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Whitworth Theology Department Annual Newsletter 2017

Karin Heller (2003-present), Professor of Theology

Dear friends,

Warm greetings from France. As usual, after a busy academic year I'm back to my French home in Angers, a medieval, royal and ducal city built on an ancient Roman castellum (feel free to Google). I enjoy the view over the city from my top-floor apartment in the historical city center, as well as wonderful French food on a daily basis. As much as I love my life in Spokane, I love this summer vacation in such a pleasant environment that is a one-hour drive from the Atlantic Ocean and the Renaissance royal castles of the Loire Valley.  

During the last academic year I started my activities as research and scholarship coordinator of the Women's & Gender Studies Program, which included giving two talks to faculty. The talk on "Jesus' Maleness and the Image of God" was particularly well received and stirred excellent questions and conversations. On a student level, activities inside and outside of the classroom helped students to grow in their awareness of gender issues and to envision creative responses to such challenges. I'm particularly grateful to Philip Payne, Ph.D., who facilitated a lively talk at "Overflow" on the following question: Is God a feminist? The next day, his guest lecture in Robinson Teaching Theatre was a tremendous eye opener for many students, who discovered, often for the first time, how a biblical text is made up not only of a text, but also of comments written by the copyists in the margins. Thus, women-demeaning passages suddenly appeared in another light than that of a "God-willed" reality. At the end of the academic year, 12 students signed up for a theology and gender minor. This symbolic number gives me a twofold hope: the foundation is solid and promises to achieve a larger development. Last but not least, in May a group of six students (three men and three women!) decided to launch a student-led forum offering monthly debates related to God, gender and theology worldwide, open to the entire campus community.  

I'm also very happy to report the successful presentation of 2016 alumna April Ross' master's thesis, "Proclaiming Good News to the Poor: Gender and Disability in the Light of the Image of God." Throughout the year I walked with April on a long, hard and finally rewarding path leading "from knowledge to wisdom." The audience, comprising a great variety of people already well established in ministry and of students preparing for professional life, engaged in a lively discussion, bringing each other not just to a mere debate on theories, but into a living communion of people. I was particularly pleased with April's investigation on the human body, perceived as an expression of wisdom in the context of "those whom the world thinks common and contemptible" as "the ones God has chosen" (1 Cor 1:28). Throughout centuries the human body in general and the female as well as so-called disabled bodies in particular seemed to Christian theologians incompatible with God's image. While it would be for many so much more appropriate and convenient to encounter God in one's soul, heart or mind, April's message brings liberation and relief: this body, which for so many is a source of trouble and shame, a problem and a burden, was chosen by God not only to bring the Good News to the poor, but, most importantly, to see God face to face and live with Him/Her forever. I highly recommend April's thesis, which is available at the Whitworth library.

There is another highlight of the year I do not want to go unnoticed in this newsletter contribution. For the third time, I thoroughly enjoyed giving a lecture series at the University of Besançon/France during Jan Term. This year I dedicated the series to the following theme: "Images and Metaphors of God and People as Ways to Wisdom." What made this series so precious in the eyes and hearts of many people can perhaps be best summarized in the following statement: Lady Wisdom's work in Jesus' life makes Jesus a threat to the world. For this reason, pastors and theologians spent much time transforming the image of Jesus and presenting him over the centuries as a politically correct role model for men while women were gently pushed to identify with Mary. Access to Jesus as he really is, is given to those capable of going beyond a vision that establishes as "normal" the idea of male superiority and of men in decision-making positions while women are granted by men to graciously make a home enjoyable to them.

There will be so much on my plate this upcoming year. My particular hope is that I'll be successful in leading the discussion in favor of an adoption of a second theology general education requirement other than a biblical literature requirement. Together with the new facility for our department, hopefully achieved next spring, this second GenEd requirement would make this physical move so much more meaningful, energizing and transformative for ourselves, the students and the entire campus community.