Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Leo the Great on the Birthday of Christ as the Birthday of Peace

"They then who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God, must offer to the Father the unanimity of peace-loving sons, and all the members of adoption must meet in the first-begotten of the new creation, who came to do not his own will but his that sent him; inasmuch as the Father in his gracious favor has adopted as his heirs not those that are discordant nor those that are unlike him, but those that are in feeling and affection one. They that are remodeled after one pattern must have a spirit like the model.

"The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the apostle, 'he is our peace, who made both one; since whether we be Jew or Gentile, through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.' And it was this in particular that he taught his disciples before the day of his passion which he had of his own free-will foreordained, saying, 'My peace I give unto you, my peace I leave for you'; and lest under the general term the character of his peace should escape notice, he added, 'not as the world give I unto you.' The world, he says, has its friendships, and brings many that are apart into loving harmony. There are also minds which are equal in vices, and similarity of desires produces equality of affection. [Such] belong not to God's friendship but to this world's peace.

"But the peace of the spiritual and of catholics coming down from above and leading upwards refuses to hold communion with the lovers of the world, resists all obstacles and flies from pernicious pleasures to true joys, as the Lord says: 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also': that is, if what you love is below you will descend to the lowest depth: if what you love is above, you will reach the topmost height: there may the Spirit of peace lead and bring us, whose wishes and feeling are at one, and who are of one mind in faith and hope and in charity: since as many as are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God -- who reigns with the Son and Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen."

--Leo the Great, Sermon 26 (On the Feast of the Nativity VI)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Response to the Immediate Politicizing of Yesterday's Tragedy

1. Yesterday's events in Newtown, Connecticut -- less than an hour northwest of where we live -- were an unspeakably horrific tragedy. It is not only difficult but impossible to put into human words the evil and misery wrought on an entire community and its families.

2. The United States undeniably has a gun problem. In their affection toward them, in their manufacturing of them, in their fetishization of them, in their absolutist attitudes towards ownership of them, in their inability to talk about them calmly and respectfully, in their catastrophically high death tolls at the hands of them: Americans have gun issues.

3. Yesterday's events were not the occasion to make Americans' gun problem the central topic of discussion. It is unseemly and distasteful that, while the blood of children was still drying inside an elementary school, "friends" on Facebook were lambasting one another for their politics on gun control.

4. Some say: "We are indeed politicizing this tragedy, and we are right to do so, because politics is life together and/or because politics is the way we stop such tragedies from happening again." While the intention behind this stance is commendable, it is shortsighted and unhelpful. In the U.S. context, to politicize something is to make it a means to some other end. And that is what these asinine and overwrought gun debates did: they instrumentalized the suffering of others for the sake of some greater goal or principle. That is, they made it about something else. But yesterday was not about something else. Yesterday was about the senseless deaths of human beings, most of whom were barely six years old, at the hands of a deranged man's wicked actions. Is it ever inappropriate to politicize such a thing? When the murders are still in process? When the death count is still rising? They were counting bodies of dead children yesterday while people argued on the internet about the second amendment. Do not defend this.

5. The unhesitating politicization of events like yesterday's does something else: it makes evil explainable. It says, "We know what the problem is here, and we know how to fix it. In fact, we've known all along -- this is just one more instance of a larger issue. Now, finally, let's get to it!" But we do not know what happened yesterday. An adult man apparently intentionally shot and killed over two dozen other human beings, mostly children. This is not intelligible. This is not comprehensible. It is absurd. It is evil. It is not a genus of a species (whether this be "evil things" or "mass murder shootings"); it is not an instance of a larger nameable phenomenon. It is entirely dumbfounding. It is speechlessly, unspeakably, astonishingly wrong. Language cannot encompass it. And when we rush to our laptops and smart phones to pronounce and link and debate -- again, while authorities are still transporting dead bodies out of an elementary school -- we make this evil speakable. It is not.

6. Christian friends and colleagues in particular are accountable here for certain rash and unwise aspects of their responses. One is this. It seems to me that there are two and only two things we can do in immediate response to events like yesterday's when we are not part of the local community experiencing it: pray or remain silent. How could we ever presume to have words appropriate to the situation -- words, that is, explaining or arguing or discussing or pronouncing or holding court or commentating or whatever? To speak in such a way is a temptation; silence is the better path. Let such an event reduce us to silence, not elicit hasty speech. Almost certainly the words that will come out will be bullshit.

7. Our only alternative, if we are to speak, is to pray. This need not be the glib half-baked theological commentary of all-knowing biblicists. It is simply our only recourse in a world where children are murdered and yet God is and the world is God's. Let us first pray for this world, in particular for the mothers and fathers, sister and brothers, neighbors and friends of the victims. (There are children who huddled in bathroom stalls yesterday praying that they would not be shot. There are children who saw their friends shot and killed. How, in God's name, does anyone have the gall to pick an ideological fight while these children are still on lockdown?)

8. If we cannot move our lips for intercession beyond the mere petition, "Lord, have mercy" (though this is indeed enough), or if we are angry and shattered and want to call for action and make this about something else, then let us turn to lament. Let us rain down our broken and uncomprehending words upon God; let us hold God to account; let us demand that God answer for how and why this could happen; let us bewail this absence of divine justice; let us follow the psalmist and wake God up to this nightmare. This is our recourse for our sorrow, for our damaged words. Not pontifications for others to read. Lament to God.

9. Bizarrely, I saw Christians consistently opposing action (or "politics") to prayer in their responses to yesterday's events. What does this mean? Prayer and action are not contraries, nor are prayer and politics. They are not competitive with each other. Time and again people were prioritizing action/politics over prayer. I truly can make no sense of this. Christians' politics is not other than their prayer; at its best, Christians' political engagement in service to their neighbors is one mode of their prayer. Moreover, it is a strange thing to give priority to "action" over against "prayer." This seems perilously close to giving priority to our acts over against God's acts, with the result of making yesterday's tragedy a problem to be solved rather than a loss to be suffered, lamented, grieved over.

10. In my judgment, what we saw yesterday on the part of Christians was a spiritual and therefore a political failure of patience. Prayer is the shape of Christians' patience when we do not know what to do, what we can or should do, what there is to do, or when there simply is nothing to do; instead of posturing, we throw ourselves on the mercy and judgment and grace of the One who is able to act with justice and wisdom, and will do so. Instead of patience, what we saw yesterday was the reflex of Christians (and Americans generally) who were reminded that they are not in control, and wanted to reassert that control. Friends, we are not in control. There are things we can do going forward, and we ought to do them. But this is not fixable. We are not in control.

11. Coinciding with the contrast of action to prayer is the prioritization of politics, specifically of national congressional politics. I am mystified by this. Not because it is bad -- there are surely enormous gains to be made in U.S. gun laws, and it would be an extraordinary achievement to lower American mortality rates due to gun use to a comparable level with other industrialized societies. But again, there is this strange, intractable faith in the U.S. political process. I do not see how this faith is different in substance from more conservative Christians' faith in the U.S. There is a by-God genuine conviction that, if only gun-lovers would agree to more reasonable laws, tragedies like yesterday's would simply cease to happen. Evils and horrors are thus politically resolvable. We just have to have the will -- and what better motivation than the slaughter of children to gin up some political will?

12. Those who have politicized yesterday's events do not -- I assume and trust -- come from such a crass and unloving place. But their speech is no less problematic for that, and for the reasons outlined, it would have been better to remain silent. There will be time for such things as they are (rightly) concerned about. There will be time for action. But we must learn the patience to grieve, to be still, to leave unexplained that which cannot be explained. For to explain evil is to normalize it; but yesterday was not normal, nor was it about something other than itself. Our responses should reflect that.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Charles Wesley (Advent #1)

My absence from the blog has been a sum of factors: wipeout from AAR (thanks to all who came!), hosting Thanksgiving, getting back in the swing of things, and -- ah yes -- a baby in the mix. But I love Advent season, and can at the very least share favorite hymns sung at church each Sunday. So here's the first. Blessings friends.

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Lo! He comes with clouds descending

By Charles Wesley (adapted from John Cennick)

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshipers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

AAR/SBL: See You in Chicago

For some people in the field, the annual meeting of AAR/SBL is a stressor: presentations, meetings, interviews, schmoozing, being "on" without a break. The way I see it, it's a professional excuse to spend one weekend a year in the same place as friends who live in dozens of cities around the country, with the added bonus that, concurrently, there happen to be a few interesting papers being read about God. Also, the book room.

I haven't had time to look through the conference program, though others have already combed through and found some good sessions. As it happens, this is my first year to present; so for those interested, I'll be reading a paper on Monday, 1:00-3:30 (better known as "AAR prime time"), as part of the Christian Systematic Theology section on "Community and Hierarchy," with Gerard Loughlin presiding. The paper is titled "An Undefensive Presence: The Mission and Identity of the Church in Kathryn Tanner and John Howard Yoder." Naturally, it continues my habit of putting Yoder into conversation with every theologian ever.

I'm excited about this year's meeting, if only because I've never been to Chicago before. Feel free to mention in the comments your own presentation or other interesting ones. See you soon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Robert Jenson on "original" versus "christological-ecclesial" readings of the Old Testament

"There is a growing consensus among biblical scholars who have some concern for the churchly relevance of their studies: indeed the church and her exegetes must somehow read the Old Testament as prophecy of the events the New Testament narrates and comments, as anticipation of the gospel. For an obvious fact becomes ever more irksome: if the Old Testament is first and foremost a record of ancient Israel's faith, it unsurprisingly turns out to be indeed just that, the artifact of a religious community that is other than the church, and moreover is not now extant. We will read the Old Testament from the New or we will not be able to read these texts as Scripture at all. This new agreement goes, however, little further. Somehow -- it is now often agreed -- we have to read the Old Testament christologically and pneumatologically. But even this repentant scholarship has left that 'somehow' undetermined.

"Scholarship's modern inability to resolve that 'somehow' results, I propose, from a certain distinction that we all tend to make, that indeed is so ingrained in our habits as to seem inevitable. When it is proposed that Old Testament texts have a christological or ecclesial sense, many biblical scholars will now agree, but this sense will then be anxiously and promptly contrasted with another sense which the texts are supposed to have 'in themselves' or 'originally' or 'for their own time.' The official exegetes will now not often simply brush off proposal of christological and ecclesial readings of the Old Testament. But they will still quickly say, 'On the other hand, we must not override their original sense' or something to that effect, and those of us who are not certified exegetes will more or less automatically concede the point. The trouble is: when reading Old Testament texts christologically or ecclesially is contrasted with another reading which is said to take them 'in themselves,' or in their 'original' sense, the churchly reading inevitably appears as an imposition on the texts, even if an allowable one. Christological or ecclesial readings will be tolerated for homiletical purposes, or for such faintly suspect enterprises as systematic theology, but are not quite the real thing.

"We need to question this all too automatic distinction. The place to start is by observing some obvious but generally overlooked hermeneutical facts: an author's intention or a community of first readers' reading is plainly not identical with the texts 'themselves' or with an 'original' import. Any author constantly interprets her own writing -- before, during, and after formulating text. We later readers are not the only ones with a particular hermeneutic and with resultant interpretations of the texts an author produces; the author has his own, and these are no more identical with the texts themselves than are ours. Moreover, first readers are just that and no more: they are not pure receivers of meaning but first readers, which is to say, the first readers to have a chance to impose their hermeneutical prejudices. Therefore, what is really on the table is not the church's christological-ecclesial reading and a reading of the texts in some original entity but the church's christological-ecclesial reading and the author's and first readers' equally problematic readings.

"So soon as we see that these are the readings to be considered, we are liberated to ask: Which of them grasps the texts 'in themselves' or as they are 'originally'? And the answer to that question is not necessarily that the author's or first readers' reading is original, not if there is someone in the pictures besides the author, the first readers and us. Not when the text is supposed to be Scripture, so that God the Spirit is in the picture. It was -- I now have come to see -- a function of the old doctrine of inspiration to trump the created author with prior agents, the Spirit and the Word, and to trump the alleged first readers with prior readers, with indeed the whole diachronic people of God, preserved as one people through time by that same Spirit. And then we may very well take the christological-ecclesial sense of an Old Testament text as precisely the 'original' sense, the sense which it has 'in itself,' if in the particular case we have grounds to suppose that the christological-ecclesiological sense responds to the intention and reception of this primary agent and these primary readers."

--Robert W. Jenson, On the Inspiration of Scripture (Delhi, NY: ALPB Books, 2012), 30-32

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Lure of Political Eschatology: On Remembering to Remember that the World is in God's Hands, Not the President's

Four years ago, I wrote a post bearing the same title as this one, which I offered as a gentle reminder for Christians who were overly anxious about the supposed disastrous state of affairs that would occur if one or the other presidential candidate were elected. Reading back through it, I realized that I need only replace "McCain" with "Romney," and the relevance of the piece would be entirely undiminished. It is both sad and unsurprising that this is so: Americans (and American Christians) spy a precipice lying behind every election, just waiting to swallow up the universe. Christians should know better. Read below for why.

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Following the presidential race this year (or any year), I've noticed an inevitable trend that peaks its head with marked regularity, but is especially noticeable this year. It is an offshoot of what I will call political eschatology: the ongoing, pervasive belief that the fate of the world (at the very least, the nation) hangs on the outcome of the presidential election.

And in reading political commentary on both sides, surveying bumper stickers, and listening to everyday people talk about the candidates, you might just buy into the fact that the world will fall apart if America does not make the right choice.

Into this situation and these assumptions, then, the church bears good, if difficult, news: the world does not depend on America for sustenance, provision, life, virtue, or need; for those things the world depends on God.

I realize for many Christians that statement may not seem like anything new; however, the way people -- often Christians -- speak about this election belies trust in anything other than the American political process to hold together the fragile state of the global situation. That is not to say that the election of Obama or McCain Romney would not entail profound differences, or that these differences are not serious enough to cause one to vote with hope one way or the other. Rather, in remembering both God's promise to not forsake his creation and his calling of a people to offer the world an alternative to its rebellion, Christians cannot give into the alluring temptation that any nation is the key to holding the world in balance. The church has a better name than keeping-chaos-at-bay for what God has given us in Jesus: shalom (Hebrew for "peace" or "wholeness"). And the shalom of the people of God cannot be left behind simply because we have forgotten to remember that in Jesus God has given us a gift greater than military strength, or democracy, or political freedom.

So let conservative Christians affirm: if Obama is elected, the world will not end. The economy will not self-destruct, terrorists will not overtake the government, the judiciary will not dissolve the rule of law.

And let liberal Christians affirm: if McCain Romney is elected, the world will not end. The poor will not be forgotten, nukes will not be launched at a moment's whim, a new global ice age will not be inaugurated.

For the truth is indeed good news (and let all Christians affirm!): in the cross of Jesus of Nazareth, the world did end. But in Christ's resurrection the world has been made anew, the shalom of God's Spirit has been breathed onto God's people, and the "end" which will come with Jesus's return will not be destruction and finality, but restoration and renewal, forgiveness and reconciliation, redemption and new creation.

This is good news, because we, the church, do not have to worry about what will happen come the first Tuesday of November, for we know that "the God who moves the sun and the stars is the same God who was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth," the crucified and resurrected one. That is, we know that neither Obama nor McCain Romney will put the world to rights, and neither can offer to the world the shalom of God.

And that is okay. But we will not do either candidate any good with messianic hope or eschatological doom. Instead, we must be patient -- that most important virtue of God's people -- and rest easy knowing that God is in control, and the President of the United States of America is not.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Predictions for the 2012-2013 NBA Season

Tomorrow is the first day of the NBA season, and as I do each year (see: 2009-2010; 2010-2011; 2011-2012), I offer my predictions below for the season: each team's win-loss record, which teams make the playoffs, and who wins it all. My picks this year are as boring as the season is likely to be exciting: namely, not a lot of surprises in terms of top and bottom, but a quality of play as high as anything we've seen in the league's history. I do think the Lakers' depth and chemistry are a problem, even if they are Finals-bound, and the Thunder doubtless made a mistake in trading away Harden for some unknown future (and to satisfy their own cheapness). As for the East, it's the Heat's conference (and year) to lose. Most important, the Spurs are never out of the hunt.

Now let's play some basketball.

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Western Conference
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)
2. Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)
3. Denver Nuggets (56-26)
4. San Antonio Spurs (54-28)
5. Los Angeles Clippers  (51-31)
6. Utah Jazz (50-32)
7. Memphis Grizzlies (48-34)
8. Dallas Mavericks (45-37)

9. Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40)
10. New Orleans Hornets (38-44)
11. Portland Trailblazers (35-47)
12. Houston Rockets (33-49)
13. Golden State Warriors (29-53)
14. Sacramento Kings (23-59)
15. Phoenix Suns (18-64)

Eastern Conference
1. Miami Heat (66-16)
2. Boston Celtics (56-26)
3. Chicago Bulls (52-30)
4. New York Knicks (51-31)
5. Indiana Pacers (50-32)
6. Atlanta Hawks (49-33)
7. Brooklyn Nets (47-35)
8. Philadelphia 76ers (45-37)

9. Detroit Pistons (42-40)
10. Cleveland Cavaliers (37-45)
11. Washington Wizards (30-52)
12. Milwaukee Bucks (22-60)
13. Toronto Raptors (19-63)
14. Orlando Magic (15-67)
15. Charlotte Bobcats (10-72)

Western Conference First Round
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) over Dallas Mavericks (8) in 5 games
Los Angeles Lakers (2) over Memphis Grizzlies (7) in 6 games
Denver Nuggets (3) over Utah Jazz (6) in 6 games
San Antonio Spurs (4) over Los Angeles Clippers (5) in 5 games

Eastern Conference First Round
Miami Heat (1) over Philadelphia 76ers (8) in 4 games
Boston Celtics (2) over Brooklyn Nets (7) in 6 games 
Atlanta Hawks (6) over Chicago Bulls (3) in 7 games
Indiana Pacers (5) over New York Knicks (4) in 6 games

Western Conference Semifinals 
San Antonio Spurs (4) over Oklahoma City Thunder (1) in 7 games
Los Angeles Lakers (2) over Denver Nuggets (3) in 6 games

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Miami Heat (1) over Indiana Pacers (5) in 5 games
Boston Celtics (2) over Atlanta Hawks (6) in 6 games

Western Conference FinalsLos Angeles Lakers (2) over San Antonio Spurs (4) in 6 games

Eastern Conference Finals
Miami Heat (1) over Boston Celtics (2) in 7 games

NBA Finals
Miami Heat (1) over Los Angeles Lakers (2) in 7 games

Friday, October 19, 2012

Athanasius on Christians' Turning Away From War as Proof of Christ's Divinity

"Who, then, is it that has done this, or who is he that has united in peace those who hated each other, if not the beloved Son of the Father, the common Savior of all, Jesus Christ, who in his love submitted to all things for our salvation? For even from of old it had been prophesied concerning the peace ushered in by him, the scriptures saying, 'They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn any more to wage war' (Isaiah 2:4). And such a thing is not unbelievable, inasmuch as even now the barbarians who have an innate savagery of manners, while they still sacrifice to their idols, rage against one another and cannot bear to remain without a sword for a single hour, but when they hear the teaching of Christ they immediately turn to farming instead of war, and instead of arming their hands with swords stretch them out in prayer, and, in a word, instead of fighting amongst themselves, henceforth they arm themselves against the devil and the demons, subduing them with sobriety and virtue of soul. This is, on the one hand, the proof of the Savior's divinity, that what human beings were unable to learn among idols, they have learned form him, and, on the other hand, no small refutation of the weakness and nothingness of the demons and idols. The demons, knowing their weakness, because of this formerly set human beings at war with each other, lest if they ceased from mutual strife, they should turn to battle against the demons. Indeed, those who become disciples of Christ, instead of fighting against each other, stand arrayed against the demons by their lives and deeds of virtue, putting them to flight and mocking their prince, the devil, so that, in their youth they are temperate, in temptations they endure, in toils they persevere, when insulted  they forbear, and deprivations they disregard, and, what is most wonderful is that they scorn even death and become martyrs for Christ."

-Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation, trans. John Behr (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2011), 163, 165

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Hooking In, Sitting Loose: A Call for Theology in the Churches of Christ" Published in Restoration Quarterly

The latest issue of Restoration Quarterly has just come out, and it includes an article of mine. The piece is a slightly revised version of the paper I read at the Christian Scholars' Conference in June, as it was entered into and ended up winning a competition for graduate students' essays, the prize for which was publication in RQ. Many thanks to the editors for their recognition of the paper and for their inclusion of it in this issue.

The official title and citation are: "Hooking In, Sitting Loose: A Call for Theology in the Churches of Christ," in Restoration Quarterly 54 (2012): 219-228.

It was a joy to write the article, and a wonderful experience to read it at CSC and to hear from peers and colleagues their thoughts in reaction to it. The argument is straightforward: Churches of Christ have a rich theological tradition on which to draw for the sake of edifying the church catholic, and we -- congregations in general and theologians in particular -- ought to take up that task intentionally and thoughtfully. The way in which this might be done is modeled paradigmatically for us by John Howard Yoder and James McClendon, who did this very thing for their own similarly situated believers church traditions, and we would do well to emulate their example. As a sort of test case, I conclude by presenting believers baptism as, on the one hand, a practice we, as a tradition, have to offer to the ecumene for reflection and implementation, and on the other hand, a locus of sacramental theology whose logic we have not followed all the way through to the end as we have with the Lord's Supper.

I hope others both within and without the tradition find in the article something substantive and worthy of engagement. I look forward to hearing from folks how they find it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Robert Jenson Has (Another) New Book Out

One and a half, really. Last year I asked who forgot to tell me about Jenson's latest book, Lutheran Slogans: Use and Abuse. Fortunately, the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau emailed me this time: Jenson has written a short work (a third part to his ALPB mini-trilogy, begun with A Large Catechism?) titled On the Inspiration of Scripture. It's ordered and on the way, so I don't have any comments at the moment; but it looks to continue Jenson's late-in-the-game focus on Scripture as a special locus of theological interest.

And speaking of Jenson -- that is, the "half" mentioned above -- Jenson has co-edited (with Eugene Korn) a book just released, called Covenant and Hope: Christian and Jewish Reflections. I do have this one in hand, and what I have read so far is superb. Jenson's essay, "What Kind of God Can Make a Covenant?" is particularly enjoyable. Other contributors include David Novak, Michael Wyschogrod, R.R. Reno, Miroslav Volf, and Douglas Knight, among others. Highly recommended.

Here's to Jenson's continued vitality and productivity in his increasingly golden years.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rest in Peace: Abraham Malherbe (1930-2012)

Abraham Malherbe, the Buckingham Professor Emeritus of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School, passed away last Friday, apparently from a sudden heart attack. Malherbe was 82 years old and is survived by his wife, Phyllis.

Malherbe was a trailblazer for scholarship within the churches of Christ, and I had the opportunity to meet him and Phyllis both here in New Haven and elsewhere; they were consistently kind, welcoming, and warm. I am happy to have met and been in the presence of Malherbe, who indirectly made it possible for someone like me both to seek and to achieve a degree and a career in the theological academy. I'm also happy to have heard him speak: the self-described "professional festschrift writer" was quite the orator, and exactly as gregarious and wry as his reputation suggested. He was one of a kind, and it is a gift to us all that his gifts were recognized and afforded time and space to enrich others, in the academy as well as in the church.

Read further reflections and remembrances from Yale, ACU, and a former student. Blessings on his family in this sad time.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Charles Wesley

I could have sworn I had shared a poem from the younger Wesley before, but apparently I haven't. This one is a personal favorite, and a classic for good reason. We sang it this morning as our opening hymn.

Later in the service, I had the experience of walking up to the rail holding my sleeping son, still just days old. I knelt with him in my arms, received the body and blood of Christ, and watched as a priest of God blessed him in the name of the Trinity. It was a moment I'll never forget: so solemn I nearly wept, so giddy with beauty and happiness that I almost burst. God is great.

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Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

By Charles Wesley

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Wendell Berry (For Sam)

On the first Sunday after the birth of my firstborn child and only son, a beautiful and sweet poem from Wendell Berry written for his daughter Mary.

To God, the author of all life and giver of every good gift, the gracious and glorious maker of souls: Let all the peoples praise him -- let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

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A Child Unborn

By Wendell Berry

A child unborn, the coming year
Grows big within us, dangerous,
And yet we hunger as we fear
For its increase: the blunted bud

To free the leaf to have its day,
The unborn to be born. The ones
Who are to come are on their way,
And though we stand in mortal good

Among our dead, we turn in doom
In joy to welcome them, stirred by
That Ghost who stirs in seed and tomb,
Who brings the stones to parenthood.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Note on the Claim That Error Has No Rights

Error may have no rights, but persons in error do. More to the point, if indeed truth has rights, it need not bear arms in their defense.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Best 18-Month Window of Television History

Consider the following television timeline. Between January of 2007 and June of 2008, these series played on television:
  • 24 (season 6).
  • 30 Rock (the second half of season 1 and all of season 2).
  • Battlestar Galactica (the second half of season 3). 
  • Big Love (season 2).
  • Breaking Bad (season 1). 
  • Chuck (season 1).
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm (season 6).
  • Damages (season 1).
  • Dexter (season 2). 
  • Entourage (season 4).
  • Friday Night Lights (the second half of season 1 and all of season 2).
  • Gilmore Girls (the second half of season 7, its final season).
  • Heroes (the second half of season 1 and all of season 2). 
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (season 3).
  • Lost (the second half of season 3 and all of season 4). 
  • Mad Men (season 1).
  • The Office (the second half of season 3 and all of season 4).
  • Scrubs (the second half of season 6 and all of season 7).
  • The Shield (season 6).
  • The Sopranos (the second half of season 6, its final season).
  • Veronica Mars (the second half of season 3, its final season).
  • Weeds (season 3).
  • The Wire (season 4).
I'm not the first person to suggest this, but I think we can officially call this The Golden Age of Television. The question is whether this 18-month window was its peak. My vote is yes.

- - - - - - -

A subsequent question is whether the Golden Age is over. I don't think it is, but maybe we could map it like this:
  • 1999 - G.A. inaugurated (The Sopranos, The West Wing, Freaks and Geeks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sex and the City, X-Files, Friends, etc.)
  • 2001-2006 - G.A. ramping up (The Shield, 24, Arrested Development, Office, Lost, Battlestar, Friday Night Lights, Deadwood, above shows continuing)
  • 2007-2008 - G.A. apex (shows listed/overlapping in timeline)
  • 2008-2012 - G.A. epoch (Parks and Recreation, Community, Justified, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Modern Family, Happy Endings, Homeland, New Girl, Treme, Boss, Boardwalk Empire, etc.)
  • 20?? - G.A. declines (at some point it must, right?)
- - - - - - -

A final point worth noting is that the latter third of this timeline (i.e., the spring of 2008) coincides with the writer's strike. Looking at the list, however, what's interesting, and possibly surprising, is how few of the top tier shows were affected.

First of all, the non-network shows were fine (AMC, HBO, FX, Showtime, SyFy), either running prior to the strike or airing an already-finished season during the strike. (Breaking Bad, whose first season did end up getting cut short, has obviously turned out just fine.)

As well, Lost was mostly unaffected because they wrote and filmed much of the fourth season in advance to show in the spring of 2008, as part of their 3-season, 16-episodes-each deal. From memory, it was primarily The Office, 30 Rock, and Friday Night Lights that suffered -- each effectively ending its season prematurely, in the middle of storylines. For the first two, though, the previous spring and fall (of 2007) were creative peaks -- the former declining thereon, the latter largely sustaining its quality. Friday Night Lights, on the other hand, did unfortunately have its series low point in season 2, even as it retained its quality outside of the goofy and foolish murder storyline.

Some pop culture food for thought.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Links on Faith and Violence: A Faith Not Worth Fighting For and Practical Matters' Latest Issue

Check out this recent piece by John Dear, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter on the new collection of essays, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence, edited by Tripp York and (my recent acquaintance) Justin Bronson Barringer. It's a nice overview and presentation of the book, which I've looked through but haven't been able to pick up quite yet. (See also Jimmy McCarty's review of the book.)

Speaking of Jimmy, be sure also to check out the most recent issue of Practical Matters, edited by Jimmy McCarty and Joe Wiinikka-Lydon, which is devoted to "Violence and Peace." It looks like a fascinating group of essays, articles, interviews, reflections, and reviews, all at the intersection of peace, violence, and a variety of issues related to religious communities and their convictions and practices.

It's going to be light posting around here for the next few weeks, as we anticipate a new addition to our family, but at the very least I can pass along what I'm reading -- or, what is much more likely, what I wish I were reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Fall 2012 Course Load

At the beginning of each semester I like to share the classes I will be taking, partly just because, but partly also as a very likely preview of themes and authors and questions I will be engaging and thinking with and quoting around these parts in the coming months.

As well: blessings to all fellow students beginning the new school year -- even as I realize that this is officially my second-to-last semester of course work for the rest of my life. Hard to believe I'm nearly there.

- - - - - - -

The Philosophical Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Junius Johnson)

This course is an introduction to the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar through selected readings from his theological triptych, The Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic.
  • Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. 1: Seeing the Form
  • Von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, vol. 5: The Last Act
  • Von Balthasar, Theo-Logic, vol. 2: The Truth of God
  • Von Balthasar, Epilogue
Theology Doctoral Seminar (Christopher Beeley)

This course is required of all doctoral students in Theology. The subject of the course is Beeley's latest book, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition. Each week we will study a chapter of the book, focusing on a single figure, or group of figures, together with supplementary primary and secondary readings. Patristic sources are assigned as background references for the main discussion; the assumption is that most of the texts are familiar to students already, so that most of the ancient reading will be review. Also assigned are other recent treatments of the same material, so that students have points of contrast for evaluating the argument of the book.
  • Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition
  • Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy
  • Lewis Ayres, Augustine and the Trinity
  • Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition
  • Figures whose texts will feature: Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Arius, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Leontius of Byzantium, Maximus Confessor, John of Damascus
Readings in Kant and Kierkegaard (John Hare)

This is a directed study consisting of four students with Hare; three of us are PhD students in Theology or Ethics who are joining a Master's student at Yale Divinity School who set up this reading course as part of her thesis project. She is (and so we, with her, are) looking to explore the relationship between Kant and Kierkegaard regarding their understanding of the relationship between the ethical and the religious.
  • Kant, Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals
  • Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason
  • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
  • Kierkegaard, Works of Love
  • Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is To Will One Thing
  • Kierkegaard, Either/Or (selections)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Interview with Peter Leithart on His New Book

Trevin Wax has an interview up with Peter Leithart regarding Leithart's new book, Between Babel and Beast, which appears to be something of a political theology for the church in contemporary American society. Leithart is always interesting, even when he's wrong; and when he's right, he's rhetorically and theologically compelling in rich ways. Here's an excerpt, but be sure to go check out the whole thing for a provocative read:

Trevin Wax: You affirm a type of American exceptionalism, but it differs from the street-level view among many conservatives. Can you explain the difference and why this distinction is important?
Peter Leithart: America is exceptional in all sorts of ways:
  • It had a unique founding;
  • it is one of the most deeply Christian nations that has ever existed;
  • it is of course fabulously wealthy and powerful;
  • its political and economic system have enabled human creativity and ingenuity to be unleashed as never before in human history.
  • I am grateful for America’s tradition of hospitality to aliens from all over the world, and our real assistance to the poor and oppressed.
What I criticize in the book is “Americanism,” which is, as David Gelernter has said, one of the world’s great biblical religions.  Americanism rarely exists in a pure form; most American Christians are Christians and Americanists at the same time.
Americanism has a way of reading the Bible (with America sometimes playing a prominent role in the biblical story as the “new Israel”), an eschatology (America is the “new order of the ages” and the “last best hope of mankind”), a doctrine of political salvation (everyone becomes like us, and all will be well), and, since the civil war, a view of sacrifice (American soldiers give their lives, and take the lives of enemies, to make the world peaceful and free).
For many American Christians, American exceptionalism involves some degree of adherence to Americanism.  Americanism is a heresy; in certain respects it is simply idolatrous.  Jesus, not James Madison, brought in the “new order of the ages.”
The practical effect of Americanism is that it blinds Christians to the real evils that America has perpetrated and also obscures the central importance of the church as God’s empire on earth.  Americanism encourages Christians to support the American cause no matter what, because the future of the world depends on America.  Even when we’re bombing civilians or sending billions of dollars in military aid to Muslim dictators, Christians still wave the flag and sing America’s praises.  And for some Christians, criticism of America is almost tantamount to apostasy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Link and a Comprehensive Exam

Well, my first comprehensive exam is completed.

Yesterday I spent eight hours frantically typing out answers to three questions: (1) What is the proper Christian approach to reading Scripture? (2) What constitutes the identity of the church across time? (3) How is the imago dei defined and does it need to be problematized? I framed each set of answers as a kind of "state of the question" after Barth, told as a theological story both chronological and thematic, interested especially in how theologians' ecclesial commitments have affected and inflected their approaches to the questions.

And now it's done.

After celebrating with the cohort last night, I have this morning to rest, before heading off to my first class of the fall semester this afternoon. So much for a break.

But, I thought I would at least share what I'm reading this morning. Go check out Richard Beck's important post (at least for those of us within churches of Christ) articulating his (not new, but now public) stance of "passive resistance" to patriarchal gender roles within the church. It's well worth the read.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Joshua Tillman

The lyrics below are taken from J. Tillman's latest album, Fear Fun, released under the moniker Father John Misty. Enjoy.

- - - - - - -

Now I'm Learning to Love the War

By Joshua Tillman (as Father John Misty)

Try not to think so much about
The truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record
All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining
The high gloss
The tape and the gear

Try not to become too consumed
With what's a criminal volume of oil that it takes to paint a portrait
The acrylic, the varnish
Aluminum tubes filled with latex
The solvents and dye

Lets just call this what it is
The jealous side of mankind's death wish
When it's my time to go
Gonna leave behind things that won't decompose

Try not to dwell so much upon
How it won't be so very long from now that they laugh at us for selling
A bunch of 15 year olds made from dinosaur bones singing "oh yeah"
Again and again
Right up to the end

Lets just call this what it is
The jealous side of mankind's death wish
When it's my time to go
Gonna leave behind things that won't decompose

I'll just call this what it is
My vanity gone wild with my crisis
One day this all will, it will all repeat
Now sure hope they make something useful out of me

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Nobody's Stronger Than Forgiveness": Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Violence in ParaNorman

Did This Ever Happen to You

A marble-colored cloud
engulfed the sun and stalled,

a skinny squirrel limped toward me
as I crossed the empty park

and froze, the last
or next to last

fall leaf fell but before it touched
the earth, with shocking clarity

I heard my mother’s voice
pronounce my name. And in an instant I passed

beyond sorrow and terror, and was carried up
into the imageless

bright darkness
I came from

and am. Nobody’s
stronger than forgiveness.

—Franz Wright, God's Silence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), p. 22

- - - - - - -

Let me begin with a thesis: The recent stop-motion film ParaNorman is a sophisticated parable about communities' exclusion of those labeled different than the norm, the underlying fears that motivate such exclusionary acts, and the common resources capable of halting and redeeming the resultant cycles of fear and violence. These resources turn out to be the skills of telling and listening to truthful stories about ourselves and others, the power and necessity of forgiveness (even on the part of those once abused or oppressed, now abusing and oppressing others), and the courage to take up these daunting tasks peaceably -- that is, to take a stand in the face of violence, having renounced violence oneself.

(Spoilers to follow.)

Written by Chris Butler and co-directed by Butler with Sam Fell, ParaNorman seems at the outset to be a rather straightforward "kids' movie" within a certain recognizable genre. It quickly becomes evident, however, that the story being told is not as ordinary as one might expect.

Norman Babcock is an outcast at home and at school, and for a simple reason: he sees the ghosts of dead people, regularly talks to them, and doesn't hide the fact. His dad thinks he's a weirdo, his mom isn't sure how to relate to him, and his sister can't stand him. At school people part the way for him and whisper as he trudges along; he keeps a wet rag in his locker to wipe off the word "FREAK" scrawled anew each day on his locker door. A bully, Alvin -- a cinematic Moe from Calvin and Hobbes if there ever was one -- makes his life miserable. The one gleam of light in this daily darkness is the friendly overtures of Neil, a similarly bullied "fat kid" who doesn't let it get him down. When Norman says he prefers to be alone, Neil agrees: He just wants to be "alone together."

Norman lives in Blithe Hollow, a town founded by Puritans and known for its trial and execution of a purported witch nearly 300 years ago -- in fact, tonight is the eve of that anniversary. The legend is that at her sentencing, the witch (imagined as an ugly old green-nosed hag) cursed her accusers, and that all seven of them (the judge and the jury) went to their graves bearing this curse.

A kooky uncle who can also see and speak to ghosts finds Norman and (just before dying himself) tells Norman it's up to him to keep the curse at bay, that very evening before midnight. Unfortunately, before he can figure out quite how to follow his uncle's instructions, the seven Puritan accusers rise from the dead as zombies and start pursuing Norman (albeit very slowly) and whoever is with him. As Norman tries to escape and figure out how to kill or at least send them back to the grave, he picks up a ragtag crew: Alvin, Neil, his looks-obsessed sister Courtney, and Neil's beefy but dim-witted brother Mitch. Unsurprisingly, once the town discovers the dead walk the streets, they form a mob (armed with pitchforks, shotguns, and bowling balls) and chase both Norman's crew and the zombies to city hall, where in a frenzy they seek to kill not only the zombies but Norman himself, too, for bringing this terror upon them.

An unexpected series of events, however, reveals the true nature of what is going on. The undead Puritans don't want to kill Norman or anyone else: they want their curse undone. They want peace in death, not more death for others. Norman sees the reality of what happened three centuries before: the person sentenced by the court to death for witchcraft wasn't a green-nosed hag, but a child like him -- a little girl who happened to be playing with fire (both literally and figuratively), and found out by the wrong people. Caught and punished unjustly by these townspeople so blindly fearful of her, she in her anger and fear of them in turn cursed them to their graves, so that they would never know the peace she herself was robbed of.

Now Norman sees, as do his sister and and oddball friends: The curse isn't limited to the Puritans, nor are its consequences merely to be trapped in a living death. No, the curse is on the entire town, for the very cycle of fear of the unknown and the turn to violence has engulfed the mob standing outside city hall, trying to burn the place down. And it won't end with the death of either the zombies or Norman himself. Something else, something new, has to happen.

So Norman leads his crew and the zombies outside to meet the mob where they stand. After stilling their frenzy, he tells them the story he just learned. Following Norman's lead, his unlikely fellows -- a resentful sister, an overweight outcast, a former bully, and a (later revealed as gay!) beefcake -- bear witness to the crowd that what Norman has told them is true, and further appeal to them to let go of their fear. For in fact, they have nothing to fear; the zombies don't want to hurt them, they only want to find the means to pass on peacefully.

As the truth dawns on the mob, the camera pans across their feet, as each and all drop their weapons: a club, a pitchfork, a shotgun, a bowling ball. "At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first . . ." The town lays down their instruments of violence, with eyes opened by the truth, freed from their bondage to fear of the other as threat.

But this isn't the end. The ghost of the witch, now enraged, begins to wreak havoc on the town. So Norman's parents take him, his sister, and the zombie Puritan judge to the witch's unmarked grave. There Norman engages in a climactic encounter with the witch's ghost, not with force or deception, but just as before with the crowd: with a true story. In fact, the way in which previous "ghost-seers" like him had kept the witch at bay was by reading a fairy tale to her, that is, they read her a nice bedtime story to palliate her righteous anger and get her to "sleep" for a little while longer.

But Norman knows better. That only puts a bandage on the wound, it won't heal the town's history or the witch's hurt. So he tells her a different story: her own. Though she tries to stop him in every way she can (with fantastic and terrifying powers), he re-narrates her life, without blushing or overlooking the hurt and the wrong and the injustice of it. But finally -- with what feels like his last ounce of energy -- finally he helps her to see. And she sees not only her tragic situation, but also the tragic nature of her accusers: they weren't pure evil or all powerful; they were afraid of her, hard as it is to believe. And though what they did was unspeakably wrong, to inflect on them and thus on the town what they inflicted on her is only to become a monster like them, when she could choose otherwise and free the town of its curse.

Reverting for a moment to her living form, Aggie -- for that was her name -- tells Norman of her sadness, how she misses her mom, how she was only playing with fire. Norman comforts her, but urges her to let go and be at peace, and to do so she has to forgive. Aggie asks Norman: What is the ending to the story he's telling? Norman replies that that's up to her.

After considering, the witch opts for peace; Aggie forgives those who knew not what they did, and so gives up her spirit, passing on peacefully to be with her beloved mother. The zombies, too, pass on, but not before changing from undead to dead, that is, from zombies to ghosts: they go on as themselves, the curse undone, rather than into one more mode of accursed existence.

Norman walks through the rubble of the town, listening to his neighbors' conversations. A former outcast, he surveys those once divided from him and from one another now chatting and listening and laughing with one another. Returning home, he plops in front of the TV for his usual routine of horror flicks. Typically alone with his movies and the ghost of his grandmother, his family joins him, Norman's dad even going out of his way to acknowledge the previously doubted presence of his deceased mother.

Whether in his town, with his new friends, or here at home with his family, Norman isn't alone anymore. The dividing walls have come down; the cycles of fear and violence have been broken; the weirdos and the bullies have embraced; the town knows its history, broken and redeemed. No, neither Norman nor his town nor his family is alone; no longer are they isolated from one another.

In Neil's words, they're alone together.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Summary Definition of Hauerwas's Ecclesiology

In the course of studying for my first comprehensive exam, I'm finding that what feels like endless studying and summarizing of others' thinking can actually serve as a catalyst to think through my own interpretation of important theologians' work. (I know, it almost sounds like comps serve a purpose -- but never mind.) Here's what I came up with in piecing together the complex heart of Stanley Hauerwas's ecclesiology:

The church is that community of storied witness to Christ whose christological politics, as performed in the liturgy—the practices of which constitute the church as a traditioned community across time—is a new possibility in the world, and thus an alternative to the world’s God-ignorant violence and untruth; just so, the church is neither peripheral nor accidental to the Spirit’s mission, but is itself part of the content of the gospel’s message.

I could offer short explanations and definitions for each phrase and choice of words, but I'll leave it alone for now. What say you, dear readers?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Signs You're at Yale, Vol. 173

When, in a nondescript basement of a local Episcopal church, in a gathering of a couple dozen folks for Sunday school (running, as one might expect, on Dunkin' Donuts), during a discussion of the New Atheists and the possible motivating force for their anger, passion, and zeal, one ordinary-looking middle-aged man raises his hand and, in the most casual and humble manner possible, proceeds to say, "A few years ago I actually got to spend a long weekend with Dawkins, since I was invited by Harvard to be the major respondent on a panel with him . . ."

We're not in Round Rock, Texas, anymore.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Against the Subjunctive Mood in Academic Writing

I've noticed lately that in much of my academic reading the overriding style of writing is in the subjunctive mood. "One might argue," "one could say," that sort of thing. It's in books, journal articles, reviews, dissertation drafts -- it's ubiquitous. And not only do graduate students, or young or inexperienced (or simply bad!) scholars, succumb to the temptation; senior faculty, acclaimed professors, influential thinkers: they all do it. At times it even feels like a self-conscious, intentional style.

And that is a mistake. Consistent use of the subjunctive mood when making arguments is the worst kind of academic tic. It signals one of two things, both of which ought to be avoided. The first is a posture, an unattractive timidity or perhaps false humility in arguing a point, outlining a position, or critiquing an idea. For example: "One might say that the position I am arguing for is a better alternative than the one just discussed." Well, is it? Would anyone say that, or just some people? If the latter, which people? Are you willing to say it? And are you arguing for it, or simply floating a trial balloon to see what (real) others think?

The second thing indicated by this style is more substantive, but for that it is much worse. In effect, what the subjunctive argumentative approach does is supplant actual argument. What one finds in academic texts is an essay or chapter in which, paragraph after paragraph, the author tells you what s/he is going to do, plans to do, hopes to do in the course of the text; and yet, by the end, you realize that s/he has not in fact "done" anything at all, except talk about the possibility of "doing" something. To be sure, there may have been some kind of summary of others' work, or descriptive analysis of a situation or challenge to be addressed. But instead of the substance of an actual argument (whether for or against something), one finds sprinkled here and there one-off comments in the subjunctive mood: "One could argue that x position fails to account for y issue due to z problem." Does this suggested argument make an actual appearance? Does the author undertake the hard task of actually making the case s/he has suggested could be made? Of course not.

The most maddening instances are those where the subjunctive mood is complemented by a sort of infinite deferral of unreadiness: "One might argue that . . . But to do so would require more space (or expertise) than I have, so . . ." Or: "One could say that . . . But that would go far beyond the scope of this work . . ." Or: "An argument could be made that . . . But before I take up that question, let us look at . . ." Authors forever bound by the limitless possibilities offered by the subjunctive style find that they are never quite prepared to say anything, only to suggest what might be said in a different essay, by a different person, with different concerns or education or interests.

Which raises the question: How can I get my hands on that person's writing? With all the time in the world, without restrictions of time or knowledge, focused on answering questions they themselves have raised: it almost sounds like a positive position -- a constructive idea -- an argument in the active mood.

Now that sounds like a text worth reading.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"It Can Only Love": Karl Barth on the "Penultimate Seriousness" of the Church's Eschatological Politics

"But knowing the new reality of world history even if only in Him and as hidden in Him, [the community] is not merely enabled and authorized but also compelled and commanded to see world history as such very differently from the way in which the rest of humanity can see it. This is not because, in relation to the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow, it has certain higher or deeper insights than others which it can weave into a Christian theory of the meaning and course of world history and then teach to others. We are thinking of something much more solid. As the new reality of world history is made known to the people of God in Jesus Christ, it is enabled, permitted and commanded to see things very differently in practice, to participate in world history very differently in its own attitude and action, than is the case with those who do not yet have knowledge of this new reality. Knowing Him whom others do not know, it sees it very differently to the extent that it now exists and participates in it very differently.

"And when we say 'very differently' we do not mean this hypothetically, in the nature of an 'as if,' but in full and true reality on the basis of its knowledge of the true reality. Its faith may be only faith and not sight. But it is faith in Jesus Christ and therefore knowledge of what has taken place in Him. It is also obedient faith. It thus anticipates the appearance of that which already is but is not yet manifested. In its faith, which is both knowledge and obedience, it affirms already the transformation in which world-occurrence will be presented to it and to all humanity in the final, universal and definitive revelation of Jesus Christ, accepting the fact that this transformation has already taken place in His life and death and resurrection. Nor is this faith and anticipation an idle speculating and gaping. As obedience it is a resolute being and attitude and action. It is in this resoluteness that its view of world history will display the distinctiveness which makes it so different, so unique, as the Christian view. It is in this resoluteness that the people of God is already in its existence in world history a witness to the kingdom which it can se to have come already in Jesus Christ but towards the coming of which in direct and universal visibility it still looks forward. It is only in this resoluteness that it can and will properly discharge its ministry as a witness of Jesus Christ to the rest of man, as a people of those who see among the blind.

"This is the resoluteness of a definite confidence. We refer to confidence in Jesus Christ and Him alone. But as such, in all its exclusiveness, this is true and total confidence. In world-occurrence the people of God sees no more than others. Even more soberly than others, it sees in it the great rift between above and below, between light and darkness. With even sharper eyes than others it recognizes here the antithesis between the rule of God and the confusion of men. But it sees the same things differently. And the difference is real and indeed total to the extent that it always begins with the confidence, and may return to it, that in spite of everything the history which takes place is that of the world already reconciled to God. In spite of everything, the man who acts and postures on this stage, who in wickedness and folly, being blind to what he already is in Jesus Christ, thinks and speaks and acts, and arranges his sorry compromises, and sins, and causes so much suffering to himself and others, is the man who stands in the covenant with God which is already fulfilled. The order which is now so shamelessly and with such pregnant consequences attacked and violated, but which cannot be overthrown, is that which has been already and irrevocably restored.

"The people of God has no illusions about what goes on beneath its eyes, and not without its own participation. But it knows that in what takes place it is dealing with the passing and vanishing of a form of the world which is already judged, removed and outmoded by the coming and secret presence of the kingdom, so that, although it takes it seriously in all its consecutive and fading pictures, in none of them can it take it with ultimate, but only, as is proper, with penultimate seriousness. Or more positively, it knows that under, behind and in all that will be and is seen, there is concealed, and presses towards the light, the new form of the world which alone must be taken with first and final seriousness.

"Hence it can share neither the enthusiasm of those who regard the old form as capable of true and radical improvement nor the skepticism of those who in view of the impossibility of perfecting the old form think that they are compelled to doubt the possibility of a new form. It need judge no man either optimistically or pessimistically because in relation to all, whatever their virtues and accomplishments or their faults and blasphemies and crimes, it is sure of the one fact that Jesus Christ has lived and died and risen again for them too. In face of the disorder of historical relationships and interconnections it can yield neither to reactionary spasms on the one hand nor to revolutionary on the other, because in relation to the reality of history already present in Jesus Christ it knows how provisional and improper is all the construction and destruction of man, or more positively how definitive and proper are the demolition and rebuilding which have already taken place in Jesus Christ and only wait to be manifested in the world on behalf of which they have been accomplished. This is the confidence with which the community confronts world history and the rest of humanity which does not share it. In world-occurrence it can neither fear for it nor be afraid of it, nor can it fear for nor be afraid of the humanity which acts within it as if it still had ground or presupposition on which to do so.

"But just because it cannot fear, it cannot hate, and therefore basically, whether it finds it easy or difficult, it can only love. At bottom and in the long run it can only be pro, i.e., for men, since God in Jesus Christ is and has decided for them. It cannot be anti, i.e., against even individuals. Obviously it does not discuss or ponder its confidence. Nor does it experiment with it. What would become of it if it were regarded as marketable in this way? Nor does it resolve to maintain it. Since it is the community which has been called by Jesus Christ and which therefore knows Him, the decision has been made for it. It has no option but to maintain it. In all the necessity of its commitment to and orientation on Him, it can do no other. It thus maintains it, and it lives within world-occurrence with this great confidence."

--Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3.2, pp. 716-718 (originally two paragraphs; emphases mine)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Preaching Christ By Any Means: Means and Ends in Evangelism

In church discussions concerning popular evangelism, one often encounters the sentiment that, however odd or imperfect or even distasteful a certain kind of proselytism may seem to us, we ought to follow Paul in rejoicing that Christ is nevertheless being proclaimed (see Philippians 1:15-18). The reference is usually made quite sincerely, even to the detriment of the speaker -- i.e., "It may seem strange or wrong to me, but I should get over myself and my narrow predilections (or even standards), and recognize that the gospel is being preached. Who knows what God might do through or in spite of such practices?" However, while granting the spirit in which this attitude is typically expressed, I find it to be at once a conversation-stopper and theologically misguided, not to mention a misinterpretation of Paul.

Moreover, behind and alongside these would-be big-tent statements there is a sort of shadow side to them, namely a generic tolerance articulated as a desire not to "judge" others. This motivation surfaces especially in broadly evangelical discussions of different kinds of churches and worship practices -- i.e., "Though I don't agree with the mega-church model (or preacher-centered congregations, or technology-obsessed worship, or simplistic Jesus-prayer altar calls), I've known great Christians who do -- so who am I to limit God's ability to work in places I wouldn't expect to find him?" The implication that tends to follow is that one ought not to express any kind of real or substantive criticism of such practices and ideologies, since there is evidence Christians have been produced and/or sustained by them.

Again, though this is often well-intended, I think it is largely wrong-headed. I often find it helpful to clarify with an extreme example that reveals that all of us do, in fact, have a clear limit to our nonjudgmental ways. For example, imagine an evangelist who finds people walking alone on the street and beats them (while preaching) until they relent and confess Christian faith. For the sake of argument, let's also imagine that, oddly enough, the propositional content of this evangelist's preachments is doctrinally sound. No Christian would respond to news of this style of evangelism with approval, much less a resigned sigh of "Well, at least Christ is being proclaimed." Rather, they would react with shock and horror, and would want to see this person brought to justice and/or to persuade the person to stop immediately. Why? Because the means of the witness do not match the end; the form is incongruent with the content; the medium is ill fitting to the message. The truth of the Prince of Peace is rendered false -- the good news bad -- through the use of violence in the telling of it.

So, as in most matters, there is a continuum: In certain qualified instances, the imperfect communication of the gospel is worth celebrating in spite of what may be regrettable aspects involved therein; nevertheless, a line is crossed when the concrete shape of proclamation is so discordant with its subject -- Christ -- that it ceases to be the gospel but something else that is proclaimed. In that case it must either stop or be altered substantially; either way, it is something to lament, condemn, counter, repent of, rather than laud or encourage or rejoice in.

If this account is true, then it would be better to refuse the temptation to qualify or discredit our judgment of evangelistic practices for reasons of humility or celebration of Christ's proclamation by any means. Instead, we ought to develop and maintain, in dialogue with our sisters and brothers in Christ, the criteria by which we will in fact, and must, make such judgments, along with disciplined practices that nurture the kind of prudential wisdom that is crucial to their being applied in ways that are neither arrogant nor condemnatory.

To put some meat on these bones, allow me to share a story. A few weeks ago, standing on the quad at Yale while waiting for a friend, a man approached me and immediately started talking to me. Without introducing himself, asking my name, or looking me in the eye, he launched into what was clearly a rehearsed presentation of "the gospel." As he spoke he got out a tract and flipped through the pages, which contained illustrations of the gap between MAN and GOD resultant from SIN, the bridge between which ended up being -- surprise! -- the cross of JESUS. Arriving speedily at the last page, I was told that if I read aloud the four-line prayer printed there for my benefit, I would be saved from the hellish consequences of my sins and given eternal life in heaven. After about five minutes of this nonstop, I was finally able to interrupt the man and explain, first, that I was a Christian, and second, that I was waiting on a friend who was about to arrive. Looking both surprised and disappointed, the man went on to tell of how at one time he wasn't a Christian, but that after he converted he earned raises at work and has flourished ever since. As well, his life has been blessed spiritually, not least due to how wonderful (and important) it is to tell others about the gospel. With that, my friend appeared, and we walked away.

Based on the foregoing, ought we to rejoice that through this man Christ is being proclaimed? My answer is a flat no. Nothing about his demeanor, presence, words, or message was in alignment with the gospel ostensibly being shared. I was insulted, accosted, annoyed, even disgusted. Had I not already been a Christian, I would have been outraged and wholly turned off by this absurd instance of fanatical proselytizing. In short, this was not Christian evangelism -- that is, witness to the gospel, the evangel. It was anti-gospel; or put differently, it was testimony to "another gospel" (Galatians 1:8), evangelization on behalf of an impersonal, intrusive, unloving, hyper-propositional, non-ecclesial, individualized, utterly self-serving "gospel." Not the good news of the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, but the bad news of some other lord -- in this case, from what I could tell, the instant gratification of one of the many American McDeities on offer from fundamentalism's pantheon.

It should be clear that I am entirely uninterested in whether this man has ever found success in getting some poor victim to read the magic prayer at the end of his tract; equally so in whether any such convert has emerged from that haze into full-bodied Christian faith. My contention, rather, is twofold. Not only should we be willing to judge, and actually judge, this man's efforts faulty and unfaithful; the fact that he is "preaching Christ" is worse, rather than better, for the cause of God's mission in the world. It is a matter, not for joy, but for lament.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Garrett Horder

I meant to post this yesterday -- you know, on Sunday -- but wasn't able to get to it. So here's some belated sabbath poetry on a Monday evening. We sang this hymn at church, and the lyrics were strikingly profound. My favorite image: Jesus kneeling to pray in Galilee, "sharing with [God] / the silence of eternity / interpreted by love" -- incredible! Enjoy.

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Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

By Garrett Horder (adapted from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier)

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wolfhart Pannenberg on Whether God's Glory is the Reason God Created the World

"In the older Protestant dogmatics the idea of a direct self-reference of the divine action whereby God is its final goal was adopted in the form of the statement that the glory of God and its recognition and praising by creatures is the goal of creation. In the discussions it is not always clear whether this is the goal of the act of creation or of the resultant creaturely reality. Undoubtedly the biblical testimonies tell us that it is the destiny of creatures to praise and honor God and to extol his glory. Herein the existence of creatures, and especially of human creatures, reaches its fulfillment (Rev. 19:1ff), for thus they participate in the Son's glorifying of the Father (John 17:4). Thus it is our human destiny and the goal of our existence to glorify God by our lives. Our sin is our withholding from God the honor that is due him as Creator (Rom. 1:21). Nevertheless, it is rather a different thing to maintain that the basis of God's resolve to create the world was that thereby he might glorify himself. Certainly the work that God created redounds to his glory. We may say this at any rate in the light of the eschatological consummation of the world and in believing anticipation of this future of God, which will resolve all doubts concerning theodicy. Every creature should confess, then, that the world was made for God's glory.

"Nevertheless, the creature was not created in order that God should receive glory from it. God does not need this, for he is already God in himself from all eternity. He does not need to become God through his action or much less become sure of his deity in the mirror of creaturely praise. A God who first and last sought his own glory in his action would be a model for the attitude that in us constitutes the perversion of sin in the form of self-seeking (amor sui). As the activation and expression of his free love, God's creative action is oriented wholly to creatures. They are both the object and the goal of creation. Herein is his glory as Creator, the glory of the Father, who is glorified by the Son and by the Spirit in creatures."

--Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology: Volume 2, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994 [1991]), 56-57

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Christians "Celebrating" the Fourth of July: A Proposal

For Christians concerned with issues like nationalism, the violence of the state, and bearing witness to God's peaceable kingdom, one might expect the Fourth of July to be a straightforward call to action. An opportunity to debunk American myths; a day of truthtelling about those who suffer as a consequence of American policies, foreign and domestic; a chance to offer a counter-witness to the civil liturgies covertly clamoring for the allegiance of God's people. And there are compelling, laudable voices doing just that sort of thing today.

On the Fourth, however, I find myself wondering whether there might also be another option available. Not as a replacement of those I've listed above, but rather as another way of "being" on the Fourth that, on the one hand, betrays not an inch on the issues (which, of course, do not disappear for 24 hours), yet on the other hand is able to see the holiday as something other than just one more chance for another round of imperial debunking.

To put it differently, I'm wondering whether there might be certain goods attendant to some "celebrations" of the Fourth of July, and whether it might sometimes be a good idea for Christians to share in those goods. If an affirmative answer is appropriate to both questions, I'm wondering finally what faithful participation might look like.

For example, I grew up in a decidedly non-patriotic household. Not "anti-patriotic," mind you, but "non-." It just wasn't an issue. No flag burnings (hence not "anti-") -- but no flags around to begin with. Even on a day like the Fourth, while there was probably a dessert lurking somewhere colored red, white, and blue, that was both the extent of it and about as meaningful as having silver-and-black cupcakes when the Spurs won the championship. In other words, not much. Beyond that, we didn't sing patriotic songs or wax nostalgic about the glories of the U.S.A. or thank God incessantly for making us Americans and not communists. We cooked a lot of food, had lots of people over, ate and laughed and napped and swam and ate again, and concluded the night by watching fireworks. Then we crashed.

Perhaps my experience is not representative, but in reflecting on it, I have a hard time getting very worked up by what is generically derided as hyper-patriotic, nationalistic, blasphemous, violence-perpetuating, etc. No doubt there are gatherings and celebrations which do earn those and other descriptors, and Christians shouldn't hold back even a second in truthfully naming them for what they are. My point is merely that not all are like that. And my question is this: Might Christians' sharing in ordinary gatherings like the ones I have in mind be one faithful option for the Fourth of July?

While I don't see this as some kind of paradoxical subversion of the holiday, the possibility is worth pondering for at least a moment. America's particular brand of individualism and pluralism at times affords some unexpected benefits, not least of which is the notion that the meaning of common set-aside days is not a shared given but rather what each of us decides to make it mean for oneself. Thus we "do" or "do not" celebrate x holiday; or we "don't do it that way," but "this way"; etc.

Well, why can't the church -- not as a day off from its witness to the God of peace against the violent idolatries of the state, but precisely as one form of it -- make its own meaning on the Fourth? The meaning can be simple: Rest from work is good; time shared with neighbors, friends, and family is good; feasting with others (when done neither every day nor alone -- which is generally the American way) is good. I've been part of celebrations like this that go the whole day without waving a flag, memorializing a war, comparing a soldier's sacrifice to Jesus's, or mentioning "the greatest country on Earth" -- and that without anyone present consciously intending to avoid such things! It just happened; and I suspect it did, apart from consideration of the faithfulness of those gathered, simply because of all the good being shared among and between us. Almost like an unconscious tapping-in to that ancient notion of habitual rest and feasting, only we were so preoccupied with one another's company that we forgot "the reason" we were together at all.

So perhaps that can be the understated motto for what I'm suggesting. Let American Christians across the land feel free to "celebrate" the Fourth of July, sharing in its manifold goods with our neighbors with a clean conscience; only let us do so, at every moment and with focused purpose, forgetting the reason for the season.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Robert Jenson on the Importance of Preachers Struggling With Difficult Texts

A friend of ours here in New Haven is preaching for the first time this Sunday, and from the lectionary she chose what is at once the most fitting but also the most difficult text available. In conversation with her this week I was reminded of a repeated theme in the writings of Robert Jenson on preaching difficult scriptural texts, and thought I'd share them here as I did with her:

"Do we, the congregation, as we sit there, witness the preacher struggling to say what the text says and doing so whether or not he or she personally likes the text? If texts are not determined by a lectionary, do we witness the preacher sometimes choosing a text we know must be difficult for him or her? If we do -- and, indeed, perhaps most impressively, if we witness the preacher trying yet failing -- then we experience the authority of Scripture."

--"Scripture's Authority in the Church," in The Art of Reading Scripture, eds. Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 36

"Scripture exercises authority to create faith when a hard text is laid on the preacher and he or she tries to say what it says, successfully or not."

--"On the Authorities of Scripture," in Engaging Biblical Authority, ed. William P. Brown (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 58

"In the homiletical practice of worshiping and teaching assemblies . . ., reading Scripture closely and seriously means struggle, because lives and behavior are at stake and folk are not going to let us off with evasions. If preaching and teaching are seriously and determinedly scriptural in our churches, we have to struggle to say what Scripture says, and by the act itself necessarily cling to the conviction that Scripture does say something. The struggle itself is the hermeneutical principle. It is the parish clergy, not the academics, whose labor to read the text closely, and assumption of the struggle that means in the parish, will maintain the authority of Scripture, and whose failure to read the text closely will undercut the authority of Scripture."

--"Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church," in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, eds. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 94-95

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Links: Jimmy McCarty, Sara Barton, Richard Beck

A trio of links to CoC leaders, friends, and colleagues:

Jimmy McCarty writes: "Homeless: An Essay on the Ecclesial Lives of Young Adults from the Churches of Christ."

Sara Barton describes her new book, A Woman Called, and discusses "the real work of the gospel" which seeks to create space for sharing experiences of the churches' silencing of women.

And Amy Frykholm reviews Richard Beck's Unclean for The Christian Century.

Bravo all!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Andrew Bird (II)

The lyrics below are from "Sifters," a song off Andrew Bird's recent album Break It Yourself. Here's a link to the song. Haunting and evocative of something like a nighttime remembrance of a young summer romance, it brought to mind Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom. Enjoy.

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Sifters

By Andrew Bird

If sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean
Moon plays the ocean like a violin
Pushing and pulling from shore to shore
Biggest melody you never heard before

What if I were the night sky?
Here's my lullaby to leave by . . .

What if we hadn't been born at the same time?
What if you were 75 and I were nine?
Would I come visit you? bring you cookies in an old folks home?
Would you be there alone?

And when the late summer lightning fires off in your arms
Will I remember to breathe?
No I never will
And if I could convince you that I mean you no harm
Just want to show you how not to need

What if I were the night sky?
Here's my lullaby to leave by . . .

What if we hadn't been each other at the same time?
Would you tell me all the stories from when you were young and in your prime?
Would I rock you to sleep?
Would you tell all the secrets you don't need to keep?
Would I still miss you?
Or would you then have been mine?

If sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean
Moon plays the ocean like a violin

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Solche schöne Hände": On Providence and Grace

In Franz Wright's poem "Event Horizon," he writes of his wife in Germany, approached by a single boy from a group of children marred by Chernobyl years earlier. The boy "takes her hand in his / six-fingered hand, and whispers / solche schöne Hände" -- that is, such beautiful hands. Wright concludes the poem with a question:

"How many people can say that / for a minute they knew why they'd lived?"

Two years ago, on my last Sunday at our church in Atlanta -- the community my wife and I called home for two and a half years, and where I served for a full year as an intern for teaching and preaching -- I shared these Eucharistic meditations and prayers. After I finished, as the worship went on, I felt a tug on my right shoulder. An older African-American woman whom I had never met before was standing next to me, having apparently come sought me out. As the church stood singing, she hugged me and pulled me close to whisper in my ear. She said, "Your prayers were so beautiful. I hope my son can pray like that one day."

How many people can say that for a minute they knew why they'd lived?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Bill Knott

A bit of double-take whimsy from Bill Knott for today, taken from Billy Collins' Poetry 180 (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003), 103. Enjoy.

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Advice From the Experts

By Bill Knott

I lay down in the empty street and parked
My feet against the gutter's curb while from
The building above a bunch of gawkers perched
Along its ledges urged me don't, don't jump.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Christian Scholars' Conference

Later this week I'll be heading to Nashville for the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars' Conference at Lipscomb University. The theme this year is "Reconciliation," and the plenary speakers include Fred D. Gray, Abraham Verghese, Immaculée Ilibagiza, and (Yale's own) Miroslav Volf. As well, the Church of Christ Theology Students group -- already a wonderful annual tradition (past speakers include David Bentley Hart and Gregory Sterling) -- will be addressed by SMU theologian Bruce Marshall.

I was able to attend the CSC in 2009 and 2010 -- I wrote about the latter here -- though with the move to New Haven I wasn't able to make it to Malibu last year. I'll be there this week, though -- at the conference, not Malibu -- and this time I'll be presenting. My paper is titled "Hooking In, Sitting Loose: A Call for Theology in the Churches of Christ," as part of the "Church of Christ Graduate Students in Theology, Session 1: 'Theological Inquiry & Discourse among Churches of Christ,' " which will be at 9:00 am on Thursday morning.

Other friends, acquaintances, and worth-hearing presenters include (in no particular order) Richard Hughes, Kelly Johnson, Ron Clark, Mark Lackowski, Douglas Foster, my man Jimmy McCarty, Ted Smith, Glenn Pemberton, David Mahfood, Darryl Tippens, Gregory Sterling, John Mark Hicks, James Gorman, Heather Gorman, Matthew Vaughan, all around super-missionary theologian Spencer Bogle, Major Boglin, Wendell Willis, Matt Tapie, John Barton, Mark Kinzer, Richard Goode, Bill Carroll, Lauren Smelser White, Jennifer Thweatt-Bates, C. Leonard Allen, William Abraham, C. Melissa Snarr, Frederick Aquino -- and many, many others. Not to mention the whole conference being organized and run and led under the assiduous auspices of the one and only David Fleer.

And did I mention Lee Camp's TOKENS is performing Thursday night?

I might as well be the unofficial spokesman for the conference. I'm wholeheartedly evangelistic: it is by far the most edifying, constructive, interdisciplinary, substantive, downright interesting academic gathering of which I am aware. If you can, go; if not, see you next year.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Czeslaw Milosz (II)

A return to Milosz for today, from his 1953 collection Daylight. Enjoy.

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You Who Wronged

By Czeslaw Milosz (translated by Richard Lourie)

You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
And kept a pack of fools around you
To mix good and evil, to blur the line,

Though everyone bowed down before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honor,
Glad to have survived another day,

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.

And you’d have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.


Washington, D.C., 1950