On April 1, Robert Powell resigned from the Dallas police force. Powell is the rookie police officer who stopped NFL player Ryan Moats for rolling through a red light. Moats explained that he was rushing his wife to her dying mother’s side, but the squad-car video captured Powell berating Moats and holding him for 13 minutes—the last 13 minutes of Moats’s mother-in-law’s life.
Barbara Blodgett, director of supervised ministries at Yale Divinity School, has written what may be the best book yet on the crucial issue of pastoral trust. She defines trust as an act, a practice, something that we choose to do in relationship. But she doesn’t rely only on abstract definitions.
The blizzard hit more suddenly than predicted, dumping several inches on us by noon and stopping traffic dead in all the streets leading from our town to the outlying country. I was rushing to an appointment and, impatient with the slow progress of two people in front of me, I skirted around them, slipped on an icy hill and was momentarily airborne. When I fell back to earth I hit my head, hard.
I had a classmate at an evangelical Christian college who repeatedly defined faith as “stepping out of airplanes, knowing that God will catch you.” My response was that surely God had better things to do than catch folks stupid enough to step out of airplanes. Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on the water with Peter can spawn bad theologies.
An emphasis on the decision character of faith has a long and deep history in the American psyche going back to our Puritan and evangelical ancestors. From Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney to Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and their successors, faith, as encountered in the idiom both of born-again revivalism and of religious “progressives,” has served as shorthand for “I have decided to follow Jesus.” But the biblical meaning of faith cannot be reduced to individualistic voluntarism.
Although the images of shepherd and sheep wind their way through these lectionary texts, they are difficult images for the contemporary church to embrace. I recall many of the adults in one congregation cringing during a children’s time a few years ago, when a well-intentioned volunteer tried to teach the children a song that had them “baa-ing” for Jesus. What are we teaching our children, some of us wondered: To follow the crowd without question? To have no mind of one’s own? To expect someone else to take care of us?