J. Nelson Kraybill is president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. The subtitle of his book is self-explanatory: it is a series of shared reflections taking up a variety of themes to be found on life’s journey. The questions at the end of each chapter seem out of place at first in such a meditative book, but Kraybill’s point is that this is not a solo journey, that reflection must be shared. By the eighth day of his trip, he was realizing how deeply ingrained was his tendency toward overdoing.
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“What would you say to a man who wants to walk 140 miles to Canterbury?” A middle-aged man in a natty suit was the only other person in the waiting room, and he eyed me carefully when I posed the question at the train station of Farnham village. It was Friday morning, and an early train had just brought me from London to southern England. My walking stick leaned into a corner, a wide-rimmed hat was perched on the bench beside me, and I was rummaging through a rucksack for mudguards to fasten around the cuffs of my trousers.
On the Pilgrims’ Way: Conversations on Christian Discipleship during a Twelve-Day Walk across England, by J. Nelson Kraybill (Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa., paper $15.99)
“I would say, I wish I could go with you,” the man replied with a smile. “I’ve often thought of doing a long-distance walk. But I have my own business, and if I leave, there’s nobody to run it.”
How strange, I thought, that this man who wants to walk would live for years in a village along one of the best footpaths in the British Isles, and never make the time for a sustained journey through the hills.
For countless centuries this market village has been a crossroads for traffic from all directions. From Farnham, a medieval traveler could go south to the sea, west toward Stonehenge, north into London, or east to the great cathedral at Canterbury. Every direction was full of possibility.
Even in medieval times, though, most residents of the village probably were like the businessman I met. They had compelling reasons to stay where they were. The immediate pull of apparent security, well-established routine, comfortable reputation all conspire to keep people from starting a pilgrimage.
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This was the beginning of my second week on the road. A cumulative physical and emotional weariness settled into my bones. In astonishment I thought, Why hadn’t I planned a Sabbath rest into my pilgrim walk? Why did I think it would be a good idea to press hard, talking and walking and writing for twelve days nonstop? It didn’t even occur to me that I might become exhausted!
I felt chastened by my weariness. I tend to take projects and assignments seriously, even to the point of working beyond what is healthy. I want to grow spiritually and emotionally so I’m able to work hard and then rest.
God could have put a consumer label on each person: “Please follow instructions. Manufacturer not responsible for misuse.” The instructions for a Sabbath are clear in the Bible: Keep one day of seven “holy” (set apart) for rest and worship.
I used to think the Sabbath was a special day for God. I’ve come to see it as a gift from God for human emotional and spiritual well-being. We need rest for our bodies and time to renew our souls in worship and recreation. Jesus was not legalistic about observing the Sabbath, but the gospels portray him making time for solitude, rest, and prayer.
Carnegie Samuel Calian is president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a school of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His latest book, designed as a text for classroom and church study groups, centers around themes ranging from biblical literacy to work for peace and justice. The chapter from which this excerpt is drawn is titled “Practice Forgiveness.”
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Some understand the Christian faith as forgiveness personified in Christ. This forgiveness centered in Christ has the power to humanize our existence. If we could learn again the basic elements of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness, both our individual and social lives could be renewed.
Sadly, many of us do not believe forgiveness is realistic today. How then can we expect the power brokers of our global society to take our faith seriously? What do we think life would be like without the possibility of forgiveness? I know what my answer is—hell! And many people (more than I like to think) are living in hell today, refusing to cross the emotional barrier of alienation as they search for opportunities to destroy their so-called “enemies,” created in God’s image as they are.
Survival or Revival: Ten Keys to Church Vitality, by Carnegie Samuel Calian (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky., paper $16)
The cross of Christ hovers over the global community today. As Christians we are bearers of the cross, and through the pain of forgiving we can help others to discover the therapeutic power and freedom that comes with forgiveness. Yet it is difficult to break out of our self-imposed prisons of hatred or animosity, which at times seem to bind people together. Too much of our energy and emotions are lost through hatred and misplaced suspicions. We are all in need of liberation and new life.
The idea of forgiveness, however, seems to fall on deaf ears in a cynical society that stereotypes its enemies and rationalizes its own behavior. Ours is a culture of victimization and blame, so it is all the more moving to witness a public act of forgiveness such as took place between the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Steven Cook, who in 1993 falsely accused Bernardin of sexually abusing him in the 1970s. At their two-hour meeting, Cook apologized and the two became reconciled. Together they celebrated a private mass for Cook and a gay friend. “I think I have grown spiritually as a result of this,” said Bernardin. Both ceased to be victims through this process of reconciliation.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary, a school of the United Church of Christ. Mary Potter Engel is a theologian and novelist and has taught at three seminaries. The book is a revised and expanded version of a textbook on liberation theology. This excerpt is drawn from a transcript of a conversation between Thistlethwaite and Mary D. Pellauer, a former seminary teacher who is now a quilter and papermaker. In it the point is made that theology is oral as well as written and that it is characteristic of liberation theology to have consistency between theory and practice.
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Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: People who go into the ministry are people who want to help, which is many times a very positive thing, but it can also be manipulative and controlling and aggressive, and yes, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some situations that are not fixable.
Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y., paper $20.00)
Mary D. Pellauer: That’s one of the difficult parts of readiness to heal, because many people get to the end of their lives without either accepting a healing possibility or without having a healing possibility presented to them. People have died without healing, and women are killed in the process of their continual assault in the home. There’s no way to account for the fact that sometimes nothing transformative occurs in their lives or that we don’t have any way of— Well, I don’t know because I also think that surviving itself is a theological topic, and that sometimes the simple ability to endure— even if it doesn’t look good to everybody else— It might look to you or me like sheer living hell and torment and maybe it is, but somehow that person is still alive and this is a miracle.
Thistlethwaite: No, I think that’s right. The other thing I’ve learned is that the continuous offering of healing possibilities can make the difference. It may take years for someone to act on a possibility that was offered a long time ago. But some other things happen in between.
Pellauer: Yes, or you can be in a casual conversation with someone describing something unrelated to domestic violence and sexual abuse, and say, “That sounds abusive to me.” And two weeks later the person calls up, in crisis. The mere use of the word “abuse” in an unrelated context thrust them into something that had been going on since childhood. And who knows why that was the moment and that was the occasion in which that word fell on fertile ground? It’s quite wonderful, but it’s also perplexing.
Thistlethwaite: I worry that a word should have been said that I didn’t say.
Pellauer: And it is part of the spiritual discipline of the person who wants to participate in healing to say, “It’s not up to me.”
(Child’s crying interrupts conversation.)
Thistlethwaite: This tape is going to be a mess with children crying and all these interruptions.
Pellauer: Actually I want to see that left in. Interruptibility is one of the conditions with which women have to come to terms to do theology. It’s not one of the things you can learn in theological school, about how to do theology with a child crying in the background or coming in with a Mickey Mouse toy, or whatever.
Thistlethwaite: Yes, interruptibility is key, and it’s methodologically key.
Pellauer: It’s also parallel to what we’ve been saying about the healing processes. Periods of denial in a person’s recovery process are part of it. You have to allow for this interruption. It’s not a process that happens in a continuous series. Healing is interruptible. People put dimensions of it on the back burner sometimes for years, and then find themselves once again recycling the same issues from a new perspective, because the kaleidoscope has shifted a little bit and now they have to reintegrate things.
Thistlethwaite: That’s an expression I very often use, “To put things on the back burner.”
Pellauer: A good image from cooking and the kitchen.
Thistlethwaite: Being Hungarian, my mother always had a stockpot on the back burner. Something was happening on the back burner, and you wouldn’t pay attention to it for a while, but suddenly, miraculously, there was soup.