In 1964, singer-activist Bob Dylan released his first album of all original compositions, “The Times They Are A’Changin’.” The title song gave lyric and melody to a basic fact of human existence that was first articulated by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: change is a constant of life. Or, as he put it, we never step in the same river twice. You can run from change, but you can’t hide. As Dylan put it, giving a nod to the famous metaphor of Hericlitus:
Come gather ‘round people
Whereever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
Some of us deal more comfortably with change than others. For those conversant in the categories in the personality inventory called the Myers-Briggs, you can even find a designation for your personality type’s capacity for dealing with this easily.
As the world changes in every generation, so must theological education adjust and alter, embracing new problems and learning new ways to go spelunking into the sacred mysteries of religious faith. This reorientation includes finding new concepts and terminology, learning new methodologies for speaking about and exploring the heart of one’s religious tradition, creating new structures to support the effort, and finding new resources to pay for all of it.
In the late 1770’s, Congregationalists and Baptists picked up the nickname of “New Lights” when they started embracing some new ways to live and articulate the Christian tradition. The New Lights became locked in conflict with the more established denominations and perspectives during the First Great Awakening in the 18th century. The same terminology was used in the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century to describe the changing ways of looking at the life of faith in the Presbyterian tradition.
When times change, perspectives change, and some people do not know how to deal with the shifting sand. At Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, we are committed to keeping all of the lights on as much as we can – old and new. We live in this space of tension because we believe this is where God calls us to stand. A purple space in a red and blue world.
But, old light or new, change is a comin’ and this means we all need to make room for new perspectives and new ways of being children of God.
All this quarter the School’s core faculty are wresting together with how to do interreligious dialogue. We are going to school together and wrestling with the concepts and methodologies of the people who have struggled with this essential skill-set for the 21st century.
In our seminar this week, we had some very interesting visitors. The first guest was Fr. Peter Phan, a prestigious Vietnamese theologian who has written compellingly about the Asian perspective on Christianity’s encounter with other religions. Later in the day, Jim Wallis, the prolific Evangelical writer who founded Sojourners Magazine, joined our seminar. Rev. Wallis had profound stories to share about his interfaith work, many of them captured in his latest book, On God’s Side. He is known best for bringing social justice back into a central feature of an Evangelical Christian faith.
As a first year seminarian in 1980, I wrote a letter to Jim Wallis asking if the Sojourners Magazine could use a summer intern. As someone who had been trained as a journalist, was committed to social justice, and now found himself as a student of theology and ministry, I told him I wanted to know how they were integrating these three factors that did not fit together very easily.
Jim wrote back with a very nice note, informing me that they discussed my offer at great length in one of their meetings, but came to the conclusion that they were not organized enough to even know what to do with an intern, and too broke to offer room and board. When Rev. Wallis showed up at the School, he was accompanied by a young man who lives in intentional community with eight other Sojourners interns. He is learning how Congress works, how laws are passed, and how he as a person of faith can leave an indelible mark on world, even if in just a small way.
From no interns to nine, and from an Evangelical start-up to a Sojourners organization that has become a focal point for faith-based political action in the nation’s capital. For Jim Wallis, these times have been a’changin’.
In this newsletter you’ll see how they are changing at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. But, expect a lot more in the next few months. At the School we are aware that we are rooted in historic faith traditions, and the vibrant spiritual energies of our world of believers and seekers. But, we also know that we never put our foot in the same river twice.
~ Dean Mark S. Markuly, PhD
School of Theology and Ministry