DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Engagement is Critical

Written by: on April 4, 2018

Allow me to begin this post by stating that I don’t ever remember feeling so uncomfortable writing publically about a particular subject or subjects. This does not mean that I am not willing to engage. On the contrary, engagement is critical for me as a person, leader, student, and Christian. I am an undeterred seeker of truth, though not as bravely as some. I hunger for knowledge and understanding, and I welcome views that are different from mine. In fact, I search for and desire engagement at that level. I want to know!

At this point, it is not about right or wrong, or even agreeing or disagreeing, it is about my willingness to listen and understand points of view that may be new and even uncomfortable for me. Please don’t misunderstand, listening in this context has no contractual aspect. It is only to say I am willing to listen because I want to understand, not because I seek to agree or even disagree. There is that point in the learning process where the very act of listening is full-on engagement. For me, this is one of those times.

In that light, I would like to say that I feel that there are some topics that are so close to the heart, so intimate and sacred that public discourse, even if done carefully and wisely, threatens to degrade this sacredness and intimacy. I do not apologize for this feeling: although I have been accused by some of my close colleagues and friends as having an unwillingness—but not necessarily the inability—to express my feelings. I trust that those who have been with me on this journey of learning know my heart and actually know me. Truth be known, they probably know my heart better than those who may assume to know me, but do not.

I also do not apologize that unlike Thatcher, my sympathies do not necessarily lie with progressive or revisionist themes when it comes to sex and gender issues.[1] Thatcher would possibly attribute this to my generational bents. He would certainly attribute it to my cultural framework and my theological underpinnings. On that, I would agree. In any case, I honestly and sincerely admire his braveness in engaging the student and readers “to the exhilaration of thinking theologically about sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, and gender roles.” He is brave to introduce students and readers to his bold attempt at a “comprehensive and consistent theological understanding of sexuality and gender, which is broad, contemporary, undogmatic, questioning, inclusive, and relevant…”[2] I also admire his shining a light on the fact that at the core, there may be a problem that has resulted in women being treated as second-class citizens at best, and at worst brutally mistreated simply because of their gender. He does his task well with academic rigor, spiritual depth, and passion. This too is admirable—even if his conclusions are not always agreeable and his explicitness not always appreciated.

I was recently informed by someone of a younger generation that I may no longer use the word sex when speaking of gender. “Gender is a choice, sex is not.” Interesting! I engaged in conversation. According to my younger friend, the world has changed before my eyes. It seems that I am no longer “hip” and am living on the verge of becoming a dinosaur—my bones already forming into paleontological works of study—of interest only to those who research the species of the past, as they attempt to explain how my generation’s parochialism was destroyed by a proverbial meteorite that upon impact shook the whole world! I must admit, this young man had his points and he made them well. Even if I don’t wholeheartedly agree, I felt honored to talk with him.

I guess the question remains. At this juncture— post-Thatcher reading—where do I find myself? I find myself still thinking that the world is a wonderful and marvelous place, filled with people created in God’s image. I find myself more understanding of the fact that the highest perfections and ideals of this world pale in comparison to the glory of the One. I also find myself knowing that the deepest imperfections melt in the presence of His grace, mercy, and love. But mostly, I find myself coming to the daily realization that my understanding of what is perfect and what is not is clouded by a view that is not unlike a view through a glass darkly. This applies to all things with which I struggle, including the book God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction. Even if I don’t agree, I feel honored to have had the opportunity to listen in a way that helps me see the world through the eyes of another. In the end, I trust that I will not be one who simply points people to Christ—because then I have simply passed my responsibility on to someone else. On the contrary, I trust that I will be one in whom others see Christ, thus fulfilling my mission as a Christian—that is to show love and acceptance when and where others will not.

 

  1. Adrian Thatcher. God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, x.
  2. Ibid., ix.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

14 responses to “Engagement is Critical”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Jim, for the record, I think you are very expressive with your emotion and thoughts. You just have good boundaries and are careful. Nothing wrong with that.
    This line moved me: “I find myself still thinking that the world is a wonderful and marvelous place, filled with people created in God’s image.” My spirit just lifted when I read this and reminded me of the beauty there is in others and to marvel at God’s creation of life all around us. Thank you for your honest, emotional, and heartfelt post. I feel privileged to know you.

  2. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Oh friend, there is so much of you in this post. While I recognize it for what it is, I see your compassion and humility and bravery shining in it. I think Thatcher’s text will provide for a hearty conversation this week.
    (And for the record, young’uns would do well to listen to a dinosaur like yourself).

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thank you, Katy. I agree that Monday’s chat should be very interesting. Already looking forward to it.

  3. Mary says:

    Jim, I think we do know your heart and I believe you expressed your thoughts and emotions very humbly and honestly.
    I’m wondering – the only thing in the book that really bothered me was the explicit, graphic descriptions of things that we never spoke about in public when I was a girl. I don’t mind deep philosophical questions about whether or not God has a gender, but Thatcher repeated some words more times than I’ve ever said them for my whole life!!
    Has decorum gone out with the dinosaurs? If so, then they can put my bones in the museum next to yours.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Mary, the explicitness in some of the book bothered me too. It seemed a bit over the top and, in my opinion, not necessary. I’ve always tried to live by the maxim: “just because you can, does mean you should!” However, this book was not aimed at my demographic. That doesn’t necessarily excuse the explicitness, but may explain why Thatcher felt free to be so explicit in parts of the book. Appreciate your comments.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “I was recently informed by someone of a younger generation that I may no longer use the word sex when speaking of gender. ‘Gender is a choice, sex is not.’”

    I remember going to a seminar on postmodernism and the church about 20 years ago (Yikes, I am old). Back then, they were using the term “Emergent” because no one know where we were going (that has not changed).

    Anyway, they projected that our society was moving toward a place where there were no absolutes. Identities, brands, organizations, etc. would be in a constant state of flux.

    Right now, you can find men and women who identify as cats or dogs. I can identify as “gender fluid” so that I can be a man for breakfast and a woman for lunch. Cosplay has moved from Sci Fi conventions to mainstream life. We certainly are living in exciting times.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jim I appreciate your honesty and transparency in this post. Relevant topics in our culture are complex and do not send to simple questions that allow for simple answers. In fact, it leads to even more questions. Even in your post it led you to self reflection and questions. I hope all of us would allow the complexity of engaging in our culture not to repel us but to compel us to remain in community with others an sit in the tension so that the Holy Spirit can do a deeper work in our lives.

  6. Lynda Gittens says:

    Hey Jim, you are an important ingredient to the Sevens great flavor! I am glad to have met you and interacted with you.
    Your statement “I feel honored to have had the opportunity to listen in a way that helps me see the world through the eyes of another.” This program helps you identify areas you didn’t realize that you had personal or spiritual issues with. Yet, our group is opening and welcoming to all views.
    Great post Jim!

  7. Jim,
    Thanks so much for this post, but even more for your humble, inquisitive spirit.
    Your willingness – no, your desire to engage with those you might not agree with or understand is, to me the very reflection of what is required to be an effective witness for Jesus and the foundation of a true leader.
    Truly, Jim, this is wonderful:
    But mostly, I find myself coming to the daily realization that my understanding of what is perfect and what is not is clouded by a view that is not unlike a view through a glass darkly. This applies to all things with which I struggle, including the book God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction. Even if I don’t agree, I feel honored to have had the opportunity to listen in a way that helps me see the world through the eyes of another. In the end, I trust that I will not be one who simply points people to Christ—because then I have simply passed my responsibility on to someone else. On the contrary, I trust that I will be one in whom others see Christ, thus fulfilling my mission as a Christian—that is to show love and acceptance when and where others will not.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “It is only to say I am willing to listen because I want to understand, not because I seek to agree or even disagree.”
    This is one of the things I admire most about you, Jim. You are willing to really hear other viewpoints and try to understand where each person comes from. That is so valuable.
    I share your prayer that people see Christ in me. I know I see Christ in you.

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