Out and About
The Gustafson Lectures
Some of our readers have had the privilege of studying New Testament and, on occasion, hearing the preaching of Dr. Henry Gustafson. I have had both privileges including the additional privilege of hearing Dr. Gustafson's farewell lectures, which anticipate his retirement from United Theological Seminary, New Brighton, Minnesota.
Henry gave two lectures: 'The Resurrection: What Can We Believe?" and "The Resurrection: What Can We Hope?." I heard the second lecture in person and a recording of the first. There is much to digest in these lectures and I encourage you to obtain a recording of them. They are available for $3.50 per cassette plus $1.50 postage from United Seminary, 3000 5th Street NW, New Brighton, Minnesota 55112.
Two things stand out. First, Henry made clear what the significance of the New Testament understanding of the resurrection — Jesus' and our own — has for the present. Resurrection from death gives importance to what we do now. Second, is the way Dr. Gustafson grounds his thinking in the New Testament. Henry Gustafson has been faithful to the tasks of searching out what scripture actually says and of calling us to the same faithfulness.
Though I am a lover of and even a liver in the stories of the resurrection of Jesus, I have, nevertheless, frequently been skeptical of the truth of the stories. Or, rather, the stories seem true when I am reading them but at other times I have a lack of faith in the likelihood or possibility of such a phenomenon, I have wondered whether there is meaning or value other than metaphorical in resurrection — my own or that of my fellow humans. Of course, metaphorical value is no small thing.
It is easy to forget, as Henry observes using the people in the church at Corinth as an example, that value and meaning in present life are served by a belief in and an understanding of the resurrection of Jesus and of the dead in Christ. Henry showed how the Apostle Paul argued that faith in Jesus' resurrection and our own is not only served by, but essential to value and meaning of our human lives in this present age. Indeed, Henry, using the Apostle, showed how value and meaning in our lives are created by this faith.
When Henry exposits scripture, he does so with a wide and deep understanding of non-religious experience and knowledge derived from his extensive reading of literature and his interests in all the phenomena of life. He has asked hard, serious questions worthy of the most seasoned skeptic. Thus, his thoughts on these matters, when funneled back through the New Testament, are impregnated with understanding and reflect faithfulness to his calling.
Most of the reflections here focus on Dr. GuMfson's second lecture, "The Resurrection: What Can We Hope?" Quotations which are not noted are from the same lecture. Henry offered the fate of the Corinthians as an example of the consequences of ignoring the teaching of the resurrection — that is, when faith and life are not informed by a vision of it.
We begin to see then, how Paul centers his critique of the Corinthians around the resurrection of Jesus. Henry observed that the New Testament has little to say about the specific nature of the resurrection or of the life to follow. They are described mostly by what they are not. Paul discussed his convictions and relates his experiences and the experiences of some others with an appropriate recognition of the limits of human knowledge. Christians following Paul and Jesus and informed by a Biblical perspective, come to a similar recognition of the limits of knowledge. When this occurs, a person finds oneself in the presence of the unknowable, unfathomable mystery which underlies life and the mystery of the actual, present this moment, wonderfully rich, everyday life. About the kingdom to come, beyond faith we have only our dreams and a few hints. Hans Nielson Hauge (Autobiographical Writings, p.25) quotes Johann Arndt:
When Thou for us hast made
This world, so green and fair,
What glories will we not behold
In the heavenly mansions there!
What happened to the Corinthians, Henry observed, was that they lost their perspective. This came about in part through the weakness side of their strength and blessing. Their gifts of the spirit had been a great joy to them. As Henry put it, they felt themselves to be in possession of the power and the glory of the Age to Come. They had an "over-realized eschatology." The Apostle's understanding was informed by his experience as a Pharisee. Pharisees, like Paul, believed there are two acts in the salvation drama. The First Act is the coming of the messiah. Paul and Christians since his time believe the First Act is the resurrection of Jesus and live in the light of Jesus' victory over death. The Second Act, as seen by Paul and the Pharisees, is the kingdom coming with the resurrection of the dead.
There are those who have ignored the present, first act experience of the kingdom and have looked forward almost exclusively to the second act of heaven. This was not the error of the Corinthian people to whom Paul wrote. They already possessed, in their own minds and life together, the fulfillment of the kingdom.
They participated in the new freedom, new community, and new knowledge. They were self impressed, had remarkable gifts, and they had lost all interest in hope of change. They made no protest, did not ask the question "How long?". They had forgotten the daily struggle against death and the many ways of killing in our world or the desperate need for new life, justice, and freedom. They were the winners (from "What Can We Hope?" )
At this point Henry read aloud Paul's words in Chapter 4 which, as he said, are "dripping with sarcasm": "Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!" (4:8). What Paul's addressees did not realize was their need — in particular, their need for more than the first act. "They thought their limitations were overcome — or nearly so."
Using an observation by Sam Keane, from "In a Post-Human Era," that a prerequisite to hope is the recognition of need, Henry moves on to observe that the Corinthians did not recognize the tragic dimensions of human existence and they were not alert to their own needs. "They seemed to have thought that by virtue of their baptismal resurrection, the wisdom of their speculative theology, their charismatic energies, and the freedom they had in which all things were lawful, they had arrived and they could give full attention to their own achievements."
Paul, Henry points out, was aware of their needs. By Chapter 15, he has spent 14 chapters discussing their problems which included "their divisiveness, litigiousness, intellectual and charismatic arrogance, and their loveless insensitivity in various social, sexual, and religious practices — their world is not as happy as they think."
Here Dr. Gustafson acknowledged that he was about to begin a homily — which he did. He observed that it was easy for some of us (I felt included) to understand the Corinthians. The pleasantries of life for the fortunate, like myself, are solace in this tragic, dangerous world. Personal good fortune allows one to ignore the problems and, in skepticism, begin to think, as the Corinthians did, that we are "the creators rather than recipients of value, deny death [or at least ignore it for the present], and ignore the reality of our limitations."
If recognition of need is a prerequisite for hope, it is follows that a prerequisite for hope is integrity. Erik Erickson plots the final task of adult life as one of working out the conflict between despair and integrity. In light of this, the antidote for despair — the inevitable consequence of pretending to a life that is not rooted in reality, as painful as reality might be — is not hope. It is integrity. Hope can not be manufactured. Integrity, though, mysteriously generates life and hope. Of course, integrity is always a relative matter which needs content to inform it. As Henry stressed in his homily:
We need to be reminded of our mortality, of the injustice in our society, of our wanton waste and ecological irresponsibility. We need to listen to the voices of protest against a world that promotes death and so often doesn't seem to care, the protest against an America that can cause the death of 150,000 Guatamalans because of an economic and political threat [this is a heavy charge but it may well be true] and we need to listen to the cries of the little people for whom life as it is is no longer livable.
Concerning ecological irresponsibility, I want to add that we need to beware of the apparent victory of capitalism in the world. According to what seems to me to be conventional wisdom, the practical success of international free enterprise — including ever-increasing industrialization which is "hooked" on speed — and the apparent failure of communism as a working economic system "proves" the virtues of capitalism. Our businesslike leaders call for unhindered development of the capitalist, profit-motivated, market economy as the source of human hope and the "right" business for society.
Critiques of this faith are not new but they need to be remembered and restated to clarify our need. The failure to recognize the limits to the safety and usefulness of this approach makes us unable to stop wrecking the world. Long ago, impersonal forces generated by our economic and technological development were recognized as impinging on personal life. For some time, people have warned us about the dangerous effects of our industrial, consuming ways on our earthly habitat. We hear news daily about ecological disasters and dangers. I fear the earth may already be poisoned.
Nevertheless, many rejoice at the potential increase of consumers in China, Russia, and other countries who have "seen the light." Our government talks and acts as if an international market economy heading for maximum intense production controlled by the "bottom line" is good for all. "Bottom line" is an abstraction since it is merely an arithmetic tally. In using it people tend to ignore the meaning and purpose of the human activity involved. This tally demands increased productivity on its behalf even though it seems apparent that the pressure already on Mother Earth, to say nothing of the pressure we have on ourselves, is more than she can bear. Those of us benefiting momentarily from the profits generated this way easily lose sight of our need, We need, as both Charles Reich in The Greening of America and Ivan Illych in Tools for Conviviality wrote some time ago, limits on the relatively unchecked powers of industrialization and speed so that we begin to make economics and technology subject to human beings, just as Jesus saw the Sabbath as made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. I guess this is my homily, my cry: "Hold everything! Slow down! Think about it."
Henry's homily also reminded me of how human need and resurrection were preached to me in my youth. Though the preachers in Northern Minnesota in those days (about 19451956), had not studied critically or extensively and had little if any knowledge of Greek, they preached the same message because they, like Henry, read Paul from the inside out. Sometimes they focused too much on the next life, sometimes they were too certain about things that cannot be known, but they understood human need and preached Paul's message of redemption.
Bob Thompson remarks in "Readers Respond," that reading the Bible is a matter of the heart, not the head. He says, "I don' t believe that one has to understand the Bible so much as to feel it, to be moved by it." He is right, I think, that there is no substitute for heart reading. Sometimes the head can help the heart and sometimes the heart demands the head. On this point Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermon, "Tough Mind, Tender Heart," comes to mind. King preaches on Jesus' advice to be "as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves" which he aptly characterizes as Jesus' injunction to be tough-minded and tender-hearted. (The sermon can be found in a book of MLK's sermons Strength to Love.)
Henry reads with a heart informed by his head and with a head informed by his heart. He reads the Bible as one reads a love letter, This metaphor was firmly planted in my mind by reading Sistren Kierkegaard's sermon "How to Derive True Benediction from Beholding Oneself in the Mirror of the Word" James 1:22 ff. (In For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourselves, pp, 35-74). Kierkegaard suggests that scripture is a love letter from God. To bring the point home he has the reader imagine a lover receiving a letter from his beloved. Since S.K. addresses the objection that the Bible was written in a foreign language, he imagines that the lover's letter, too, is written in another language. A Mend, having heard that the lover has received a letter from his beloved, stops by. He finds the lover buried in dictionaries and says, "Oho! There you sit reading the letter you got from your lady-love." The lover responds, "Arc you out of your senses? Is this what you call reading a letter from a lady-love?... I shall soon be through with the translation, and then, ah, then I shall get to the point of reading the letter from my lady-love — that is an entirely different thing."
Over the years, Henry Gustafson has done the dictionary work for us and has gone on to show us how to read the letter from God, our lover. From 1952 to 1968 Dr. Gustafson taught New Testament at North Park Seminary. Every student during those years knew Henry Gustafson. He was called Agape Henry — the Apostle of Love. His faithfulness to scripture and his commitment to truth (I have long thought that Henry and many other tough-minded, tender-hearted professors at North Park genuinely lived in the faith that "The truth shall set you free.") led, at times, to controversy in the Covenant. Like North Park Bible teachers before him, he was a prophetic "troubler of Israel."
Over the years many fine young men and women raised in Covenant churches and educated at North Park have made an exodus from the Covenant and have made outstanding contributions to other fellowships. During my North Park Seminary days (1961-1963), Henry would sometimes say — contemplating Jesus' assertions that one must lose one's life to find it and that unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it cannot bear fruit — that perhaps the mission of the Covenant Church was to die for the sake of the larger church of Christ. Perhaps, he speculated, persons raised in the Covenant and educated in part at North Park could help bring new life elsewhere. This has happened often and by God's Grace the Covenant continues to live as well.
In 1969, Henry himself "died" with respect to the Covenant and became Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. UTS is a seminary of the United Church of Christ. It was opened after the merger of the Congregationalists with the Evangelical and Reformed. UTS strives to be, and succeeds in being, an ecumenical seminary. Within the range of its ecumenism is its openness, its support of women and men of all denominations, and its program for Native American students.
At this school, Henry has performed his scholarly labors for more that 20 years. He has the distinction of being an important part of the life and history of two schools and two denominations. Through the years he has been faithful to his call to study and teach the New Testament and to preach the Gospel. Dr. Gustafson, we cherish you and we salute you.
A Seasonal Person
Glen Wiberg, Pastor of Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton, Minnesota, was the guest speaker for a weekend at Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis. His theme was story and worship. In Pastor Wiberg's sensitive, believing hands, thinking about stories and telling stories provided showers of blessing.
As Pastor Wiberg talked, the great Christian story drew us in. Glen invited us to make the Christian story our dwelling place — rather than a monument — as we keep telling it, listening to it, trusting it, and as we live in its suspense.
Glen said he was a seasonal person. The story he dwells in goes thus: In Advent I wait for Christ, at Christmas I'm born with him, at Epiphany I walk into the light, during Lent I enter the desert, on Good Friday I die with him, on Easter I am raised with him and during Pentecost [a long season] I pray for empowerment. Sounds rather rich and Christian to me.
On Sunday, Glen preached that the "poor will save us." If that is true, and certainly God's word, the Christian story, suggests that, we may be saved from underneath and it may happen in spite of ourselves. But, it may not be pretty. Being saved in spite of ourselves reminds me of a friend who tells me he loves me and that "there is nothing you can do about that." This sentiment is at the heart of the Christian story though the confusion, the pain, and the difficulties of life are givens along with laughter, joy, and salvation.
A Story-Telling Man
Glen Wiberg was not the only story-telling man I have run into since our last issue. Another was Chinua Acebe, a Nigerian novelist who is regarded as the dean of African writers.
Some years ago Things Fall Apart (1958), the story of Okonkwo, a powerful Nigerian tribesman, was placed in our hands. Through Okonkwo's tragic life the reader feels involved first hand in the impact of the arrival of Westerners on a community of Nigerian villages. The story is simple and compelling. The reader is allowed to be a witness to the ways of the Ibo people. One must read for oneself to discover the art of Chinua Acebe — the humor, the humanity, the details of everyday life in the Umuofia clan, and the dramatic change they went through when white men came. Things would never be the same again. Things fall apart. At the end of the story Okonkwo, a wonderful, headstrong man, against powerful sanctions of his people, hangs himself in defiance of the changed character of life.
At the same time things are falling apart, the world is expanding. Nigerian students go to England to study. Many people leave the villages and many of them move to the city of Lagos. How do these people adjust? What happens to them? How do they pursue their lives? The story of the expanded world with its mixed blessings as part of contemporary African life is continued in No Longer at Ease. (1960) These two I have finished but there is more written: The Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savanah, (1987). Acebe has written some other stories, including children's stories, but the list given here covers his major novels.
A large, international audience gathered in Willey Hall of the University of Minnesota to await Mr. Acebe and his Sudanese colleague Nuruddin Farah, author of among other works, Maps. I could hardly believe that I would be seeing Chinua Acebe, the man who became present to me as a writer five years ago, whom I admired, whose story captivated me and who was as remote to me as Africa itself. Here he would be, a living person.
Mr. Acebe turned out to be a wonderful, gentle man — as good in the flesh as he is in his books. He was dressed in African style wearing a black and white, loose-fitting garment that flowed from his shoulders to his feet. Everyone in the audience, it seemed, was glad to see him.
He said many things — that stories are metaphors for looking on the world, that the story is absolutely crucial, that there is no certain knowledge but there are figures of speech, (This makes me think of Paul L. Holmer's description and analysis of language in his book The Grammar of Faith.), that anger is not a very useful emotion since it tends to be wasteful, and that the poet is a different and necessary identity from the emperor.
Acebe said that he writes stories even though it means that working on a novel will reduce his enjoyment of the world. Writing means, among other things, that he has to stay indoors pounding on a typewriter. He thinks that the urge to do it arises out of the desire to communicate, the need to tell what we know. A story is something which wells up from inside just as dancing and singing do. I doubt there are many ministers who have not experienced the urge to communicate. From my own experience there are few people who do not feel that urge. It is a question of degree and method of expression.
The final question of the evening came from a young man who was probably an African. He said he had wanted to ask Acebe this question for something like 16 years. Why, he asked, did Acebe let Okonkwo die in Things Fall Apart? Nuruddin Farah interceded with the answer. He explained that when Things Fall Apart is taught in literature classes it is usually recognized that Okonkwo did not really die. His spirit lives on. Mr. Farah's answer was long and eloquent. When he had finished everyone looked at Acebe who said, "Obviously that must be the answer." The audience laughed loudly and the moderator seized the opportunity to close the meeting. I was a bit disappointed since Acebe looked like he was about to say more. I doubted that the person who raised the question which had brewed in him for 16 years was satisfied.
The applause was warm and strong.
A Scientific Story
In the midst of hearing religious and literary stories, I received two tickets to a scientific story, "Imaginary Time," given by Stephen Hawking. Professor Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, England, a chair once held by Isaac Newton, was delivering the tenth Abigail and John Van Vleck Lecture at the University of Minnesota.
A friend had given me Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time, which I had actually read. So, on May 16, co-editor Tommy Carlson and I went off to Northrop Auditorium on the Minnesota campus to see and to listen.
When we arrived at 3:40 PM for the 4:00 PM lecture (real time or imaginary, I am no longer quite sure), we were directed to the balcony. The main floor was already filled and signs were posted which read, "All tickets for the Stephen Hawking lecture have been distributed." By 4:00 PM the balcony was filled, too. It was a capacity crowd.
At the appointed time, Professor Hawking wheeled out on stage. He began by explaining how his computer voice synthesizer worked. Then he raised the questions: Can we slow time? Is travel in time possible? What is beyond the end of time? How real is time?
I must admit these are great questions which I have never heard answered scientiTically. I ask myself now, did he answer them?
He did make clear, as he does in his book, that time and space are not separable (this reminds me of what the late Dr. Roger Hazelton of Andover Newton stressed, "To distinguish is not to divide.") and that time is relative. Other than that I don't think he answered the questions. He did say something about the conditions of travel in time and space and he developed the idea of imaginary time. Imaginary time, as best I have grasped, is analogous to imaginary numbers in mathematics. Professor Hawking discussed black holes and white holes. He observed many examples of anti-particles, or opposites to the fundamental elements of the universe. Things always seem to have their hidden opposites.
Professor Hawking is convinced that there is no such thing as a singularity. For instance, it was previously thought that black holes were absolute singularities, that the big bang was an absolute singularity, and so forth, Dr. Hawking now thinks he has demonstrated that these singularities do not exist and he pictures time like a globe that needs no beginning.
Although he frequently uses the word, Professor Hawking said at another time that he does not believe in God. He refers to God in terms of physics only. He does not discuss the divine mystery of personal life and consciousness which includes love. He is an honest man extending our intelligence about God's Body, the creation, and he shows what an incredible creation it is. Through his description, wonder and mystery are deepened, not eliminated. PraisebetoGod. May God give us thankful hearts.
Some wonderful things about Dr. Ha~king, in addition to the things he is learning on our behalf about the universe, are the satisfaction he gets out of his work and the way he shares the results of his explorations with people. Though they lead to an increase in understanding and knowledge and to a reduction of ignorance, the theories he generates are tentative and subject to challenge and revision. Investing one's life as he has and finding joy in it as he does are witnesses to the value and creative power of human life.
Stephen Hawking ended his talk saying, "By now I have used up all my ordinary time and all my imaginary time and I had better stop before running into the singularity of the chairman's axe." P. J.
Text: "Bodily exercise profiteth little." Paul of Tarsus
Motto: The real game is the game you're in.
While the NBA was filling the air with basketballs, the Bethlehem Pietist Vikings were basking in the afterglow of their triumph in the Christian Athletic Association City-Wide Tournament. The Pie Vikes, captained by Big Jim Clausen, academic All-American who played on North Park Division III National Championship teams in the late '70s, have put a strong team on the court each year but have come up empty handed at tournament time. This season it was different.
Led by their defense and the scoring of Lance Johnson, Bethlehem breezed through four tournament games. In the opener they scaled the Mount of Olives by defeating the Mt. Olivet Lutheran Olives. The Pie Vikes picked the Olives clean on all three summits (See The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 597) of the famous mount on the way to a 57-40 win.
From the heights they surveyed Jerusalem — that is, the CAA finals — not pausing to look back over the Jordan at their inconsistent season play. Between them and Jerusalem stood St. Peter's Gate, kept by the high-jumping St. Peter AME Gatekeepers.
The Vikings plowed their way through a March blizzard and the Gatekeepers did not. A forfeit victory would be an easy way through the gates. Alas, a forfeit victory was denied. Two days later, the snow pushed aside, Bethlehem took the court against the Gatekeepers, a team which had beaten them by one point in last year's tourney opener. In the second half the Pie Vikes created a blizzard of their own, stormed the gates, and blew through to the semi-finals with a 57-44 victory.
This brought them face to face with the Grace Independents, champions of league play, who had beaten the Pietists twice during the season. New white and green reversible jerseys — worn green side out for St. Patrick's Day and a ferocious trapping zone press executed primarily by Lance Johnson and Jeff Lundeen nearly caused the Independents to seek the haven of a denomination. The Pie Vikes, drawing from the best of both of their heritages, stymied the Independents' attempts to rally and surpassed Grace into the finals.
The championship game against the Aldrich Presbyterian Aces turned out to be no contest. Bethlehem had split with the Aces in season play. On this night in the friendly confines of the Minnehaha Academy gymnasium, the Pietists avenged the death of Micheal Servetus at the stake in Geneva in 1553. They aced the Aces 74-50.
The victorious Pietist Vikings gladly accepted their trophies: Captain Jim Clausen, Lance — "the Greyhound" — Johnson, Big Jerry Noreen, lefty Jeff Lundeen, speedy Ken Carlson, jump-shooting Dave — "Cookie Jar" — Jarvis (no relation to Bat Jarvis of P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith Journalist), husky Bill Hunstock, hustling Gordie Swanson, veteran Phil Johnson, high-flying Paulo Diarra — Bethlehem's Angolan recruit, and shifty Tim Nelson.
Pietisten congratulates the Pie Vikes and marks them down as a leading candidate for team of the year. P. J.