Over lunch one day, Katie Clark was describing the process of becoming a certified foot care specialist. It was quite the feat! I was curious why she put so much work into that certification. Her response was, “Because most people who come into our Health Commons are coming in for foot care. They’re on their feet all day every day and their feet are in bad shape.” This epitomizes the compassion and commitment of Katie for her work and the people she serves. Katie’s commitment to approaching health care through accompaniment shapes her work as an ever changing response to what the neighbors need.
Dr. Katie Clark is a member of the nursing faculty and the Executive Director of Augsburg University’s Health Commons. The Health Commons are nursing-led drop-in centers that focus on radical hospitality and building trusting relationships with people in marginalized communities. These Health Commons are located in downtown Minneapolis, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and Rochester, MN.
Dr. Clark had extensive experience doing medical missions work overseas in Peru, Haiti, and Namibia. But those experiences never sat well with her. She would return home feeling as though she hadn’t learned enough about the culture or the larger situation and context in these countries. She wondered if she and her companions were simply promoting a monoculture of healthcare and wellness rather than learning how wellness, health, illness, and care were understood in the context of these cultures.
This uneasy feeling drew Katie to the study of transcultural nursing, the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, and the importance of social justice in the practice of nursing. You can’t just treat the symptoms of a problem; you must work to end the problem. You can just waltz into someone’s life with your solutions, you have to do the work of accompaniment in order to understand who they are, how they suffer, how they heal, and what they might need from you. Katie had found the way she wanted to do her work.
Under the leadership of Dr. Clark, the Augsburg Health Commons sites accompany those who are experiencing homelessness, are marginally housed, or are new immigrants who have fled wars. Their work with these neighbors is constantly evolving because the Health Commons are committed to this practice of accompaniment and mutuality, working diligently to fully humanize these neighbors while offering care. Students in Augsburg University’s nursing program gain firsthand experience providing care for people through more humanizing and relational practices than what most experience in our country’s healthcare system.Continue reading “Accompaniment One Foot at a Time”→
September 22nd was the annual Bernhard M. Christensen Symposium. Jeremy Myers shared a talk called “From Nowhere to Now Here”. In it, he encourages us all to see vocation as something that roots us in the present moment for the sake of the neighbor. If you missed it or want to listen to it again check it out below.
Here are some of our favorite quotes from the talk:
“It’s not a journey from point A to point B, where you have to leave this place to go to that place. Instead I want to invite you into a journey that’s really more about becoming rooted deeply in the place where we already find ourselves.”
“Vocation is ultimately not about you it’s about the space that exists between you and your neighbor.”
It is “the quest of inquiry to figure out who our neighbor is and what it is our neighbor needs from us to thrive. It’s not a journey where you need to go on a quest to find some vocation that’s hidden out there in the future from you. It’s an invitation into the right here and the right now. That vocation is something that saves us from the nowhere plants us firmly right here with one another in this moment of time to do this good work that we’ve been given to do today. and we get to do that together and I think that’s pretty great.”
Jeremy Myers, PhD, Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation, Augsburg University
Join us for this year’s Christensen Symposium where we will dig deeper into the topics of vocation and public church.
Thursday, September 22
11 a.m. – 12 p.m. Foss Center, Hoversten Chapel
The pandemic, rampant racism, unfettered injustices, environmental degradation, inflation – these are a few sources of the overwhelming sense of despair in our lives. We are anxious about our future. We desperately seek meaning, purpose, justice, and the common good but they seem to be nowhere in sight. Nowhere. But there is hope and potential for change if we can focus on the here and now. All we are promised is the here and now, and it is where we are called to live our lives. Now. Here.
Jeremy Myers is the Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation and the Executive Director of the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg University. Myers earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and his master’s and PhD from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He researches, writes, teaches, and organizes around the topics of vocation and public church. In addition to many articles and chapters, he is the author of Liberating Youth from Adolescence published by Fortress Press and is also a sought-after speaker. He has secured millions of dollars in grants to support the work of the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling-place, 10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. 15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
If you camp a lot, then you know tent placement is incredibly important. A slope can cause the blood to rush to your head. A hill will send pools of water into your tent during a rainstorm. Dead branches above might come crashing down on you in a windstorm. Boulders uphill might let loose during the night. Your body is only as safe as your dwelling-place.
Many sleep in tents across our country tonight who are not in safe dwelling-places. They are temporarily homeless or have chosen this tent as their home. They are not safe. There is a scourge that comes near. This scourge is wealth inequity, the opportunity gap, racism, unjust housing policies, and our inability to address the mental health crisis. Yet, even to these, God promises to “be with them in trouble”, “to rescue and honor them”, and to “satisfy them”.
Oh, Lord. Send your angels to those with danger just outside their tents. Bear them up, and may we together tread on the lion and the adder of injustice that threatens them.
Written by Dr. Jeremy Myers, Executive Director of Augsburg’s Christensen Center for Vocation
On Tuesday Oct 5, 2021, Dr. Brian Bantum gave a lecture entitled “All Things are New: The Language of Our Life in the Face of Empire” at our 2021 Bernhard M. Christensen Symposium. Dr. Bantum is the Neil F. And Ila A. Fisher Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. He writes, speaks, and teaches on identity, racial imagination, creating spaces of justice, and the intersection of theology and embodiment for audiences around the United States.
He is a contributing editor of The Christian Century and is the author of “Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity,” “The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World,” and “Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference,” which he co-authored with his spouse, Gail Song Bantum. You can view a recording of his talk here.
By most measures, it was a typical Wednesday morning commute. Coffee in the cupholder, slow traffic, radio tuned to NPR, brain wandering and wondering if it is ready for the day. But this day was not a normal day. Local government officials were beginning to encourage us to practice social distancing, diligent hand-washing, and no face-touching. It was the third Wednesday of Lent and I was rehearsing my sermon for that evening in my head. My colleague and I had been invited to preach a 5-week Lenten sermon series on the Public Church at a local church. I was in the middle of a thought – reminding myself NOT to crack any inappropriate jokes about the pandemic during the sermon – when I noticed a crowd gathered on the overpass.
The Saint Paul Federation of Educators (St. Paul Public School’s teachers’ union) had just begun their strike and they were demonstrating on every overpass that crossed Interstate 35E and Interstate 94 in Saint Paul. I honked to show my support as I drove under the bridge. Then it hit me. These teachers are beginning their necessary strike which will require public demonstrations.
How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? We will be preaching tonight, encouraging a congregation to move into their neighborhood as a public church. How will they do this while honoring the call to social distancing? It has been two months since that not-at-all-normal morning commute, and I think I have some things to say about how we live as a Public Church in a pandemic.
The second movement in the public church framework is Interpretation. This is when we move from hearing our neighbors’ stories back into the stories of our particular faith communities. This is an incredibly important step and one that is tempting to skip for a few reasons.
We want to skip this step because we might not know what it is we believe as a faith community.
Or we want to skip this step because we think theological and biblical reflection aren’t as important as action. We want to move straight to action.
We also sometimes think we can skip this step because interpretation will just simply happen without any intentional effort.
Interpretation is an important step in this process because people want to know how faith impacts their daily lives. It is the role of the faith community to help their people learn to see the world in light of God’s promises. We also want our collective actions to clearly express the essence of who we are, what we believe, and the world we believe God envisions for us. This interpretive move is what makes the public church framework different than many other outreach, or public efforts. Theology matters and this theological turn in our work needs to be intentional.
I have heard pastors say their faith community was not ready to do the work of interpretation because they did not know the bible well nor did they fully understand what the congregation believed. If that is the case, then we have our work cut out for us. Those who gather with our faith communities should know what we believe, they should understand the biblical narrative and how it might still shape our lives. If we plan to engage our neighborhoods in a way that is life giving, then we must think about that engagement theologically.
This turn and attention to habits of interpretation urge faith communities to move beyond what they are not – the markers by which they may define themselves against. “We are not like that kind of church or those Christians.” It moves a community to more closely claim what they are about, why they exist, and why it matters.
There are three strands, or narratives, that we weave together using the artform of interpretation. We weave together the neighbors’ stories we’ve heard in our accompaniment with our own stories as a faith community and with what we believe to be God’s story. Each of these strands help us better understand the other two strands we are working with. These three strands should enlighten one another as well as push back against and challenge one another. This is slow and tedious work but it is vital to forming both our communities of faith and our work in our neighborhoods.
Here are five main questions offered that guide the work of interpretation. How you chase after the answers to these questions is up to you, but we recommend involving as many other people from your faith community as possible. The more perspectives you get, the richer the dialogue will become.
What are the core theological convictions of our faithcommunity? It is not an expectation of this work that your entire faith community is on the same page with what they believe. There is no expectation of uniform, doctrinal agreement. However, we do believe it is vital for faith communities to be having these conversations even if they lead to the realization that your faith community is incredibly diverse in its theological convictions.
What are the key components (stories, metaphors, etc.) of the biblical narrative that shape our life together as a faith community? Again, the expectation is not uniformity but transparency. There are certain aspects of the bible we think we cling to until we have time to consider it more deeply and we discover these aspects do not really serve a purpose in our daily lives. On the flip side, often lesser known parts of scripture might be more helpful or more transformative as you begin digging into them together. Who would have ever thought that we (the Riverside Innovation Hub) would have turned to some obscure vision of Ezekiel when looking for a biblical metaphor to frame our project? We have continued to be surprised and blessed by the profound depth of the Ezekiel text that has shaped this work.
What are the significant events in your faith community’s history that have shaped your identity?Your community most likely has many stories of sadness and trauma as well as stories of hope and resiliency. Unearth these stories. Learn from them and allow them to show you how they both shape your view of your role in your community and allow them to empower you for that work.
How do these theological convictions, components of the biblical narrative, and events from your past influence the way you hear and understand the stories you encountered in your accompaniment experiences?This is the key theological move. This is when you begin to see and learn not only what your community believes but how those beliefs shape your life together and life with your neighbors.
How do the stories you encountered in accompaniment push back against, challenge, or affirm your core theological convictions and beliefs? The interpretive move is not a one way street. We should be careful not to assume that our theological beliefs are impervious and only help us understand our neighbors’ stories. We should also allow our neighbors’ stories to interpret our beliefs and understandings about God.Interpretation goes both ways. Our understanding of our neighbor will deepen when we see our neighbor through God’s story. Our understanding of God will deepen when we see God through our neighbor’s story.
The public church framework continues to move us to a place where we are ready and able to proclaim good news into the lives of our neighbors that will actually be good news to them because it is speaking to, confronting, or displacing the very real bad news they are facing in their lives. It also continues to move us to a place where we might actually begin to hear our neighbors proclaiming good news to us. In order to arrive in these places, it is vital that we make the interpretive move and learn to hear and see our neighbor through God’s story and vice versa.
“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” — John Muir
On Friday December 14th, the Riverside Innovation Hub staff visited the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, Minnesota. The Mississippi River has been an important conversation partner for us throughout our project. It serves as a reminder of the depth and breadth of God’s mercy flowing into our world (see Ezekiel and the Public Church: Everything will live where the River Flows).
It takes a drop of water at the headwaters 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. That means the water we saw while we were there will be flowing through the Mississippi River valley until March 14th, the second week of Lent. That is a long time for these lovely drops of water to wait before they meet the warm waters of the Gulf. But Advent is all about waiting. And it is strange to think about Lent during Advent. But Advent is strange. Anticipatory waiting is strange.
Christian theologians use the phrase “the already-not-yet” to describe the era in which we live. God’s deep and wide mercy has already begun flowing into our world, but the fullness of the life and healing this mercy brings has not yet been fully realized. We wait for it, with anticipation. It is this anticipatory, strange waiting that our project is experiencing right now. We are in the already-not-yet. We are already experiencing the challenges and blessings of the slow work of innovation – the journey through the river’s valley – but we have not yet fully seen its fruits. This feels strange to many of us. We are not good at waiting. We prefer to control and initiate.
This is where I think John Muir might have something to offer us. God’s mercy is not something we sit next to and observe. It is something that flows “through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” We long for every drop of God’s mercy to reach its destination. But it does not make its journey through a river valley, it makes its journey through us, through our bodies.
Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer), teaches us how to carry God’s mercy in our bodies. 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46 –55).
Innovation is the same. The work of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation are not things that flow past us. They flow through us. We carry this work in our bodies. It becomes incarnate when we show up and engage a person, a place, an idea. We carry it in awe, and gratitude, and humility. And we wait. We wait for God’s good work that has already begun but is not yet complete.
There is no one way to practice Accompaniment, Interpretation, Discernment, or Proclamation. Each faith community will determine the best way to put these art forms into practice given the specific limitations and assets of their community and neighborhood. Therefore, we use the language of “best questions” rather than best practices. By this we mean these are the questions your faith community can be continually exploring to guide your contextualized practices of accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation. How you come to answer these questions will be unique to your setting. We believe time wrestling with these questions and their implications create space for God’s voice to stir, guide and challenge your faith community.
These are not questions for a leadership team of the select few, rather these are questions for the whole faith community to be pondering together. These are the questions we want members of faith communities to be pondering in their own daily lives. Therefore, it is important that we ponder them together as a faith community to learn how they feel and how to chase after their answers. This is not administrative work, it is the work of God’s people as we discern how God’s spirit it moving us to be a part of good news in our communities.
What is our neighborhood or parish (geographical location)?
Where are our listening posts?
What are the places and spaces in our context we are in relationship with and have a history with?
What are the places and spaces in our neighborhood we are curious to learn more about?
Who are the neighborhood historians — people who know the history of this place?
Who is our neighbor? What are the demographics of our neighborhood (race, socioeconomic, single family/rental units, age)? How do these compare to the demographics of our faith community?
How are our neighbors experiencing hope & joy?
How are our neighbors experiencing anxiety, fear and heartache?
What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood?
Who cares about the things and people our faith community cares about?
Best Questions for INTERPRETATION
What has been the story of our faith community? What are the significant events, changes, people, etc. that shape our identity for better or worse? Where did we experience high points, struggles and growth? How do these things move us forward? How do they hinder our innovation?
What are the assets and anxieties that shape our faith community’s identity?
How does our faith community interpret scripture and think about the authority of scripture?
What are the core theological claims and beliefs of our faith community?
What are some important biblical narratives in the life of our faith community? How have they functioned for us?
Put God’s story and our neighbors’ stories in conversation with one another:
How do these core theological beliefs and important biblical narratives help us understand the stories we have heard from our neighbors? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
How do the stories we heard from our neighbors help us understand these biblical texts and core beliefs? How do they challenge them? Change them? Enhance them?
Explore these texts about transformation at the riverside together. Which one seems to provide our faith community the most insight into the work we think we might need to do moving forward? Are there other stories of transformation from scripture that would work better for your faith community?
Where do we see the promises of God at work in our neighborhood, outside of the work of our faith community?
As we do the work of interpretation, what questions about the Bible and our faith community’s core beliefs are emerging? How and with whom could we go about further exploring those questions?
How can we engage our faith community in this interpretive work in order to deepen and expand it?
Best Questions for DISCERNMENT
Where do we see death and resurrection in our neighborhood?
Where are we hearing lamentation in our neighborhood?
Have we been part of the problem? What do we need to confess? To whom? Where? How?
Where and with whom do we sense the Holy Spirit pleading with us to linger, to pay more attention, to listen more closely?
What questions do we still have? Where might we learn more about these questions or with whom do we need to visit?
What are the passions and strengths of our faith community that seem to present themselves as assets in light of what we have seen and heard in our accompaniment and interpretation? (For example, space, people, finances, vision, relationships, etc.)
If gospel is good news, what is the good news that needs to be proclaimed in our neighborhood in order to liberate people from the bad news we have heard in the neighborhood?
How are we equipped to proclaim this good news? How are we not?
Given what we have seen and heard in our neighbors’ stories, God’s stories, and our stories – who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? What might God be calling us to sacrifice or risk? How is God calling us to show up in this community?
Best Questions for PROCLAMATION
How will this new story we wish to tell bring life and human flourishing to the neighborhood?
How is this good news already being proclaimed in the neighborhood?
Does anything need to die in order for this new story to live?
Where is the best place for this to happen? What is the best way to do this?
How might Christ show up in this proclamation?
What do we need to do to live into who God is calling us to be, what God is calling us to do, what God is calling us to sacrifice or risk, and how God is calling us to show up in this neighborhood?
Who needs to be a part of proclaiming and creating this new story (individuals, organizations, existing partners, neighbors, etc.)? How do these people also become proclaimers of good news?
Who are the stakeholders we need to engage to live into this new story? What strategies do we have to engage these folks?
Take some time to be honest about the potential for failure. How might our proclamation of this good news fail at the levels of tactics, strategy and vision? What are the barriers? How is our perspective limited?
How might these potentials for failure shape our plan for proclamation?
The Riverside Innovation Hub is convinced of two things.
First, we are fairly certain young adults do not want to be targeted by efforts to win them back to church. They would much rather be participants and leaders in efforts to target pressing issues impacting their neighborhoods and the globe.
Second, we are fairly certain innovation, theologically understood, is not the creation of new, shiny programs. Rather, it is best understood as vocation. It is that thing that happens at the intersection where we are simultaneously aware of our neighbors’ deep desires, our deep desires, and God’s deep desires. Innovation happens when we are responsive to God’s call to be in life-giving relationships with and for our neighbor. We believe the Public Church Framework offers us an effective way to engage young adults — and all people — in that life-giving work.
This document seeks to explain the Public Church Framework and the biblical imagination that serves as its engine, specifically Ezekiel’s vision of God’s abundance.
The Public Church Framework
The Public Church Framework is based upon three presuppositions. First, the Triune God is present and active in our world working to create a future for God’s creation. Second, God calls God’s people to join God in this work of co-creating a future for God’s creation out in the world. Third, most — but not all — of these places where this work happens are places of suffering. Douglas John Hall defines the practice of theology as the work a Christian community takes on when it is seeking to proclaim good news that will actually displace bad news, or suffering. He says,
“Theology is that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what ‘gospel’ must mean here and now. . . The good news is good because it challenges and displaces bad news . . . Gospel addresses us at the place where we are overwhelmed by an awareness . . . of what is wrong with the world and with ourselves in it. It is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.”1
Displacement does not always mean elimination, but it does always mean the suffering no longer has center stage, it is now accompanied and challenged by a hope which changes the nature of the suffering. Therefore, the Christian community’s call is to proclaim good news that challenges bad news, simultaneously discerning and proclaiming both incarnation and vocation — how God is at work in the world and how individuals, faith communities, and institutions are called into this work.
The Public Church Framework is a method for doing this work. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive in that it describes a natural rhythm or method many undertake when aiming to clarify “what gospel must mean here and now.” It is an approach to Christian formation and discipleship that begins with a movement out into the public square rather than beginning in church doctrine. The framework walks faith communities through four movements, or artforms, designed to move the faith community into their neighborhood’s story, into God’s story, into their own story, and into a time of discerning how God might be calling them to be proclaimers of good news into their neighborhood and with their neighbor. These artforms include:
Accompaniment: The movement into the neighborhood in order to hear the neighbors’ stories. In this movement we learn to engage and listen to the neighbor for the neighbor’s sake.
Interpretation: The movement into God’s story and the faith community’s core biblical and theological commitments. In this movement we learn how our core theological commitments shape our understanding of our neighbors’ stories and we learn how our neighbors’ stories shape our understanding of our core theological commitments.
Discernment: The movement into the space between our neighbors’ stories, God’s story, and our story. In this movement we learn how to listen for who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do in light of the present reality and God’s promises.
Proclamation: The movement back into the neighborhood, this time prepared to proclaim good news in word and deed with our neighbors. In this movement we learn how to boldly speak the truth of Jesus Christ in ways that challenge the way people in our neighborhoods are suffering.
We believe the good news is always Jesus Christ, but we also believe this good news of Jesus Christ will look and sound differently depending upon how individuals and neighborhoods are experiencing bad news. Young people, actually all people, will be drawn to a faith community actively engaged in proclaiming good news and challenging bad news in its neighborhood. The Riverside Innovation Hub’s Innovation Coaches will be guiding faith communities through the artforms of the Public Church Framework. Ezekiel’s vision of the abundance of God’s creative love as it flows away from the temple provides us a compelling image for this work.
Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezekiel 47:1–12, NRSV)
1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
3 Going on eastwards with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, ‘Mortal, have you seen this?’
Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, ‘This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. 10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’
Ezekiel had trained to be a priest in the temple but ends up living his adult life in Babylon, exiled around 598–597 B.C.E. In 589 B.C.E. he receives word the temple and all of Jerusalem have been destroyed. True to the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Ezekiel sees the destruction of the temple as a direct result of the peoples’ unfaithfulness. Therefore, he begins to share these visions as he prophesies against the temple, but it is a vision and a prophecy of hope, not despair. In this vision, Ezekiel encounters an enigmatic figure who, after touring him through the temple, takes him beyond the walls of the temple in order to show him exactly what happens in those places where the water flows when it leaves the temple. Many biblical scholars connect this river in Ezekiel’s vision to the river that wells up and waters the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8–14. The temple cannot contain God’s creative force. In turn, the temple becomes a source of blessing for the entire land, rather than a fixture intended to serve its own purpose.2
In a move very similar to Hall’s understanding of good news as that which challenges bad news, Elsa Tamez claims the river in Ezekiel’s vision to be a metaphor for God’s jubilee. A jubilee that can only be proclaimed if it becomes specific in ending actual suffering.
“When one speaks of the jubilee, it is essential to have before one the concrete situation that one is experiencing: debts, poverty, unemployment, violence, discrimination, exclusion, conflicts, sorrow, dehumanizing consumerism, the lethargy of the churches. For the jubilee is the good news that supposedly puts an end to that reality of suffering and dehumanization. . . If we speak of jubilee in a generic sense, the injustice is hidden, and the jubilee loses its power and ceases to be jubilee.”3
Therefore, Ezekiel’s vision becomes an invitation to follow God’s jubilee as it flows into the world and and makes everything live where it flows. The Public Church Framework provides faith communities with a way to do this, to become blessings for the entire land on which they are rooted rather than existing to serve their own purpose. We are Ezekiel, following the enigmatic divine tour guide along the river as we learn to see the breadth and depth of God’s love flowing away from the temple and into the world.
Accompaniment: Mortal, Have You Seen This? (vs. 1–6a) — The river flows out from the temple and towards the desolate places. We are called out of our temples and our comfort zones to follow this river and to stop and notice how wide and deep it becomes. As we hear our neighbors’ stories, we become aware of how God’s deep and wide love and mercy are at work in their lives. We learn to hear and see so that when we are asked this question – Mortal, have you seen this? – we can answer with a yes. Accompaniment is the practice of learning to see and hear God’s love bringing life to our world.
Interpretation: The Water Will Become Fresh (vs. 6b–8) — As the jubilee river flows it brings fresh water into salt water. This fresh water desalinates the salt water and makes it fresh. The jubilee water dwells in, with, and under the salt water and makes it able to support and create life. The same happens to us as the stream of God’s story flows into the streams of our stories and our neighbors’ stories. God’s story begins to dwell in, with, and under our stories and our realities. This brings hope to stories that were at one time hopeless. Interpretation is the practice of learning how God’s promises (the fresh water) change the way we look at suffering in our world (salt water) and how those sufferings change the way we look at God’s promises.
Discernment: Fishing and Spreading Nets (v. 9–11)—The living water brings about diversity and abundance. The fishing is good along this riverside. We have now seen the fullness of this river and we now have some choices to make. Is it time to fish? Is it time to dry our nets? Is this a place to fish? Is this a place to gather salt? There is work to be done along this riverside and we are invited and equipped to do it. Discernment is the practice of learning to hear God’s call and to know when, where, how and why to act on that call.
Proclamation: Fruit for Food, Leaves for Healing (v. 12) — Ezekiel walks the riverside and notices the trees on both sides of the river and the harvest they produce. The trees are growing fruit for food and leaves for healing. The gifts of these trees create a future for God’s people. These trees do not only produce seeds that ensure the future of the trees themselves, they produce leaves and fruit for the world. Proclamation is the practice of producing and presenting our world with our gifts for the sake of the world, not for the sake of our own propagation. Christian faith communities re-engage their neighborhoods with fruit for food and leaves for healing — gifts to be given away that create a future for God’s people.
God’s creative, life-giving, jubilee river flows out from the temple and into the world. Our call is not to damn up the river and keep it in the temple. Our call is not to expect our neighbors to come to the temple to experience the life giving water of the river. Our call is to follow the river as it deepens and widens and makes all things live. As we learn to do this — to see, to fish, to spread nets, to grow and harvest fruit for food and leaves for healing — we will find ourselves in the midst of innovation. Our innovation will be the work of co-creating a future for God’s world with God and our neighbor along the riverside. Our young adults will be drawn to this work. They are not looking for the temple, but they surely are seeking what they can find at the riverside. They are looking for others who are eager to bring the fruit for food and the leaves for healing to their neighbors.
Which of the four artforms gets you most excited? Why? Which one do you think your faith community will struggle with the most? Which one do you think your faith community will have the easiest time putting into practice?
What are some examples of how your faith community is currently proclaiming good news that challenges the bad news of your neighborhood? What are some examples of where your faith community has failed to challenge particular bad news in your neighborhood? Where is there good news happening in your neighborhood beyond the current reach of your faith community?
What part of the Ezekiel text do you find most inspiring? Where do you have a hard time connecting with it or understanding it?
What would it look like for your faith community to follow the river of God’s living water out into the neighborhood away from the church building? Who are the guides that might accompany you on that journey? What might happen?
1Douglas John Hall, “What Is Theology?” Cross Currents 53, 2 (2003): 177–179.
2Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel. Vol. 20–48 . Word Biblical Commentary, V. 29. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2016).
3Elsa Tamez, “Dreaming from exile: a rereading of Ezekiel 47:1–12,” In Liberating eschatology: essays in honor of Letty M Russell, ed. Margaret Farley, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 69.