A Word From the Dean
By Dr. Tim Sensing
“PPE” “C0VID-19” “Pandemic” “Social Distancing” “Essential Workers”
“Epidemiology” “Quarantine” “N95 Respirators”
“Masks” “Testing” “Ventilators” “Supply Chains”
“Re-Opening” “Depression” “Negative Markets” “Coronavirus”
Words I did not expect to be part of my vocabulary in a Graduate School of Theology 2020 newsletter. What does one say, especially one in a leadership role? While my reflections sometimes turn quickly to the irony and tragedy of social commentary, I am grateful to be part of a community that engages in thinking and doing theology, so instead, I turn to the familiar territory of theological reflection. Social commentary these days leads me to cynicism, frustration, and incredulity; faith leads me to hope, refuge, and calm.
In my theological reflection, I begin with experience. My personal experience comes from a place of luxury and privilege. I am a white male who can afford to work from home without it affecting my life except for a few inconveniences. Those dearest to me can afford the same. I also begin with my communal experience. I have enjoyed the blessing of an employer, family, church, and city that takes science seriously, promotes healthy practices, acts for the sake of others, and responds graciously. I listen to the voices of nurses who risk their lives so I might live. I listen to essential workers who often cannot afford to work from home. I hear stories of loved ones holding onto a cell phone because they cannot hold onto a hand as their father, spouse, or child dies alone.
Next, my theological reflection turns to the Christian witness. Scripture, liturgy, tradition, and creeds inform my imagination. Virtual worship experiences with my church, chapel experiences with my school, devotional guides provided by ACU’s Office of Spiritual Formation and the Carl Spain Center, and voices from ages past in The Book of Common Prayer all have provided me theological resources. I found a word about community from Luther in one of my student’s papers, and a word about lament from N. T. Wright on LinkedIn. The cloud of witnesses testifies loudly in pandemics.
My theological reflection also engages the cultural location of my larger context. I always thought viruses knew no social boundaries, but here I find a virus that is no respecter of persons. This virus preys on those most vulnerable and leaves others asymptomatic. I am 60 with occasional asthma so I take the preferences and disrespect of this virus seriously. The systemics of my culture also provide this virus with avenues to flourish among those most vulnerable, people of color, essential workers, people with underlying conditions, and those who cannot afford certain preventative luxuries. This virus does not respect folks forced to choose between working in public and paying rent; those without health insurance or access to basic care; or those living in crowded spaces or long-term care facilities. This virus does not respect persons who live in large multi-cultural cities, states with slow-acting public officials, or outliers who prefer the economy over the right to life. The systemics of my culture have nurtured this virus’s disrespect of persons and promote it as a partisan pawn.
The conversation between lived experience, theological resources, and culture leads me to discernment, actions, and over time new habits, practices, virtues, beliefs, and dispositions. And the evolutionary spiral continues with new lived experiences. What is the telos of such reflection? C. S. Pierce, one of my philosophical interlocutors, says the fruition of the evolutionary spiral is love. I have taught in class that the goal of such reflection is theosis. Others advocate that the end of all things is a flourishing and abundant life in God.
During this pandemic I am thankful to be part of a community that engages in theological thinking and doing, for it turns me back to the basics of my faith: “[Y]et for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6). As I reflect theologically about all these things under the sun, faith(fulness) leads me to hope, refuge, and calm.
May you lead your communities of faith to think and do theologically about the “words” of our day. If our education in seminary means anything, it means this.
Reflections on April 22, 2020
Graduate School of Theology