WHAT I'M READING
BY THE REV'D CANON ART GOING, CANON FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
This month I’m spending time with one of my favorite theologians, David Ford of Cambridge University. Some years ago, I discovered The Shape of Living, a creative and experimental combination of Scripture, accessible poetry (from Ford’s friend Michael O’Siadhail), and contemporary life—specifically an exploration of the experience of overwhelming.
Now, in The Drama of Living, a sequel, Ford focuses on a single biblical text, the Gospel of John. He sets out to read John “in relation to some core themes: public an ordinary dramas of living; learning wisdom in our pluralistic world; the centrality of face-to-face relationships; practices of rereading and rehearsing and the habits that shape our lives; friendship, sex, God, and other aspects of love; and how we cope with time, illness, aging, and dying. As before in The Shape of Living, Ford draws on the poetry of O’Siadhail, now also weaving in rich autobiographical reflections—the “ordinary drama”of life. Its in the rich interplay of these three “texts” that Ford invites us to become “wise in the Spirit.”
At the heart of the book is the desirability and wisdom of reading and rereading, alone and with others, John’s Gospel and O’Siadhail’s poetry. “I believe that it is through such rereading, such savoring of deep generative texts, that we are best prepared for life, both in its ordinary an public dramas. Within those dramas, it is a rehearsal for living and for dying, but, even more than that, it is an actual performance of our relationship with God and an indwelling of meanings that help to shape us.
What I love about Ford is his ability to combine robust biblical study with deeply personal reflections. This is not your typical devotional reading.
You may also want to check out yet another book by Ford, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love, a look at the biblical wisdom tradition, in dialogue with Jews and Muslims.
For Ford, the wisdom tradition is all about paying close attention to tradition while thinking through the difficult and dark questions we face each day. Wisdom’s fruitfulness lies in its integration of imagination and practical concerns—how things actually work out in the living of life—with doctrine. It’s not about running down the importance of the intellect: you need to be at least a intelligent in you faith as in the rest of your life. But given our very pluralistic environment in which you’re likely to come up against five different worldviews in the course of a day’s encounter with the media, you need a way of thinking, imagining, and acting that makes deep sense, and that allows your to adapt and improvise in relation to these diverse views. That's where wisdom comes in handy.
Is there training in wisdom? Yes!
There’s a PATH—wisdom is acquired slowly, step by step, day by day, with lots of little choices along the way.
There’s a PROCESS for acquiring wisdom: knowing God (being rooted in his grace), knowing yourself (and being humble before others), knowing friends (mentors, spiritual guides), knowing God’s Word (which, alongside its law and promise, is a database of best practices, spiritual disciplines that cultivate a life of wisdom), and knowing trouble (being steadfast in trials, accepting and learning from difficulties and suffering, seeing them not as punishment but as refinement).
Most importantly there’s a PERSON (Jesus) who is himself wisdom in the flesh; believing his gospel brings the character traits of wisdom into your life.
I’m reading Ford at the end of the church year, just before All Saints, when we pray for “grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared of those who truly love you.” Some of us also like to commemorate the day before All Saints—Reformation Day—calling to mind those who paid dearly for remaining “steadfast in thy Word.” We’re heading into 2017, the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.
Surely it is part of our Anglican wisdom to maintain a deep appreciation of the tradition of the Church, rooted in Scripture. For my own commemoration of our Reformation heritage and as an invitation to devote my reading in the next year to the (re-) acquisition of traditional wisdom, I’ve chosen a motto, a biblical tag line for the next year: Hold fast what you have (Rev 3:11).
It’s about the high cost of amnesia! It’s about hearing, being attentive, not forsaking, not forgetting the deep wisdom of our forebears. Like walking along the Potomac and marking the parade of monuments. Only now through the Word and written words of all the saints.
It may be, as Walter Brueggemann has written, that one of the primary tasks of evangelism is making forgetters rememberers. I want to be a rememberer. That's the pathway to wisdom.
Hold fast what you have. Here’s what we have—three heritages:
The heritage from the early church: the apostles, the church fathers, the great councils: from them, we have the gospel, the means of grace, the right confession of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. A heritage that lives in liturgy, church year, ancient hymns and prayers.
The heritage from the Reformation: the deep insight of the Reformers into the work of Christ as Savior and Redeemer; the solas—Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone; worship and the Word in the vernacular.
The heritage of the great revivals and renewal movements: the witness of those who made faith in Christ alive and urgent, accepted as true not just because others have believed so, but rather because it became the most personal thing of all so that one could not live without it.
It should be a fun year. In future dispatches, I’ll share the journey. Maybe some of you will want to join the journey.