This morning I was reading a friend's PhD research proposal and I became pretty jealous: this person's topic was not only strikingly more interesting than my own current PhD research, but it also reminded me of the reasons I got into theology to begin with. Not exactly knowing why, my current research is becoming more and more philosophical. Chances are, I will end up positioning myself to be a philosophy professor somewhere, although I do intend to get back to reading much more theology next year. [Note: I am still quite interested in my own topic, I am just making a point.]
Recent discussions on Dan's On Journeying With Those In Exile have also been poignantly challenging. His "Is Christian Scholarship Accountable to the Poor?" forum post is perennially relevant to someone like myself who agrees with his conviction of the mission of the Christian to serving Christ in the poor. It becomes ever more unsettling as time goes by since moving to Nottingham in August and still not really finding a church with such a focus (although our laziness of actually getting out of bed is more to blame, I am sure).
And then there is a previous post on Dan's blog where he asks
Your personal question is indeed challenging. Should I not leave my position of “privilege and power” and live with the poor? I have asked this question myself many times, especially in Atlanta, where I was attracted to leave my position as guest professor and join the Open Door Community working with the homeless. But friends said to me: Better use your capacities and possibilities to change the theological system and create a new ethics. And therefore I am still on this way.
He then writes this:
It is not my task to judge myself, this is Christ’s task.
There is, it seems, a freedom in this. Of course, every PhD student like myself must go through some existential "but what does it all mean?" phase, and, while providing grist for posts on this blog when one is unsure of what to write about, it actually is an important issue, one that Moltmann--who is in his 80's now--thinks is still worth responding to. So it is not like I will just 'grow up' out of this question.
Years ago, I've been told that this is just some "white liberal guilt" I am experiencing in the face of such issues, but does that really help matters? A gesture which names something to dismiss "guilt" doesn't seem to actually remove the question, just makes our conscience feel better. Such flippancy doesn't, you know, get rid of the realities of the poor. It doesn't make the weather any warmer in places where people have no shelter and are freezing.
The freedom provided by Moltmann's response is, to be sure, not a similarly flippant freedom of: oh then you can just be on your way and do as your were doing, living up your cheap grace, continuing to be irrelevant to the world. The freedom is, I think, one that allows the question to sit realistically, while still accepting full pardon. In one of the final scenes of the 1998 movie adaptation of Les Misérables (I haven't read the book yet or seen the musical), Jean Valjean offers inspector Javert pardon but he will not accept it. Instead, Javert keeps the chains on and jumps into the river, fleeing from his own liberation. The letter of the law condemned him and he lived by it to the end.
How does one allow oneself to live by Christ's judgment in academia? At least: don't neglect one's ecclesial involvements of the works of mercy slip by the wayside. That's obvious, but what else? What about the way in which we go about our studies? I honestly don't have any answers at this point.