In the Lectionary

February 23, Transfiguration A (Matthew 17:1–9)

God’s presence transfigures here, now, in the familiar.

I haven’t stopped thinking about an essay I read 15 years ago when I was in seminary. My pastoral life has been a decadelong conversation with Peter Dula’s “Fugitive Ecclesia,” a chapter from his dissertation that he later published in his book Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology. The theologians who occupied my attention at the time, Dula pointed out, were quick to travel to other times and places in order to talk about the church, in their search for faithfulness.

John Howard Yoder had to travel to the 16th century, where the early Anabaptists were more interesting than we are nowadays. John Milbank time-travels to the 11th century, back before the emergence of the secular. William Cavanaugh takes his readers on a trip to the Roman Catholic Church in Chile under Pinochet’s authoritarian regime. Daniel Bell heads to the base ecclesial communities in Latin America. All of them theologize to an elsewhere.

“There is an unmistakable note of desperation in such traveling,” Dula observes. “It is as if the theologians are duplicating the role of the cultural anthropologists who found themselves having to go farther and farther upriver, deeper and deeper into the jungle, in order to find the pristine, the pure, the traditional.”