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Pittsburgh Theological Seminary president explores courage and curiosity during the Presbyterian Foundation’s ‘Leading Theologically’

The Rev. Dr. Asa J. Lee is the guest of the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Asa J. Lee Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Deep into a conversation on courage and curiosity with the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty of the Presbyterian Foundation during Wednesday’s edition of “Leading Theologically,” the Rev. Dr. Asa J. Lee, president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, noted this truth about the plight of preachers everywhere: “People don’t like it,” Lee said, “when we preach the gospel that requires us to do things that we don’t want to do.”

Listen to the 30-minute conversation here. Watch a recording of Lee’s 2021 inauguration and installation here. Lee comes in during the 40th minute.

Hinson-Hasty told Lee that during his inaugural address, which Lee based on Luke’s account of Jesus redirecting his disciples’ fishing efforts, “What you got me with was when you said, ‘Who could believe the son of a carpenter would be telling fishermen how to fish better?’ I did not see that coming.”

Lee is in the midst of leading a cohort of Doctor of Ministry students on coursework on taking risks and being willing to lead change, “which our congregations and presbyteries need for revitalization,” Lee told Hinson-Hasty. “Curiosity is a way to build courage, asking the question no one else is willing to ask.”

Lee is looking at three aspects of courage: instinct, capacity and faith. Dog owners know “that training [dogs] is about their instinct” and helping them overcome that instinct, Lee said. “I think it’s a myth to say courage can’t be taught. Ask any soldier, firefighter or police officer. Their training is designed to build up in them the instinct to take on action.”

As Christians, “courage is a faithful act,” Lee said. “The evidence in front of you would suggest not to do the thing. But you still take the action … For those of us who are Christian, this is absolutely at the heart of what it means to be faithful.”

One doesn’t have to climb a mountain to demonstrate courage. “Courage is a daily exercise. You build it in small ways,” Lee said. “It can be having a phone conversation with a loved one that you’ve delayed for a long time. Sometimes the most courageous thing to do is admit to failure. It takes a lot of courage for a parent to have a hard conversation with a child.”

“That’s my jam,” Lee told Hinson-Hasty. “What we lack in our congregational lives, and perhaps in our political lives, is often the kind of courage that leads us to have conversations that should make us curious.”

Other “c” words also come into play, including “confrontation” and “conflict.”

“It takes courage to engage and confront not just people, but issues,” Lee said. “In our congregational life, it’s being able to lead the congregation to have hard conversations with itself. They don’t have to result in conflict; they’re just confronting reality. But we’re scared of both conflict and confrontation, and so we’re not courageous.”

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

That thought led Hinson-Hasty back to the Genesis account. “I go back to chaos at Creation, he said. “The chaotic moment is a creative moment. People want to steer clear of them, but that’s where creativity can happen.”

Skipping ahead in Genesis a bit, Lee said the Cain and Abel story is really a God and Cain story. Abel is irrelevant, Lee said, because he dies. What if Cain had confronted God about his feelings over Cain’s offerings “never quite being up to snuff and Abel’s offerings always being accepted? What’s underneath the narrative is Cain is upset about something, and God invites the conversation: something you want to tell me about? Cain’s response is avoidance. What does he do? It ends up in conflict with his brother.”

“Many of us avoid the kinds of things we should be able to talk about as leaders,” Lee said. “As leaders, we’re really responsible for doing the work.”

“If the church needs to propagate the gospel — and it’s the church’s mission to do so — courageous leadership means we remind people of the mandate of the gospel on our lives. That is the courageous act,” Lee said. “The mandate is ‘love your neighbor, feed the hungry and forgive as you have been forgiven.’ Courage means you look people in the face and you say these things.”

Asked what “neighborhood” means, Lee noted Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods — 89 of them, “and 90 if you count Mister Rogers’ neighborhood,” he said. In a single parable, Jesus redefined what it means to be a neighbor. “Whoever impacts me, whoever engages me, is my neighbor,” Lee said. “That becomes hard. My neighborhood looks very different.”

To close the session, Lee offered The Prayer of Good Courage from the Lutheran tradition: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Watch past editions of “Leading Theologically” here.

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