Power & Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection
by Samuel Wells
When Andrea and I made the move from Tacoma, WA to Durham, NC for her to pursue graduate studies we did not imagine we would end up calling Duke Chapel our church home. Duke Chapel is a grand gothic cathedral that physically is the central focal point of Duke University. It is beautiful and hard to miss. But we thought we were looking for a church that represented the full spectrum of the wider community of Durham not the formal high setting that is Duke Chapel. However, we decided we would start there and in the end we never left. One of the reasons for this is the Dean of the Chapel, Sam Wells. Wells’ preaching and leadership anchor Duke Chapel and contribute to it being a vital part of Duke University. Being located on the campus of a ‘prestigious’ school like Duke with a well respected Divinity School means that the opportunity to hear great thinkers and speakers is never in short supply. Just in the past few months, N.T Wright and Walter Brueggemann have spoken. Wells himself is considered on of the leading theologians in the world when it comes to issues of ethics but it is his thoughtful communication, intentionality and ability to make connections between scripture and daily life that continually call me back to be challenged and encouraged.
I’m not sure Sam Wells ever thought he would be leading an institution with the powerful platform that Duke Chapel and Duke University provide. Much of his early pastoral call was spent serving in economically and socially challenged neighborhoods in his homeland of England. (Personally this is of course another reason that I was drawn to Duke Chapel. Having a British accent in a beautiful gothic church is good for this dual citizen and reminds me where part of me is from!) I am grateful and encouraged to see that even with this very visible platform and position Sam’s heart still beats strongly for the marginalized in the world. Yet most of those who attend Duke Chapel would not be thought of as marginalized or the least, last and lost in any material sort of way. Most of us who fill the pews each week are privileged if not powerful by most of the world’s standards. But in a wonderful way, Sam always invites us to enter a world where we are all broken and our shared calling is to walk with each other and carry each other’s burdens. Sam Wells is a brilliant thinker, but brilliance means nothing if it does not move us to practically engage with the other – those who are most different and even those who most threaten us in some way.
As I have sat in the pews and in other public gatherings listening to Sam I have realized that ultimately all his thoughts and words come down to the fact that he believes the resurrection is true. And he has spent a lot of time thinking about the ramification of this. If the resurrection is true, the ever present question is how will this change the way we live our lives in the world today? Wells is able to continually bring this question to life and to reality in a way that is convicting and challenging while also being lovingly invitational. He weaves stories from scripture together paying careful attention to place and context and then makes the connection to our modern day. Wells is able to make living and profound connections in a way that shows deep insight into the human condition.
In 2007 Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams invited Wells to write a book for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official Lent book series. The result of that invitation was titled Power & Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection. Wells’ intended title was “Power & Passion: The Resurrection of Politics” but the publisher didn’t want the word ‘politics’ in the title which ironically only serves to highlight the weight and complexities of these four focal words: Politics, Power, Passion, and Resurrection. In the six chapters of this book (one for each week of Lent) Wells takes on power, passion, politics, the past and the present seen through the resurrection and through the words and actions of six characters present during Holy Week. It is through the lens of the lives of Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mrs. Pilate, Peter and Mary Magdalene that the reader is invited to a life of repentance, empowerment, and encouragement.
In this book Wells explores the different kinds of power that exist in the world. As he highlights each of the six character’s words and actions during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, Wells contrasts the politics of resurrection (and subsequent abundance) with that of the power that ultimately denies the resurrection producing a politic of scarcity.