Faith journeys lead to teaching
Years of questioning and study led Joe Mudd and Anastasia Wendlinder, co-directors of Gonzaga University’s new online Master’s of Arts in Theology and Leadership (MATL), into teaching systematic theology at Gonzaga. The program weaves study of Scripture, ethics, church history and theology with leadership, social justice, intercultural communication and reconciliation. Joe, an assistant professor, has been at Gonzaga five years and Anastasia, an associate professor, has been at Gonzaga for more than seven years.
Asking questions resonates
After graduating in religious studies at the University of Montana, Joe spent 10 years in Boston, earning a master of divinity at Harvard and completing doctoral studies at Boston College.
Having grown up in a progressive Catholic church in Missoula, he decided, after participating in the campus Newman Center, to enter campus ministries.
Joe kept asking questions about the meaning of life. As he began to see the disparity between public discourse on Christ and what the church says about itself, he began studying liberation theology, which is a way to read the gospel through the experience of systematic injustice and to “find Jesus as not just a cosmic savior but also a political revolutionary.”
“There’s a tendency to flatten the radical, political edge of Jesus’ mission and ministry, and make faith otherworldly, simply about how to get to heaven,” Joe said. “Liberation theology calls Christians to look at the Gospel’s political dimensions. The goal of Christians is discipleship in history, which is inherently political.”
His doctoral studies focused on liturgical and Eucharistic theology and ecclesiology, as well as Christian doctrine from a liberation perspective.
In El Salvador, he experienced worship in “base communities,” which study the Bible, and reflect on their own realities and the role of worship as a political act.
He looked at torture and Eucharist in contrast to liturgies of the state, such as during the Pinochet regime in Chile, where liturgy became “a vending machine for tickets to heaven.”
Joe continues to ask questions. Most recently, he has been asking: “What is evil?”
“We use ‘evil’ to describe things in the contemporary global situation. What does it mean for Christians? Do we talk just of metaphysical or also of political content and context? Much talk emerged about evil after 9-11. Is it an adequate way to identify a group or actions, or is it more complex?
“We have a culture in which evil and violence are forms of entertainment—horror movies, cage-match boxing and video games. It’s an interesting phenomenon that in late modernity liturgies emerge that speak to violent impulses. What is evil? Where does it reside—in others only or in us?
Joe finds asking these questions in undergraduate and graduate classes resonates with students.
“They are aware of themselves and their struggles,” he said. “They sense things are not right and are unsure why.
“Systematic injustice, war, poverty and natural disasters are compounded by human action,” said Joe, who finds that talking about evil in a political context balances talk of evil in a strictly supernatural sense.
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