Contributors to our blogs are faculty, alumni, and students of Seminary of the Southwest sharing their reflections from the context of a community of faith. We hope you enjoy reading, and we invite your comments.
The first week of October, my husband Doug and I went exploring. We headed to Zion National Monument in Utah and to the north rim of Grand Canyon. Our named desire was to be in majestic natural beauty. We hoped for wonder. We wanted to visit places we’d not seen before. I suppose we are hungry for wide open space. Something about aging seems to have set our palates for wilderness.
"We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in heaven, than of those still combating here."
-- St. Augustine Contra Faustum Book XX
St. Paul addresses some of the early Christian communities as the Saints -- the holy, the people of God -- and we do well to think of our sisters and brothers in church in the same light. The gathered mystical body of Christ is one of the most profound glimpses of the Kingdom of God that we can have on this side of the grave, and it is literally holiness incarnate.
That being said, over the past couple of millennia, there have been a few Christians who have seemed to radiate God’s goodness to such a degree, that they lived as walking sacraments, showing forth God’s nature 24/7. For this tiny group, we reserve days of commemoration, seek to model our lives on theirs, and ask their prayers on our behalf.
"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark."
St. John of the Cross
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that “mindfulness” is the flavor du jour in leadership training. Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have been teaching it for decades, but just recently it has come into our collective consciousness. This does not mean that people are actually being mindful; it just means that lots of us are talking about it. It has been on the cover of Time Magazine and there is even a magazine called Mindful. This week Mindful is featuring stories like “Five Tips for Bringing Mindfulness to the Office” and “Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention.” Mindful is a helpful magazine that features some interesting articles but note the paradoxical nature of a “Mindfulness App.” It really is a perfect emblem of our times—a way to speed up one’s ability to be mindful, when mindfulness is all about stopping and stillness.
If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s classic “Earthsea” trilogy, you will know this story. If you’ve not read the Earthsea trilogy, why not? Put down Moltmann and the New Interpreter’s Bible, quit worrying about GOEs—they’re still three months away—and pick up Le Guin! She’s the best thing you’ll read this year (unless you read Schleiermacher; nothing is better than Schleiermacher).
In book three of the trilogy, The Farthest Shore, something has gone terribly wrong in the island-dotted, mythical world of Earthsea. An alternating malaise and terror encroaches across the globe. As his home island succumbs to the illness, but before his own wits are stolen from him, a young nobleman named Arren travels to the island of Roke, home of wizards, to seek the help of the Archmage Ged. With Ged, the world’s most powerful wizard, Arren travels on a swift boat across the sea, in search of the source of the world’s madness.
John Hines, among other things, was a great opportunist. The story goes that the Rather and Villavaso family wanted a denomination to take over their property as a memorial to the only offspring of the two couples. The much-loved young man had died from injuries sustained in an accident in a local swimming pool.
The Rather daughters’ father had moved to Austin from Gonzales, Texas to build the wonderful house at Duval and 32nd Street as a place for them to live while attending the University of Texas. Both married UT professors and they lived in that great house together. With the boy dead, there was no one to inherit the house.
When Hines heard about the offer, he called to say he was planning to build a seminary and would be interested in the property. Some say he only had a vague idea about a seminary, but the chance to have property so near the UT campus was too tempting to pass up, and so he invented the project in response.
On September 15th, I noticed a tweet in my feed with the hashtag: #WhatLatinoMeansToMe. I was intrigued and clicked the link included. It led me to a post written by a group of Latinos on the BuzzFeed staff, that introduced the hashtag as a way for Latinos across the nation to share what it means to them personally.
I was inspired by the direct, to-the-point and authentic way Latinos could participate in Hispanic Heritage Month by using social media to tell their story. I immediately began scrolling through the hundreds of tweets and felt a connection, a sense of unity, with the Latinos sharing their stories.
I’ve been asked to write on the theme of homecoming. At first, the topic of homecoming seems sort of like a bunny rabbit. It’s light, fluffy, and soft. It brings you comfort and makes you smile. The very idea of it makes you all warm and tingly. Homecoming. It’s totally harmless. Right?
Not always. Take your average Texas high school football homecoming, for example. Anyone who has experienced this phenomenon knows how complicated and sometimes painful it can be. The gargantuan mums alone, festooned with streamers, candy, trinkets, and full-sized toys, can give a girl a backache.1 Even worse is not receiving a mum at all, or having more degrees of separation from the members of the homecoming court than you do from Kevin Bacon. Either of these things can mark you as a social pariah or, more tragically, make you believe you’re one.
“And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”
On this feast of the Holy Cross, I return to a wonderful book by Barbara E. Reid, OP, Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations through Latina and Feminist Eyes (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2007). With clarity, charity, and compassion the author, vice president and academic dean and professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic Theological Union, walks through the different images that interpret Jesus’ death in the New Testament and for each of them explores what “taking up the cross” might mean for people of faith.
Tonight we gather to welcome newcomers into our midst, to offer them membership in this community, to cast our gaze over the year that is ahead of us, and to remind ourselves of what we do and why we do it.
So first, a warm welcome to our students and families, to faculty, staff, and board members as we begin a new academic year. Welcome especially to our new students, who embark today on a journey of learning and formation. Welcome also to Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, our new faculty member, who embarks on his own journey with a new community of colleagues, students, and friends. Welcome to Irit Umani, whose remarkable journey we celebrate this evening.
As I was preparing for this event I made a typo in an email, referring to this evening as “ma-tribulation” rather than “matriculation.” I assume this newly coined word was some mash-up of “my tribulation” or, perhaps, “more tribulation”—and, though Freud might think otherwise, I am convinced that my typo is no harbinger of apocalyptic doom. Exam anxiety, workload worries, relationship drama, soul-searching—yes; but all-things-coming-to-an-end kind of suffering—very unlikely.
It has been a pleasure to read all the various blog posts welcoming me to Southwest and offering advice on how to deal with the summer heat. As a former doctoral student noted, it really is a very warm and hospitable welcome that I think speaks well of Southwest’s core values.
Given that at the moment we are currently a one-car family, I have been taking the bus to work from where we live in Brentwood. No matter which route I take, I generally have to walk just under a mile either on the way to the school or back home. This has given me a lot of time to walk in the Texas heat. And as it happens when one walks, the mind tends to wander. Here I offer a Top Ten list of random thoughts about transitioning from cool, foggy summers of Berkeley to the blast furnace that is Austin.