Tonight at Asbury Seminary, St. Francis will lead our community in heart-formation. We will contemplate with the thoughts of the one, who eight hundred years after his death, gets to have little concrete statues of himself in billions of gardens across the world. You will see why. This session will be held on the Wilmore campus in the Richard Allen Chapel, 6.30-8.00pm.
When you first read St. Francis three things immediate surface: 1. He is deeply Roman Catholic (so for us protestants, we have some translation work to do), 2. One-in-two words he writes is a quotation of scripture. We see Jesus eminating even from the few words St. Francis wrote, 3. His vision remians just as vital today as it did then. And for “Thriving Among the Lilies”, this means we are especially interested in his vision for Global Community Development. Here are some passages to get you started:
“And all of us lesser brothers, useless servants (Luke 17.10), humbly ask and beg all those who wish to serve the Lord God within the holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and all the following orders: priests, deacons, sub deacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, porters, and all clerics, all religious men and all religious women, all lay brothers and youths, the poor and needy, kings and princes, workers and farmers, servants and masters, all virgins and continent and married women, all lay people men and women, all children, adolescents, the young and old, the healthy and the sick, all the small and the great, all peoples, races, tribes, and tongues, all nations and peoples everywhere on earth who are and who will be—that all of us may persevere in the true faith and in penance, for otherwise no one will be saved.”
“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. And the minister should take care not to grant [this permission] to anyone indiscriminately. All the brothers should preach by their deeds. And no minister or preacher should appropriate to himself the ministry of the brothers or the office of preaching, but he should set it aside without any protest whenever he is told.”
African theologian Kwome Bediako makes the claim that African religious DNA more closely matches the worldview of the Early Christians. I am attempting to weigh his six-fold claim. Here I will deal with the first two: 1. kinship with nature, 2. a deep sense of humanity’s finitude.
Kinship with Nature: St. Francis writes about his brother sun and sister moon, but that is in the early 13th century. We are exploring the Christianity of 11 hundred hears prior. Parables with sparrows, a star to guide the magi, speaking donkeys, a Holy Spirit showing up as dove, the list could go on. But one passage sticks out among the rest (Romans 8): “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected in, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Paul seems to think here that we exist with the whole of the cosmos in an interrelated kinship relationship. When we are redeemed so will the creation. Our destinies now and in the future are interdependent.
A Deep Sense of Humanity’s Finitude. Of course, we can look to the stories like the Rich man an Lazarus and know that the early Christians experienced vividly their mortality. But one verse stands out among the rest (I Corinthians 15), “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?… If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” Now, the point is this: the Early Christians lived in a culture where some if not many knew well their fate. Take note of the quote Paul uses. They realized that the were not infinite in time or space. Theirs was a posture of dependency, espeically on Christ’s resurrection.
In 1978 Walter Bruggemann gave us the Prophetic Imagination. It is time in 2010 that we explore the Primitive Imagination.
In his book on African Indigenous Theology, Kwome Bediako affirms a six-layered description of what can also be called Indigenous Ways of Knowing or Primal Worldview: 1. kinship with nature, 2. a deep sense of humanity’s finitude, 3. a conviction that humanity is not alone in the universe, 4. a belief that humanity can enter into relationship with a benevolent spirit-world, 5. an acute sense of the afterworld, 6. and a mental structuring of a sacramental universe with no sharp dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. This ‘primal imagination’, heralds Bediako, not only matches with the primal imagination of the early Christians, but as such, “Africans have found a principle of understanding and interpretation which is superior to any thing that a secular world-view is able to offer.”
My goal here is not to thrash the contributions of a secular world-view but to illustrate and affirm the primitive imagination of the Early Christians. I use ‘primitive’ without an evolutionary framework and with keen sense that we have much to learn from the indigenous imagination. And, like Bruggemann, I use the term “imagination” not to say “fictitious”. Rather, I suggest that by the term “imagination” we account for and honor a multitude of metaphysical perspectives on reality written within the history of humanity.
Could it be true that our African brothers and sisters might have an angle on understaning the Early Christians than we European descendants?
We stayed up until 3am the previous night playing Risk. We were three American boys attempting world domination. As we drove home from this countryside experience, I reflected as the mountains passed away into the sea. Baku was approaching in the distance.
I was trying to think of one aspect of this culture that I could explain in depth. So I picked a tough one. Life in a system that emphasizes honor and shame. Here is what I wrote then:
The bottom line: don’t trust anybody. Deceit is rampant and the highest good is to save face. If someone challenges your honor, or if an accident happened and the other person says that it is your fault, the battle begins. No matter if you know without a shadow of doubt that it was your fault you will fight to the bitter end defending yourself. Usually the bitter end means that you pay the other guy to say that it was nobody’s fault. Never admit that you are wrong. This is a huge topic that no one knows about at home, but it is essential as the west and the east operate in extreme opposites. The east tends to live in honor/shame as we tend to live in guilt/innocence.
Well, I was awakening then. Now I understand the complex reality that honor shame, guilt innocent are a mixed part of every culture. And it would take me a while to realize the honor/ shame rhythms of American life.
In the final Azeri days, we visited some sites and began the detailed survey of our trip ahead. We planned to visit the roots of Western Christendom in Italy and Greece. I wish I could tell all Azeri stories here, about getting lost on the bus with Mark or walking past the rich suburbs and the ongoing work with our kids in the refugee camp, or lavishing ourselves in the Turkish bath, or almost getting arrested without my passport (our English students saved me that time). I wish I could describe the fellowship among the workers or the countless faces we encountered. But this journey would pull us onward and away from those we began to love. It would take us into the ruins of Phillipi, Corinth, and Thessaloniki, to the bullet-ridden buildings of Sarajevo, on to the Holy Sepulchre, then to the east and into the heart of ancient Asia. For now, a boy whose internal myths were being pulled apart at its seams would find rest on the flight from Baku to Rome.
Back to “Travel Diaries”
We continued our journey through Europe now making our way to the eastern borders of this land. When we emerged into the terminal in the Budapest International Airport, it was another wake up call: new currency, no place to stay, and a new culture. And Mark was taking in the lessons of intercultural interaction 101 afresh. In Budapest, what you ask for is what you get. This is what Mark discovered upon asking the McDonald’s cashier for an ice cream cone. Needless to say, Mark had then to ask for some ice cream to put in that cone.
Not knowing a lick about Hungary, or Budapest, we spent three hours in the airport surveying maps and squeezing the airport dry of information. That proved to give us our bearings, and we set out for a campground auspiciously located near the heart of the city.
We followed a lead in the yellow pages to “Biker Camp”. On our way, we strolled upon a men’s soccer game. We rested our shoulders there for a time, and the grass gave us reprieve upon our still jetlagged bodies. Mark, the eternal napper (he can sleep anywhere) rested, and the sun sank low in the sky. We finally found “Biker Camp” which was, yes, the backyard of a biker mama’s house converted into campgrounds right within the limits of Hungary’s capitol. This is what we called home for the few nights we spent in Hungary.
There we visited a museum, which during WWII acted as a gulag first for the Germans then for the Russians and now chronicles the torture wrought with its walls. I had learned about WWII, but, now being here in this place had struck some deep string in my soul. I had no idea that this was the beginning of our unexpected lesson about the cruelty of humanity. Men and women had viciously imprisoned their brothers and sisters here for the sake of identity. I was then so glad then to not live in a country that wrought such torture. I had a lot to learn.
Back to “Travel Diaries”
From Salamanca, we traveled to Segovia via Avila. Little did I realize then, we were traveling through the heartland of Medieval Spanish Mysticism. The writings of St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila were birthed in these regions. It was a fateful ignorance that we rapidly traveled through these lands.
Only a half-decade later would I set my eyes on Dark Night, Living Flame of Love, and the Interior Castle. For us, then, our road led us to the exterior castles of this decaying civilization. Our Spanish journey culminated in Segova as we toured the Roman Aqueducts and the Alcazar, the city’s 11th Century Castle. We camped outside the city and met there two young men from Belgium. Interestingly, our conversation led to Christianity and their disdain of priests and suspicion of all clergy. Our fascinating conversation back-dropped our rugged tour through the ruins of Christendom gone by.
Thursday, September 9th
After our long bus ride back to Madrid, we found our way to the airport where we would catch our flight to Belgium. As our jet streamed over Western Europe, I reflected on our first week. There was so much ancient history living in the walls of these lands. My mind had been enflamed with its mystery. And yet, one sensed that an era was passing into the annals of history. The Christianity enshrined here seemed like the skin of some ancient serpent nearly shed. But the new coat of these lands seemed more like a mosaic more vividly akin to its pre-Christian past. Well, it was all just a feeling then, a slow opening of eyes.
Back to “Travel Diaries”
Frankfurt’s subway intimidated me as did the size of the city. Though my home town was not rural (Frankfurt’s urban setup would extend the first of many subtle invitations for me to love the City), I had far to come.
We were learning by trial. Navigating a city with foreign currency would become an art to master. After some wandering, we found shops and a walkway down to the city’s Min River. Exhausted from our travels, we discovered a nice grassy spot on which we enjoyed some snacks. There, in a moment of rest, we took in the sights of dogs and their people. We glimpsed familiar faces going about their busy lives uttering strange words.
After wandering for a time around the river and into a few large churches, we came across a wood ensemble in practice. In another church, we found a small boy coloring while his parents were busy at some task. We sat with him and colored for a while. Mark had the chance to test out his German. I had no idea what they said to one another. We ate some pizza and found our way back to the airport. Our flight for Spain was leaving in the morning, and we chose to sleep the night in the airport, traveling at first as cheap as possible. Mark reflected on the night that would redden both our eyes.
“Next time I will be quicker to just pull out the sleeping bag, lay flat, and do it right. The process of leaning back, then to the side, the more to the side, then laying on the seats, then pulling your feet up, then stretching out, and still wanting to cover up, well it is just the long way to get to where you wan to be.”
All I remember is the blinding halogen lights, the constant flipping of the departure signs and an inherited worry about sleeping in public spaces. We would eventually have to enjoy the skin we were in and take our rest among the passers by. We awoke tired and boarded our flight to the western shores of Medieval Christendom.
Back to “Travel Diaries”