Friday, April 17, 2009

Return to Eden

Yesterday I came home after a couple days back at Eden Theological Seminary for their annual Herbster event, which is open to the five most recent classes of graduates, and also for their spring convocation, which features scholars lecturing on various aspects of theology and ministry. To be more precise, I showed up about 15 minutes before the end of the Herbster event. Yeah, the last Herbster I'm eligible to attend, and I basically missed it. But here's the thing: I wasn't tremendously interested in the program, and was actually kind of looking past it toward convocation, which featured Bible scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

The evening of Herbster was a reception and dinner with the Eden faculty, followed by vespers. This is a regular feature, and meant to be a close to the day. For me, it was the beginning to my time there. I could think of no better way, and refreshment at a place and with people representative of a time of tremendous personal growth; a bit of respite from the tasks of ministry. It was a good transitional moment from a full Holy Week and Easter to a time of fellowship, edification, and renewal.

Tuesday and Wednesday were convocation which, again, featured Borg and Crossan. The theme of their lectures was, "Jesus in the 1st and 21st centuries." Borg began with the disclaimer that a lot of what they were going to talk about could be found in their books, which was true to a certain extent. They spoke a lot about Jesus' original context and its significance politically and theologically, which certainly influenced both his message and what the early church wrote and emphasized about him. They set up a couple dichotomies: Empire vs. Eschaton, and "Peace through Victory" vs. "Peace through Justice." The argument progressed that Jesus' message, which was one of God's alternative empire of justice, was set against Caesar's dominant empire based on violence and domination. They also spoke about how Jesus' alternative empire involves our response and collaboration, rather than our merely accepting something from God or waiting around for God to act. They were good, if not somewhat recognizable lectures, particularly from their book The Last Week.

Sidenote on the lectures...of course, there were plenty of copies of some of their books available for purchase, including their latest collaboration, The First Paul. I forgot to bring any of their other books for the possibility of signatures, so this book provided that opportunity, as well as some new reading. When I told Borg that I was looking forward to reading it, he said, "Yes, we like Paul, but the original Paul; the good Paul." Make of that what you will. And yes, they both signed it.

Of course, convocation wasn't the only feature of the week. I was back in St. Louis, for crying out loud. I got to go back and have pizza at Racanelli's, enjoy breakfast at Einstein's (significant just because it was the place to go and we could recognize workers and other regular patrons even five years after graduation), share dinner at Schlafly Bottleworks, and wander down to Vintage Vinyl. I skipped on the chance to hit Kaldi's, my favorite coffeehouse, in favor of an early start to the drive back home.

I always treasure the chance to get back to Eden and St. Louis, to see good friends and enjoy places that I haunted constantly for three years before moving back to Ohio. But it was also more and more evident that change has come and will continue to come...I knew less and less of the other Herbster participants, new faculty have arrived while others have retired, and I was privy to classmates' discussions of changes in life and ministry, as well as whether they'd make it back to Eden in the foreseeable future. This trip was a transitional moment in that regard, but I also noted the changes within myself as I recognized all of this.

What will coming back to Eden be like without familiar faces, or without Herbster? Certainly coming back either by myself or even with family and to not see the usual group hanging around will not bring the same feelings of joy or relief that past trips have provided. Those feelings may still manifest, but they too will be different.

I once again give thanks for the opportunity to travel back, and for now I think that I'll just be content with that.