This weekend I ended 10-days of COVID-afflicted isolation just in time to witness the college graduation of my second son—giving us two college graduates this year! These achievements are momentous for our family—and also bittersweet because we celebrate their milestones in the wake of pandemic losses and in the absence of our youngest son, who died 2 years ago.
The commencement speaker was Mark Sinnett, emeritus faculty of the college and also, unexpectedly, a retired Presbyterian minister. In a radical move for the religiously plural audience at a secular event, Dr. Sinnett took his theme from 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, where Paul declares,
We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed,…
The Scripture nearly struck me down, carrying as I was the awful ache of missing my youngest boy.
But Rev. Sinnett focused on the phrase “perplexed but not driven to despair,” developing it in the context of a society eager to proclaim opinions as if they were knowledge, as if admitting to our universal perplexity must lead to despair.
Sinnett quoted theologian Paul Tillich, who suggested that “Man [sic] is the question he asks about himself, before any question has been formulated.” To paraphrase, Sinnett said, “We are our questions. We are our perplexity.”
That idea sounds like Good News. Not only for me in my personal paradox of joy mixed with sorrow, but for all of us in these perplexing days when uncertainty about our futures nudges us toward despair. Our perplexity is a gift of our humanity and may become a cornerstone of our faith when we engage the questions in humble conversation.
We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. Because we are, as human beings, our questions. And we find courage to drive away despair through forming communities that are committed to hope, to healing, to conversation and not crushing claims of certitude.
As I returned to work today still meditating on that gospel Word, I was struck anew to realize the theme of perplexity that resists despair is powerfully connected to the Center for Continuous Learning’s upcoming A Future with Hope event on May 24, a daylong gathering that will convene church leaders in person at the ABHMS Leadership and Mission Building and online in a hybrid exploration of resilient responses to the perplexing afflictions, traumas, and persecutions experienced during COVID-era ministry.
What’s more, the commencement speaker’s biblical text forms part of the theme Scripture for ABHMS’s 2022 Space for Grace conference, scheduled for September 22-26 in Kansas City, MO!
I hope you will join us in exploring a hope-filled perplexity at one or both of these upcoming events—at A Future with Hope on May 24 and at Space for Grace in September. Registration is open now for both opportunities. Click on the links to learn more!