John Nunes, Ph.D. Complete Interview



    So here I am in Bronxville, New York. I never would imagine that I'd be in a community like this; it's one of the wealthiest communities in the world. But juxtaposed in this community is our little college, our little Lutheran school: 1,466 students which is a record enrollment, but it's small. We like to say, we're a small school with a big impact. I mean, our student body's 65% non-white, which is nothing like the community in which we find ourselves. But it gives us a great opportunity to provide our students with access to, you know, community members who give them access to networks of success. One of the things I'm really excited about, being

    here in this year, is that this is the 500th anniversary year of
    the Reformation. And so we have a chance to kind of learn from Luther, and learn

    from the Lutheran tradition. For example, we can learn about the use of technology.
    Luther used the printing press, and this is a replica of the sort of press that

    would have been around with Gutenberg - Johannes Gutenberg - and it was because of
    the use of the printing press, and the way the printing press printed words about the Word of God, that the Reformation was such a powerful social movement. A graduate of this place in 1912 was someone named Walter A. Maier, and Walter A. Maier was the person who founded the Lutheran Hour: "Bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to Christ." And of course at that time people raised a lot of questions: they said, can radio really be a true congregation? Does radio really work, or is it just too virtual? The same kinds of questions that people raised a hundred years after Maier, 500 years after Gutenberg,

    500 years after Luther; the same kind of questions they raised with respect to
    the use of technology now. From the movable-type, to the cell phone, is one of the ways in which justice is being brought forth. I wonder if Luther might

    not be really, really pleased to see that technology can be used to promote
    justice - the Arab Spring - technology can be used to provide people without means with access to information, a whole world of information that they never would have had were it not for the access that they get through technology. Technology in many ways is a great equalizer; it's a great justice bringer. So there's really a connection, I believe, in our Western tradition between the man, the message, and the machinery of the Reformation, and these social justice

    movements we see in the United States of America.

    So recently, I and Alberto Garcia who's a good friend, a co-author, wrote a book

    called "Wittenberg Meets the World." We actually chose that verb "meets" on

    purpose, because it's not like Wittenberg comes into the world or the
    world comes to Wittenberg, but it's just this kind of this mutuality of meeting.

    And then the subtitle of the book is, "Reimagining the Reformation from the
    Margins." So what do we mean by margins? The word margins of course means the outside of something, the outskirts of something. But even that notion or the concept of the term margins is, you know, is freighted, is loaded; because

    attributions of marginality depend on our assumptions about the center. So when

    we attribute something as marginal, we are by definition ascribing something

    else as being central, or not. So for example, if we think that, you know, Euro-

    America and Christianity is at the center of our faith, then what's at the

    margins will be anything that is the other, anything that is not that. If we
    however believe that Jesus Christ is at the center, then this event of Jesus

    Christ - the life, death and resurrection of the savior of the world and of the
    church - then that fact de-centers everything else; de-centers

    all of our idolatries, de-centers all of our presumptions and presuppositions, and

    really changes what we kind of think about what is at the center in what's at
    the margins. So in the Lutheran faith tradition, of course, there's this kind of stereotypical captivity of who is a Lutheran! So the average Lutheran in the world does not look like a Nordic person or a Germanic person or a Scandinavian person, but in 2017 the average Lutheran looks like an East African, looks like a Tanzanian or looks like a Ethiopian. Those churches are just booming. We have 8 million members in one, we got 6 in the other - so already you have more people going to church and members of churches in the African continent, in what we used to call, you know, the "developing" world or "third" world, right - in the global south in Latin America and in Asia - than you do in Europe and the United States of America. And if you compare that with other settings, for example, you know, in Germany where you have churches that are grand but empty, or even in North America we have churches that are grand but are graying and aging. The vibrancy and the vitality that we need to reimagine is in these

    other parts of the world.

    For me, one of the most disappointing notions is the extent to which

    conservative Christians - and I would consider myself a conservative Christian -
    in the United States of America have essentially identified with this American civil religion of the Right, so that there's a very little distinction between, for example, the political platform of the Republican Party, the right wing of the Republican Party, and the religiously informed beliefs of conservative Christians. And I think that shows up more than anything on a couple topics: one is, you know, capital punishment, and like, who actually ends up being executed by the state: does the state have the right? Of course; but is that right administered in a way that is just and equitable and is fair? I would argue that it isn't. And then the other place it shows up profoundly is in attitudes towards immigration. And I think this is where repentance is really being called for, especially among so-called conservative biblical Christians who are strident in their conviction that, or their attitudes

    towards so-called undocumented immigrants. You know, one of things I hear
    often, people say, well, you know, they ought to come to our country the same way other people came: the way my forefathers came to the country - you know, my fore-parents came to the country legally! I mean, they got in legally, and they worked hard! Well, I mean, how legal was it when you just kind of showed up at Ellis Island and didn't have syphilis or didn't have, you know, some kind of communicable disease, so then you were, you know, given a pass and you were admitted to the United States of America. I think the other place that that

    attitude is profoundly distorted is with respect to the faith that these

    immigrants bring. Most immigrants to the United States of America are Christian.
    Like, overwhelmingly in the 75 or 80 percentile of immigrants are Christians.

    In fact, if it weren't for the immigration of Latinos into the Roman
    Catholic Church, Roman Catholic churches would be empty. A shift with respect to our attitudes towards immigrants and so-called undocumented immigrants is

    being called for in this time.

    So "post-colonialism" is a critique and a proposal. It's a critique of the way

    colonialist structures captivated the imagination
    and the land and the soil and the soul of people in countries that were

    colonial-ized. What colonialism did religiously was, it had an impact on

    the faith practices and traditions of people in developing countries. Post-
    colonialism would say that faith needs to be more enculturated, or it means it needs to be more contextualized in the language of the people. And I think this is a place where Lutheranism really stands at a distinct advantage, because it was Luther who said, "God be praised": finally the Bible is in the hands of ordinary people, and in their language. In fact, another place Luther says, if you want to really learn how to talk about Jesus to ordinary people, interview the

    mother who is taking care of her children; interview children who are
    playing on the streets; interview ordinary workers, ordinary laborers.

    So Luther then brings the Word of God to the people of God, and so I think
    Lutherans have a real opportunity to use this very Lutheran principle of enculturation, or scriptures and liturgies in the language of the people to engage in post-colonial mission work.

    In the United States of America, we are in the most
    tumultuous time since probably the 1960s, and part of it has to do with the fact that we're in the midst of one of the most cataclysmic

    demographic shifts that any nation has ever attempted to absorb. So in the U.S.

    in 1960, it's 85% white according to Pew Research; and then in 2060, the U.S. is

    43% white - and that's an amazing shift demographically, and I think that's
    created a lot of anxiety especially for white people, who will be in the minority. It's created anxiety that has led to political movements that are really nostalgic; they really call us to some kind of vestigial kind

    of notion of a mythical America that once existed - that probably never really

    existed - and you know, we hear calls to "Make America Great Again," we hear calls

    to, you know, make America rich again; we hear calls that are really not, are

    a-historical: they don't pay attention to really what history is doing, and they
    don't pay attention to the opportunities that we do have in this new multi-ethnic America! And what about Christians? And how do Christians actually deal with that, when we have a nation that's gonna look more and more like the kingdom of God? All people from all places in all times and all nations and all tongues. I believe that God's actually up to something with the multi-ethnicity that is in the United States of America; it's not like a mistake of history that we're becoming such a diverse nation. This is a great thing, this is a God thing! We ought to seize and embrace this opportunity, and all that it offers, instead of, like, acting out of fear! I mean, you can imagine a worst-case scenario, or you can imagine a new and greater future. And imagination leads to creativity. So we can use our imagination to actually think of, like, solutions, and lead the world/ Christians ought to be at the leading edge of a multi-ethnic America. And unfortunately, Christians and even more sadly my own tribe the

    Lutheran Church is, you know, more white and more English-speaking than any
    other religious group in the United States of America - including Mormons, which is stunning: it takes work to be that white, because Mormons had laws and

    rules against non-whites joining. So how is it that we got the way we are?
    So, there was a man born in 1929 on January 15th, and his name was Michael King, and his father's name was Michael King, and his father was a Baptist preacher, and he visited Germany, and he was so captivated by the legacy and by the contributions

    of Martin Luther - that brought change, and brought education to girls for the first

    time, and brought literacy: literacy rates just dramatically rose because of
    the Reformation. And this Michael King was so enamored by this Martin Luther

    that he changed his own name to Martin Luther King,
    and he changed the name of his son to Martin Luther King, Jr. - and as they say, the rest is history. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the

    pursuit of happiness. We must decide whether those words will be firmly etched

    into the structure of our nation.

    So race is interesting, right? Because it doesn't exist: scientifically, chromazone-ally,
    but it's everywhere. The way we delineate and define others based on their kind of outward appearance, of pigmentation or other kind of physical attribute. So what's up with this? Well, I think it has to do with, kind of, you could look at it kind of anthropologically: that humans are kind of wired to associate with people who are like them, with their own tribe - and that we kind of fear the other as the enemy. And so that's good if you're, like,

    on the Serengeti Plain: it keeps you alive, right, when there's an enemy or
    where there's a...but it's not good when you're in a pluralistic society, where you have to figure out a way and configure a way to do life together, to form a kind of community. So what's going on in terms of race in America? Well, in the first place we've got racial guilt, and whenever people are guilty, bad things happen - or if they feel guilty, or they feel ashamed. So you've got, like, whites who feel guilty because of the kind of history and lineage of racism, and they don't know what to do that guilt; and you've got got blacks who feel, and Latinos who feel, like, ashamed because they're not white - and you have all these kinds of layers and levels of guilt and shame. So there's a kind of psychological anxiety that people have around race - that's one kind of thread, or one kind of layer of what's going on with the race question. The other thing, and I actually take a positive view: I actually think we're doing incredibly well. I mean, what nation in the world... On the day I was born, January 14, 1963, I wasn't born in the United States, but I got here as quickly as I could.

    I hope I haven't messed it up too much for you! I've tried to be, you know,
    a positive contributor to this great society; and I think this is the greatest country in the world, because of the opportunities it gives! Why do you think immigrants are all trying to get to this country? Because it is, in many ways, the greatest experiment ever known in terms of what does it mean to build a nation of people together. But on the day I was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, January 14, 1963, a governor was sworn in on the steps of the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery, George Wallace. And in his inaugural speech, he says: "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" Before my 50th birthday, a President named - and I don't care if you agree with his politics or not - Barack Hussein Obama is re-elected President of the United

    States of America. That only happens here. And then add to that the coda, that, you

    know, eight years after his first election in 2008, we have a President who
    could not be more diametrically different than Barack Hussein Obama - and we have a peaceful transition of power! That only happens in the United States of America, that whole sweep only happens here! I take a really positive view. We've got work to do, and I think the reason that we are kind of experiencing at this time this kind of rise of racial anxiety, is because we know we have work to do,

    and we know that we're better than this, and we know we've been called to be
    better than this. So I take a King-ian approach, right? You know, that we have to live up to the meaning of our

    founding documents. They talk about all people, you know, having these rights,

    these basic fundamental rights. And I think there's something that's inherent
    in who we know we are called to be, that gives us so much anxiety, and is the cause of some of the tension that we have. And of course, there's anxiety

    because of the shifting demographic, and what that has created is a community
    that's very anxious, a community that's very afraid. But, you know, if we look back at our history and see where we've kind of come, I think it gives us all of the reasons possible to be just really confident in what lies ahead in the future.

    So what did Luther do October 31st, 1517? Whatever he did, I know it wasn't this: he

    didn't say, "Here I stand, I can do no other!" That happened later.
    the first thing Luther did was, he said, let's have a dialogue. Why can't Christians just start that way? Rather than just kind of discounting the other, eliminating the other, killing the other; you know, arguing down the other, anathematizing the other: why can't we just say, let's have a dialogue? What are we so afraid of? Why are we afraid of conversation? I mean, yes, we believe, teach, and confess something, and it's a rock firm commitment, but it's in dialogue, it's through dialogue that relationships are built. It's through dialogue that trust is built. It's through dialogue with people who are different than us, then we realize that maybe we're not as right as we always thought we were. It's sad to me that we've probably exacerbated by

    social media - drawn up these echo chambers, these kinds of cocoons of mutually
    confirming circles, in self-congratulatory loops of self-echoing and

    self-confirming. What do they call that, confirmation bias? Where you just
    talk to people who agree with you, and you never delve out? I think that's a weakness. One of the strengths of the church is that the church brings together people from a lot of different communities, a lot of different backgrounds, and we're stronger: hybridity makes us stronger, not weaker. Yeah, I

    think this arguing that we see Christians engaging in probably comes
    from the fact that we are insecure about what we believe. If we were confident in what we believe, we would engage the other. It's really interesting that when liberals and progressives lose confidence, they tend to jettison

    Jerusalem, jettison Jesus, jettison the things of God, and they become secular.

    And when conservatives lose confidence, when my tribe loses confidence, we tend

    to "anathematize Athens": we tend to say, we tend to

    sing "A Mighty Fortress is our God" with new vigor, and
    up comes the walls - we build walls, or we lift up the

    drawbridges, and we break connections with other
    people. One of my favorite so-called church fathers - these ancient leaders of the church - was a man named Tertullian, and Tertullian once asked this question that is relevant for people who are in academic communities like I am. And his question is, what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? And by that question, here's what he meant: he meant, what does Athens (the kind of secular, sophisticated society) have to do with Jerusalem, which is the place of

    faith, the place of religious belief, the place of piety. And you know, there's a
    lot of ways you can answer that question: you can answer it quickly by saying, "nothing!" Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem. But in the Lutheran tradition, there's this kind of notion that Athens and Jerusalem are best when they're held in tension; they're best when they're held in this kind of healthy dialogue - that's why dialogue matters - that Athens and Jerusalem are best understood when they're in this kind of healthy creative tension, to use a phrase by Martin Luther King - a creative tension between Athens and Jerusalem.

    Now, when liberal Christians lose confidence, which I think has happened,

    their reaction to the Athens/Jerusalem dialectic and tension is to jettison

    Jerusalem. So they lose their kind of religious affiliation; you see that often

    in academic institutions that no longer have a kind of rooting in their faith

    tradition; they become embarrassed by the name of Jesus. And when conservative

    Christians lose their confidence, when conservative Christians lose their
    confidence, what they tend to do is anathematize Athens: they become rigidly sectarian, and they say there's nothing good that we

    can learn from over there; there's nothing that Athens can teach us, there's
    nothing that we can learn from the world. And so they develop, they resolve, the tension: something that is supposed to be kept in tension, they resolve the tension on the other side. So in a time like this, a time of great transition demographically, a time when we are feeling unstable and destabilized as a nation, and a time when traditions are being called into question, the easiest thing to do is to hold on to the kind of messianic promises of one who can "Make America Great Again." The harder thing to do, the much more difficult thing to do, is to trust the promises of God in Jesus Christ, and faith is always a risk.

    Isn't it Kierkegaard who talked about faith as this leap of faith: it's always a leap,
    faith is never not a leap.

    These so-called Ten Commandments can be viewed, I guess, as, you know,

    adages that are no longer pertinent, or no longer have any relevance in the
    world or for our way of living - and have to do with, like, idol worship and golden calves and all the various ways in which people think about, you know, primitive superstitious religion. I want to propose another take, that I've been thinking about, and that is, this First Commandment is more pertinent than ever, and remains the critical commandment for our age, and in our time, and in our culture, and for the places in which we find ourselves. Because if we look at the way our society kind of constructs itself, and if you look at what we prioritize, it's clear that we've got an issue; we've got real issues with idolatry. I mean, Luther once said you can make a god out of anything.

    Humans just have this capacity to make a god out of anything. We can make a God out of
    that person we look at in the mirror, and then we think that person that we see in that mirror is like a god. In fact there was a poet named W. H. Auden - I really like what he says - he says, the image of myself that I create in my own mind in order that I might love myself, is much different than the image of myself that I create in the minds of others in order that they may love me. So we are like image creators and crafters; we're really, really good at that, and that's a problem. Then that's a problem because we then prioritize ourselves over and against other people and other things. And so this also extends to the way we have commodified our world. We've organised our world in such a way that whatever

    kind of material goods make us feel good, we turn into gods - goods and gods,

    there's actually almost a relationship between those two words - we turn these
    goods and these things and these possessions, and we end up possessed by the possessions that are supposed to be, like, good for our use and good for our enjoyment? Because what it does is, it diminishes who the human person is, and what the image of God really is in the human person, because then you've got the image of myself that I create my own mind that actually supplants and takes the place of the image of God. This, like, 500-year notion of indulgences: what does that have to do with where we find ourselves today?

    It's the reason why Luther took the indulgence coffer, and turned it into the
    community chest. Because it's really a statement, that's an indictment, of how we use

    the things that God has given us, and for whose sake we use them, and who benefits
    from the great blessings that God has given us. Is it for the building of these cathedrals, or for the paying of penances, or is it for the poor?

    Luther turned the indulgence coffer into a community chest from which he

    drew resources in order to help people in the community: who were widows, who were

    orphans, people who had no one to care for them. In fact, if you look at the
    scriptures, the scriptures has more language about the moral and the justice

    questions of how we care for the poor than it does for any other social topic,
    any other kind of moral topic - the care of the poor. The poor you will have

    with you always, and because you'll have with them with you always, Deuteronomy 15
    says, therefore do something about it! In other words, it's not a excuse to do nothing about it because they're gonna be with you all the time. But it's an opportunity to actually take action on the basis of faith, to love the

    neighbor, to love those who are different. That's what love is made for, and it's a
    command: love is a command; that's another Lutheran thing about law and gospel, right? So love is a command of God; love is not like a joyful, often thing to do - love is work, love is hard work. It's really hard to love the neighbor; it's even harder to love the enemy. It's even harder to love those who are coming at you; it's even harder maybe to love the outsider; it's even harder to love the immigrant; it's even harder to love people who don't walk like us, if people don't talk like us; people who make the same kind of money we make. But that's what love is made for. And I think that's I think it's a particularly Lutheran insight that, you know, love flows from faith. I mean, there is a truth that all good gifts do come from God - of course, that's what we pray, "give us this day our daily bread" - because God is a giver and God's a giver of all good gifts. So only in the United States of America would we turn that into a religion, a religion of materialism, a religion of commodification, a religion where preachers become like pimps who prostitute people with promises that

    are empty, and that leave people in shambles, and that destroy lives, and that

    pervert both economics and economic principles, and good economics, and
    pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You know, while I'm at it, I've been thinking a lot about this notion that there are a lot of people in the U.S. who get wealthy from the kind of poverty industry. So if you think about, like,

    rent-to-own furniture: what is that? That's like capitalism gone crazy! You
    think about, like, same-day-loans, so you can bring, like, your check in, your paycheck in, and they take a large portion of your paycheck in order to give you your money. So I believe of all the economic systems there are, ours is probably the best: but we've got to be a little bit more critical, engage in a little bit more constructive critique, a little bit more critical and self-critical about the ways we think, and what we think about these possessions, and the way we develop these systems - these kinds of structures of poverty - that keep people without access to opportunity. That's the cause of poverty: poverty is caused by a lack of access to opportunity. Poverty is not caused by a lack of initiative; poverty is not caused primarily by structures and systems; poverty is primarily caused because people don't have access to networks of technology, don't have access to networks of success, don't have access to networks of connectedness so they get... You know, I was talking with a guy not long ago; he lives in a community here - he's one of the wealthiest members of our community here. And I asked him, you know, how did you get to where you are? And he said, it was just dumb luck - but I guess if I had to

    think about it, it was that I was born into the right family, and then when I
    was 21 years old, my father said, you know, hey, it's time: I want to introduce you to some people. We went out to a tavern, we spent several hours drinking, and then after several hours of drinking, he says to me

    (that we were out with), he says, "Congratulations, you've just passed your
    first interview!" "I said, what are you talking about?" He says, well, you know, "Welcome to Morgan Stanley." One of the world's, you know, most significant Wall Street firms, and it was because he had access: he had access to a family that cared for him, he had access to friends that were able to

    give him the hook-up, he had access to employment opportunities that other
    people don't have. So I think one of things we need to take seriously also are these opportunities we have, to give people access to these networks of success that will lead to lives of success.

    So in his "Life Together," Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this amazing point: he
    says that people who love community, as important as community is, end up

    destroying community; that if you want to build community, the way you build
    community is you build love in Jesus Christ - not build community. So that

    community then ends up being kind of a byproduct, or a result, a secondary

    benefit that you accrue from having the right focus. So if the focus is on the

    things of God and on God himself, then community will result. I think the same
    thing happens with diversity. The people who try to like intentionally build diversity can often end up destroying diversity, because if you try to intentionally just have all these boxes that you tick, or these kinds of pigeonhole categories that you fit people into - like, we need one of them and one of them, and then one of them and one of them - attempt to kind of build diversity in that sort of way, I believe that you end up destroying diversity. Now I do think you have to be intentional about who's at the table. One of the things I like saying is that if you're not at the table, you're on the menu! So you've got to be careful about who's around the table. But it's like, these people who overly love diversity create this new kind of idolatry, a new kind of misfocus...

    ...create a new kind of diversity that becomes its own idolatry, and becomes the new problem.

    One of the acrostics I like to describe diversity: D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y is

    Different Individuals Valuing Each other Regardless of Skin, Identity, Talent or

    Years. It's really interesting, it seems like a simple acrostic until you
    kind of unpack it: so it's Different, like people are different; it's recognizing that people are actually different and not expecting them to be kind of uniform in their humanity. People are Individuals: different individuals;

    and Valuing is really a key word - there's a difference between welcoming people
    and valuing people. I mean, it's one thing to welcome people - that's really important - but when I welcome you, it means that this is my home, not yours. Welcome to my home, not yours. But when I value you, that means you know that you have a sense of worth: that kind of infinite worth that God has placed in every human being: that all human beings have dignity, value, meaning, and worth no matter who they are or where they come from. So when I value you, it kind of gives this sense that I matter, and the thing about

    minorities is that minorities know when they're valued. Minorities have kind of
    got a built-in radar that we have developed over years for survival's sake, to know when we're in any kind of danger or jeopardy or valued or at risk. And so

    the thing about, one of the definitions of privilege is that you
    never have to worry about that: you kind of walk into a room and know that it's your room. But you know, minorities have this kind of notion of what it means to be valued. So, Different Individuals Valuing Each other Regardless of Skin, Identity, Talent or Years. So if you take that word Regardless, you can kind of look at that really interestingly: is it, do I value others because of Skin, Identity, Talent or Years; or do I value others regardless

    of their Skin, Identity, Talent or Years? So when you do the because rather than
    the regardless of, I think bad things happen. Because if I do I value you because you have this kind of exotic difference about you, it turns the other person into an object. I almost fetishize the other person, so it makes it like this: "Oh, I just love your accent, you just have this beautiful - the way you people dance, it's just so amazing! How is it that you do that?" Now I've turned you into kind of this object of my own fascination; I've again participated in that First Commandment, making of an idol of something, and the only idol is God and God alone. So it's Regardless of Skin, Identity,

    Talent or Years that I find value in the other, and that's really what I find to
    be a true or better notion and idea of what diversity means.

    Yeah, the Reformation has been not an easy thing for me to commemorate, and by

    the way, I think the verb that best describes what we do with the
    Reformation is not "celebrate": I think it's "commemorate," because as Yaroslav Pelikan says, the Reformation is a tragic necessity. And sometimes Protestants and Lutherans don't get the fact that the Reformation split the church; there's been a like a bifurcation and trifurcation, and a splitting of the church ever since. And so the Reformation was necessary but it's also tragic. So "commemorate" is the best way to describe it. But I have difficulty sometimes with the commemoration of the Reformation because, you know, sometimes that's celebration and the kind of triumphalism of the celebration where people sing, you know, what do they call it, the battle hymn of the Reformation? A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and they say it almost as if it's an anthem of this great conquering movement, and the ties to which the Reformation and European categories and German categories sometimes leave people like me out, and leave places where the church is actually thriving as not having any kind of way in, no part of that. For me, the Reformation continues to be a tragic necessity; it's something we should celebrate, but there's a tragic element even because of our ethnocentrism in the Reformation. So I would take what Pelikan says, and I would kind of reinterpret it through another kind of

    ethno-cultural lens as well.

    Another quote by Pelikan that we like a lot, is that tradition is the living

    faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. So what we've
    tried to do is the best of tradition, which is the living faith of those who are deceased. So as we organize the book, we have these various categories, and one of the chapters that has this really cool Greek word is "diakonia." And diakonia has been translated in lots of different ways, and there's a lot of arguments about how do you translate diakonia - and some people translate it more with a service notion, and

    other people translate it more with a mercy notion. One of the arguments I make
    in the book is that it's much better understood as service than mercy. In fact, I've got some problems with mercy, because mercy is a good thing: I need mercy, I need God's mercy, because God's mercy means that I as a sinful fallen man have

    been reclaimed by Christ: the mercy of Jesus Christ that has been extended to me for
    free. That's an amazing notion. But this idea that we can kind of give mercy to other human beings kind of carries an interior arrogance. Another big Greek word - well, a big word in English - sacerdotalism: and it

    talks about this notion that I am the conveyor of everything that God

    has, and if it weren't for me, God wouldn't get to people. And I have
    problems with that notion. I think service is better, because service kind of implies that we are with people, and that's actually my favorite preposition when it comes to diakonia: my favorite preposition is this notion of with - the withness of our witness. I like talking about the withness of our witness, namely

    that we don't do ministry to people, we don't do ministry
    for people - that would be like creating dependencies - we don't do ministry at people, as if they're kind of objectified in objects - but we do ministry with people. We don't do ministry because people come from certain categories - that almost fetishizes them - but we do ministry with other human beings. We walk along the road like Jesus did on the road to Emmaus; we walk along the road accompanying people through the course of their lives. And service begins, as Bonhoeffer says, by

    listening. The first act of service is this: to close one's mouth, open one's

    ears, and to pay attention to the other in a way that is deep, in a way that's
    meaningful, in a way that exudes compassion. How best does development work happen in the world? I was President and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, and one of things I loved about LWR is that we engaged in long-term sustainable development, and we kind of engaged in service in a way that

    we were with people over the long haul, and what we tried to do is strengthen -
    not create, but strengthen - the capacity that they as human beings have. Every single human person is born innately with a capacity, and it's our job to come alongside others and to help strengthen that capacity. And so I've got a real issue, I've got like real issues with this notion of...well, a couple things. One is, what we'll call "relief pornography," which is where we depict people living in poverty, in

    the worst possible terms. We kind of show them with distended bellies and flies in
    the eyes, and all sorts of pitiful images that actually compromise their humanity. We wouldn't do it to people we actually love. You'd never do that if it was your grandmother or your own child; you would never do that to them. Why do we do it then to people living in poverty? The best way to

    help people get out of poverty is to come alongside them and help them work
    their own way out of poverty using the resources that they have available to them, and investing in their resources, and then helping them provide access to those networks of success that actually got all of us to where we are today. I mean, if someone didn't believe in us, if someone didn't invest in us, and someone didn't take a risk on us, we wouldn't be where we are. So it's the same thing that works with other people. So of these 95 Theses, the most important one is the first: every day is dying and rising again. Yes, the old Adam is drowned in the waters of baptism, but he's a really good swimmer, and he shows up every day, and that's why the entire Christian life has got to be one in which we remind ourselves that we are, you know, broken people, that the fall was not just a minor kind of problem that we have, but the fall was catastrophic.

    It destroyed everything, and there's nothing after the fall, no
    relationship after the fall, nothing between God and humans, nothing between humans and themselves, nothing between humans and other humans - there's nothing right after the fall. And so the kind of recognition that it's a day-by-day thing, it's a day-by-day growth, and just own that! And that's actually freeing, that's actually quite liberating. Like this beautiful flower here: I mean, in the midst of, you know, dreary dirt, you have this kind of promise of Resurrection - that is your promise, each and every day - so it's okay to accept the dreariness, it's okay to accept the darkness, it's okay to accept the fact that we're broken people. But then, hold on to the kind of promise of God that comes out of the midst of the brokenness. One of things I've kind of played with is reading the first thesis of the so-called 95 Theses and comparing and contrasting that with the First Commandment, and kind of see how those things dovetail with each other. So in other words, if people, like, if their identity is formed and fashioned based on how smart they are, the degrees they have, or their family pedigree, or what their name is, or what kind of honor they have, or what kind of wealth they have, or what kind of privilege they have, or what kinds of pleasures and treasures they have accessibility to - if that's your god, the First Commandment says, then you know you're on shaky ground. Thesis 1 says almost the exact same thing, that the Christian life is a lack of total repentance, and there's nothing in and of ourselves that can bring a return on our investment that can get us saved.

    That's essentially what the first thesis says. So when you read them kind of in
    tandem with each other, an interesting thing happens: you realize that at the end of the day, I mean, it's devastating: it's radical, it goes to the root of human identity; at the end of the day, you realize, I don't have anything else. All I have is this faith alone, in Christ alone by grace alone given, revealed in the Word of God alone - that's all I have. And

    when you kind of realize that, you have two choices: you can be devastated,
    but in fact there's nothing you can do, nothing you can earn, nothing you can buy, nothing you can purchase, no education you can achieve or receive, no privileged

    position - that speaks to the United States of America - no privileged position
    of power or prestige that can give you validity - there's nothing, except for the promises of this Palestinian preacher from the outback

    country. Doesn't even come from Jerusalem or a center of power, but comes
    with an accent - he speaks with an accent - he comes from the alley, he's an outsider; comes from the margins. And from the margins, then, is our salvation in Christ,

    who is the center of our faith. That's devastating! And it's devastatingly
    joyful! In other words, it frees you up, it frees you up to trust God and nothing else. When it's just us, then it's not justice; if it's justice for just us, it's not justice - it's something else.

    It's really interesting to see what we do with the joyful faith of people who have

    no particular reason for joyful faith, when we have all the commodities and

    amenities known to humanity, and we are the most depressed nation in the world.
    Now, I don't want to take lightly people who struggle with mental illnesses, which depression is, but there's something going on there: that we have all this stuff, yet we are in such anguish, and feel so empty. What is

    that all about? And then we have people who have nothing, and they have so
    much joy. Actually, what that's about, is that confirms the notion of the first of

    the 95 Theses, and the first of the Ten Commandments: it confirms the notion that,
    you know, where is life really found and where is meaning really found?

    So Lutherans love Latin phrases, and one
    of the phrases that predominated at the time of the Reformation was this notion of really what constitutes sin, and the kind of crisis of self that is at the center of sin; this notion of this Latin phrase "Incurvatus in se ipsum,"

    that sin is: to be radically turned in, radically self-obsessed, radically

    concerned first and foremost with myself. So that
    is then the essence of our bondage, the essence of, "we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves." If that's at the heart of sin, what then would be at the essence of the contradistinction to that? What

    would be the essence of the other? And that would be simply to be radically,
    just as radically, turned away from self and turned toward God in faith and

    turned toward one's neighbor in love. And the breakthrough of the Reformation was

    at that critical juncture: that kind of notion that there's nothing that the
    self can do to disentangle himself or herself from the fetters and the

    tentacles of sin. And then it takes, another Latin phrase, "extra nos,"

    something coming from outside of us - namely the grace of God - that breaks in
    through the Word of God, that's apprehended by faith alone. And when that breaks in, we become set free from the shackles of this dominant self-occupying

    sin. We're set free then to serve others; we're set free to be people of joy: for
    the first time in our lives, we can actually have real joy, true joy. And true joy doesn't come when you pursue it. True joy comes as a gift, as a by-product of

    faith in Jesus Christ. And that's just the way it is.