Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Bill Wylie-Kellermann is a nonviolent community activist, retired pastor, and author living in Detroit. His most recent books are: Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann (Case Community, 2018), Principalities in Particular: A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be, and Where the Waters Go Around: Beloved Detroit.

Posts By This Author

Rooted in Exile

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 01-23-2019
We’ve been sent a letter from Jeremiah, wherein lies a future with hope.
"THUS SAYS THE LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. ... For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”
Jeremiah 29:4-12
 
Beware of pastoral letters sent by prophets. They can pack a punch. Says this one, what do you want first? The good news or bad? And from where you sit, can you tell the difference?
 

It’s always tempting to read without context, or to quickly presume our own. In which case this might yield a bumper sticker for urban ministry: Seek the Welfare of the City. Or some universal and individual dictum of God’s love.

But time and place are crucial to interpretation. This one, from the prophet Jeremiah, was penned in the reign of King Zedekiah, between the first Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. and the final destruction of Jerusalem and temple in 587, with a second deportation. It is a letter sent to the exiles by way of the king’s official couriers. The location of the letter is betwixt and between. Written in Jerusalem, read in Babylon. For that matter, kind of like our situation.

So, from where do we read? Equally crucial to know. William Stringfellow, in his An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, put it like this:

An Unbound Spirit

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 09-26-2018
At Play in the Lions' Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan, by Jim Forest. Orbis Books.

WHEN DANIEL and Philip Berrigan, A.J. Muste, John Howard Yoder, and a handful of Catholic radicals gathered in 1964 with Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky for a retreat concerning the spiritual roots of protest, the intercessions of that meeting, I am convinced, not only seeded a movement but summoned my vocation.

Four years later when Daniel and Phil Berrigan and seven others entered the draft board in Catonsville, Md., removed 1A files and burned them with homemade napalm, those ashes too would eventually anoint my pastoral calling. October marks the 50th anniversary of the trial of the Catonsville Nine. Released in February 1973 after 18 months in the federal penitentiary at Danbury, Conn., Daniel Berrigan came to New York and taught the Apocalypse of John when I was a student at Union Seminary. Full disclosure: He became to me not merely teacher, but mentor and friend.

In the year following Dan’s death (April 30, 2016), Jim Forest undertook the heroic literary effort of writing At Play in the Lions’ Den. Perhaps he had a running start. Three things of note up front. One is that Forest’s own life is inextricably tangled with Berrigan’s. He was, for example, editor of The Catholic Worker when Dan first appeared there, was part of the 1964 retreat with Merton, and responded to Catonsville by joining others in a draft board raid in Milwaukee within the year. So, like the Acts of the Apostles, there are whole sections of this book written in the first-person voice. Or betimes, Forest just peeks from behind the elegantly researched narrative to lend a knowing detail. This is a risky wire act. Don’t fall into self-aggrandizement (his genuine modesty saves him that) or the net of hagiography. And best to name this from the start, in the subtitle: “biography” and “memoir,” a difficult art Forest has mastered.

We Die Before We Live

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 06-30-2016
For Dan Berrigan, to 'proclaim the resurrection in word and act is an affront the State cannot tolerate.'
Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

On April 30, 2016, Catholic peacemaker and activist Daniel Berrigan entered life eternal. He was a teacher and friend to many in the Sojourners community. Read more reflections on Dan's life and legacy in the August 2016 issue

I ONCE HAD a conversation with Dan about his death. We were talking late into the night at the Block Island hermitage that his friends William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne had built for him while he was two years in Danbury federal prison, a consequence of the 1968 Catonsville draft board action. He had by then foresworn scotch, on doctor’s orders, so I was being introduced to Manhattans dry, which were somehow allowed. The place suited the topic. On the wall above us was an exorcism poem that he’d hand-lettered in a style familiar to Catholic Worker and resistance houses across the country.

I’m certain it was I who broached the topic. When we met in the early ’70s, it was in the wake of notorious assassinations: Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo, the Panthers, Malcolm, King, the Kennedys. There was a certain youthful grandiosity in imagining that he or others who were such troublesome peacemakers would be similarly targeted. I braced my heart. I told him so. (Then he turns around and lives, thanks be, to 94!)

Bill Wylie-Kellermann responds

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 10-06-2014

Thanks to Walter for this affirmation. Wink’s contribution was indeed enormous in my view and, in the end, well-received. After he was denied tenure, however, he could not find a job in the academy. I know it was a painful time for him.

Struggling to Become Human

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 07-08-2014

Walter Wink

In scholarship and life, Walter Wink sought the truth with passion.

Prophetic Touch

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 10-01-2013

Thanks so much to Rose Berger and her article ‘Why Are White People So Mean?’ She has become the first page to which I turn. She listens as a poet to the prophet on the street and sees and hears at a depth.

From the Archives: April 1985

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 03-14-2013

Authority Over Death

Blame for Blight: Bill Wylie-Kellerman Replies

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 08-01-2012

Bill Wylie-Kellermann replies:

An Assault on Local Democracy

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 06-01-2012

Michigan's "Emergency Manager" law and Detroit's future.

Walter Wink: Remembrance and Reflection

by Bill Wylie-Kellermann 05-16-2012
Walter Wink preaching, from the Fellowship of Reconciliation archives.

Walter Wink preaching, from the Fellowship of Reconciliation archives.

Walter Wink, 76, a world-class biblical scholar and non-violent practitioner, crossed over to God on May 10 at his home in Western Massachusetts. Following a slow decline, he had been in hospice for several weeks in the company of his beloved June and their family. (See "Confronting the Powers," Sojourners December 2010)

As a first year seminarian in New York City, more than 35  years ago, I was fortunate to have Walter as my New Testament instructor. In a seminar session on the "pearl of great price" in Matthew, I have a vivid memory of him breaking the discussion so we could go round the circle and each reply to the question: "For what would you be willing to die?" I don't so much recall my own halting answer, as the depth of the question he understood was put to us by the text. It's since become my conviction that no one should escape seminary (or baptismal preparation for that matter) without facing with that query.

Which is to say he was himself an engaged scholar, connecting the academy with the risk of the streets. While filling his first teaching post at Union Seminary in New York he was simultaneously serving on the national steering committee of Clergy and Laity Concerned about the War in Vietnam (1967-76).

He was notorious for foundation-shaking works. When I met him, Walter was a rising star in the biblical guild, on the fast track at Union. Then he published a little polemical book called The Bible in Human Transformation (1973) which made bold to declare, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt." It assailed the myth of scientific objectivity, the disembodied approach which kept the text at arms length and pre-empted commitment. In many respects it anticipated the contextualizing hermeneutics of feminist and liberation readings, but it didn't win him friends in the academic guild.

Subscribe