This Week: September 10 - 14
“All people are created not only in the image of God but also in the sound of God.”
Anna Julia Cooper, 19th Century
The power of rhetoric certainly has been on display in recent days as both Republicans and Democrats have held their national conventions. Listening to speechmakers for both parties, I was reminded of the power of words and proclamation to persuade, cajole, lift up, tear down, stir enthusiasm, and ignite responses ranging from tears to laughter to energetic cheers. Skillful wordsmiths and speakers have an amazing ability to transport listeners to where they want those listeners to go. Of course, sometimes words and the speaking of those words take on a life of their own, their impact surprising both speakers and listeners.
Augustine wrote in the early centuries of Christianity about what he deemed the proper relationship between rhetoric and Christian teaching and speaking. Citing Cicero, Augustine wrote in On Christian Doctrine that an eloquent orator should speak “so as to teach, to delight, and to persuade.” Augustine wrote in the same essay that the “sacred writers unite eloquence with wisdom.” Much ink has been expended in interpreting what Augustine meant as he navigated the tension between what he deemed eloquent, persuasive rhetoric and his primary goal of principled, truthful speech. We can hear some of Augustine’s struggle with this in one of On Christian Doctrine’s chapter headings: “Wisdom of More Importance than Eloquence to the Christian Teacher” (Chapter 5). Augustine was not in favor of what he called “eloquent nonsense,” though he did encourage Christian teachers also to speak persuasively and even eloquently when sharing theological wisdom.
Regardless of our political convictions or our thoughts about Augustine’s centuries-old perspectives, we can perhaps at least agree that words and speech are pervasive and powerful in our world today. Here at the School of Divinity, many hours are invested in reading, writing, and speaking. Words are all around us, and we share the task of discerning God’s wisdom in the midst of all that we hear, read, and write. This task is particularly important for those called to be public religious leaders because religious leaders often find themselves in places where their speaking is listened to with particular care. Many people pay attention to what ministers and other religious leaders say (or at least, we hope they do).
Anna Julia Cooper was born into slavery in North Carolina in1858. After being freed, she became the fourth African American woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. She earned and received her degree from Sorbonne at age 67. Cooper wrote these words: “In the mud and scum of things, always, always Something Sings.” For Cooper, God was that Singing Something. All people, Cooper insisted, are created not only in the image of God but also in the sound of God. All people, she said, have the right to proclaim God’s Gospel. All people have a right to be heard as proclaimers of Gospel truth.
We hear moving across history and throughout these recent weeks of political conventions a reminder and a calling. Words and public speakers of words have a measure of influence in our communities. Religious leaders are called to be people who speak and listen wisely and attentively. As we begin this second full week of coursework in this fall term and take up the task of writing, reading, and grading assignments, leading classroom dialogues, participating in worship, sending emails and posting on Facebook, and engaging in conversations in hallways and at lunch tables, perhaps we can listen for Cooper’s insight: “All people are created not only in the image of God but also in the sound of God.”
The University Writing Center offers support to students who want additional support as they undertake written assignments. The Center is staffed by undergraduate and graduate students who “act as an audience for students’ writing” (from the Writing Center website). Writing Center tutors will consult with students during any stage of the writing process. More information about the Writing Center can be found here.
Worship This Week
Service of Beginnings: Tuesday, 11am, Davis Chapel | Preacher: K. Monet Rice, Associate Chaplain, Wake Forest University
Academic News for the Week
- Multicultural Contexts: Applications for this year’s multicultural contexts courses are due to the Office of the Academic Dean by Wednesday, September 19. The application form can be found here. Note: The course that includes travel to Appalachia has a rolling application process due to more flexible registration deadlines; however, interested students should still submit an application by September 19 to indicate interest in the course.
- Last day to add classes (with permission): September 12
- Last day to drop classes (with permission): October 3
- Incomplete work from past term due to instructor: September 27
Blessings on the week ahead,
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
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