Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pastoral

The topic in today's "Performing the Problem of Suffering: The Book of Job and the Arts" was "Preaching Job," and I was delighted to host an old friend, L, the first female pastor of a historic African American Baptist church in Philadelphia, to guest-lecture. I'd contacted her last Fall to ask if she ever thought about the Book of Job, and it turned out she'd recently preached two sermons on it. They were called "God on Trial," a reference to Wiesel, whom we've read. Videos are available on her church's website, and I asked the class to watch them. They are the "performative" events I wanted students to encounter, but also remarkably interesting engagements with Job, and through Job with questioning as part of religious life. Among many other things the first sermon argues that a good question is better than a bad answer (something Job's friends needed to learn), the second prays that God give us the strength to ask the right questions (as Job learned from God). Introducing her I was able to repeat my quip that religion seems to outsiders about answers, when to practitioners it's perhaps more about questions.

But L's lecture for my class was about preaching, and, more specifically, about pastoring. Being a good pastor, she said, is like - and as hard as! - being a good friend. This made what could otherwise have been an inaccessible topic immediately relatable. And of course it took us right back to the Book of Job... A good friend, we learned, listens to her friend's questions, especially in moments of grief and confusion. Job's friends were good friends until they started to speak - or perhaps until their speaking started trying to shut him down. But how can a preacher listen? How can her preaching not have the effect of shutting down her listeners? L showed as well as told (even though, she insisted, she was not preaching). In the Q&A which followed, my most vocal students - skeptics - tried to get her to make general pronouncements, and were frustrated when she wouldn't. I wonder if they've noticed that at the end of the day she had let their questions stand?

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In other Job-related pastor-related news, one of my colleagues posted an interesting article on our Religious Studies Program FaceBook page about the first openly transgender Baptist minister, Allyson Dylan Robinson. Robinson's "theology of survival" challenges theologies and traditions which left her close to suicide: I determined to keep those only that keep me alive, she's said. I’ve learned that theology as survival relies on very few predecessors to inform its shape or its framing. Because frankly very few have survived to pass on their learning to the next generation. One of those predecessors is our man from Uz:

Frankly I consider Job, Gautama Buddha, Joan of Arc, Rumi and Johnny Cash to be my spiritual predecessors far more than Augustine, Aquinas or Barth. My hymnal has a lot less Isaac Watts and Fanny Crosby, but it’s full of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac and Beyonce.

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