Food for Thought-What I Learned from Dean Richard Hays


In December of 1983, my maternal grandfather died of pancreatic cancer. His death was a long, slow, and painful. Although I was young, I remember it clearly and the toll it took on those in my family who arranged for his nursing care and attended to his needs when nothing more could be done. It was a devastating illness. These early memories came to the fore recently when I learned of Dean Richard Hays’ diagnosis with the same illness. Dean Hays has been a with the Duke University community for many years, a scholar or the early church, and shepherd of the growing divinity school community. My heart sank.  Medicine and treatment have changed much in the intervening years. Hope and healing are realities which people of faith willingly embrace. We do what women and men called to witness and serve have always done; we remain hopeful through our prayers and re-telling the stories which define us as a people.

Dean Hayes taught me to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus. Despite the costs or collateral damage, people like me needed to tell the sacred story of Jesus Christ. Richard Hays taught me that Jesus’ story is one in which we participate. A participatory story best told in community where our ethics and morality are best shaped by the retelling of Jesus’ final meal with his earliest disciples. The dichotomies and divisions plaguing the Church (who’s in and who’s out) can be unified by the very story of Jesus’ life (and death) itself. For me, after each lecture, I kept hearing this question, “Will we take these ideas to their logical conclusion?”

Richard Hays takes the Gospels and their greatest interpreter (Saint Paul) to their logical conclusions. He taught me what Jesus meant and what the earliest church knew he would become: the definitive moral standard for how faithful people live in community. When it came to violence, there would be none (on our part). The whole community of believers, the entire body of the faithful was called to embody his practice of loving one’s enemies. If you’ve truly given all authority under heaven and on Earth to Jesus, turning the other cheek makes all the sense in the world. We are participants in Jesus’ story. Richard Hays taught me this.

The world is not yet redeemed. Despite the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes on Ocracoke Island I am not ready for redemption. I relish the continued opportunity to work in the kingdom being built around me. As we wait and work, we participate in the ongoing acts of redemption, love, and witness to God’s faithfulness in our world. This is how Jesus’story continues to be told. It’s what I think Dean Hays wants all of us who’ve been through his classes to keep doing, as best we can.

Get Well, Dear Brother in Christ.