Walter Wink protesting the Vietnam war.
Last night before bed, my Aunt June placed two new books by her late husband, Walter Wink, on the kitchen table for me to read over breakfast. As the water was boiling for coffee this morning, I began flipping through my uncle’s soon to be released book titled “Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human
” and realized that the day before Christmas was a perfect day to talk about Walter Wink and his dedication to peace and active nonviolent civil disobedience.
Walter Wink was described in a 2010 Unitas Award from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City as, “Beloved professor, award-winning author, pastor, risk-taker and visionary." He was praised "for naming, unmasking, and engaging the powers which threaten peace, for social justice and human thriving worldwide; for his unwavering commitment to the ministry of reconciliation and advocacy for non-violence; and for his innovative, transformative and interdisciplinary methods of biblical studies dedicated to the partnership of mind, body, and spirit.”
Yesterday, I wrote a Psychology Today blog titled “Are Pharmaceuticals the Answer for Treating ADHD?” based on a disturbing new report that recommended that 6-12 year olds who show signs of “ADHD with aggression” be put on a combination of amphetamines and an antipsychotic medication designed to treat schizophrenia.
Driving home last night in the car with my Aunt June we were talking about the study and what we can do to combat aggression and violence, especially in children. Of course there are no easy answers, but my Aunt June—who worked closely in early childhood development for many years of her life—believes that physicality is an incredibly important outlet of excess energy and for engaging one's powers in a creative way.
June and I were laughing about my abundance of energy that allowed me to go on and win Triple Ironman Triathlons and break a Guinness World Record by running 153.76 miles on a treadmill in 24 hours... and wondering if I would have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child today and been medicated to the point of snuffing out the spark that continues to fuel me as an active nonviolent writer and activist.
Walter Wink’s Pharmaceutical Revelation
In the beginning of his book “Just Jesus” Walter Wink shares the story of being diagnosed with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and the side effects of the medications that led him to feel a disconnection from himself and God. He writes, “I was afraid the restless leg syndrome and all the medications blindly thrown at it had permanently damaged my brain. And memory loss led to acute daily failures in speaking and writing, which prevented me from believing in myself. I had to cancel all workshops, which felt like an amputation without anaesthesia. And I spiraled down into a depression and a night I had never known before experiencing nearly all the side effects announced on the pharmacist’s disclaimers.”
One of the drugs he was given was OxyContin. On page 14 of “Just Jesus” Walter Wink shares the story of receiving the bombshell news on July 21, 2007 that the makers of OxyContin (Oxycodone hydro-chloride) were assessed a $634.5 million fine for failing to warn the public about the painkiller’s risk of addiction and death. Walter writes, “OxyContin had already caused 146 deaths and had contributed to another 318 deaths—with the full knowledge of the pharmaceutical executives."
Walter describes weaning himself off OxyContin saying, “In the meantime, I do jigsaw puzzles and other memory exercises, walk forty minutes a day, work out with a trainer at a gym, do stretching and weights daily, receive neurofeedback on an experimental basis, and ride an elliptical machine before bed. I enjoy life, sleep better, and have accepted an invitation to give a lecture in the spring.” Walter was also grateful that a new drug was developed to help treat his restless leg syndrome which allowed him to get on with his life.
Civil Disobedience and Active Nonviolent Protest
Walter Wink was both a civil disobedience activist and one of the first people to write a book about homosexuality and the church. In 1979, he was asked by the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church to do a biblical analysis of the whole issue of homosexuality. When he tried to get the essay published, there were no takers... So, my Aunt June and Uncle Walter self-published with money out of their own pockets.
Walter describes the gist of his essay as this: “The Bible has no sexual ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.” Watching Utah allow for Marriage Equality is an example of how quickly mores can evolve.
In 1988, I was a 22-year-old gay man living in the West Village of Manhattan. My friends were dying everywhere around me. In the name of active nonviolent protest—that my uncle had advocated for decades—I joined ACT UP and took to the streets in active nonviolent protest. Our motto was "Silence = Death" and we were fighting for “the Powers” in government and pharmaceutical companies to acknowledge that AIDS was a pandemic that needed to be addressed. The recent film “How to Survive a Plague” documents the ACT UP movement.
The dynamics of pharmaceutical companies being both a friend and foe is one of the tricky territories that Walter Wink understood well. Just as pharmaceuticals can destroy lives, they also save them—as was the case with antiretrovirals and AIDS. Walter sums up this paradox when describing how he chose the title of his book Engaging the Powers: “I could not name it “Confronting the Powers,” or “Combating the Powers," or “Overcoming the Powers,” because the Powers are not simply evil... They can be not only benign, but quite positive. Thus the title became "Engaging the Powers.” Let us then engage these Powers, not just to understand them, but to see them changed."
Conclusion: Engaging the Powers through Active Nonviolence
In the conclusion of his book “Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human” Walter Wink sums up his interpretations of Scripture and his life saying, “I have had a wonderful life. I have been paid to do what I most like to do: interpreting Scripture... Does knowing something of a person’s life story make possible a deeper understanding of the biblical text and of its interpreters? Does an “autobiography of my interest in Jesus” yield insights that would otherwise remain unavailable? The answer may appear self-evident, but it is not. Scholars and preachers alike ignore the insights that come from opening our souls to the Human Being. The vast majority of biblical scholars still work from an objective stance. But there has nevertheless been a considerable shift.”
Although my uncle, Walter Wink, passed away in 2012, he is undoubtedly smiling this Christmas Day knowing that his book “Just Jesus” will be published in January of 2014 at a time when the headlines from the Vatican and states like Utah are radically changing the way Christianity is interpreting the “mores” of the Scriptures.