Thursday, September 27, 2018

I must admit the Costan Lectures are fabulous. Professor Sarah Coakley is developing a highly distinctive thesis, which is quite riveting. The series started biographically: there she is serving in a jail. She is discovering both the fundamental injustice of the judicial system (persons of color are disproportionately present) and how contemplation can become a form of resistance. Then in the second lecture, the systematic theologians comes to fore. How do you define sin? For Calvin, it would be disobedience. For Augustine, the major sin is pride. For Gregory of Nyssa, the primary sin is envy. However, read the text closely, the key word is 'desire'. Sin is a misaligned desire - it is desire missing its true mark. The category "sin" captures a complexity - an inherent tension - that is not captured in secular alternatives, such as "economic deprivation". Then in the nineteenth century, we see the language of sin get associated in evolutionary theory with a racist rendition of sin. And the lecture concludes with the wisdom of Howard Thurman opening up the possibility of contemplation as a form of resistance and hope.

She is, observed the Rev. Dr. Kate Sonderegger quietly to me (probably not expecting the comment to appear in the commentary), a "rock star". And as Kate's introduction yesterday so ably illustrated that truth: it is creative, deeply compelling and challenging, theology. 

I enjoy the discipline of listening to a piece of academic writing being read. The Costan Lectures require this of us. It is not intended to be easily accessible teaching. Instead it is an invitation to learn to listen attentively and carefully to a great mind expound a creative argument that will indeed contribute in significant ways to the literature. This is what we are witnessing. It is indeed a privilege.

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President
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