficult at times. Regardless, he had a concern for me that was unwavering. He wanted no less than thorough research from me as his doctoral student. In a seminar with him, New Testament Methods, he assigned to me the topic of "Philo on Women." I had one week to produce a ten-page paper and bibliography and return to class to report my findings. All of the necessary books on Philo were checked out of Fuller's Library that week. Even the journal that had the essential article went missing from the shelf. So I set out for Claremont's network of libraries in search of material to build my paper and bibliography. The day arrived for me to present. It was hard enough being the sole female. Scholer looked shocked as he reviewed my bibliography in front of my colleagues. He said it was outstanding. I proceeded to cover the essential aspects of what Philo said concerning women. Scholer announced my 'A' to the class. Then my moment of glory came to a halt. Scholer began to search frantically through my paper looking for any missing pieces. Oh no. I neglected one major aspect in Philo's thought: the role of women according to Household Code. He announced my lower grade to the class. If my fear could have produced any sound, then it would have resembled a swarm of bees trying to protect the queen. Though a painful experience at the time, Scholer taught me the importance of being thorough and humble in gaining knowledge.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflection on the loss of my Ph.D. mentor

The year I started my Ph.D. studies in New Testament and Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, my mentor, Dr. David Scholer, was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent numerous surgeries and treatments the seven years it took me to finish. His cancer spread despite attempts to irradicate it. Dr. Scholer passed away Friday, August 22nd, in Pasadena, CA.

When David and Jeannette Scholer invited a few graduates over for a luncheon following the Hooding and Commencement ceremonies in mid-June, I knew that I would be offering my final goodbye to him in person. I returned to the Pacific Northwest. He, confined to a comfortable chair in his living room, lived another two months.

I first met Dr. Scholer in October of 2000. Fuller hosted an event for prospective students such as myself. I flew from Minneapolis/St. Paul to California. At lunch one day, I was sitting at a table with strangers. I could not tell the prospective students from the professors. Someone started asking me why I had come to Fuller and what I hoped to do. I indicated that I wanted to get into a Ph.D. program in New Testament. This person handed me a card and said to email him my dreams, and that he would be accepting one student in the New Testament program in the Fall of 2001. I was talking with Dr. Scholer.

More will be said about Dr. Scholer's impact on me and my life later.