Uncovering the Untold Urban Stories

Uncovering the Untold Urban Stories

We welcome Glenn Jordan as one of the presenters for our forthcoming day conference Renewing the City: A Christian Vision.  Glenn comes with the wisdom of many years of ministry in the inner-city area of East Belfast close to the former shipyards.  A vision of an ‘urban commons’ has marked his work, with the goal of demonstrating in both design and architecture the reality of God’s shalom amidst the sectarian ugliness that has been so prominent in the story of this city.

He also brings the insights of significant PhD research that relates to the reading of Third Isaiah in the context of various urban challenges, but particularly those that have become demanding in his own contextual environment of East Belfast.  The nature of a number of his theological contributions are especially noteworthy and will undoubtedly lend themselves to our discussion, reflection and practice.  These invariably move us to seriously consider how Scripture in general, and a storied approach to Third Isaiah in particular, can inform the means and goals of urban ministry today.

Foremost amongst those, I think, is his suggestion that Isaiah invites us to move from ‘the mundane to the mythological’.[1]  This borrows, as the author notes, from the idea of ‘rereading,’ credited to J. Severino Croatto, in which preterist leanings can and should be challenged by a hermeneutic of finding further meaning in biblical texts in such a way that relevant practice might be encouraged.[2]  This is not as subjective as it sounds, but actually serves to understand Isaiah not only as a prophet but also in an apocalyptic sense, where actual political events serve to honour God’s prerogative as to what happens next in our own story.  It inspires, in other words, a view to the future that promotes credible shalom action now.

Another notable emphasis gleaned from Glenn’s excellent study is his undaunted commitment to reading Isaiah in terms of stories that inform both the original and the contemporary outworking of an ardent narrative theology.  In this way, the story-laden character of the sacred text is held in high honour, but not in such a way that it diminishes the need to release its formative capacity into the treasured stories of urban congregations.  This is critical as it affirms that history and tradition actually matter greatly, not only in their biblical settings, but also in lived biographies of people in distinct times and places.  It encourages an essential element especially suited to and situated in the midst of urban realities, one that amounts to the purposeful uncovering of hidden or forgotten stories.  It acknowledges that these stories matter a great deal in and of themselves, but also that the honouring of them significantly contributes to healthy urban ministry.

Potent endeavours like these can achieve a movement from story to story, in which, as Jordan puts it, the ‘interweaving of themes and ideas across the final text of Isaiah may have actually been part of the strategy of Third Isaiah to secure support for a radical new vision of the city and the community.’[3]  Perhaps more of us can give attention to the hidden, forgotten and untold stories that demonstrate the specificity of the good news of Jesus for our cities.  These stories themselves, as they deliberately relate to the biblical narrative, cannot help but excite a new vision of shalom that must always be understood in terms of the radical peace that expresses the reign of God.  In that way, they activate renewal, hopefully more and more in Inner East Belfast and in many other urban settings as well.

Dr Wesley White

Join us for Renewing the City: A Christian Vision on Saturday 7th January 2017, 10am – 4:30pm, at the Parkhead Church of the Nazarene, Burgher Street Glasgow, G31 4TB.

[1] Glenn Jordan, unpublished PhD dissertation, ‘Renewing the City: Reading Third Isaiah in Inner East Belfast,’ (2016), p8
[2] J. Severino Croatto, ‘ “The Nations” in Salvific Oracles of Isaiah,’ VT 55 2 (2005), p160
[3] Jordan, Renewing the City, p184-85