Friday, November 04, 2011

2011 Quodlibet Lecture by Distinguished Presenter the Rev. Dr. Richard N. Stewart (with video)

He answered every one…

Distinguished Professor Richard Stewart could have taken the easy way out. He took on all 75 Quodlibet questions.

Quodlibet professors can be asked “any question whatever” according to the Medieval practice, but they don’t have to answer them all.

Prof. Richard Stewart
This year’s theological hot seat occupant, the Rev. Dr. Richard Stewart, associate professor of communications and parish administration, apparently did not believe in committing the sin of omission. He dealt with all 75 questions asked of him last week – some of them in cursory fashion and some extensively, often with gentle good humor. The responses were thoughtful and offered insights into Stewart’s wide-ranging experience as a professor involved with his church in myriad levels. As Dean Paul Rajashekar noted in an introduction lasting about 15 minutes, Stewart is "a consummate churchman" known for having attended hundreds of ordination ceremonies involving LTSP graduates during his 22-year tenure as a faculty member and with churchwide service that has included membership on the Board of the Deaconess Community. His technology expertise has been key in development of the Brossman Learning Center and in teaching at LTSP, and he instructs on stewardship with a deep and challenging perspective for this time.  We’ll give you a foretaste of the theological feast to come – if you’ll only take time to view the video at the end of this story.

Question: In the battle between good and evil, good always wins, but does evil have more fun?
"Yes.  Living on St. Croix for five years (as a parish pastor), we would reflect on the license plate which declared that St. Croix was America’s Paradise.  And then we would take note of the quip: 'But Satan Got there First.'"

Question: Are people inherently good or inherently evil?
"Yes, we really can have it both ways."

Question: What makes heretics, heretics?
"Attendance at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia."

Responding to a question that in part asked for perspective on the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification (agreement) in 1999:
"The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ. It does not cover all that either church teaches about justification; it does encompass a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations."

Question: What is the churches proper response to Occupy Wall street movement?
"Pitch and live in the Tents. Isn’t that what Public Theology is all about?"

Question: When, where, and how does God play?
"Anytime, anywhere, Favorite Game is Hide and Seek. Deus Obscondeus.  It’s interesting that most of the central Hebrew stories are in the desert.  And God doesn’t always play fairly.  Well God is God.  Uh there’s the burning bush, Dew and manna in the morning and quail at suppertime."

Question: What is your image(s) of God?
"Look around you.  Look next to you.  Look behind you.  Lopsan one of my students at the Lutheran Theological Institute in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa was having difficulty with patient at the hospital where the students were doing pastoral care.  After being rebuffed and told never to visit him again, Lopsan said that he didn’t want to go back.  It was ugly, it smelled, it was not a nice place to be as a pastor.  Actually he was right, but if he had been sick or injured that was the hospital to which he would go.  'Lopsan, are you really ready to be a pastor?  For today even in being turned away, you were the face of Jesus to the patient.  Would Jesus stay away?'  We are all the faces of Jesus, created in the image of God.  May we have the fortitude to go back and spend a half hour with someone who the previous week has never wanted to see us again.  So look again to your left and to your right to see the faces, the images of God."

Questions: What is your favorite Heresy? What is the most important question in theology for you at the current time? As we look at preparation for Theological Education, how is it that we end up back in the same place—a segregated Sunday morning?
Stewart linked these three questions together and developed the detailed responses based in part on inspirational learnings from 96-year-old teaching theologian, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Stirewalt, a mentor, based on Stirewalt’s painfully challenging experiences dating to the 1950s in North Carolina regarding race relations in the church. See the video for Stewart’s detailed response, but here is a small key portion:

"We still live with a world where Christian community finds that the Gospel is more easily celebrated in homogenous communities.  As a member of the ELCA I affirmed the plan to have the membership of the ELCA reflect the diversity of this country in its membership.  I have lived nearly 25 years hoping and praying that my colleagues in the ELCA would see the Gospel importance or achieving this goal.  I continue to pray that we may achieve a Pauline approach to our passion for mission and discipleship that does see the world as our field and every person as a child of our creator."

Question: Did Jesus have a sense of humor?
"Of course, look at who Jesus chose as disciples.  Even more important look around this room, the Holy Spirit still continues the comedy routine."

Question: What is sin and how does Jesus free us from that?
"If we were free from sin, then we would not be identified with a Reformer who instructed us to Sin Boldly.  In many ways Jesus still dies for our indiscretions, which for me many find their locus our inherent inability to not dehumanize one another."

Bornemann’s question– what does it mean to be saved?
"The Moravian Watchword for All Saints Day - Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! Revelation 7:10  Born on All Saint’s Day in 1944 and Baptized on Palm Sunday 1945, I’ve never consciously known a moment when I wasn’t saved.  From conception to today, my family has placed me in the hands of God.  Salvation was never an action initiated by me."

Asked why, despite his busy schedule, he is such a consistent presence at alum ordinations/installations, he said:
"If you build a picnic table, wouldn’t it be nice to sit at it, share food and conversation, and know that it will serve others? At an ordination and installation we are no longer professor and student but colleagues…"

Stewart retires after a distinguished career at the end of this calendar year. At the conclusion of Stewart’s remarks, Rajashekar paid tribute to Stewart’s spouse, Dawn, who was in attendance. He took note of her many contributions to the field of Christian Education during a long career.

In addition to the sample remarks above, Stewart gave many responses to questions about a variety of additional topics including technology, congregational life, church architecture appropriate for our time and even a look ahead to his own future. See the video! And enjoy.

Reporting and photos by seminary writer Mark Staples.

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