I have been known to point out, in sermons on the teaching of Jesus, that Jesus never asks a question to which he does not already know the answer. This places him squarely in the tradition of trial attorneys and Junior High principals. It is worth noting that the last time I said this from the pulpit, the Junior High principal in the congregation chuckled and nodded knowingly.
All through the gospels Jesus asks questions— asks far more questions than he answers, in my opinion. In fact, he often answers a question with another question. He asks as though to draw the conversation partner—and us—into the greater story of redemption. He doesn’t ask to learn; he asks to teach.
In the tradition into which I am ordained, questions are very important. All of the treasured rituals of the faith: baptism, confirmation, joining a congregation, ordination, installation of office, all begin with a question. “Who is your Lord and Savior?” Even in marriage—a civil ritual often played out in the faith setting—questions are asked and answered. “Do you? Will you?”
I was fascinated this week by a video clip of Senator Elizabeth Warren questioning government banking regulatory officials—lawyers hired by you and me—about their practices when going after alleged fraud by big Wall Street Institutions. You can find the clip here.
Now, I’m a former liberal arts major who has worked in the non-profit sector my entire professional life. My advanced degree is in theology, not economics. I don’t know a lot about the banking regulatory system, or even political science. But I know and understand the importance of a concise direct question, and I recognize diversion tactics when I see them. And, bless their hearts, those government lawyers might as well have been seventh graders caught smoking under the bleachers. Senator Warren asked that question in order to teach.
To her credit, she did not merely accept the first half-hearted, defensive answer she got. She persisted. She kept asking, and she did it in the most generous, gracious way she could have. She was kind. She was polite. She was fierce and unflappable. To look ‘the other’ in the eye and unapologetically ask the questions no one wants to ask, but to which everyone wants the answers, and to persist unwaveringly seems to me, a theologian, a practice of mature discipleship. It also shows glimpses of vulnerability of the best kind.
Our questions reveal our most audacious hopes and most paralyzing fears, our strongest alliances and our most soul-wounding prejudices. When questions are offered openly, directly, and persistently, we are laid bare. And let’s face it, inside the Beltway, that kind of vulnerability is seldom seen, or at least seldom lauded. Perhaps that is why the backlash to Senator Warren’s appearance in the committee to which she was assigned is stinging. Already she is being pilloried for not keeping her head down and her mouth shut ‘like a good first-term Senator would’.
Of course she is.
The life of faith is not a life of keeping one’s head down and one’s mouth shut. A life of faith is often a path of far more questions than answers. Answers are important, but no more important than a life spent wrestling with issues and asking the tough questions.
I guess I want to be the kind of person who gets ridiculed for her directness, transparency, and tenacity . Because perhaps the only thing more egregious than giving the wrong answers, is not asking questions in the first place.
I am an ordained Teaching Elder (the office formerly known as Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A lifelong Midwesterner (except for those years spent at the San Francisco Theological Seminary), I currently live in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI with my partner of over thirty years, my spouse Peter. Together we raised two children who are now young adults and who manage just fine without us in places as far flung as the next town over, and the west coast.
I’ve served as a parish pastor, and also at the regional governing body level in a judicatory capacity. But what gets my creative juices flowing these days is writing, whether it be a sermon, an article, a blog post, or my burgeoning memoir, an account of my journey as a small-church pastor.
I view the political landscape through a complicated lens. I come from a conservative, rural background. Growing up, I only knew one child in my county-consolidated school whose father did not vote for Richard Nixon. My own political transformation began when I worked for ten years for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
My theological reflections will appear in Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Journal for the year 2014, published in 2013. I’ve also appeared in the Episcopal Women’s Caucus Journal, Ruach, and have written materials for the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice. I am a proud charter member of RevGalBlogPals blog ring, and blog at You Win Some, You Learn Some.