Wednesday, October 19, 2005

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.
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