Cool Walking: Called to be Fully Human 1997

by Graham Kings

Date added: 26/07/2020

COOL WALKING: CALLED TO BE FULLY HUMAN

 

Graham Kings

 

A Paper presented to the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion Consultation Kingston, Jamaica April 1997

 

Transformation 15.1 (1998), pp. 24-27

 

Introduction

 

“Jamaica has a bob sleigh team...” The favourite film of our family at the moment is Cool Runnings about the spectacularly witty Jamaican bob sleigh team. A 100 meter sprinter fails to win a place in the Jamaican Olympic team through a tumble in the final tests and is devastated. Determined to represent his country somehow, he learns that on the island resides a former coach to the USA Olympic bob sleigh team. He persuades his friends and the coach to create a new sport for Jamaica.

 

They have great fun practising, manage to qualify, experience massive culture shock in freezing Canada during the winter Olympics, succeed in the heats once they become fully Jamaican in their style instead of trying to copy the Swiss, and then tragedy strikes ... but I will not tell you the whole story - you will have to see the film.

 

A key feature in the film is the particularity of the Jamaican context. The very juxtaposition of “Jamaica” and “bob sleigh” is at the heart of this. Snow is many thousands of miles away but they develop their training in the dust and it is only when they return to their own particular Jamaican rhythm in the competition, that they do well. Context should also be honourable in theology and not collapsed into general principles, for God himself is particular and knows how to be particular. He is not “generally” everywhere, but in every “particular” place.

 

In the story of Eden, we read of the Lord God’s particular call and “cool walking”.

 

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’                                  (Genesis 3:8)

 

The original title of this paper referred to our consultation theme, which itself echoes exactly the 1998 Lambeth Conference sub theme “Called to Full Humanity”: but I found myself changing the title to “...Called to be Fully Human” and then had to discover what caused this instinctive change.

 

It seems to me to concern this difference between general principles and specific particularities. An old Peanuts cartoon by Schultz captures a similar point: Charlie Brown declares “I love mankind - it’s people I can’t stand.” So I suggest we also should focus on the particular and on the original in us all. Not a mass of humanity, but particular people.

 

On 7 March 1997 in Kingston, a son and father of Jamaica died.  Michael Manley had been Prime Minister of Jamaica, 1972-80 and 1989-92. He wrote of his experience as a trade union leader in the early 1950s in his book, A Voice From the Workplace:

 

Class relations were stark in their intolerance. There was no subtlety, and little mobility because a man’s class was stamped upon his skin as much as upon his clothes. To middle-class eyes the working classes were an opaque mass - without individuality and without rights - because they were without humanity. [1]

 

We shall be considering three aspects of being fully human, one negative sandwiched between two positive: Imago Dei, Incurvatus in Se and Capax Dei.

 

1. Imago Dei

 

Mark Twain once commented that “man is a creature made at the end of a week’s work when God was tired”. This dry remark may capture the fact of our frailty, however, it does not properly portray our extraordinary calling and stature, that we are made in the image of God.

 

Back to our “cool walking” text from Genesis 3. God is calling human beings, who are made in his image (Gen 1:27) but who are now hiding from him, to be fully human again. Having sent them out from “Eden” in judgement he is still calling them to him through Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets and “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.” (Heb 1:2-3).

 

So the image of God in us comes to completion in Jesus Christ, the Image of God. For the only fully human being is the Son of Man himself. To echo Colossians 2:9 in terms of his humanity as well as his divinity “In him the whole fullness of humanity dwells bodily and we are called to fullness of life in him.”

 

Yet there was development in Jesus’ life and Luke’s description of him as a young boy may well give us clues to a four-fold concept of being fully human. “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature in favour with God and people” (Luke 2:52) is a favourite text of Archbishop David Gitari of Kenya, who sadly is unable to join us at this consultation.  I am sure he would encourage us to see that to be fully human involves fully developing our minds, bodies, spirits and communities. [2] To change the metaphor, I would add that we need to fire on all four cylinders:  if one is missing then our lives will only chug along and not run smoothly. I am grateful to Dr Stephen Barclay, a General Practitioner in Cambridge, who has pointed out in a paper that in treating people for depression he also uses a similar four fold concept of being fully human: depression can be caused by combinations of stress (mind), fatigue (body), sin (spirit) and breakdowns in relationships (community).

 

Jesus Christ, therefore, is the Image of God. He is the perfect (teleios) man because he reflects God who is teleios,and he audaciously calls us to be teleios too. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect.” (Matt 5:48). He is the pioneer and perfecter (teleiotes) of our faith (Heb 12:2). He is the fulfilment, perfection, and end (telos) of the law (Romans 10:4). What the law was pointing to is him and, because of him, “legalism” (as the generalised, blueprint, pattern towards fulfilment and self-justification) is abolished.

 

My daughter, Miriam, once raised the question of imitating Christ from her context of school: “Doesn’t Jesus get fed up with people copying him?” Is there a significant difference between copying and imitating? It seems to me that copying is “repeating” and imitating is “following, through being oneself” (again, not generalised “humanity” but “being particularly human.”) A further distinction may concern our ultimate concern; copying images is idolatry, but imitating the Image is discipleship - walking in worship.

 

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10:32)  Cool walking is, in the end, walking the way of the cross. Death is, in the end, part of being human, even being fully human. Jesus went through death and came out, reshaped, the other side and his glorified humanity, now in God, is our ultimate full calling. If we do not have this ultimate hope, then we will imagine our penultimate life to be ultimate, and therefore lack fullness and wholeness.

 

So, Jesus is our pioneer and has blazed the trail. This concept is echoed in a prayer I wrote for the Remembrance Day liturgy at our church, St Andrew’s, Chesterton, Cambridge: 

                    Lord Jesus Christ,

                    We follow your trail blazing through life;

                    we sail in your wake surging through death;

                    we are your body, you are our Head,

                    ablaze with life, awake from the dead.

 

  1. Incurvatus In Se

     

    This fundamental concept of Luther’s, that has its roots in Augustine, of a human being “curved in on herself or himself” is a powerful figure for the opposite of being fully human. To interpret this concept today, being fully human is being open to the refreshing, invigorating light of God: turning away from God, being curved in on oneself, is debilitating as well as exhibiting the essence of sin and bondage. We shall be considering cases from Greek mythology, the gospels, patristic history, the slave trade and postmodern Europe.

     

    Ovid’s story of Narcissus[3] tells of how the youth saw his own beautiful reflection in a fountain and imagined it to be, in reality, the head nymph of the place. He jumped in to reach the nymph and drowned. Later the nymphs found not his body but only a flower, which they named after him. So Narcissus bent over an intoxicating image, ironically his own, and died. False image and incurvatus combine into tragedy and in psychoanalytic theory today, narcissism refers to excessive self-admiration.

     

    In Luke Chapter 13 we read how, on the Sabbath, Jesus laid his hands on a woman who was “bent over and could not fully straighten herself”. When challenged he replied “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”  She was literally incurvatus in se: not through her own fault, but through being bound by evil in the world. Her release (cp Luke 4:18) and straightening by Jesus led to her praise of God (Luke 13: 13).

     

    St Augustine (AD 354-430) is the great father of western theology and was Bishop of Hippo (in what is now Algeria). His autobiography up to his conversion, Confessions, is written as a prayer - autobiography in the vocative. In Book VIII he describes how he was turned in on himself in an agony of decision concerning conversion and baptism and how the singing of a child nearby prompts a crucial decision. God’s word through the child and God’s Word in the scriptures address him in particular. Having been a playboy earlier in his life, he is now a professor of rhetoric in Milan, living with his partner of 14 years. I wrote the following poem last December and, in contrast to “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” it focuses on a heated inner debate: whether or not to turn away from being curved in on himself.

     

    Saint Augustine’s Vocation

    “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Confessions VIII, 7.

    “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.”

    Romans 13:14

     

    Stalking in the garden in the heat of the moment,

    Reflecting on complexity of voluntary movement,

    Slunk in listless and leaden despair,

    Tangled, contorted and tearing his hair,

    Rapping his head and wrapping his knees,

    Rabidly ravaging under the trees,

    Wanting to wait and waiting to want,

    Weighing the longing of laying and font,

    Augustine hears the Word of the Lord

    Drifting, insisting the voice of a child:

    “Tolle, lege: take it and read.

     Tolle, lege: take it and read.”

    Vocative discourse spoken by God,

    Evocative sing-song challenge of a child.

     

    Turning and turning he opens to read

    The Word of the Lord in the words of St Paul:

    “Lust and debauchery, revelry, rivalry,

    Now is the time to wake from your sleep.”

    Eloquent professor professes his call.

     

    Now, no procrastination, delay;

    Later is now, tomorrow today.    [4]

     

    The above cases concern individuals: an example of humans, corporately, turned in on themselves is the bondage of slavery, and Jamaicans have known the depths of this suffering. [5] In the University Library, St John’s College and the African Studies Centre in Cambridge, last year, we celebrated the 150th  anniversary of the death of Thomas Clarkson (1740 - 1846). He was the great researcher of facts concerning the British Slave trade in Bristol, Liverpool and London and he supplied William Wilberforce with the material for his speeches in Parliament. He had been a deacon at Wisbeach, north of Cambridge and dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery when he won a university essay competition  entitled “Am I not a man and a brother?” Not generalized humanity, but specific: a man, a brother. This piercing question was focused in an image designed by Wedgewood and has, interestingly, a black man in chains bent over. Slavery abuses not only particular humans but also insults the Original, in whose image they are created. Slavery is an attack on both humans and God.

     

    What false images of “humans curved in on themselves” are in modern Europe? Feuerbach (1804-1872) would have been ironically interested in our overall theme for he had claimed that the traditional Christian church somehow diminished the humanity of the heroic nineteenth-century self. We can appreciate his important recalling of human beings to their “earthiness”, [6] while challenging his “universalising” belief that humanity had been projected onto God, and that God was merely humanity writ large. This is the reverse of authentic Christianity, in which “particular” human beings are recognised as made in the image of God and as being elevated by God to their true calling and stature in Christ.

     

    My stress on the “particular” in this paper, however, is not the same as modernity’s classic false image which, for many years, has been the “autonomous individual”. The “particular”, here, is being defined in opposition to “universal” or “generalising principles” and takes context, and hence community, seriously. The “autonomous individual” is defined in opposition to dependence on God, is intrinsically and ultimately curved in on itself and therefore involves self-copying.  

     

    Now, in the West, we are at the stage of postmodernity overtaking modernity. Postmodernity claims to smash all previous images,  including the “autonomous individual” but its own stress on the  “decentred self” has itself become a frightening image. Anthony Thiselton has recently summed up these differences incisively:

     

    ‘Modernity’, in contrast to the self-perceptions of the postmodern self, tends to be optimistic. It draws confidence from the mood of the Enlightenment when scientific method appeared to open up new possibilities for the self as active agent to carve out and to control its own destiny. Leaving behind the constraints of authority and medieval hierarchy, the self of modernity becomes, with Descartes, the starting point for knowledge. With Kant it becomes the locus of autonomy and free decision. This mood of optimism in which the human self seems to be situated at the centre continues from the Enlightenment until perhaps around the end of the 1960s or the early 1970s.

     

    By contrast, the self of postmodernity has become de-centred. It no longer regards itself as active agent carving out any possibility with the aid of natural and social sciences, but as an opaque product of variable roles and performances which have been imposed upon it by the constraints of society and by its own inner drives or conflicts. [7]

     

    Thiselton goes on to show how only the recovery of the overarching story of God’s good news in Christ, a “theology of promise”, related specifically in each context, can counteract the fallacy of both “autonomous” and “decentred” selves.

     

    So, called to be fully human involves being straightened by God and thus liberated from false images over which we bend, from crippling diseases that make us captive, from addictive debauchery that keep us from God, from the degradation of slavery and from both the individualistic and decentred self. For we find our centre in the true Centre.

     

  1. Capax Dei

     

    This leads us into our final section, for the ultimate calling to be fully human involves us finding our centre in the Centre, by receiving the Centre into our centre.

     

    God created us (again according to Luther) capax dei capacious enough to hold God, though more fundamentally we are held by God (cp 1 Cor 13:13, Gal 4:9). This is part of our design and we are only fulfilled when we are filled full with God.

     

    Our nature abhors a vacuum and hence our ache as human beings until we are filled with God (echoes again of Augustine). He who, in the words of the Te Deum, “did not abhor the Virgin’s womb” deigns to come into our lives also, but in a different way, by his Spirit.  When God comes into our lives, he does not become smaller than he is, but we become bigger than we were, and as big as we were meant to be. This is a dynamic process, which involves being continually filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5: 15-20).

     

    In Romans chapter 8 Paul focuses his discussion on human capaciousness for God filled by the Spirit.  “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9). He goes on to imply that the fulfilment of our created promise as capax Dei, does not mean “deification” for we still have clay feet and bodies that die, but that we will be raised  “... he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11). 

    Ultimately, the concept of capax Dei reaches it fulfilment in worship. Although the ache produced by the vacuum, mentioned above, goes when the Spirit comes, with the Spirit comes also a new groaning. Tom Wright, now Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, gave a daring Bible exposition to the General Synod of the Church of England in January 1991. He pointed out the three groanings in Romans chapter 8:

     

    God is sharing, by his Spirit, in the groaning of creation and the groaning of the Church. But this image remains inescapably the Eve-image, the female one of giving birth. The groaning of verse 26 deliberately echoes that of verses 22 and 23. What are we to make of this? I think we should take our courage in both hands and translate verse 26b as “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit herself intercedes on our behalf with inarticulate groanings.” [8]

     

    Called to be fully human is both glorious and painful. For the concept of capax Dei is both splendid and realistic, concerning the agonies of prayer for God’s world. The ache may have gone, but the groaning comes and will remain till the end, and remaking, of the world.

     

    Conclusion

     

    So, in redefining this paper, and hopefully the consultation theme, as “Called to be Fully Human”, rather than “Called to Full Humanity”, we have seen the important emphases of the particular and the dynamic, of context and community, over collective, generalising principles as we have considered our subject under the three aspects of Imago Dei, Incurvatus in Se and  Capax Dei.

     

    Two further texts from the New Testament sum up for me the importance of this consultation theme. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)  [9] Cool walking indeed.

     

    At the end of the book of Revelation, the seer describes his vision of the heavenly city. “And the city had no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.” (Revelation 21:23-24). The kings of the earth present their glorious diversity without impure perversity (note v. 27 “but nothing unclean shall enter it”). They represent the countless billions across the world, and across the ages, who have been called to be fully human. So in the end, perhaps it is not so much “cool walking” as “light walking”.

                                              -----------------------------------

     



[1] Cited in his obituary, Anon. “Michael Manley”. The Times.  8 March 1997. p. 23. I remember learning of the affection in which Manley was held when I was a curate in Harlesden, London.

[2] See Kings, Graham, “Proverbial, Intrinsic and Dynamic Authorities in Kenya” in Stott, John et al. The Anglican Communion and Scripture (Oxford: Regnum and EFAC, 1996) pp.134-143. This was written for the 1993 EFAC consultation and was further developed and published in Missiology Vol. XXIV. No. 4, October 1996, pp. 493-501.

[3] Ovid. Metamorphoses, iii, 346, etc

[4] Kings, Graham. “Saint Augustine’s Vocation.” Unpublished.

[5]  Las Newman presented an invaluable paper on this context at the consultation of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians in Osijek, Yugoslavia, in April 1991.

[6] “Man is what he eats” (better in German “Der Mensch ist, was er isst”) Feuerbach, Ludwig, Advertisement to Moleschott,  Lehre der Nahrungsmittel: Fur das Volk (1850).

[7] Thistelton, Anthony C. Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self: On Meaning, Manipulation and Promise (Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1995) pp. 121-2.

[8] Wright, Tom. The Crown and the Fire (London: SPCK, 1992) p. 74.

[9] This phrase in echoed in Cranmer’s second post communion prayer “And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in...”

 

 
Graham Kings

Graham Kings

 
 
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