We’ve become accustomed to seeing “Breaking News” scroll across our computer screens or televisions, usually in bursting red letters, interrupting our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis
By Martin E. Marty|December 10, 2018
We’ve become accustomed to seeing “Breaking News” scroll across our computer screens or televisions, usually in bursting red letters, interrupting our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis. As cable news outlets compete with one another for our attention, any event, statement, or tweet that seems even remotely newsworthy merits the label “Breaking News.” While long-term viewers are generally inured to the appeal of such constant and strident messaging, it takes little imagination to picture that “Breaking News” stands a better chance of drawing notice than another two-word, ultra-modest signal, “Blessed Endurance.” Yet there are reasons for folks today to pay attention to this latter phrase. It is the title of a skinny book by John R. Wimmer, one which quietly bids for notice through its appealing subtitle, Moving Beyond Despair to Hope. For what I believe are good reasons, I’ll here commend the concept to those worn down by the sometimes real but often manufactured “Breaking News” cycles.
“Commending” certain works or thinkers occurs regularly in the columns of Sightings, though the ethos of the publication (and its editors) cautions against the outright promotion of our favored causes and products. I’ll test that ethos a bit here, but to make a point. Blessed Endurance came my way because the author is an admired friend whose Ph.D. work I advised back in the Middle Ages (that is, pre-1992). I think Wimmer set endurance records during his years as a Ph.D. student and then candidate, since, to fulfill his vocation while living in the remotes of Indiana, he made semiweekly roundtrips from there to Chicago to attend seminars. Dear friends: that practice indeed demanded endurance, and it had to be blessed.
Why did this little book draw my attention? It came across my desk in the midst of a season when I joined with multitudes in feeling wearied by the turns and slides in our culture(s). With all the news and commentary that reaches us as “Breaking News” about not only politics but also about religion and church, not to mention education and commerce and . . . and . . . etc., too many conversations end with mere shrugs and sighs. The temptation that resides in the soul is to give up, something that is forbidden according to the varying catalogues of virtues, which include endurance and some of its synonyms and linguistic parallels.
At times we might need to go beyond “sightings” and encourage one another to do better than give up, and books like Wimmer’s humble one address that need. I’ll let Wimmer take over from here. His book’s title plays on a gospel hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” one of only two of the hundreds written by Fanny Crosby (whose accomplishments despite her blindness never cease to amaze me) to have been “sneaked” into Lutheran hymnals. Wimmer plays with Crosby’s title and comes up with Blessed Endurance. He has to explain the virtues of this virtue. With the help of hymnists and familiar theologians like Leslie Weatherhead, William Sloane Coffin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henry J. M. Nouwen, Parker J. Palmer, and Viktor Frankl, he counsels the value of experimenting with alternatives-to-despair, as untempting and unfashionable as these might seem in recent decades.
What led me to re-visit the concept of the virtue of “endurance,” as Wimmer describes it, is a notice which appears in his “Unexpected Epilogue,” a final chapter which I imagine caught many readers by surprise. At the same moment his manuscript was heading to the publisher, he writes, “out of the blue,” ER doctors “accidentally discovered” that he has cancer, which is “already quite advanced.” He quotes his book’s editor, Joanna Bradley: “I’m so sorry you must now live out the blessed endurance you have written about.” In the days post-diagnosis, he has undergone surgery and numerous treatments. Wimmer confesses to fears, but, after rereading his manuscript, he writes on the book’s final pages, “I am struck that I still believe every word” of it. He admits that he expects that he will have moments when he will “cry out to God in anguish,” but he will try to cultivate hope and trust that, as he says, “God has not abandoned me.” On this note his book ends, but his life and witness go on.
Wimmer is now called to model himself along the lines of Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer, and we hope to hear more of healing from him. Meanwhile, in the seasons ahead, I’ll no doubt lapse back to another part of my own calling—to make sightings and to write Sightings and history and journalism—though only after apologies to those who subscribe to this column from their many versions of faith and unfaith for this brief detour. But I’ll do so with renewed hope and firmer purpose to speak to the complexities of life in our secular/pluralist/religious culture, where we should not surrender to despair, but where, as Wimmer suggests, we can and must endure.
Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
|Author, Martin E. Marty (PhD’56), is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.|