I was a lowly college intern serving my home church, First Presbyterian of Oklahoma City, when I was introduced to my boss's father-in-law, Kenneth Bailey. Dr. Bailey was the head of the Biblical Department of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut and he wrote Through Peasant Eyes, a book about the parables of Jesus.
Dr. Bailey literally changed my understanding of the parables by introducing a new palette to Western eyes. He taught the West how to read the biblical text with Middle Eastern sensitivities in the context of culture and language. Instead of reading for a point of the story, Dr. Bailey patiently refocused his readers on the surprises within the text just after what we perceived to be the climax or high point of the story.
Ken's immersion into Arabic and the people of Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, etc., converted him to the soul of Middle Eastern ways. He would become a Western bridge over the chasm between a Western interpretation of the Bible and the literary culture of the Middle East.
When I learned about his death, I realized we had lost a great man. Dr. Bailey was the example of someone who hungered for personal knowledge about the people of the Bible, and he believed we would know Jesus better the more we knew Palestinians and Israelis today.
I highly recommend his book, Through Peasant Eyes, and provide you with a portion of a poem from the book to indicate the heart of this man.
I am a voice,
The voice of spilt blood
crying from the land.
The life is in the blood
And for many years my blood flowed
in the veins of a young man.
And I was spilt into the earth -
in the holy earth
of the holy land.
Luther Kim's article, "Doing Missiology Toward Diaspora Mission Church," quotes Peter Makarti, who said this about Bailey's poem:
"(Ken Bailey's poem) is an illustration of mission as healing. (The) Church should hear the voices of pain from the mission field, so the Church should be filled with a compassionate heart to heal them."
How appropriate for us at Steel Lake, as we face our new mission field, to thank God for this Presbyterian Pastor. Thank you, Ken Bailey, for giving us ears to hear Jesus even as we tune our ears to the voices of the Aging Community, their Families, and Caregivers.
With celebration in my heart
and Thanksgiving in my voice for
all the Saints,