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Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures - Reflections, part 1

I continue here in NJ at the Tipple-Vosburgh lectures at Drew.

This morning I attended a workshop with Dr. Virginia Burrus, professor of early church history. I took church history with Dr. Burrus when I was in the MDiv program here, and I found her to be an excellent professor, extremely intelligent. I've never been a big history buff, but she made the class compelling and enjoyable.

Today Dr. Burrus presented a workshop titled "Shame as a Source for Transformation: Early Christian Teachings" - all about shame and how it can be a tool for change. Some quotes from her lecture:

"George W. Bush is strikingly impervious to shame." Dr. Burrus noted that this shamelessness is both comforting to conservatives who are reassured by it and alarming to progressives who wish Bush would feel shame for his actions and positions.

Dr. Burrus also talked about vulnerability and shame - shame as a warning sign that we are "in a zone of possibility of intimacy."

Dr. Burrus related shame to the early church when she talked about martyrs in early Christianity taking shame placed on them by the Empire and subverting the shame. Shame can be most harmful when people are shamed not because of particular actions (ie being ashamed because you were caught in some compromising position) but because of who they are - because of identity (ie gay and lesbians being shamed for being gay and lesbian, or people of color being shamed for being a person of color) For Christians in the early church, just being a Christian meant being shamed by the Empire.

Dr. Burrus argued that early Christians could used their stigmatization/shame as an agent of transformation. They shamed their shamers, subverted the stigma placed on them, and reclaimed their stigmatized identities. Today just being a Christian does not have the same shame attached, but shame can still be transformative.

"What shame doesn't do when we don't repress it is let us stay the same."



Later, Rev. Nibs Stroupe, a pastor in Decatur, Georgia, spoke on "Praying for Boldness: Transforming Leadership for the 21st Century."

Stroupe talked about "cheap community" - how we form 'clans' of people to ward off our fears and anxieties. In cheap community, we push outsiders away, so that we, in so doing, can have a deeper sense of belonging.

Stroupe also took to task the effort by liberals and conservatives to privitize God to suit agendas in different contexts. He rejected the idea of individual salvation as non-biblical, this idea that our only goal in salvation is "getting into heaven when we die." Such personalized ideas about salvation lead to justifying unjust behavior. He lifted up an example of minutes from a church meeting during times of struggle about segregation in worship. They read, "although we recognize that this is not what Jesus Christ would do, nevertheless..." (Always a bad way to start a sentence)

Stroupe reminded us that the scriptures are not primarily about how we should be living, but about how we are living.


Anonymous said…
Was Clinton impervious to shame?
Revwilly said…
How said the goal of the Christian life is to get to heaven? The goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ. As a conservative I know of no other conservatives who believe that salvation is individual with a goal of getting to heaven. Dr. Burrus is making a huge generalization.
As to shame, where is the shame of 1 million babies being aborted annually?
Beth Quick said…
anonymous - Dr. Burrus didn't mention Clinton, but Stroupe did, in a related way, actually. He argued that because Clinton wouldn't acknowledge wrongdoing for sexual misconduct, that liberals were forced to argue that sexuality is a private matter. I almost posted it, but I found I was (and am) having a hard time articulating the point he was making via blog!

Rev. Willy - Dr. Burrus was not the one who made that statement - that was Rev. Stroupe. Also, I didn't say that Stroupe argued that conservatives or liberals in particular talked about individual salvation, but people in general. I find this to be true in my own congregation for sure. Lots of my parishioners very much tie "salvation" primarily to an idea of reward and punishment. I totally agree that the goal of the Christian life is to become Christlike, but at least in my neck of the woods, I have met many liberals and conservatives and in-betweeners who think of salvation as "getting into heaven."

Re: shame. Abortion would be an action that people relate to shame rather than a state of being, which was more Dr. Burrus' focus in her lecture. Of course, we all have our lists of acts that we find shameful. I understand that many passionately find abortion to be immoral. I disagree, but I do understand where others are coming from. For me, I find it shameful that in a world of abundance, more attention is sometimes given to the unborn than to the children that already live without enough and have more taken from them. I would rather see the needs of children addressed as a priority.
But, I guess abortion is a topic for an entirely different post than this one.

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