The Rev. Dr. Amanda Drury challenges UNY clergy to grow their faith
The Rev. Dr. Amanda Drury wants to bring testifying back to the Church; she wants congregations to understand and feel God’s outrageous love. Rev. Dr. Drury, the featured speaker at the 2016 Bishop’s Retreat held in Niagara Falls, NY October 25-2, shared her desires in a series of powerful and thought-provoking lectures on Doubt and on God’s Outrageous Love to an audience of nearly 200 clergy members of the UNY Conference.
Rev. Dr. Drury on the Reality of Doubting God
Rev. Dr. Drury’s years of studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she obtained her PhD, and at Indiana Wesley University, where she is currently a professor, revolves around adolescents and the importance of testimony as a formation of their identity.
On October 26, as Rev. Dr. Drury spoke to a room full of clergy, who were far beyond their adolescent years, she emphasized the fact that doubt is a reality even for clergy like herself and that the most powerful testimonies aren’t the happy ones, but are testimonies of people struggling with their faith.
For Rev. Dr. Drury, she doubts the most when tragedy strikes. She said, “When evil things happen in the world, I think ‘God, where are you?’ Whether its bombings in Syria or earthquakes in Italy, I see stuff like this and I think, ‘I don’t know if I can buy this.’”
Rev. Dr. Drury reminded the audience of the doubters in biblical times. She referred to a beautiful stained glass window at Princeton’s Chapel that shows Jesus in the middle of the two most known doubters in the bible, Pontius Pilate and Thomas.
She said, “You can’t choose what you doubt; you can’t choose when you doubt; but, you can choose how you doubt. When someone starts to doubt, the path they are on starts to fork; you can go the path of Pontius Pilate over here; that is a much easier path. You might struggle a bit; you might ask some questions, but ultimately, you give into cynicism and say ‘What is the Truth?’ and you’re done with the journey. The way of Thomas is much tougher; it requires you to sit in tension for a long period of time. Thomas did for eight days. I wish my wrestling with doubt was only eight days. It’s a road where you have to continually give up cynicism. It’s a road where you have to continually walk alongside other believers even if they don’t make any sense to you. “
Rev. Dr. Drury continued, “I know some of you may think, ‘I wish my journey was shorter, I don’t know how long I can take this road of Thomas,’ but I think there are some reasons that Jesus allowed Thomas to have a relationship with doubt. Do you know what happened after the ascension and the disciples started to scatter? We have disciples going all over the place except for Thomas. Tradition says that Thomas made it to India…that he went further than all the other disciples…that while everyone else went to their homeland, Thomas went to India. And I can’t help but wonder if there was something about Thomas’s experience with doubt that prepared him for the journey…that gave him the courage and the boldness to do something that frankly Peter couldn’t. It could be the doubt that we experience, the doubt that those in our churches experience could be a part of some beautiful plan that perhaps we might not see for years maybe even centuries. That’ the kind of faith that I want to have.”
Rev. Dr. Drury then illustrated the reality that clergy members can have doubt. She mentioned how she put a request on Facebook for her nearly 2,000 fans to post about their own experiences of doubt. She said, “I got a lot of wonderful triumphant stories, like ‘This is what happened and now I’m here in this wonderful place.’ But what was really interesting to me was the number of private messages I got that said things like ‘Well I know God loves me, but sometimes I’m not sure that he really likes me.’ One said, ‘I just don’t trust God.’ Another said, ‘I don’t doubt God, but I’m afraid and maybe that’s the same thing.’ All three of those comments were said by pastors.”
Rev. Dr. Drury urged the audience to welcome doubt in their church, to hear about it and not panic. She said, “We need to simply walk alongside side them. By trying to talk someone out of doubt, it’s as though we’re telling them they don’t belong here. But, if we receive these words of doubt with presence, I am sending the person the signal that this is the place for you.”
Rev. Dr. Drury ended her talk that evening by telling the audience that if they are currently finding themselves having a Thomas experience that she bets they can find someone in the room to speak with. She challenged audience members to be transparent.
After a few moments of silence that Rev. Dr. Drury requested, the audience broke out into pairs where they were able to share with each other their individual testimonies. The chatter throughout the room conveyed the comfort the clergy members throughout Upper New York felt with one another.
Rev. Dr. Drury on God’s Outrageous Love
For her October 27 closing lecture, Rev. Dr. Drury used a powerful analogy to showcase the type of love God offers. She spoke of a 14-year old boy who lives with his mother in a run-down apartment. He is struggling and has anger issues. Angry over the fact that he has to walk to and from school because his family doesn’t own a car, he vandalizes a car dealership, causing $25,000 worth of damage. How does the car dealership owner respond? He gets the child and his mother into a nicer apartment, buys the child a bike, and a bus pass.
Rev. Dr. Drury goes on to say, “There are three types of love. There is tough love, just love and outrageous love. The car dealership owner reacted with outrageous love.”
Rev. Dr. Drury then goes on to sharing the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. Once requesting part of his estate from the father, the younger of a man’s two sons, flees to a distant country, parties hard, and spends all the money his father gave him. A famine hits and the son is forced into impoverished living with a job of feeding pigs. He decides to go back to his father. Before he even had a chance to utter an apology, the father welcomed him with open arms and a bear hug, followed by a celebratory Welcome Home party. The father could have reacted with tough love, not allowing his son home. He could have reacted with just love, welcoming him home, but immediately sending him out to the fields to work, but instead, he reacted with outrageous love. Rev. Dr. Drury said that this is how God loves us; “He doesn’t just want to save us from the pig sty. He wants to give us life.”
Rev. Dr. Drury then explained how all three parables in Luke 15 end with a party. She likened the Lost Son to a poster-child for the new convert. She went on to say that a teenager in a youth group she led responded to the Lost Son parable, by saying “That is completely unnecessary and just rewards bad behavior.” She said the truth of the matter is that is precisely the character of God; “what he does is completely unnecessary and rewards bad behavior. He’s inviting us all to join his party.
Rev. Dr. Drury cited Jeremiah, and said “God has a future and a hope for us…he doesn’t desire calamity for us.” She stressed the importance of the audience of clergy members to accept God’s grace and outrageous love, to attend the party that he has invited them to.
After the three days spent at the Bishop’s Retreat, Rev. Dr. Drury’s passionate talks helped refresh the UNY clergy’s faith. She encouraged the audience to share their testimonies with each other; “it is a misconception to think that testimony only counts when talking to hostile others who don’t believe in God. It counts just as much when you share your testimonies with each other.” Also, Rev. Dr. Drury reminded attendees that “the party is not an anomaly for God.”
The time concluded with Bishop Webb thanking Amanda Drury for her time at the Bishop’s Retreat; he said “Thank you Amanda; you have blessed us.” And she did truly bless the UNY clergy; her talks were powerful and undoubtedly invigorating, sparking a feeling of celebration into the faith of all who attended.