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The University of Austin, Heterodox Academy, and the waterfall

by davesandel on November 10th, 2021

Wednesday, November 10, 2021                                           (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

The University of Austin, Heterodox Academy, and the waterfall

Hear, O kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earth’s expanse! Hearken, you princes, who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples!

I often think of, and sometimes pray for, Greg Abbott, governor of Texas and Jay Pritzker, governor of Illinois, who as republican and democrat have opposing constituencies, advisors, and priorities, but who desire on some level to be open to diverse points of view. They are the kings, the magistrates, the lords and princes of the establishments that govern my public life.

I also think of, and sometimes pray for, university presidents of the University of Texas and the University of Illinois, who also struggle with being fair and open-minded to divergent populations and points of view. Students matter. They will be our governors some day.

Of course, all four folks fail miserably. That doesn’t mean I should turn my nose up at them, of course, because I would fail miserably too. More so. Anyway, my judgment generally only serves to magnify my shallow commitment to truth. Except in debate, I’m mostly thinking of me.

God doesn’t do that.

Rise up, O God, bring judgment to the earth. Defend the lowly and the fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and the destitute.

I think of that episode of The Chosen during Season 2, when the cripple who had been wasting away at the Pool of Bethesda for 38 years was visited by his brother Simon, lately become a Zealot, who was planning an assassination and came at last to say goodbye to the brother he had once played and wrestled with, whom he had always loved. His brother resented this late visit and rejected Simon. Judgment and grief blew around those boys like a whirlwind of dirt and death.

Jesus came, healed the cripple and thereby cancelled the Zealot’s plans. His plans had been discovered, and Romans were waiting to catch him and kill him. All manner of things shall be well.

Brueggemann’s words come back to me (see yesterday’s devotion): What waiting on God allows is for us at last to recognize that “the initiative has passed from our hands and we are safer for it.”

For those governors and university presidents, that “passing” must seem impossible most of the time. They hold the reins to the establishment, at least as placeholders for the men and women who have the most to lose if things get shaken up too much. I noticed news yesterday about two new institutions that want to loosen those reins: Heterodox Academy and the even newer University of Austin (UATX, not UTA). “We are done waiting for the legacy universities to right themselves, and so we are building anew.” Not unlike the Confederate States of America, perhaps, but with a far more worthy goal.

So there are those in power who recognize the “numbness” created among the rest of us by heavy-handed, careless, politicized governance. Matthew describes us as “harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36). This condition was not natural for them, nor is it for us. Brueggemann recognizes that “the people did not get helpless by themselves. And to speak of harassment is to suggest that some others are doing the harassing.”

They stood at a distance and raised their voices. “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed.

Jesus healed lepers. We know more about leprosy, but like the lepers we tend to lose our sensitivity to hurting people around us. We become numb.

Empires live by numbness. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and corporations go to great lengths to keep our numbness intact. Jesus penetrates the numbness by his compassion and with his compassion takes the first step by making visible the odd abnormality that had become business as usual. (Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination, page 88)

Among the professors of Heterodox Academy who chose to self-identify, 15% call themselves conservative, 17% progressive, 30% centrist, and 26% libertarian. Can we gather round each other and “build anew?” Of course we can! Because we cannot take the initiative away from God, and as Jesus healed the lepers, God’s healing for us always awaits, like a waterfall.

We just need to step under it.

(Wisdom 6, Psalm 83, 1 Thessalonians 5, Luke 17)

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