A conversation between Miroslav Volf and Willie Jennings—on how crowds reveal our deepest fears; the need for the care of people to inform the care of the economy; and the impact of COVID-19 on people of color.
Willie Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Africana Studies, and Religious Studies at Yale University; he is an ordained Baptist minister and is author of The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, and Acts: A Commentary.
- Willie Jennings wrote in Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible: "The crowd is always susceptible to the fear that ... clothes the creature. The crowd is the creature exposed in its vulnerability. So nationalistic slogan, religious incantation, or enthusiastic cheering are used to conceal this vulnerability. The volume of a crowd is never an indication of the strength of their faith, but always their vulnerability and oftentimes their fear. The crowd needs faith. A crowd that gains faith shrinks in size and becomes a congregation.” (Page 189)
- Miroslav asks Willie to explain and elaborate on this passage on crowds and fear.
- "Crowds show us, not so much strength, they show us the vulnerability of the multitude."
- A congregation is a crowd that has been disciplined, shrunk in size, by the reality of faith. …Of course you can have a congregation that still longs to be a crowd…"
- “The challenge for Christians is to remember that we are not to fear loss."
- The deep psychic shock that loss brings: “If anything, loss, for a moment, opens us to the nothingness out of which we’ve come."
- We should avoid theological or biblical slogans. But how do we speak in ways that align our sight with real hope?
- Faith as an ability to see and respond without being overcome.
- The need to be sensitive that at this moment people of faith have already been lifting a burden
- Willie’s formation in the African American community of faith—lifting the weight while acknowledging the strain.
- David Ford on Christianity is inside many constellations of multiple “overwhelming”—being overwhelmed is a part of Christian faith.
- Christianity that seeks control is unhelpful in a moment like this.
- One of our greatest challenges with respect to crowds and fear is that "the nationalist imaginary” (h/t Charles Taylor)—playing off the economic well-being of the nation with the well-being of the human creature.
- Crowds and the formation of political and ideological tribes. Applying crowd thinking and fearmongering to the political landscape.
- "Fear is used to sell almost everything. Risk management is fundamentally a modulation inside the deployment of fear. You cannot have the advertisement industry as it now exists without fear. So many ways of selling the good life for us begins by trafficking in fear. And this can’t be separated from the ways in which our political imaginations work. And this helps to drive the ways in which we imagine our friends and our enemies."
- People of faith are often the progenitors of fear.
- Miroslav’s background as a religious minority in the former Yugoslavia. “Christian faith was born in the fires of persecution, and now suddenly we’re all up in arms and twisting ourselves into pretzels because there might be some limitations on what we can do."
- Willie: “Being raised in the African American community, the worry about religious persecution was never a worry. We had other things to worry about than someone persecuting us for our faith. … We were afraid of them killing us, lynching us, shooting us, destroying us."
- Comparing white fear vs Black fear. Fear of liberal hegemony versus fear for one’s life.
- Economic inequality and COVID-19: The care of people must become the context within which you think the economy, as opposed to the care of the economy as the context in which you think about people.
- The impact of COVID-19 on the black community.
- "When America gets a cold, the Black and Latino community gets the flu.” (Willie quoting Cornel West)
- "They have to dance daily with this virus."
- Toni Morrison: This is part of the absurdity that blackness must face.
- With social distancing in place, what does it look like today to act faithfully and do something concretely to address these disparities?
- Allow the communal dimensions of our faith to move through us bodily. We need to reach out and connect with each other. "The Christian must gestate communion—must always be moving toward communion."
- "We have to ask once again: How do we understand the good society? The very fibers of our existence are at stake."
- The structural, as opposed to behavioral, nature of inequalities.
- Even in the end, there is a beginning.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. For more information, visit faith.yale.edu.
Willie Jennings: The care of people must become the context within which you think the economy, as opposed to the care of the economy, as the context within which you think about people. What this moment is showing us is that a society in which we don't start with this fundamental commitment that no child will sleep on the street, that no one will have to go to the bathroom in the corner of an alley, that no one who is sick, whether of body or mind, will be left to wander alone. That's where we begin. And then we ask, how must we reshape the economic realities so that they are in alignment with this fundamental commitment.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living the life worthy of our humanity.
Hello friends, and welcome to the show. I'm Evan Rosa, with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. If you're just hearing about us, you're not too late to the party. We've only been going for about a month, but make sure to subscribe to the show, leave us a review, a rating, and keep an eye out every Saturday for a new episode.
One of the themes that has emerged in the show so far is how the pandemic has revealed uncomfortable truths that have been hiding in plain sight. Today's conversation between Miroslav Volf and our colleague at Yale Divinity School, Willie James Jennings, is that kind of conversation. Willie Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Africana Studies, and Religious Studies at Yale. He's an ordained Baptist minister and he's author of the Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, as well as Acts: A Commentary, The Revolution of the Intimate.
We've shared a few thoughts about collective fear in previous episodes. And Willie has some important insights and connections to offer there. So they start by discussing the nature of crowds—to reveal not strength, but our fear and vulnerability, or insecurities. As they discuss the antidote to this crowd mentality in the faith of the congregation, Willie identifies the fear of loss and the temptation of control as a significant challenge to Christians, noting the ways that we're often the progenitors fear, especially fear of losing control, power and influence in this country.
The second half of their conversation turns to the racial and economic impact of COVID-19, resulting in a very timely discussion of how we prioritize the care of people and the care of our economy, the felt experience of the black community during this pandemic, and the disparity of concerns that emerge based on class and race in the midst of a global crisis.
Thanks for listening.
Miroslav Volf: Willie, my friend, it is such a great pleasure to have you part of this new adventure that we have embarked upon. This—the Yale Center for Faith & Culture podcast. And we have been thinking in particular about fear. And the colleague of mine, who you know, Ryan McAnnally-Linz—who by the way, did the wonderful piece on vulnerability for our podcast—Ryan drew our attention of the whole group to a section in your commentary on Acts that addresses the question of fear.
And by the way, for the listeners who don't know Willie's commentary on Acts, it is a wonderful piece of writing. This is how theologian should comment on the Bible and it's really impressive. There's a scene in the Acts of the Apostles where a silversmith—his name is Dometrius—he's earning bulk of his money by making shrines to the goddess, Artemis, and then he stirs up a riot. And the reason for the riot is because the Apostle Paul and his fellow disciples have been leading people astray from the traditional gods to follow Jesus. In your commentary on this passage, you write:
"The crowd is always susceptible to the fear that ... clothes the creature. The crowd is the creature exposed in its vulnerability. So nationalistic slogan, religious incantation, or enthusiastic cheering are used to conceal this vulnerability. The volume of a crowd is never an indication of the strengths of their faith, but always their vulnerability and oftentimes their fear. The crowd needs faith. A crowd that gains faith shrinks in size and becomes a congregation."
That's wonderful. Could you say a little bit more about what you meant here?
Willie Jennings: Well, yes. And thank you for inviting me onto the podcast, Miroslav. Glad to be a part of this. Crowds, crowds are places of profound fear or places that are profoundly susceptible to fear. Oftentimes we imagine crowds as a sign of strength, to gather a large crowd, to be able to manipulate a large crowd, all imagined inside of a certain kind of strength. But what crowds also show us is not so much strength. They show us the vulnerability in the number, in the multitude. And so fear is often what rides in the undercurrents of a crowd. And wanting to hide from fear, oftentimes drives the crowd.
The congregation, in distinction, is a crowd—if you will—that has been disciplined, shrunk in size by the reality of faith. And it is a group of people who, because of their faith, they understand that the fear that drives the crowd is not what drives them. Of course, you can have a congregation that still longs to be a crowd. And a congregation, in that sense, is susceptible to returning to the reality of the crowd. A congregation that loses sight of its own faith. It loses sight of what holds it together and what draws it together, rather than the reality of fear and how one responds to fear.
The interesting thing about that passage is that that crowd imagines rightly the possibilities of loss because of these disciples of Jesus. They have been told that their livelihoods are at stake by the very presence of these disciples. And in a sense, they rightly see a possibility. The problem is, is that, they don't see enough. What they see is the possibility of loss. They can't see beyond that possibility, the possibility of something new, a new way of life that might allow them to imagine a future beyond the fear of loss.
Miroslav Volf: And in some sense, some kind of loss of some things is a condition or possibility for opening yourself up for a better alternative.
Willie Jennings: Always, always. And the challenge for Christians is to remember that we are not to fear loss. That is to say that we are not to allow loss to take the position of the final word for us. And that's difficult because loss, whatever kind of loss it is—loss of job, loss of a loved one, loss of the clear sight of how I'll be able to make a living and live on beyond the current crisis or whatever it might be—those are very powerful things that can position themselves as a kind of final word for us, having to deal with it. But for Christian, we have to remember that there is a final word beyond the word of loss and that's not an easy thing to remember, and it's certainly not an easy thing to live inside of.
Miroslav Volf: Is fear of loss a kind of sign of maybe misplaced investment in things that become something that matters more to us than it ought to?
Willie Jennings: It could. Obviously there is the part of it that reminds us of the words of Jesus in the gospel, where we should put our treasures. And so there is a line of diagnosis of this theological problem that is inside of a misplaced loyalty and misplaced focus. And I think that's true, especially when it becomes a loss. But there is the other side of it, which I think to me tends to be a larger percentage of the problem, and that is the deep psychic shock that loss brings. That, if anything, loss, for a moment, opens us to the nothingness out of which we've come. And loss points us quickly as a kind of shock, points us to that nothingness. And even people who are deep in their faith, can be shocked and often should be shocked by the frontal assault of loss.
And so the challenge is to realize that what you're seeing through loss is not all that's there. And I think for so many people—I mean if we take this moment right now for so many people—the fear of a loss of a job, the fear of a loss of a future, of someone who has a small business that they know they won't be able to survive for another month or so—"what will they do afterwards?"—someone getting ready to graduate with no interviews on the horizon for a job. All of this can be a psychic shock, the loss of a loved one, the loss of an elder in the family who's been a pillar of wisdom and understanding. All of this is a shot that opens us to the nothingness out of which existence comes. And the challenge of faith to be able to see that God stands beyond the nothingness, the giver of life speaking through the nothingness. That's a real challenge.
Miroslav Volf: So, that's where the faith as a contrast to fear comes, faith as a possibility to see the possibility of nothingness, but nonetheless, to have a more fundamental trust.
Willie Jennings: Yeah. And I think the difficulty right now for so many people is that we don't want to become addicted to theological or spiritual or biblical slogan at this moment—just throwing slogans out over and over and over again in the face of this moment of global crisis. But how do we speak in ways that align our sight with hope, with real hope, without speaking in ways that really blind or really turn people away from seeing honestly what there is to be afraid of.
Miroslav Volf: Right. And I'm thinking of faith as letting one see the possibility of significant loss, letting one see the danger as it is. That really is, a kind of—you have to have certain form of trust not to be denying, not to be in denial of what might come at you. So faith is both ability to see what is at stake and danger, to look at it, and yet not be ruled by the danger and by your immediate response to the danger.
Willie Jennings: Yeah, I think that's right. But I do think we're in an extraordinary moment, for so many people. There are many people who we have to say, honestly, they live in coronavirus-like crisis their whole life. I think of so many migrants, so many immigrants whose very life are hanging by threads at this very moment and have been doing so for years. But here's what we want to keep in mind. You're exactly right that there is—faith is the ability, if you will, to look straight into the horror and the loss. But in this extraordinary moment, what people are being asked to do is to pick up something, hold onto something that is heavier than anything they've ever had to pick up. I mean, it's like lifting weights and you're used to lifting 25 pounds. And all of a sudden, someone says, "Look, here's 150 pounds. Pick this up." You have the right technique. You know how to hold your legs and your back and your arms, but this is unbelievably heavy for you. And so there's a straining even with the proper technique, if you will—there's a straining that is upon us.
But I do think and I always want to say this to people. There are so many people who have been straining for a very long time, long before this virus but have been exercising their faith in an impossible site. And so we want to be very sensitive and cognizant of those who at this moment, are understanding that what they're seeing is something that's hard to see. It's hard to see your children in a tent with no running water, and who are exposed to not only this virus, but exposed to all manner of danger, and yet you are a people of faith.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. Yes. And I think in some ways—so I have two thoughts about that. One thought is, "Oh, these are the folks to whom we need to pay special attention because many of them—and I know such people personally; I've grew up growing up with some of them—who have been exercised in lifting those weights and who are amazing giants that people don't quite perceive how incredible they are and how strong they are.
On the other hand, I think among them are those who have had been lifting 150 or more pounds for quite a while, and now another 40 has come on top of that. So that being overwhelmed, even as one who is extraordinary as an athlete of trust, can be a challenging experience.
Willie Jennings: Yeah. And like you, I have been around and been raised by such people, the African American community that introduced me to the life of faith, and drew me into its deepest, its deepest logics and inner workings, are people who have learned how to pick up and carry heavy weights and yet, have never denied the straining of that. They allow me not only to see them pick up those weights, but to hear the groans and the straining of it. And I think this is all a part of how we deal with fear. One of the most amazing things about this moment, especially for the church, is how we help people think inside the overwhelming of this moment. David Ford's famous comment that he made many years ago about Christianity being inside so many kinds of constellations of overwhelming, I think is apropos to this moment. But one of the most amazing things right now is listening to pastors and leaders and others, and not only Christians but others, try to figure out how to live inside of being overwhelmed. And the dangers of a faith that has been formed without ever receiving the memo that being overwhelmed as a part of it.
Miroslav Volf: Right, right, right. That's fair.
Willie Jennings: And I've met quite a few Christians—I hate to say who—their faith has been formed inside of control. And it's been formed inside the logics of control, controlling their world, controlling their environment, controlling behavior all the way down to thought processes. And for them, this is an extraordinarily difficult moment because Christianity that is shaped inside that kind of fundamental overarching logic—the Christianity that really is not going to be very helpful at this moment because it will seek to find what it should not find. And that is control.
Miroslav Volf: Right. Right. And in some ways that's a feature of Christianity and other religious traditions, but it's a feature also of modern modernity and modern cultures. This logic of controls: the right design will be found; the right argument will be set; and then we're going to be secure—kind of a drive to securitization of our lives from every possible direction, so that none of these multiple “overwhelmings” of which David Ford speaks can touch us. And I was wondering, as you speak about crowds and comment about crowds in the Acts of Apostles, whether you want to say something about how crowds may be forming, or whether you see crowds forming in response to the current form of vulnerability that we are experiencing, an endangerment that we are experiencing.
Willie Jennings: Yeah, I think one of the great challenges we're facing, especially as we think about crowds, is to continue to think along nationalist lines. And in this country, we see some of that relationship between the states and the federal government and the ongoing struggle over resources and supplies and so forth. But it's this continuation of imagining the response to this crisis and this virus along the logics of what each state can do, which I think is it's deeply problematic because the lesson—the crucial lesson—we should be learning immediately from this is the deep interconnectivity that is life in this world and the kinds of relationality that ought to be understood because of that. This is a pedagogical moment and a teaching moment that my worry is that we continue not to see as long as we are caught in nationalist ways of thinking, kind of nationalist imaginary—to use Charles Taylor's language.
But so that is at one level. But there's another level obviously too. Here I always had to be careful because it's such a point of irritation for me. I don't want to become a problem for your listeners by going off on this. But it is the constant playing off of the, economic wellbeing of various nations with the wellbeing of the human creature, and trying to balance the market health with the survival of human beings. And the danger here is once again to think in terms of the crowd and to think in ways that minimize the deep struggle of the human creature at this moment,
Miroslav Volf: Do you think that, or do you see that, this division that has been within the United States that has been increasing over the last decade—do you see that as a kind of formation of crowds, of the type that you were describing there, or would you assess that differently?
Willie Jennings: The division between the economic concerns and the concerns for human life?
Miroslav Volf: That may be one line, but the other line might be a kind of progressive-conservative "vision within the nation," so that you have a hardened block and that those hardened blocks that cannot imagine what other are thinking except to simply dismiss them as clueless or as ill-intentioned, so that these kinds of stability of blocks that clash with one another—is that a form of crowd?
Willie Jennings: Yeah, I think that was the case. I certainly think that this case. But I think what drives so much of crown formation, if you will, along political and ideological lines is the way fear functions that only in the West, but especially in the way commodities are formed and the way we do society. Fear is used—as you and I know so well—fear is used to sell almost everything.
Risk management is fundamentally a modulation inside the deployment of fear. And you cannot have the advertisement industry as it now exists without fear. So many commercials, so many ways of selling the good life for us begins by actually trafficking in fear. And this can't be separated from the way in which our political imaginations work. So, that—I think in a fundamental way—helps to drive the ways in which we imagine our friends and our enemies—those who mean to do us well and those who mean to harm us.
What is at the heart of so much of the political division and antagonism in this country is not simply fear of the other, whether you're talking about a progressive or conservative, is the belief that they—fill in the blank—actually mean to do us harm. Or they, if they were in power, they would destroy—fill in the blank. And this is in many ways, there is a direct line between the way advertisement works and what I just said, which is unfortunate because we have to be honest: people of faith, especially in the US, especially Christians, are often some of the most powerful progenitors of this way of imagining the political landscape and of those who traffic pretty heavily in fear and fear-mongering, as it were. It's not unusual to hear leaders of institutions say things like: "Our very survival as a people of faith is under threat. Our religious liberties are under threat that the possibility of us losing the ability to practice our faith freely is under threat in this country." And that kind of language is incredibly powerful and it is certainly showing us to be servants of fear.
Miroslav Volf: I come from former Yugoslavia, where it wasn't popular being a Christian, but in which Christians were mildly persecuted minority. And we ourselves very lucky because when we looked elsewhere in the world, persecution of Christians was rampant. But to me, when I look at often these kinds of fear-mongering associated with Christian—Christian Liberty and freedom as a Christian—I always think, "Oh my goodness, Christian faith was born in the fires of persecution and now suddenly, we are all up in arms and twisting ourselves into pretzels because something somewhere there will be some kind of limitation to what we use to think that we could do. It seems like it's so far from the experience of many people of faith—Christians in the world and certainly very far from early Christians.
Willie Jennings: I think that's right. And it's amazing to watch how this has worked. Being raised in the African-American community, I can honestly say the worry about religious persecution was never a worry. Many other things to worry about than somebody persecuted because of our faith. But it's interesting to think about being in a country in which you had, in many ways, Christians, right beside us as African-American Christians, for whom what focus their fear was so far removed from what focused our fear. We were afraid of them. We were afraid of them killing us, lynching us, shooting us, destroying us. And to imagine being beside people who are afraid of some wider liberal hegemony, destroying them while you were afraid of their sons and their daughters putting you in jail and shooting you, or keeping you from going to school, or getting a home or getting a job or advancing—that's part of the irony of American Christianity and Western Christianity in a fundamental way.
Miroslav Volf: Yesterday, last night, I read an interview that Pope Francis gave. And in that interview, he does a story in Italy of a police urging a homeless person to go home and isolate. But of course they don't have a home to go in order to isolate so that the kind of economic distinction, or even broader than economic power distinctions and, end up making it possible for different people to live very differently in the context of the crisis in which we find ourselves. How does that look from your end of things?
Willie Jennings: I'm glad you put it that way because—sticking with that homeless example, I think this is such an important moment. You hope—I hope for a connection, a connecting of the dots to happen. And just inside the kind of story you told, that in a country where right at this moment, there are thousands of hotels that are sitting empty, completely empty with beds and bathrooms and sheets, and all the amenities sitting empty, and thousands of people sitting on the street with no place to stay. You hope, and my hope is that people will connect the dots and ask themselves how long can we live with this absurdity? How can we live seeing this absurdity? And to allow the dots connect in such a way that maybe for the first time in this country, some things will start to collapse together. That is to say that the care of people must become the context within which you think the economy, as opposed to the care of the economy as the context within which you think about people. And it's precisely that collapse that we as Christians ought to be pushing for.
This has always been the problem, the problem of placing social relations, the problem of placing life together inside of economic relations, and imagine that the quality of social relations is utterly dependent upon economic relations. And as Christians to finally, maybe in this moment, to say, "No, let's finally put that thing right side up." And say to ourselves, say out loud, that the quality of economic relations depends on the quality of social relations, that a society that does not think from people to resources is a society that will never think from resources to people because when you start with one, it won't get to the other. We know that now. And I think this is what this moment is showing us. What this moment is showing us is that a society in which we don't start with this fundamental commitment that no child will sleep on the street, that no one will have to go to the bathroom in the corner of an alley, that no one who is sick, whether of body or mind, will be left to wander alone. That's where we begin. And then we ask, "How must we reshape the economic realities so that they are in alignment with this fundamental commitment?" Now of course, this is a difficulty that we're facing, isn't it?
Miroslav Volf: It is. And I think it's one of the fundamental difficulties. For centuries economy has been integrated into larger vision of human life, and we're supposed to serve that vision. And we have witnessed in the last centuries kind of demurring of economic activities so that it becomes self-referential in terms of creation of money, with a sense that would in the end then benefit human beings. And I think we have to invert that. We have to situate the economic activity, just like all other activities, within the vision of what it means to be a human and what it means to live with dignity as God's creature, whom God has created for flourishing life. And that applies to everyone. I think that's exactly right.
Willie Jennings: You and your wonderful work and our colleague, Kathy Tanner, both have wax eloquent on this very point. The challenge is how might we, especially in this moment in which connecting the dots is crucial in this coronavirus moment—how might we help people who have been so wedded to ways of thinking about the relationship between the social and the economic, been so wedded to ways of thinking about this, such that they have learned how to, in some ways, buffer themselves, hide themselves from these absurdities. How can, in this moment, they be opened up to see a new possibility? I want for so many people who have been arguing vociferously about, as you point out a moment ago, that the economic must drive all these things. I want for them in this moment to see what it means for someone not only to be homeless, but vulnerable to this virus in ways that the only way we can help them is to shelter them. And see that is the only way to—either they're not Christian—to honor their own humanity.
Miroslav Volf: Exactly. But also the African-American community has been disproportionately targeted or suffering from the Corona pandemic in this country.
Willie Jennings: Always, always, always. As Cornell West has so eloquently said a long time ago, when America gets a cold, the black community, the Latino community gets the flu.
Miroslav Volf: So very well put.
Willie Jennings: And the health disparities and the inequities and all the other kinds of disparity that are so much a part of the fabric of life in America, but also in the Western world, really come home at this moment. It's a struggle not to let the anger overwhelm you. Those of us who see this, it's a struggle. I think almost every governor who agrees with the shelter in place policy, which I think is a wise policy—but for so many of those governors, they understand that when you're talking to people who have two families, three families that live in a two-bedroom house and they can't practice social distancing. And when you have half of those people who—they are not only the people who have to go to the hospitals to work as nurses and doctors and so forth. But they're also the people who have to go and clean out the bathrooms, who have to empty the trash, who have to take out the dirty mass that can't be used anymore, who have to clean up the body fluids on the ground. They have to do that in order to keep a job. You realize that there are portions of this population, not only in this country but around the world, who they have to dance daily with this virus. They have to. They have no choice because each day they wake up in the morning, they know that they are stepping always toward it. But this is a part of the—as Tony Morrison said so brightly in her work, "This is part of the absurdity that blackness must face" and that people of color must face.
Miroslav Volf: So it's too late to go back and prevent those disparities. Time does not run backwards. We can't change what happened. What does it look like today to act faithfully? What does it look like today with social distancing in place to act faithfully? Where can we do something that will be of significance to attend to these kinds of disparities and what they mean concretely today?
Willie Jennings: One of the things that I have been saying to people at this moment, this moment of social distancing or shelter-in-place, is that if there's ever a time, when we have to allow the communal dimensions of our faith to move through us bodily, it's now. So, those of us who are, by nature, introverts, this can be a little challenging. But the reality is that we need to reach out. We need to be talking to people. We need to be checking in on people. And I am so glad to see—and Miroslav, I hope this becomes almost a permanent part of so many churches that many churches now are becoming far more intentional, far more intentional about connecting one to the other, through Zoom, through the phone, through FaceTime.
This is wonderful because as I like to say, in the Christian life, the Christian must just stay communion, must always be moving toward communion. I think this is one of the crucial matters that we have to do, that those of us who are used to lazily, if you will, counting on church and the rhythm of Sunday and the rhythm of Saturday, maybe a Wednesday night Bible study—those of us who've been used to that rhythm of doing all the communal work for us, now are being thrust inside a push of the spirit for us each to reach out to others. "How're you doing?" "Let me call this person." "Let me call this person." Or, "let me check in with this person." "Let me pray with the phone with this person."
And this is a crucial part of our faith that I think it represents an under exercised muscle. And so I think that's the first thing, but I also think at this crucial moment, we have to ask once again, "How do we understand the good society?" And this gets back to what we were just talking about a moment ago. This is a perfect moment for Christians to start to re-envision what the good society means, one in which—the language of a social net has been used, but I tend to think that that's not strong enough language—that the very fibers of our existence are at stake in how we care for each other structurally. As everybody knows, who studies these matters, racism and sexism and other forms of injustice that mark so much of our contemporary life, and at first, if you will, individual behaviors: "I like you," "I don't like you," "I speak to you," "I don't speak to you." They are structural. They are structured into the very fabric of our lives and into the geography of places.
And what this moment I hope does is to press on us to rethink what the good society should look like at the very level of structure, how we are fundamentally connected. And there needs to be significant thought, dreaming and thinking about what that should look like.
Miroslav Volf: I'm a student of Jürgen Moltmann and one of the very short sayings, which summarize just about the entirety of his theology, is a title of a book: a riff on T.S. Eliot. It is: "In the end, the beginning." And I enjoyed so much talking to you, Willie. You are the kind of "in the end, there is a beginning" kind of a guy. Because for many, this may seem like a kind of dead-end situation, but it's an opportunity situation. And, it's a kairos situation, which we need to take. And I think in this conversation, you have helped us see how there are opportunities; there are new beginnings waiting to be started even in this situation in which we're finding ourselves. And I want to thank you so much for having this conversation with us.
Willie Jennings: Oh, glad to be a part of this, Miroslav. My hope is that we'll have many more of these, my friend.
Miroslav Volf: I hope so too. Hey, we'll make it regular.
Willie Jennings: Sounds good to me.
Miroslav Volf: Yeah. Wait, wait, wait. You don't know what you're bargaining for.
Willie Jennings: I'm in trouble!
Miroslav Volf: I'm glad. I'm glad.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured theologians, Miroslav Volf and Willie Jennings. I'm Evan Rosa, and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. We release a new show every Saturday and you can subscribe pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found.
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