What an extraordinary year this continues to be as we live through a time of disruption, unravelling, and uncertainty created by the Covid 19 Pandemic. This is truly a Kairos moment, a time of suffering and loss, but also a time of re-assessment; it is a time of lament, but also a time of hope. As you know the two, lament and hope, are like (as Augustine reminds us) twin sisters – they go hand in hand. For more of my reflections on the Covid 19 Kairos moment see “Deep Solidarity” – an interview in Plough Magazine. See also the blog post: “ A kairos moment: Prophecy and hope in the time of COVID-19” in Dignity and Development.
The Covid 19 shutdowns in March found me in Uganda where I was able to experience first hand the suffering of millions especially the poor in the urban and slum areas of Kampala and other cities. Many literally starved and some made long journeys on foot back to the villages to “escape” starvation in the city. During the lockdown two other events happened that provided confirmation, if any was needed that an initiative like Bethany Land Institute was both necessary and urgent. First, it was the invasion (in the North Eastern part of the country) of swarms of desert locusts from Kenya; then the unprecedented rainfall that that flooded rivers and lakes, leading to the destruction of homes, businesses and entire towns and communities. The 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’ provided yet another powerful reminder of how “everything is interconnected,” and a renewed invitation to hear and attend to twin cries of the earth and the poor. Locked down in Uganda, and with these reminders, I threw myself into the work of Bethany Land Institute: supervising construction for the BLI campus, working on the curriculum, on staff recruitment and training, board development… all the work needed to get ready for receive the first cohort of Caretakers scheduled for February 2021. By the time I left Uganda to return to the U.S in mid-July, there was a satisfying feeling that, at least on the BLI front, a lot had been realized!
Back at Notre Dame for an unusually early (beginning of August) start to the academic year, like everyone else I have been trying to adjust to a ‘new normal’ of mask wearing, social distancing, duo-mode teaching. But the semester has also had its share of gifts: brilliant, committed and hard-working students, final revisions and submission of Who Are My People manuscript, Sunday evening (mass, fellowship and dinner at my house) with my friends Maria and Clemens, expanding BLI contacts and fundraising efforts, and continued reflection on the journey, gifts and future of BLI. See for example these two pod acts – one an interview with Elsa Barron for the Kellogg Institute for International Development, and another with JP Shortall of the Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns.
Finally, I am happy to share two pieces of good news from South Africa: First, the ongoing interest and engagement with my work by the South African Anabaptist Network in South Africa. See the book discussion of The Sacrifice of Africa in their recent ANISA newsletter . Then, from Stellenbosch an unexpected appointment – as an “extraordinary professor of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology!” Even though I am yet to find out what exactly this means, I am nevertheless grateful for the recognition!