At our conference, Streaming, a few weeks ago we focused on issues related to discernment. And some of our speakers focused on the large discernment narratives in Scripture, other on key theological notions. For instance, Luke Johnson dealt with the discernment narrative in Acts 10-15 that culminated with the Jerusalem conference. Pat Keifert spent some time talking about Luther’s notions of the hiddenness of God and how that has to be factored into our conversations about what it means to discern God’s activity in the world.
But for most of us, discernment takes place within our own personal stories. We make judgements almost daily concerning how God is involved in our lives or how we are to interpret certain passages and apply them to our lives. So, we needed a piece at the conference that made the business of discernment personal, embodied and tangible in a life. And particularly in a life in which changes could be marked.
So, I asked Rubel Shelly to do some autobiographical reflections on the theme of Scripture and discernment. Rubel only reluctantly agreed. It’s tough for good people to talk about themselves, to put the focus on their own life. But Rubel’s life, which he insists is not a model, is certainly remarkable for the issues of discernment that have confronted him. Rubel grew up in a very legalistic wing of the Church of Christ and was a thought of a as a young lion for the conservative wing of our movement. But he became the person from whom many in our congregations learned about grace.
Rubel looks back on his watershed book, I Just Want to be a Christian, and winces a bit, even though he knows that it had a positive impact. He winces because he sees a legalist doing the best he can to think himself out of legalism. He’d write a different book now, perhaps, but given the circumstances of his life it was the only book he could’ve written at the time.
He also grew up in the segregated South. But he was nursed as a young, sickly boy by a large black woman named Dessie. Dessie and Rubel remained in touch until she died at the age of 105. He preached her funeral. And her positive influence on his life impacted the way he viewed racism over against the segregationist values of the society in which he was raised.
He told this story about Dessie at our conference alongside the story of being fired from his first church in New Albany, Mississippi. I am sharing a clip from that story below.
It has been my privilege to serve under Rubel these past four years as he has guided Rochester College through perilous waters. And I am thankful for his life.
For details about seeing the rest of Rubel’s presentation, along with those of Luke Timothy Johnson, Pat Keifert, and others, email Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.