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Following Wisdom

Wisdom cries out. She wants us to gamble on her way. This is my latest letter to the people of University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.

Following Wisdom

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Dear Church:

I was unsettled by a recent article by a Catholic priest about the sexual abuse that is rocking the church. He wrote of understanding both “the church's troubled history and its divine mission” and spoke of holding these “two realities in ongoing tension.” His conclusion, paraphrasing someone else, was that Wisdom “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” 

I was unsettled because that doesn't sound like Wisdom to me. I hear Wisdom crying out in the street, in the square, at the busiest corner (Prov. 1:20-21). She does not dissemble. She does not pull any punches. She is not concerned about functioning, if that means decorum, convention, keeping it all together. The priest's definition, at its best, sounds like prudence, which is not Wisdom but cautiousness; at its worst, it sounds like equivocation.

UBC member Philip Stovall planted “prudence” in my mind (from his reading of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr) in a conversation about the difference between a common morality and Christian morality, which is built on the ethic of love for neighbor. Prudence has its advocates, including Christians, but it is not the same as the Christian ethic, and it is not the same as Wisdom.

Wisdom is not cautious. Wisdom risks. Wisdom gambles. Wisdom is not neutral. She doesn't dwell in safety and security, above the fray. She is not interested in being non-partisan or non-offensive. She has little patience for the moderation that men have talked about for millennia and called Wisdom. That's not her way. Wisdom chooses. Wisdom commits.

I preached about Wisdom in two recent sermons, one on “Wisdom at the Corner,” based on Proverbs 1:20-33; the other on “Wisdom Works (Work It, Girl!)," based on Proverbs 31:10-31. In both texts, Wisdom engages the world. She declares herself, she announces her intentions, she demonstrates what she values, and she creates what she seeks. Her way, in other words, is not a mystery. She is very clear.

In our time of great division in American politics and culture, we hear the “voice of Wisdom” telling us to be circumspect, reasonable, judicious, to acknowledge that truth lies here and there, to not jump to conclusions. That voice belongs to a man, not Wisdom. This much is clear to me.

How then would Wisdom have us live as the church? Wisdom would let go of what the priest called the church's divine mission and reckon with its troubled history. She would not act as if she could walk two paths at the same time. She would choose the one that cries out. She would receive the mission that cannot be ignored, that must be entered into fully, and trust that whatever is divine shall emerge, be incarnated, as she commits to a very particular way of faithfulness.

Wisdom herself cries out. She cries out at the corner where our university neighbors struggle with poverty, homelessness, mental health, food insecurity, gentrification, environmental degradation, sexism, sexual abuse, homophobia, religious bigotry, ageism, racism and classism. She cries out because there is another way. 

Wisdom wants us to listen to her. She says she will pour out her thoughts. And then it's up to us to choose and to commit.   

May God grant us the courage to follow her.

Daniel