As I sit to write my first column for TheoSpirit, I am keenly aware that this has not been a quiet summer. I wish that simple observation could be contained merely to the numerous transitions that have taken place at the University and the Theological School over the last several months. Alas, events across the nation and the world impinge on the bucolic serenity of Madison in the summer months.
Consider this: During the summer of 2014 Israel and Hamas once more waged war in Gaza. Iraq ceased to exist territorially as a singular state, and the systematic annihilation of religious minorities accelerated within its fluid borders. The Syrian civil war continued to escalate without an end in sight. Ebola spread throughout west Africa at alarming rates while much of the world simply watched the crisis unfold at a great distance. Anti-Semitism chillingly resurfaced on a large scale throughout Europe. Ukraine and Russia continued their armed hostilities.
Domestically, Eric Garner of Staten Island and Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri became household names, scandalously for reasons we know all too well and have tolerated far too long—they were black males who lost their lives as a result of police brutality. The protests that followed their deaths served as a reminder that the United States is far from being a post-racial society. In another such example, immigrant children from Central America flocked to the southwestern borders of the United States desperately escaping the violence, economic uncertainty, and civil unrest that plague their lands, only to be met by protestors who demanded their immediate arrest and deportation. Meanwhile, our elected leadership provided little, if any, direction or hope for our nation.
Why share this as a first communiqué with the Theological School community? What purpose does it serve? As I see it, this sampling of stories from the summer of 2014 makes the case for the ongoing importance and necessity of a place like Drew Theological School. In a world ostensibly at odds over religion, race, economic privilege or hindrance, and ecological concerns, to name but a few, the Theological School represents a different way. Here respectful dialogue and civil engagement characterize the community. Here we don’t skirt tough questions or trust simple answers. At Drew, we aren’t daunted by intractable problems or intense exchanges; rather, we are brought together in our diversities to confront the great challenges of humanity, to ask the questions others dare not ask, to stand together in light of our differences because we know that this is the only way progress can come our way. At Drew we are determined to engage the great spiritual, intellectual, and justice issues of our day by creatively training future leaders for the Church, the academy, and civil society who are, as Margaret Mitchell has put it, “supremely well-informed, rigorously critical, and responsibly engaged.”
Finally, I’ve learned quickly that at Drew this way of being community is a calling. The people who come here to work and to study are not simply content to stay in the safe confines of this beautiful forest. Instead, they are called to serve, often in the most difficult and daunting of places because what they found here at Drew is worth sharing with a world in great need. This is what drew to me Drew. The spirit of courageous leadership that pervades this place is infectious and inspiring. And it is that courageous leadership that I hope we continue to foster and inspire in the next generation of pastors, scholars, and other leaders who will come to Drew seeking to make a difference both near and far. I am grateful for the privilege of being part of Drew’s next expression of this most important work, and I look forward to sharing that good work with all of you.
The Rev. Dr. Javier A. Viera
Dean, Drew Theological School