This episode’s guest is Christian Collins Winn, Author and Pastor.
In this episode, Christian shares about his recently released book Jesus, Jubilee and the Politics of God's Reign. Christian shares about the influences that helped him write this book and the patterns of Jubilee he noticed in the Bible that led him to pursue justice through borderless love.
Episode Transcription available here
Host: Ry O. Siggelkow
Producer: Adam Pfuhl
Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua
Music: Kavyesh Kaviraj
Episode Recorded on February 13th, 2023
Ry Siggelkow [00:00:01] You're listening to the podcast of the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. We seek to open a space for critical theological conversations about pressing social issues we face in our world today. Thanks for listening.
Ry Siggelkow [00:00:28] Well, welcome, everybody. My name is Ry Siggelkow and I serve as the director of the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. I'm very excited to be in conversation this evening with my good friend, Reverend Dr. Christian Collins Winn. Christian is a pastor, a scholar and a fantastic person. Thanks to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for hosting this event and to everybody who chose to come out for this conversation about this remarkably bold book, Jesus, Jubilee, and the Politics of God's Reign. The book was recently released, and so we will assume that many, if not most, of you have yet to read it. But I hope you do. I want to encourage you to consider buying a copy of this book tonight. They are for sale for $20. But I also want to encourage you to consider hosting perhaps your own discussion groups of this book with friends or with a group from your congregation. I think this text would make a wonderful adult education text. Our agenda this evening is simple: Christian and I will have a conversation for about 45 to 50 minutes or so, and then we'll open it up for Q&A for the remaining 30 minutes or so. So let's dive in, Christian.
Christian, your research and scholarship has been primarily in a field known as historical theology, with a strong focus on German speaking thought in the 19th and 20th centuries. You've written at length about two important Lutheran figures, a father and a son. In fact, Johann Christoph Blumhardt, who lived from 1805 to 1880, and Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, who lived from 1842 to 1919. These figures, however, were really not academic theologians. They were outsiders. They were pastors. They were social agitators and even heretics of a certain sort, or at least some people thought of them as heretics. And they really were first and foremost ministers, preachers of the gospel who were actively involved in social movements that were focused on the transformation of our world. You've argued before that the Kingdom of God or God's reign was at the heart of their theology. And that's what this book is about, the Kingdom of God or God's reign. So I wonder if we could begin our conversation by having you share a bit about your work on the Blumhardts and how their lives and their theology have shaped the central themes of this book.
Christian Collins Winn [00:03:24] Well, thanks for that question. And again, thanks to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for hosting this event and for all of you for attending and being here.
So the Blumhardts are two figures that I was put on to by my dissertation advisor, a man named Don Dayton. He passed away two or three years ago. And we met in Africa. I was in Zimbabwe for the World Council of Churches Assembly, and I was a seminary student. I was at the time finishing up seminary. I was very interested in the theology of Karl Barth, he is a figure that a lot of people probably may have heard that name or he would certainly be more well-known, at least in the Blumhardts. And Don noticed that I was interested in Barth. He noticed that I kind of had a Wesleyan pietistic background. And he also noticed that I was interested in politics and probably of a more progressive left leaning side of politics. So he suggested he said, you know, have you heard of these Blumhardt characters? And I had not heard of them. And he said, You should check them out.
So I went back and I started reading through their work. As it turned out, actually Barth interacts a lot, quite a bit with the Blumhardts. And so basically the story of who these figures were is certainly historical, but it has these mythological components to it. So these are two figures from the 19th century. The Father Blumhardt grows up, goes into ministry in the Lutheran State Church in Württemberg, which is in southwestern Germany, and he is deeply shaped by a pietist form of Lutheranism, which was a response to the more arid and scholastic elements in classical Lutheranism, an attempt to recover the heart element of religion. And so he's in that milieu in the 19th century. And really if you think about the connection, maybe an analogy in the United States would be something like the revival movements that we associate with people like Charles Finney and others in the 19th century in North America.
So he goes into ministry. He winds up holding two or three different posts, including being a teacher for a while at the Basel Mission School, which was sort of the mission sending house that the Lutherans in that region had set up. And he eventually winds up as pastor of a small village called Möttlingen. And he's there. He's ministering in the village. And there's a woman there and her name is Gottlieben Dittus. And she comes to him and she starts telling them that she's having these very weird experiences at night. And she starts to complain about things like seeing visions, finding things that are sort of protruding from her skin, having flows of blood that she can't stop and hearing voices and loud bangs and knocks. And Blumhardt, because he'd been at the mission school and because he'd been educated at the Tübingen School of Theology, he is not interested in sort of weird kinds of stories like this. He's not going to be someone who's a proponent of the possibility that there could be something like a demonic power or possession at play. And so he tries to stay away from this woman.
He calls in the local physician in the town and asks for him to analyze the woman. And there's a whole network of doctors that get involved. And basically they sort of after applying their trade, they come to the conclusion that they can't do anything to help this woman. And so they start to beg Blumhardt, as her pastor, to get involved in the situation. So he does and over the course of about two years, he comes to the conclusion that he's been embroiled in some sort of spiritual struggle, that there's actually a demonic power at work in all of this. And he enters into an attempt to do battle basically with this entity. That's at least the way that he describes it in his memoirs. And the only weapons that he has in having this confrontation is the reading of scripture, fasting, and prayer. That's the only thing that he can do. And he's going to her house all the time. He's taking the mayor with him. So he's not going by himself and sort of making these things up, like the entire sort of town is kind of involved in watching this thing unfold. And after about two and a half years, things come to a climax around January, I think it was December. So January 18th, 1842, I believe. There's this moment that Blumhardt recounts. That's kind of why I still emotionally respond to it where the woman cries out, "Jesus is Victor". And it was understood, at least it was heard by Blumhardt as the demonic power itself, conceding to the living Jesus, who had sort of shown up in the context of this battle. And the woman over the course of about three weeks, four weeks, her symptoms subside. You know, these things are not going on anymore, etc.. And Blumhardt comes to the conclusion that this was actually an exorcism and that, in fact, Jesus really is alive and at work in the world. But we don't believe that. We don't trust that that might be true.
So as you can imagine, a story like this, particularly in a small village in the 19th century, would sound obviously amazing and remarkable. Well, it does actually spark a kind of localized revival. And one of the things I love to say is that, you know, in the context of Lutheran State Church, the best way to get kicked out of the church is to start a revival. Which is what happens, of course, because folks from other Lutheran churches start to come to visit him. They leave their parish and crossing parish boundaries back then was a big no no. So Blumhardt decides with the family and with Dittis now, who becomes sort of a part of the family. Her, her sister and her brother, they all sort of begin to be enfolded into the family, that maybe it's time to step away from parish ministry.
And someone is able to buy a kind of basically a spa, it's a converted spa, and they turn it into a wellness center. And so it's almost like a sort of hospital. But they utilize their certain spiritual methods of prayer, but also homeopathic medicines, because this area in Germany was very much steeped in homeopathic medicinal practices. So that's kind of what makes Blumhardt, the older Blumhardt, famous. His story travels across the Atlantic. People like Mary Baker Eddy and others hear about this. Charles Cullis, people who are involved in the American Healing movement find out about this. Some of them visit him from time to time. And he becomes, interestingly enough, like I would say by the 1880s, when he dies in 1880, he becomes the kind of figure that if you were sort of pietistically inclined, you might read a short devotion written by Blumhardt. So if in North America you were reading Oswald Chambers. In Germany, in that setting, you would be reading something like that. So a sort of conservative religiously revivalist kind of milieu is the setting.
Well, his son was born literally right around the time that these events happened. So his son was actually born in 1842 and his son grows up. His son, Christoph, is an even more independent character than his father. And he, over time comes to not push back on what his father believes, but to push back on the church culture that develops around his father. And so, as you can imagine, if someone is purported to have the ability potentially to heal or at least to have access to certain healing methods, people would start to come. They would hold you in very high regard. This could create a certain kind of ethos that would be uncomfortable for some folks. And he was one of those kinds of people. And he, after his father passes away in 1880, Christoph takes over the ministry and for about ten years he kind of does what his dad was doing, and then he decides that he's had enough, that he can't stand the fact that people are coming to this new, at this point, it's not new any longer. But it was called Bad Boll. And that was where the cure house was. The cure house. And people would show up there just for their own healing for themselves. And the reason why he can't stand that is because his father had actually taught people that the sign of Gottliebin's healing and the sign of anyone's healing is that it's meant to tell us that this is what God intends for the whole world. So if you receive, you know, you experience some kind of healing, it's not just about you. It's supposed to be a sign of hope for everyone. And it was supposed to go beyond that.
So Christoph eventually decides that he doesn't want to have anything to do with this church culture anymore. But he still believes that God is at work in the world, and he believes that what is needed is a new breakthrough, like the Möttlingen event. Something else. There's got to be some other place where God is stirring, trying to break out, and he discerns over the course of about a four or five year period from about 1895 to 1900 or so that he can hear the spirit struggling to come forth in the cry for justice in the workers movement. And so he becomes very involved, basically in the justice movement, in the conviction that what's going on there, even though most of the workers movement would have been, you know, explicitly atheist, this is nevertheless a cry, that is just as significant as the cry that Dittis was crying out for to be released from her captivity. They wanted to be released from the injustice that they were experiencing, etc..
So Christoph gets involved in politics. He winds up running for office and holds office for five or six years as a socialist. And you can imagine if his father is the sort of Oswald Chambers and his son becomes a member of Parliament in the Socialist Party, how deep of a betrayal this would feel. Right. And of course, that's actually true. You know, that's certainly the way that people interpreted it. Blumhardt himself, though, understood his going into the party and the work that he was doing as an act of discipleship. So he understood himself to be entering the party and entering into struggle on behalf of workers. He got involved in education legislation, agriculture legislation, legislation around railroads, workers rights. Early forms of what we might call a social safety net. He was behind agitating for that in the local state house. Eventually, though, he came to see that the party had just as many problems as the church. And so he leaves the party, but he doesn't leave his socialist principles behind. And so all of that sort of that's kind of the narrative. He winds up dying in 1919. He's one of the very few Germans to get up in 1914 and preach against going to war in the First World War, because he believes that people have confused the spirit of God with the spirit for war or a spirit of patriotism, we might say, in our day and age.
And both the Elder Blumhardt and the younger Blumhardt, one of the ways that they talked about that living power that's at work in the world is the category of the kingdom of God. It was the spirit or it was the living Christ or this was a way of talking about the kingdom of God, the power of the resurrection unleashed in the world, and the fact that you could have it break out in in what clearly is a, I don't know how else to describe it, but it's sort of a mythological feeling story, but also in the form of everyday work and struggle for political change. That those two things could be brought together; this is one of the things I think that's really, of course, remarkable about them in general, is that they bring together like Pentecostal sensibilities and liberation theology sensibilities, and show that they actually both have something in common. So that's sort of the background for me. Like one of my operating assumptions of the book is that God lives. That God is in fact alive, that God's at work in the world. So how do we discern what that work looks like so that we can join in, so we can get involved? So that's sort of the background. And yes, just so that you know, just so that all of you know, I cry typically every time I preach and most of the time when I teach. So it's going to happen. So if it makes you uncomfortable, I apologize, but this is the way it is.
Ry Siggelkow [00:18:39] So the book is really influenced by the Blumhardts in many ways. Or at least the subject is.
Christian Collins Winn [00:18:43] Yeah, very much so.
Ry Siggelkow [00:18:45] But the focus of the book really is on scripture. So it's split up into six chapters and it goes through the Psalms. It goes through the prophets. It goes into the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament, Jesus' ministry in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles. And your approach to reading Scripture throughout, you say that it's an exercise in attempting to see the text of Scripture and our world from the perspective of the crucified of history, so as to struggle for a more just and life giving world.
"My hope", you say, "is to find others who are either on the journey or who long to begin". For you, this means paying special attention and really listening and learning from the forms of knowledge that emerge from historical freedom struggles in addition to listening to the struggles of the people that we can discern when we read Scripture from this perspective, from below, from the perspective of the crucified of history.
So first, I wonder if you could talk a bit about what you mean when you speak of the crucified of history. And then I wonder if you could share more about your commitment to attempting to read Scripture from this vantage point, why this is so important to you and the various challenges that might come with such a commitment. I mean, most of biblical scholarship and theology more generally comes from people who are well fed, who have houses to live in, who have stable employment, clean water to drink, people who are not under surveillance by the state, not generally threatened by police or prisons, and who do not generally face the reality of crucifixion. And I am assuming that's true for many, if not most of us in this room, including the pastors among us. So what does it look like to commit oneself as a disciple to the work of reading scripture in this way? What are the challenges and risks involved and why should we even try to do it? And finally, why do we need others to join us on this journey?
Christian Collins Winn [00:21:12] Even though you sent me these questions before, that's still such a huge question, I think. So I'll tackle the first one. What do I mean by the crucified of history? I think, for me at least, this is rooted in Bonhoeffer and Cone. So Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian who lived in the early first half of the 20th century, influenced by Karl Barth, eventually is executed by the Nazis for his resistance and his participation in a plot to kill Hitler. And then James Cone, really the father of modern black theology in the United States. The two of them, I think, in a sense, have shaped this deeply, this kind of my engagement. You know, I would say, obviously, that Christoph Blumhardt opens the door for this because his criteria for discerning where God was at work was a proletarian Jesus. He believed that if you look at Jesus in Scripture, what you find is someone from the underclass, from among the masses. And so Bonhoeffer then, for me at least, brings that up into the 20th century and begins to talk about learning to see the world from the underside or the perspective of those who've been pushed out or those who've been crushed. And of course, in his context, he's thinking particularly about the Jewish people, right? Learning to see the world from their perspective gives you a very different vantage for understanding what's going on in the world. And part of the risk is that it might give you a different vantage for understanding what's actually going on in Scripture, or maybe who God is or who God is not.
Then Cone. Cone is important to me, not just because the first theology text I ever really read was his book "God of the Oppressed". But I grew up in North Carolina and I have many memories of being racialized, you know, sort of encountering the racial regime of the South. And in fact, one of my earliest ones was I remember watching the Greensboro massacre unfold in 1979 on TV when I was about eight years old. And I remember hearing people in my own family talking in very racist ways and not knowing how to make sense of that, because these were not only people that I loved, they were also people that- some of them had a very deep faith. And so I wondered how were they able to say those things? How were they able to see these people this way if they were trying to follow Jesus? Or to be Christian or the things that I thought I was hearing in church and Cone kind of gave me, I think, some of the tools to begin to make sense of some of that. That they had not learned to see the world from the perspective of the underside or to see the world from the perspective of those who are crushed.
Now, the phrase itself, the crucified of history, I think it comes out of Latin American liberation theology, but it resonates then with these arguments that you hear from both Cone and Bonhoeffer. And I think, from my perspective, I mean, at least when I was kind of reflecting on this, that Jesus essentially takes up a posture in Scripture. He is crucified. And in so doing, he makes us aware of the injustices that people experience. The way that his trial is set up in the four gospels, it's pretty clear that he's innocent, Right? He's an outsider. He's being mistreated. The folks who kill him aren't really interested in justice all that much or the truth. They just seem to be interested in power. And so the crucified of history, then, is a way of talking about all the other folk in the world who've had similar kinds of experiences to Jesus. It's a kind of way of linking, of talking about Jesus, his own solidarity with those folks and linking that up. And these are folks that are often crucified by our own desires, our own fears, our own greed, etc.. So that's kind of where I'm coming from.
It's a perspective, literally, as you mentioned in your question from the vantage of the underside, you know, the folks who are outside, folks who don't benefit from the system. In terms of what it means to commit yourself to this, I guess when I think about that, I guess I feel like there's a lot at stake. One is that the truth of who Jesus actually was is at stake. If he really is an outsider, you know, if he really is innocent in the way that the narratives speak about him. That's at stake. What does that mean and why he was killed and what it was that was raised from the dead that came back is also at stake for me.
So what do I mean by that? What I mean, first of all, is that Howard Thurman back in the 1950s, published this wonderful little book called, Jesus and the Disinherited, and I highly recommend this book. Thurman was a very important kind of mentoring figure for Martin Luther King Jr. And the book, Jesus and the Disinherited is one of the two books that MLK carried around with him, supposedly keeping it in his jacket. And so in that book, Thurman says, if we look at Jesus just sociologically, what we find is that he is a poor Jew from a backwater region of an occupied land. He's an outsider. And so I think to commit yourself to beginning to read scripture from that perspective is in a way to affirm the truth of who Jesus was. And so that's at stake.
I think the second thing for me that I feel like I would kind of want to unpack in terms of why commit yourself to this. From my perspective, Jesus is executed because he commits himself to living God's jubilee reign and he commits himself to living that way not just for himself, but for everyone he meets. And so he's constantly interacting with people, not only teaching about the kingdom, but setting people free. And oftentimes, these kinds of exorcism stories that seem pretty crazy, they all contain a sort of sociopolitical component. People are often restored to health, which means restored to their community, which means restored to full life, etc., etc.. So all these things are going on. I think Jesus ultimately is killed because this is a threat to the status quo, to the powers that be. And he's executed, Right. I think it's important to remember the cross is not at this time a religious symbol. It's a political symbol. It's one of the you know, it's one of the great executional. I mean, I don't know what the proper word is, but it's one of the greatest apparatuses for putting people to death ever invented. And part of the message of the cross, from the perspective of those who perpetrate or use it is if you live in a certain way, if you threaten the powers that be, this is what's going to happen to you.
Now, that's only one half of the message, though, because I also believe that Jesus is raised from the dead. Now, when I think about resurrection, I don't think about it as just a way of answering the question, What can God do with a corpse? Can God bring life back to a corpse and bring them back to life? Obviously, on a certain level one would say theologically, God can do whatever God wants. What I think, though, is actually being said, and this is at least the perspective that I take up in the book, is that when Jesus is brought back, it's not just that his body is brought back. It's that the life that he lived in that body is brought back. I mean, he bears the nail marks and the wounds. And what I think that tells us or speaks to is of the history that he lived. So it's literally his life, his commitment to bringing God's jubilee justice to others that leads to his death. But that God says that life cannot be mastered by death, that life actually overcomes death. And so learning to read I mean, I guess I was kind of led into a lot of these insights by reading from the perspective of the underside. But learning to read from the underside is, I think, embracing the truth of these things.That if Jesus is committed to the poor because he himself is poor, if Jesus is committed to the outsider, if Jesus is committed, you know, etc., etc., etc., then his identity is at stake in how we read scripture. And I think that's one reason why, at least from my perspective, I wanted to commit myself to something like that.
Now, speaking as a pastor in a suburban church, which is very white and very wealthy, one has to find ways of how one is going to... because you're talking here about the cost of that, because these things don't always make sense to the folks that are in my church, at least not initially. And so learning to know my audience, but also know that I need to push them a little bit here and or pull them along a little bit there. And so there are challenges of that type and there are costs of that type. And of course, the costs also rebound to me. I have a mortgage. I have two children. I want them to go to college. I have a savings account. These are things that the vast majority of humans who live now and who have lived have never had access to. So there is also a cost to you. And I feel like the question then becomes, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to use that privilege or that space to continue to perpetuate the benefit? Or are you going to begin to use it in ways that open that up for others to do that jubilating kind of work?
Ry Siggelkow [00:33:53] Well, let's talk about Jubilee.
Christian Collins Winn [00:33:54] All right.
Ry Siggelkow [00:33:55] At the heart of your book is the central city of Jubilee, what you call the practice of Jubilee in the Bible. You argue that the tradition of Jubilee informs much of the biblical text from the politics of praise that emerged from the Psalms to the prophetic and apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, and to Jubilee's embodiment in the life message and ministry of Jesus. In a sense, you are arguing, I think, that God's reign is the concrete enactment of Jubilee. I wonder if you could share a bit about Jubilee. I mean, it is a term that many of us have probably heard before, but rarely do we think of it as a concrete practice or material undertaking today, and rarely do we view it as running throughout the whole Bible.
Christian Collins Winn [00:34:49] The place where you find the jubilee legislation is in Leviticus chapter 25, and it is very much connected to the Sabbath legislation. So, you know, resting on the Sabbath and also every seven years allowing your land to rest. So there's all this kind of additional legislation around the Sabbath. It's also found in what's called the Holiness Code, which is kind of an interesting and important thing. I'll come back to that in a second. It was, I think it'd be fair to say from most of the scholarship that I was working with, many folks viewed this legislation as primarily meant for a settled community. So this was something that was developed, imagined for once Israel had left the desert and entered into Palestine. And basically in that legislation, it speaks of setting free captives, returning land, and generally reversing the conditions that people find themselves in. In ancient Israel, like most, I suppose, ancient civilizations, certainly today, if you wound up in a bad situation, your crops didn't grow, you made the wrong assessment in the wrong place of land, your animal came down with something. Whatever the case may be, you might find yourself having to sell yourself into slavery in order to pay your debts. You might wind up having to hock off the family land in order to survive. And the Jubilee legislation, which came around every 50 years, was meant to sort of reset all of that.
Now, I personally am not as interested in all of the details there. What I'm really interested in is the deep pattern that we find in the Jubilee material, and that's a pattern of what I would describe as release and reversal, that what God wants to do is to set free and to reverse conditions that we might call unjust or deleterious or whatever the case may be. As it turns out, this is kind of back onto the Holiness code. As it turns out, the Jubilee would start on the Day of Atonement on the 50th year. So you have the Atonement Festival, which was very much a social festival where people were reconciled with one another. And I think the image there is one of undergoing judgment and repentance in order to enter into a kind of new life. And what I saw in that was the sort of deep grammar of the cross and resurrection. That this idea of judgment and new life which shows up in the Jubilee legislation itself, if you track it through the prophets, where they start to speak about Jubilee and they use the images of Jubilee, not so much to talk about are we going to redistribute land or not or whatever, but they use it as a way of talking about, well, when Yahweh comes back, you know, or when God finally steps in and sets right the world, it's going to look like this. It's going to mean setting free the captives. It's going to mean healing up the broken, giving sight to the blind. It's going to mean all these things. This was a way of kind of imagining that new life. Well, oftentimes it also included an element of judgment. But also this profound element of new life. And so that's kind of how the theme, I think, sort of draws through.
To me, it moves from the Levitical tradition in the Torah, through the prophets, the writings and the apocalyptic figures. And then Jesus himself basically inaugurates his ministry in Luke chapter four by quoting from a text in Isaiah that quotes from Leviticus 25. So Jesus was thinking about himself and his ministry as some form of an expression of jubilee. And so that's kind of how I think about it, how I track it through. Another pattern that I've been thinking about since I finished the book is sort of the Exodus pattern. I think most folks are kind of familiar with the Exodus story, right? Israel as a people winds up, because of a famine, having to migrate down to Egypt. Eventually they're enslaved. They're there for 400 years in enslavement. And then Moses comes along, right? Yahweh empowers Moses, leads the people out, etc.. And that kind of is the big drama, really, in some ways, the story of Israel. Well, the actual Hebrew word for Egypt can be rendered as the narrow place. I think more than likely that's because most of Egyptian civilization is built around the Nile. So it's a narrow space. But what you find, I think, also on a more metaphorical level is this vision of God trying to take us out of these narrow enclosures to lead us into broad spaces. And I think this is also what Jubilee imagines. People who are physically incapacitated to be set into a new register, people who have become enslaved to debt or have lost connection to the land or whatever to be brought and put into a new relationship. In the same thing we see in the ministry of Jesus sort of unfolds and kind of, you know, sort of flows out. And so that was kind of where that idea of jubilee really began. I mean when I started the book, I was like, I want to try to understand what the kingdom of God is. And the more I tried to understand what that was, the more I realized it's got some kind of deep relationship to this idea of jubilee, this kind of pattern.
Ry Siggelkow [00:41:52] On the one hand, the book is a very detailed and careful exegetical study of the biblical theme of Jubilee or what you call God's jubilating justice. I love that phrase. On the other hand, there are significant sections of the book that discuss how these biblical themes have been taken up in history, particularly in what you refer to as the black freedom struggle. Drawing on the work of Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan and James Cone, you highlight the significance of the spirituals and the blues as similar to or in a sense, a continuation of the critique of Imperial power found in the Psalms. You make the case that the prophetic and apocalyptic literature were central to the theology of 19th century black radical traditions which emphasize the coming of God's uncompromising judgment against the terror of the slaveocracy of white America. The necessity of a radical transformation of social relations not later, but now, an end to slavery, and with it a radical redistribution of wealth. A jubilee. Which would mark the end of the power of the plantation.
So you show how these biblical traditions have informed the radical movements, especially the radical wing of abolitionist struggles against slavery. But I wanted to push you a bit on this point. Is it possible for us to say something even stronger here theologically? Is it possible for us to say not only that these biblical traditions informed or were taken up by people in these freedom struggles, but that the struggles themselves, these jubilating movements were enactments of God's reign in history and furthermore, given that the struggle for freedom continues today. Where can we discern God's reign at work today? I suppose I'm wondering about the role of concrete discernment in theological reflection. That is, our willingness or unwillingness to risk naming and even joining in God's activity in the present.
Christian Collins Winn [00:44:11] Yeah. Another zinger. Well, a step back that I think is very important for understanding how I would answer that question is one of the things that I am really trying to understand and elaborate on in the book is this claim that Jesus is the kingdom of God. That if you want to know what the Kingdom of God is, you look first of all to Jesus, and that gives you the outline of what that is. The reason that I want to understand that claim is that I, as a historical theologian, in my studies kept finding that everybody talks about the kingdom of God. And you can have very radical movements that we might consider maybe on the left struggling for freedom or the right to vote or equality. And they're talking about the kingdom. But you could also have people who are engaged in colonialism, the Crusades, and a whole host of other, I think, much more negative things that also say we're building the kingdom. So how do you adjudicate those? Like, is it just whatever anybody wants?
So my argument in the book in some sense, is to try to root whatever we're going to say in Scripture and in particular in a compelling way that gives us the contours of that that's focused around Jesus. So much of what then the book does is it kind of lays out how Jesus himself embodies the kingdom, not just that he teaches about the kingdom, but that he literally is in some sense. If you want to know where God's reign has happened in history in sort of its clearest form you look to the story of Jesus. And I try to trace that through not only his ministry, because there's a lot of folks who have made that argument, but up into the cross, the resurrection and the pouring out of the spirit.
One of the reasons why I'm trying to do that, or one of the reasons why I feel it's salutary to do it, is that oftentimes we over freight human action with divine sort of significance and this happens both in the more destructive ways and also some of the more liberated ways. And I think I guess what I'm thinking about here is, for instance, right now, at Asbury University, there's a revival happening. Well, eventually that revival is going to stop happening. So does that mean that whatever happened there was not the work of God? Why did it come to an end, etc.? Those kinds of questions come up. And I think what you find actually, certainly in the history of revivalism is a lot of folks struggling with sort of depression after these things go on. I mean, this was certainly the case for the Blumhardts. The way that they dealt with this, they being the Blumhardts, the way that they dealt with this was that they said, you know, each of these events that happen are not the thing itself. They're more like stations on the way. The thing itself is literally the resurrection of the dead and a new heaven in a new earth. But in history, we can have a taste of this from time to time. And so I like to use the language of parables of the kingdom. So a way of then naming some of these concrete struggles that I would argue have the contours of the life of Jesus. He becomes sort of the criteria, in a sense, for discerning that rather than saying that they are the kingdom, I think precisely in order to protect them from over freighting them with too much sort of divine meaning or importance. It's better to say that they are parables or parabolic expressions of the kingdom. And I do think that we can say that. And in fact, I say something like that, you know, about George Floyd Square. There's a moment there where the kingdom seems to break out. I think there are other places. My other examples, right in the use of the spirituals and the blues, the discourse that happens over the course of 15 or 20 years. Post-Reconstruction is a similar kind of thing, sort of meditating. And these are not- these are more suggestive then they are sort of iron clad.
But discernment as you kind of brought up, that really is in a way like at the heart of this project. As I said before, my axiomatic unprovable assumption is that God lives, that God is at work. So how do we discern between the spirits? Because there's a lot of spirits in the world. I have a spirit. A lot of spirits, some of the spirits are fine, they're good, they're positive, but they're not necessarily the Holy Spirit. How did Blumhardt in 1914 when he watched his entire culture come together and they came together as one to go to war? How was he able to say, Well, that's a spirit, but it's not the Holy Spirit? That's the kind of question that to me is in the background. And I'm like, I know you, in your work in organizing. And I'm sure there are as many experiences of ego and pain and frustration as there are of solidarity and friendship and love and beauty. And it's that sense that we're still living in that time that's mixed. That's why I would be a little wary of overrating it, calling it an actual expression of the kingdom beyond, say, like a parable.
Ry Siggelkow [00:50:59] In the final chapter of the book, you write movingly of neighbor love as a borderless love. You write, and I'm quoting you here, "The impelling force of the spirit of love then aims at a borderless love, a love that is not bound or enclosed, but rather free and filled with energy, a love that is in stark contrast to the policies pursued at the southern border of the United States or in areas like Israel, Palestine. In those places, borders mean separation and deprivation. At the southern border in the United States, children, even infants, are separated from parents, travelers from fellow travelers, and the human beings who guard borders from those who seek to pass over them". It is precisely such violent policing and surveillance that Jesus' border transgressing love calls into question. For you, a commitment to borderless love emerges from a reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, which you say following Sharon Ringe poses the question, "Am I being a neighbor to everyone I meet?".
As I was reading the section, I was reminded of Martin Luther King Jr's reflections on the parable of the Good Samaritan in his 1967 speech at Riverside Church, Beyond Vietnam, in which he talks about the need for a radical revolution of values that would prioritize people over machines, profits and property rights and stand in opposition to the triplets, which he named were racism, extreme materialism and militarism. "A true revolution of values' ', King said, "will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies". And here, of course, he's referring to the United States. "On the one hand", he says, and here is the part of that that I really want to highlight, "we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will only be an initial act. One day", King says, "we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring".
Now, I was thinking about this, especially in light of what you go on to say in the book about abolition. And you use this language of commoning and the commons at the conclusion of the book to reclaim the commons against enclosure. That is, the struggle to make the Earth a common treasury for all is the social extension of neighbor love. It is the work of transforming Jericho Road, as King called for. At least that's how I understand what you're saying. So I wonder if you could share a bit about how you understand the relationship between neighbor love as borderless love and how that relates to your understanding of commoning as a work of the spirit and the enactment of God's compassionate justice in the world.
Christian Collins Winn [00:54:37] It's interesting because I was working on that section in the fall of 2020. And I finished it up in January 2021. And I remember I took a one week writing vacation and January 6th happened. And so I was watching this kind of unfold on the screen by myself trying to write that chapter. And I very much was thinking about borderless love in its relationship to the stories, the horror stories we've been hearing out of the southern border.
Since then, I have thought a little bit about some additional sort of imagery and scripture that has struck me. One is the presence of the idea of the river of life and the kind of the imagery of water in general, I suppose. But in Ezekiel and then later in Revelation, there's a picture of God's throne, and it speaks of water flowing out from the throne. And I think it's particularly in Ezekiel, where the water flows north and south and east and west. So it goes everywhere. And the text says something like, everywhere, everything it touches comes to life. And that imagery, I think, of a love that flows without respect. Unimpeded, indiscriminately, seems to me to be the kind of love that is enjoined in Scripture.
As it turns out today, I was actually teaching on Acts chapter 12, and there's the first half of that chapter. Peter gets locked up. It's one of many of the carceral scenes in Acts. The prison is a huge character in the Book of Acts, and he gets locked up and this one he gets locked up, like for good. You know, the text says there are four sets of guards guarding him. He's bound and he falls asleep and he falls so deeply asleep. And I think it's probably a kind of depressive stress sleep, the kind of sleep that the disciples may have also experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane when they knew something bad was coming. And the only way they could handle it was just to sleep. I think that same thing happens to Peter in prison. And the text says, the church is praying for him. And an angel shows up. But the angel, when the angel shows up, still doesn't wake Peter up because he's caught in the grip of death. And Angel has to smack him upside the head, literally. The text, our text reads. It touches him. But in the Greek, it says it strikes him. And he sort of comes awake. He obeys what the angel tells him. The chains fall off. He walks through two, three, four sets of guards. The doors are open. And then finally, once he's out and then literally in the middle of this recounting, it says he still doesn't know if this is real. He thinks he might be seeing a vision. So literally, he can't believe what's going on. And then finally he comes to and as I thought about that passage, one of the deep, I felt like, grammars that it was saying to me and to those I was teaching was that there is nothing that can ultimately tie down God's love. There is nothing that can ultimately enclose it. And so borderless love is a way of talking about the irrepressible nature of what we're called to step into and what that looks like, what actual love looks like. I would basically probably use bell hooks as a definition that love is the act of extending or expending yourself for the good or the growth of another. It's not an emotion, even though I'm clearly an emotional guy. It's not an emotion. It's an act, and it's for the good of someone else.
And so the language of commoning is something that I picked up from Peter Linebaugh, a whole kind of cadre of historians and social theorists. As they talked about modern life, one of the things that they describe, one of the ways that they diagnose the symptom of modern life is that it's an experience of enclosure, that we're constantly being enclosed and marked off from one another. We're enclosed by the ideologies that we live with. We can't see one another as fully human. There are so many things kind of hemming us in, and what God wants is the reclaiming of that sense of common, that open space. So when I think about commoning, I think about it as the strategies and tactics of making, as you said, the Earth a genuine treasury for all.
But in the first part of the book, in chapter one, when I talk in the Psalms, I have a whole section there on the confrontation that the Psalms often talk about when God shows up and confronts the other gods, or when God shows up and confronts the kings of the earth. And the question I ask in that section is, well, why is it that Yahweh overthrows the other gods or the other king? Like, what is it that's being said here? Is it just that Yahweh's just stronger? Is this just like might makes right in a theological register. And what you find actually in the Psalms is that when God shows up, the thing that overthrows the other powers is God's justice. And God's righteousness. And justice and righteousness in the biblical tradition are connected with making sure that everyone and everything has access to what it takes to live a flourishing life, that that is ultimately what God is interested in. That's what justice is, in a sense. And so when I think about commoning, I'm thinking about it in that register of we have so commodified and cordoned off and enclosed from one another and we don't even know it in some ways. And I think what God is interested in doing and certainly we see this in some of the texts of the New Testament book of Acts, where it talks about holding everything in common, that that was supposed to be a character trait of the Christian movement. And it has been sometimes and it hasn't been other times, but there's been other movements that I wouldn't necessarily describe as Christian or religious or whatever, but they're trying to do this. And part of then the argument of the book is that you might have over here someone doing something that looks an awful lot like commoning, but they don't, they haven't put a Christian label on it. But why can't we say that that's also a parable of the kingdom? And why can't we then also get involved? Even if it's not under the banner of Jesus or whatever the case may be. So I hope that kind of gets at that last question.
Ry Siggelkow [01:03:07] Yeah, it does. Thanks so much for this conversation. I'd like to open it up now to our audience. We have about 15 minutes or so. If anyone has a question they'd like to ask Christian or a comment, you may come up to this seat right here and ask away.
Audience Member [01:03:54] Thanks for your talk. And I guess this goes into your podcast. So I'm not being heard otherwise. I am very interested in the interior spirituality experience you described from this woman and a history story that you had as part of our spiritual experiences today. And as a chaplain, I've been 23 years doing that sort of thing, and as a parish pastor too. Have had encounters with people in times of crisis who report various powerful, transformative experiences. And I did a podcast myself about this, which is spirituality during times of trauma and loss. And I have some stories in there.
There's one story that I didn't put in there, but which I'd like to just mention briefly about a woman who had a history of sexual abuse from her father in her childhood as a young woman, a parishioner of mine. One day when she was in crisis, called me up and she was in a very agitated way. And she was, you know, suicidal. And with the details, I'll leave out. But she left. She abandoned. She was missing for several days. And I got a call from her therapist who she had gone to see because she was a responsible person. She had to make sure she made it to the appointment, apparently, and wanted me to take her into the hospital because I was their idea to give her medical or psychiatric support, which I did. When I went back to see her, she was lying on the floor in a fetal position at one point. And of course, I couldn't. I didn't do anything. I just noticed this was her situation in that hospital.
And so after that, I came back a few days later. She was now more in a good place to be discharged eventually. And what I did was I said to her, why or what was going on when you were laying there? I saw you in your fetal position. She said there was a great battle going on. I said, okay. And it was a battle between my father and Jesus. And then she winked at me and said, And Jesus won. Okay. This was a tremendous story to me. And her recovery was really I'm sure there were other things that were done. But this spiritual experience, this awareness of Jesus having that power to overcome whatever it was that her father represented was the great battle interior to her. And that was assigned to me about the spiritual experience of trauma. And we have so many of us in experiences of trauma. I think of the African-American community having had a long history of trauma. Historically, as otherwise and an individual personal in one's life with guns and all the various threats that people are encountering in some ways or another in their societal life, I don't know.
But I think that it would be powerful if we had conversations sitting down together and revealing to each other where our trauma stories are coming from and what the spiritual messages are. If we can trust each other to share this and find our common opportunity to connect emotionally in a deeper, meaningful way than our tribalism. I'm just raising that as a question. And I'm curious if anything like that's ever been done. Thank you.
Christian Collins Winn [01:08:27] Wow. Well, first of all, I would not be surprised. Well, first of all, that's a pretty powerful story that you shared. And I just think that to note that and to witness something of that nature. This is one of the things about that Blumhardt story for me. I've spent a lot of time. I am actually one of the editors of their writings and I think we've published four volumes at this point. And we have another bunch of volumes coming out or whatever. So I've spent a lot of time reading their reflections on this and there is a part of me that's also very leery about these kinds of stories. And yet I have been deeply affected by it. Like, I can't shake it. So that kind of the power of that, I think, is very important to name and to recognize. Even the thing like Peter, you know, when he was getting dragged out, he can't believe he's actually leaving the jail and yet it's happening. That's kind of the way I sort of feel about the Blumhardt stories. I have to imagine, of course, that these things have happened that you're raising. But when you were speaking about it, one of the things that I did think about just as a sort of example of that was you're probably familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission out of South Africa to deal with apartheid. Well, the town of Greensboro, where I was from, and I mentioned the Greensboro massacre, they also instituted a truth and reconciliation commission. I think this happened about 10 to 15 years ago or something like that. And it included elements of this, you know, truth telling. The results were probably mixed, I would say. I don't know that the recommendations have been implemented, but that would be the kind of space I would imagine to begin to share, to start sharing these kinds of traumas. But that was just an example, I suppose.
Audience Member [01:10:58] Well, And, you know, there's no easy solutions to any of this stuff. We're all tribalists, basically, too. And we have to recognize in our American society, we all have different ethnicities and we mixed together in some ways over the generations. And we have in each of our cases, we project onto the other person that they're the cause of my problem. And that's part of the dynamic that I think has nowhere to go except to continue through generations into the future. That's where we gotta get through that so that we're not just sitting there blaming each other for my problems are caused by you and all of your injustices. And I say, well, you're just being a jerk and not participating and loving each other like we should. That's how we end up in these dialogues sometimes. So that's what I'm frustrated with when I think just about sociological solutions that are external, if you will, and structural. And we're very much as a church right now focused on that. That's why I'm wondering if we can ever recover that emotional connection that is that deeper spiritual thing in whatever fashion it is that we can start realizing, you know, that the spiritual, that God is real. And it's not just an intellectual thing because the Bible says so. It's an experience type of thing that has something because this guy would have never done what he did had this woman not triggered all of that to him. That's what I sense out of that story.
Ry Siggelkow [01:12:35] Thanks. Thank you. Any others? Any other questions or comments or things that you're thinking about that's provoked in you.
Audience Member [01:12:54] It occurs to me that the setting of this conversation is remarkably profound as we think about people being released from enclosures, because this is where our AA group meets every day. And I would say my spiritual revival is as a result of my experience with the recovery community because I had so much exposure to Christianity as like a concept, you know, a good Lutheran student, right? And then I started sitting in circles with people who said I wouldn't be alive if not for this space. And I began to wonder, is that the relationship that I have with God? Is it something that actually brings a measurable sense, a quantitative sense of aliveness to me? A flourishing. And really up to that point, I don't know. I don't think so. But I just wanted to name that every single day in this room, there's lots of people who are making a journey where rivers are flowing, where it's a jubilee for them in a kind of a way, you know, every 24 hours. Something that I was wondering about was the cross operated as such a powerful symbol that kept so many would-be participants in the Jubilee movement of Jesus at bay. And I think that there is no small number of crosses that keep participants and allies at bay today. And I was wondering if you could name some of those things, some of those crosses that are out there that just keep all the nice white Americans probably from participating in the movement to help people become free. And I don't know some people who are already doing that work that we can take a first step into joining.
Christian Collins Winn [01:15:18] Yeah, well, I mean, I think of the work of Pueblos. I guess I was involved particularly a few years ago. How long was Assemblea around? Seven years. So Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza, which is people of struggle and hope, is an immigrant led and founded organization or the board nonprofit. Ry really kind of introduced me to them because you had been very involved and had served on the board. And I think at this point in time right now you're serving as president or chair of the organization. I loved the experience of being involved with this particular nonprofit because and this actually shaped one of the chapters in the book, because at the end of the day, what I found when I would go and participate in this group was that half of the work was just showing up and being human with each other. We went and we knocked on doors for there were like voter drives. We knocked on doors when they were threatening to build.
Ry Siggelkow [01:16:52] It was here in Burnsville.
Christian Collins Winn [01:16:54] Was I thought it was further down Prior Lake or something like that. There was a threat in, it was like 2017, 16, 17 of opening an entirely new ice detention center. And so we went to, you know, the city council meeting. I remember going to a member's home. They lived in a mobile home that had significant water damage and they were not documented. But that doesn't mean. What I learned was that that doesn't mean that they're undocumented. It just means that they're under-documented. They have documents actually from their own country, but they also typically have an ITIN number. They pay taxes. All they want is access to the things that they've already paid into the system for. They wanted licenses. You know, And why do they want a license? They want a license so they can go pick up their kids and so they can go to work or so they can go to church and they don't have to worry about the cop that they pass by on the same road that often stops them. I mean, I think about the stories that they would share.
So in other words, it was literally just the kind of day to day human work of becoming friends with people and hearing their stories and finding out how similar hopes and dreams were for just access to a flourishing life. Now, there were other folks who did extraordinary things like opening their homes and taking in migrants off of the caravan. And I won't name names, but I know a couple of them.
Well, one of the reasons why the book has a chapter on the Mystery of Jesus, and it's kind of it's sort of a longer chapter is because, yeah, I talk about the places where Jesus casts out demons and heals people. The really sensational things. Right? But I also have a section where I talk about just his everyday act of sharing the table with people that was just as much a kingdom work as the other things. And that's what when I think about ways or organizations of getting involved, the mundane is just as important as the super mundane, you know, the extraordinary. And so, you know, I guess that would be something to name.
As we think about, there are organizations that are doing all kinds of extraordinary things, whether it's around migrant rights, whether it's fighting against anti-black racism, whether it's for LGBTQI+ inclusion, whether it's to stop domestic violence, to lessen gun violence. I mean, there's all kinds of things. And some of these things are extraordinary and remarkable. And some of it's just like figuring out how to talk to my neighbor about it and kind of bringing them along and helping them see. I think that's just as valuable, I suppose, as this kind of thing. Because what? What is it about at the end of the day, it really is about breaking down the enclosures. And making possible the potential maybe, or the pathway that leads towards genuine flourishing life for all of us. That would be one way I guess I would kind of start to unpack some of that.
Ry Siggelkow [01:20:44] So we're a few minutes after eight. So I want to respect people's time. So you're free to leave if you need to leave now. But if there are other questions that you'd like to ask, we can also maybe take one more.
Audience Member [01:21:10] I was thinking of when you were talking about events like George Floyd Square and revivals as Jesus coming through. I was wondering if you might go so far as to think that those were like signs and wonders. And if, like, the signs and wonders that Jesus performed were as much about showing us the right thing to do as it was about proving that he was God?
Ry Siggelkow [01:21:40] Amen.
Christian Collins Winn [01:21:41] Yeah, I would say that's that's the one of the main ways, actually, that I tend to approach some of the miracle stories. Not to discount that a miracle happens, but typically those stories really are about the affirmation of the humanity of the person who experiences the miracle. Right? So the signs and wonders are not the thing itself. The thing itself is the enacting of that love, the enacting of that embrace, the enacting of that affirmation of that person's humanity, which is something that you and I, we can do. Maybe we don't do it with as much panache, right, or with the Hollywood kind of veneer on it. But we can do those things like we can truly make a difference in the world that we live in, in people's lives. I really believe that. I think that's what these stories point us to. And the fact that that's God doing it, that's even better on a certain level, right? Because that means that's what God stands for. God doesn't stand for who's got the biggest missiles, you know, who's the most powerful and most wealthy, etc., etc.. God actually stands with these simple, small acts of love and care.
Ry Siggelkow [01:23:07] Awesome. Well, I think we should maybe call it. I'm sure you'll need to get up and stretch, but if you want to talk to Christian or me afterward, we'll be around. Thanks so much for coming out. And again, if you would like to buy a copy of the book, which I really encourage you to do, it's $20. Christian said he could take Cash or Venmo or a check or you can always order online, but you might as well.
Christian Collins Winn [01:23:33] Be happy to sign the book as well if you want to, if you like.
Ry Siggelkow [01:23:37] And thanks so much again.
Speaker 4 [01:23:47] Thank you for listening to the Leadership Center for Social Justice Podcast. To learn more about the center and its programs, visit unitedseminary.edu/LCSJ or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at United_LCSJ.