Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Franz Wright (V)

Sometimes it likely appears as if I don't read any poets except Wendell Berry, Mary Karr, R. S. Thomas, and Franz Wright -- but as I'd rather share something rather than nothing, and this poem struck me this week in a re-reading of Wright's Earlier Poems, this is what you get.

The following is from Wright's 1989 collection Entry in an Unknown Hand. Enjoy.

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North Country Entries

By Franz Wright

Do you still know these early leaves, trans-
lucent, shining, spreading on their branches
like green flames?

And the hair-raising stars flowing over the
ridge late at night.

No one home in the house by itself on the
pine-hidden road,

or the 4-story barn up the road, leaning on
its hill.

The two horses who've opened the gate to their
field, old, wandering around on the lawn.

The sky becoming ominous.

Which is more awful, a sentient or endlessly
presenceless sky?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kathryn Tanner on the Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service to God's Mission for the World

"It is as workers of the Father's will in the world that we go out or descend from the Father empowered by the Spirit in Christ's own image. The Spirit that is to sanctify us, make us holy as Christ is, is a commissioning Spirit, empowering us to participate in Christ's own mission of loving service to the world. 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you . . . Receive the Holy Spirit' (John 20:21-2). Receiving from the Father the gifts of Spirit-filled Sonship in unity with Christ, we are to do as he did when sent out from the Father.

"The Christian experience of service to God's mission for the world in this way assumes a properly trinitarian shape. 'The formula of the Christian life is seeking, finding, and doing the Father's will in the Father's world with the companionship of the Son by the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit' [Leonard Hodgson]. More specifically, service takes the form of trinitarian descent: from the Father to become the image of the Son in the world by way of the power of the Spirit, or from the Father to live a Spirit-filled live with Christ in his mission for the world. Those are two ways of saying the same thing.

"Son and Spirit are sent out to us in order to enable our return to the Father. But returned to the Father we are sent out with Son and Spirit again to do the Father's work of service to the world. The return brings with it another going out because in returning we are incorporated into the dynamic trinitarian outflow of God's own life for the world.

"Descent could be understood as service to the world that follows the ascent of service to God. There would then be two sequential movements here in different directions, distinguished by their respective goals or objects: a movement toward God in worship or toward the world in service to it. Worship itself models the relationship between the two. At the end of worship comes the benediction and we are then sent out like Christ into the world to do the Father's business in the power of the Spirit.

"Just as they did in the life of the trinity itself, however, the two movements should properly coincide. Worship—explicitly God-directed action—is an essential dimension of the task we are given for the world's sake. And in serving the world we turn ourselves to God, in service to the God who loves it. The whole of our lives, inclusive of both worship of God and service to others, becomes in this way an offering to God, a form of God-directed service (see Romans 12:1). The two coincide for this reason in Christ's own human life. Christ is both worshipper and worker of the Father. Both his prayers and his life's work are offered by him to the Father; and they both come back from the Father to him, in the power of the Spirit transformed—completed, perfected in the end."

—Kathryn Tanner, Christ the Key (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 205-206

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Links: Thinking Through Religious Critique in America

Doctoral life comes as advertised: time does not merely evaporate, it is consumed, stolen before it even seems to appear. Thus the serious lack of substantive content around these parts lately.

And for the immediate future, as I only have a few worthwhile links to pass along at the moment. I've been reflecting on the hubbub surrounding the question of Mitt Romney's being a Mormon and running for national office, prompted recently by a conservative Dallas politicopastor publicly labeling the Church of Latter Day Saints a "cult." (And so, of course, unfit for the Presidency -- because here in these United States, Christians only allowed on top!)

Three bits worth reading in this case. First, William Saletan's article on Slate claiming that anti-Mormonism is today's acceptable prejudice, akin to (in the past) racism and heterosexism. ("Overblown" and "uncomprehending" are two words that come to mind.) Second, Christopher Hitchens' article on Slate a week later on the (supposed) evils of Mormonism, and (so implicitly as well as explicitly) on the normative openness of inter- and extra-religious critique in any public situation, and especially in a political one such as this. Third and finally, Adam Kotsko's impassioned post on the whole question of inter-religious critique in America and the ways in which (the religion of) secularism disallows it in principle.

Good stuff all around, and certainly better (or at least more) reading than you'll find here these days. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Steven Delopoulos

I was surprised to realize that I haven't yet shared anything from Steven Delopoulos, one of my favorite contemporary singer-songwriters. Delopoulos came onto the scene in the late 90s as the front man for Burlap to Cashmere, a wildly talented motley crew that offered an energetic mashup of acoustic guitars, mountainous harmonies, and relentless drumming. Unfortunately, they broke up after just one album, Anybody Out There?, which led Delopoulos to the solo gig for nearly a decade (producing two albums himself in the process: Me Died Blue and Straightjacket). The band has gotten back together, however, and released a self-titled album just this year.

Delopoulos's lyrics are not the most conducive to poetry, as the form they take in the rhythm and cadences of his guitar-voice combo is essential to their odd beauty. However, the lyrics below, taken from my favorite song off the new album, are complete enough in themselves to offer a taste; do check out the song, though, if you like.

(Pre-final note: I forgot that I wrote up a post for 80 Minutes For Life about Delopoulos a couple years ago -- worth checking out, especially if you'd like an introduction to his best songs.

And a final note: Apparently the song's title and chorus refrain -- "I see the other country" -- is taken from the last words spoken by a dying family member of Delopoulos's. Opens up the song quite a bit more, I think.)

The Other Country

By Steven Delopoulos

Your eyes see the shining city
Your love heals the poisoned mind
When the journey ends
There’s a new beginning
When the risen man
Heals the weight of time

I can feel it over the line . . .

I see the other country
I see the other side
Do not be afraid of this earthly city
Do not be afraid when the pharaoh's nigh

Draw near, the lamb's awaiting
Where the river runs through, the skies align
From that painting of a ship
We have all been chosen
To the painter's creation
In his dream design

I can feel it over the line . . .

I see the other country
I see the other side
Do not be afraid of this earthly city
Do not be afraid when the pharaoh's nigh

When I was a child, I walked like a child
But now I’m a soldier
Like the bride and groom I will be married

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Even though I sink through the ocean
You will rescue me

I am standing in the fire, but I can hear the choir singing
I was a blind man stumbling
But now I see

I was blind, blind, blind, blind
But now I see

I was blind, blind, blind, blind
But now I see

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Appeal to End the Death Penalty: Signed by Christian Theologians and Ethicists in the U.S.

There is a new petition online drafted by George Hunsinger and Steffen Lösel, and signed by dozens of the most prominent Christians theologians and ethicists in the U.S., which calls for the end of the death penalty in America in the name of Jesus. It's clear, to the point, and correct. Go join Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West, Serene Jones, James Cone, Nicholas Wolterstorff, J. Kameron Carter, Carol Newsom, Mark Taylor, Ian McFarland, et al -- and sign it:
We believe that the execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 was a grievous wrong.

We reject the grotesque idea that mere "reasons of state" could ever be more important in death penalty cases than the accuracy of its verdicts.

Powerful and mounting doubts about the accuracy of the verdict against Troy Davis led many observers -- including Amnesty International, the European Union, a UN Special Rapporteur, a former FBI director, a former U.S. president, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pope Benedict XVI -- to call for a stay of execution. The decision not to grant clemency despite worldwide protests is a terrible stain on our country.

We oppose the death penalty for both principled and pragmatic reasons. In practice death penalty cases have been riddled with misdeeds like prosecutorial misconduct, police coercion of witnesses, misidentification of suspects, and not least racial prejudice -- all of which seem to have played an appalling role in the Davis case, as they have in so many others.

More fundamentally, as Christians, we would call upon our churches and our nation to heed the example of Jesus.

• Jesus rejected the law of retaliation ("an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth") commanding us instead to treat anyone who may have wronged us with a measure of dignity and compassion.

• He intervened to prevent capital punishment when he challenged those who would put to death a woman accused of wrongdoing: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

• Above all, he taught the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

• The One who forgave his enemies while dying for their sins on the cross -- "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" -- is the One who shows us the way.

• Finally, Christians worship a Savior who died by capital punishment. That puts them at odds with any who think capital punishment is a necessity (for the state).

Those who adopted the slogan "I am Troy Davis" were exactly right. Someone we care about might one day be sentenced to death on the testimony of eyewitnesses who later recanted.

We call for an immediate end to the death penalty in the United States, we ally ourselves with all those who work toward this long overdue goal, and we challenge our churches and church leaders to join in this public witness.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Read: Andrew Krinks on Social Movements, Vulnerability, and Solidarity with the Marginalized

My friend Andrew Krinks, a second-year MTS student at Vanderbilt and all-around superman writer-cum-activist in Nashville, has written a wonderful piece for Vanderbilt Magazine. In it he tells the story of his journey over the last few years with injustice, institutional power, homelessness, and vulnerable solidarity, as only a poet-theologian can. Here's a snippet, but go read the full thing:
A friend once said that there are at least two kinds of social movements in the world: the kind you sit down and start from scratch, and the kind that comes like a river to sweep you away. I found myself advocating for Nashville’s homeless community as a 20-year-old college student not because I possessed any sort of unique virtue, but because, faced with the reality of thousands of people spending night after night without shelter in my own backyard—people who, as I was beginning to understand, bore the very image of God in the lines of their faces—I had no other option.

Part willing, part eager and perhaps part foolish, I let the river guide me, and before I could think twice, I was standing with more than 100 other students and faculty before our city’s seat of power trying, as best I knew how at the time, to proclaim some fragment of good news to those who bear the burden of homelessness in our city.

Four years later I am still trying to echo, as concretely as possible, the words that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed to the crowd in his inaugural sermon: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. Indeed, I will only ever be trying to echo and embody this proclamation. I am, as I have come to understand it, a laborer in a vineyard not my own. Grand outcomes and solutions are good and fine, but they’ll only ever matter if I’m willing to get my hands dirty.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: R. S. Thomas (V)

The fourth and final poem from R. S. Thomas for 2011. (Though it should be clear by now that we could just keep going -- the only thing stopping us being copyright law.) Enjoy.

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By R. S. Thomas

Yeats said that. Young
I delighted in it:
there was time enough.

Fingers burned, heart
seared, a bad taste
in the mouth, I read him

again, but without trust
any more. What counsel
has the pen's rhetoric

to impart? Break mirrors, stare
ghosts in the face, try
walking without crutches

at the grave's edge? Now
in the small hours
of belief the one eloquence

to master is that
of the bowed head, the bent
knee, waiting, as at the end

of a hard winter
for one flower to open
on the mind's tree of thorns.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Clarifying Note for Committed Essentialists Regarding Discussions About Gender and Identity

Not a single person or group involved in discussions about sex, gender, and identity contests the incontestable fact that there is both a biological and a social difference between women and men. The only question is whether, and to what extent, the former ought to determine the latter. Or to put it differently: Given that the former does shape and determine the latter in various ways, and has in all societies everywhere throughout history, should it in a normative way -- today, in our society -- or are there factors to consider related to context, time, place, polity, religion, etc.? And to whatever extent that it (possibly) should, ought it to bracket or peremptorily define societal role, personal value, and/or social opportunity?

Even the most committed of essentialists cannot rule out these questions, if for no other reason than the equally incontestable fact that modern patriarchalists and complementarians allow and even encourage certain social roles, forms of life, and cultural participation (for both women and men) that were considered unthinkable just a century ago. The discussion, therefore, is a legitimate one, and has not been answered once and for all time, and is, so to speak, discursively up for grabs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Must Read: Richard Beck on Lady Gaga, Little Monsters, Gays, and the Church

Go check out Richard Beck's extraordinary post from this past weekend, ostensibly about Lady Gaga, but in truth about hospitality, the socially and sexually marginalized, and the prophetic call of the church.

Seriously, go read it now.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Jeff Tweedy (II)

This past week was, if you did not know, Wilco Week -- at least in the East household -- as Tuesday heralded the release of the great Chicago band's tenth studio album (eighth if you discount the Mermaid Avenue sessions with Billy Bragg -- which you should not), The Whole Love. As expected, it's excellent.

Ask yourself this question: Apart from Radiohead, is there another band that's been around longer than 15 years which both has sustained a stable output of quality (and diverse!) music across that time and continues to do so? I'm all ears.

In any case, Jeff Tweedy isn't often theological, but every once in a while he deigns to be, and especially on 2004's A Ghost is Born. (For his most explicit, see my post from a couple years ago on the song "Theologians." According to Tweedy, we don't know nothin' about his soul.) Here's a bit of that album's melancholy dissonance in lyrical form for your Wilco-loving pleasure on a restful October Sunday.

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Hell is Chrome

By Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco)

When the devil came
He was not red
He was chrome, and he said:

"Come . . . with me . . ."

You must go
So I went
Where everything was clean
So precise and towering

I was welcomed
With open arms
I received so much help in every way
I felt . . . no fear . . .
I felt . . . no fear . . .

The air was crisp
Like sunny late winter days
A springtime yawning high in the haze

And I felt like I belonged

"Come with me . . ."

"Come with me . . ."

"Come with me . . ."

"Come with me . . ."