My experience at the conference I've been attending in Durban, South Africa, has been incredibly rewarding. To sit and share in scripture, worship, reflection and dialogue with so many wonderful people from many parts of Africa and the US (and New Zealand and Sweden!) was a rich banquet which it will take some time to digest. This was, in part, my job, as I was a member of the "listening team" charged with collecting and distilling some of the wealth. An official report will be available in due coure, but I wanted to share something of the Bible study, to which I was also able to contribute some observations. Even though a "listener" I was instructed to operate under the "no muzzling the threshing ox" rule and was encouraged to participate fully even while taking notes!
The two major Bible studies were on the woman with the ointment in the house at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9) and the stilling of the storm on the lake (Mark 4:3541). What struck me in both stories was the location. The house of Simon the Leper in Bethany is a key place, as is the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (if indeed these are two different houses). Jesus expends a significant portion of his ministry in Bethany -- one meaning of which is "House of the afflicted." And it struck me that all of the really important things in Christ's ministry happen not within Jerusalem, but outside it -- at the margins with the poor and the outcast, not just spiritually and economically, but physically. Bethany is a place of lepers and irregular households, yet Jesus is at home there. The great crescendo of saving acts performed by this marginal man (uneducated and of questionable birth) -- the Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension -- all take place in the liminal and marginal world surrounding, but not within, the "Holy City."
And yet the church it seems so often wants to see itself as trhe Temple, the place of security and pomp and circumstance, rather than to be in the place where Jesus is -- on the margins in the home of the afflicted. As one of the presenters at the Conference, Sathi Clarke, put it, it is the bonds of affliction, not of affection, that truly bind up the church in the paschal mystery. Anglicans in particular seem to want to be -- and to be seen to be -- safe and secure, content in the Temple, rather than risking all on the edges.
And this brings me to the second study. We are so accustomed to reading the story of the calming of the storm as if that was what Jesus wanted to do. In fact it is what the disciples wanted done for them. Jesus' goal was to reach the other side. Perhaps Jesus wanted them to make use of the storm and their skill to reach that other shore. I can imagine Jesus saying, implicitly responding to their lack of faith, "I gave you the storm; I gave you myself. Was that not enough for you." Jesus was with them, though asleep, in the midst of that tossing sea and blowing wind, and he taught them a hard lesson by brining a calm which would give no wind to their sails.
Again, the church so often wants to be "safe and secure from all alarms" rather than to make use of the energy available and the skills at hand. Jesus says to us as well, "I give you the storm; I give you myself; what more do you need, you of fear and not faith?" Perhaps in the end, God has given us the gifts we need, the challenging two edged sword of his Word rather than an earthly peace that would diminish or constrain the powerful wind of the Spirit.
Tobias Stanislas Haller