Thursday, September 30, 2010

Re-post: For Friends, Acquaintances, and Friendly Theo-Bloggers Coming to Atlanta for AAR or SBL: Welcome! How Can I Help?

I posted this back in mid-May, but as it is exactly one month away from AAR -- and the last day of reduced rates for both AAR and SBL -- I thought I'd re-post it for anyone like me a year ago who didn't know how to handle or afford Montreal. I'm already happily planning to host an old friend at our apartment, as well as busy finding a place to stay for a couple others who have contacted me and answering questions about MARTA, Atlanta, etc. Please feel free to let me know if you happen to have any questions or need any help; regardless, I'm just looking forward to the meetings.

Below is the original post.

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This fall I have the wonderful opportunity to attend my first gatherings of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, as the annual meetings of each will be here in Atlanta. AAR will be the weekend of Halloween (Saturday, October 30, through Monday, November 1) and SBL the weekend before Thanksgiving (Saturday, November 20, through Tuesday, November 23).

A close second to attending and hearing so many excellent scholars for the first time will be meeting the various acquaintances, friends, and bloggers I have encountered, read, and dialogued with over the last couple of years. In looking forward to the meetings, I also realized that, living in Atlanta, I should do my best to welcome people to the city. Atlanta may not be as intimidating as Montreal (or is it?), but I certainly know that on top of the financial commitment, flying into an urban metropolis is not so easily navigable.

So, just to get the word out early: if you are planning to come to Atlanta for either or both meetings, by all means let's grab a drink or a bite to eat, and get others in on it, too. Beyond that, feel free to let me know if you don't have a place to stay, have questions about the city, or anything else. We don't have much room to offer guests in our one-room apartment, but we do have many friends who'd love to host burgeoning theologian scholars.

Looking forward to meeting whoever ends up coming!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Commending to You: "Half the Church: Exploring and Embracing Gender Inclusivity in Churches of Christ"

I'm late with this link, but I highly recommend checking out the new online resource, "Half the Church: Exploring and Embracing Gender Inclusivity in Churches of Christ." It contains a recorded panel conversation (from ACU's annual conference Summit) of women sharing their experiences in churches of Christ as women, and the problems and solutions raised in the process. I had the opportunity of participating in something similar last summer (2009) at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville, and it was an enormously affecting experience, as it seems this was as well.

Along with nationalism and violence, the question of gender -- as it relates to leadership, worship, charism, ministry, partnership, marriage, witness, culture, the very substance of the good news we proclaim -- is one of the most pressing challenges for the faithfulness and vitality of churches of Christ today. This new resource succeeds precisely because it recognizes that the most important, the very first thing we must do -- particularly when the "we" in question are male -- is to listen to the actual women who have endured and undergone so much in our churches. Only by listening, by creating space for the Spirit to move our hearts together in unity and creative response, may we be given to move forward in healing and, by God's grace, to the profound kind of transformation called for by the gospel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Karl Barth Blog Conference Has Begun!

Head over to Der Evangelische Theologe for the opening post and initial outline and biographical sketch for the fourth annual Karl Barth Blog Conference. My contribution won't be coming for a couple weeks, but the overall theme, topics, contributors, and analyses look to be superb. Be sure to check it out, to stay with it over the next few weeks, and to comment often -- not to mention to donate to the fund for publishing the expanded proceedings in a book next year!

(The tone of this post's title should be read, for the record, in the spirit of Tobias.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Matthew Myer Boulton & co. (II)

I am idiosyncratically evangelistic about random things: Wendell Berry, The Wire, the city of Austin, and so on. Let's add more to add to the official list: Butterflyfish, the folk-and-gospel children's band headed up by Harvard Divinity Professor Matthew Myer Boulton.

I devoted a Sunday Sabbath post to a song from their first album, Ladybug, exactly a year ago; and now that I have finally been able to get my hands on their second release, Great and Small, I thought I would share another. The best thing about Butterflyfish -- which, in explicit form, is more or less nonexistent in current music -- is the richness of its theological vision. By way of beautifully straightforward lyrics, gorgeously blended harmonies, and melodies as catchy as they are musically dynamic, the band performs the gospel with absolutely no loss between art and faith. In short, this is the music I hope my children will be listening to one day, at least inasmuch as they'll have to listen to it, because I'll be listening to it.

With that, I leave you with the wonderful lyrics -- whose vision, by the end, you will be wishing reflected the western church's hymnody, rather than what is the case -- to "The Gospel Story."

The Gospel Story

By Matthew Myer Boulton

I ain't goin' up to heaven in the sky
I ain't flyin' with the angels when I die
I ain't gonna rise up in the clear
Cause I do believe my dear
Heaven's comin' down here

It's comin' down here (comin' down here)
It's comin' down here (comin' down here)
I said heaven's comin' down here
I ain't gonna rise up in the clear
Cause I do believe my dear
Heaven's comin' down here

That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan
Kingdom of glory's right here at hand
So don't you worry, woman and man
That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan

Well when Jesus said, "Follow me"
He didn't go up to a church or say a creed
Out in the open air
He did his preaching and his prayer
That's what he did when he said, "Follow me"

"Follow me" ("Follow me")
"Follow me" ("Follow me")
That's what he did when he said, "Follow me"
Out in the open air
He did his preaching and his prayer
That's what he did when he said, "Follow me"

That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan
Kingdom of glory's right here at hand
So don't you worry, woman or man
That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan

Well I ain't goin' up to heaven in the sky
I ain't flyin' with the angels when I die
I ain't gonna rise up in the clear
Cause I do believe my dear
Heaven's comin' down here

That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan
Kingdom of glory's right here at hand
So don't you worry, woman and man
That's the gospel story
That's the gospel plan

(Heaven's comin' down here...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Brief Word on Supposedly Innocent Pejorative Labels

Calling the person or position of someone like John Howard Yoder "sectarian" in a scholarly context in 2010 -- and doing so in the guise, believed or not, of such a label being innocent or purely descriptive -- is roughly the same, in an ecumenical context, as identifying Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as "magical."

In other words: it just doesn't fly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions Concerning the Contemporary Role of the Theologian in America

In contemporary America it seems there are two perfectly bifurcated roles for the station of theologian: holding court as a kind of absolute authority for all questions of vital religious and existential importance, or an assumed irrelevance of such totality that the very notion of theological engagement is laughable.

Whether this is a sorry state of affairs to be lamented or a gift to be celebrated and maintained, likely depends on ecclesial commitments and one's vision of the theological task in relation to church and world. But regardless of preference or conviction, can there actually be a third way in late modern societies? That is, is this situation something worth striving against, something capable of being resisted, even if it is not to be welcomed or endorsed?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Hilarious and Brilliant Opening Paragraph to G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography

"Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment of private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian."

--G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography (Thirsk, North Yorkshire: House of Stratus, 2001), 1

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not Only Hauerwas, But Isaiah Berlin Also as Hannah's Child

"Isaiah was not the first-born. His mother had had a stillbirth in 1907 and been told she would never be able to have children again. His parents greeted his arrival with the astonishment reserved for miracles. These facts -- the stillborn sister, the longed-for realisation of his parents' wishes, the injury at birth, an only child -- are vitally important, though interpreting their signifiance is not easy. He himself never liked interpreting them at all. But there is a story in the Bible that might be taken as an oblique fable about his own beginnings. It is the story of Hannah, the barren women who goes to the temple to pray for a son, and who is so distraught that the high priest takes her for mad: 'And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.' In her desperation, Hannah promised that if God would grant her a son, she would give him into His service. Her faith -- her primitive, intense desire for a child -- was eventually rewarded. She and her husband Elkanah had a child, who grew up to become the prophet Samuel. Isaiah's mother, Mussa Marie Berlin, was intensely moved by these verses and by the promise of hope that they contained, for they spoke so directly to her own desperation: having lost one child, having been told she would never give birth again. She was at the relatively advanced age of twenty-nine when her deliverance came. It is easy to see why, whenever Berlin himself brought to mind the desperate faith of Hannah, his eyes would fill with tears."

--Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 10-11

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Beautiful Picture of Austin, Texas

Things shall continue to be quiet around these parts this week, perhaps a quote here or there but not much more; school's in full-fledged gear, and with PhD applications on top of that I'm finding myself with little time.

And so I thought I'd share a picture of home, a photograph captured and edited by my friend Patrick Gosnell, from our East-Gosnell road trip from Atlanta to Austin back in February. Patrick gave a framed copy of it to me as an advance birthday gift, and it now hangs in our living room. To distant strangers: come visit the greatest city in the world! To friends, visitors, and fellow Austinites: kudos if you know (as well you should) exactly where he is standing when taking this picture.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Aaron Baker

Aaron Baker grew up in a remote village in Papua New Guinea as a son of missionaries, and his first collection of poems, Mission Work, reflects this particular context. It is filled with intersections and overtones of both Christian cultural crossover and the indigenous myths and stories he imbibed growing up. The poem below beautifully captures the network of imagery and situations explored throughout the entire collection, as well as the challenging inherited experiences that constitute Baker's story. Enjoy!

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A Prayer

By Aaron Baker

My father, deep in malarial fever, keeps floating away
on his bed.
Damp rag in my fist. Knot in my neck.
Night beyond the curtains is gathering silence.
My father's slick face twists, as if in deep concentration
on a single idea.
Sick light of a lantern, stink of vomit and sweat.
My mother keeps putting her hands on my shoulders.
My father sits up, I hand him the bucket.
When he's done with it, I give him water.
"Put your hands on me," he asks, so we do it.
My mother folds her hands in his. Mine go palm-down
on his chest.
Deep breaths in the stillness.
He flutters hie eyelids.
I intone, as he's taught me,
a request for God's mercy if it's His will to give it,
for His strength if it's not.
My father's whole body trembles.
His life rises again and again in my hands.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Personal Reflections on Two Years of Blogging

Ironically enough, the week marking two years here on Resident Theology coincided exactly and, so far, perpetually with a crippling case of blogger's block. I don't say "writer's block" because I have actually been writing a great deal, only not on the blog; and that is not due merely to other responsibilities, but indicates a severe case of not having the energy, resolve, or content to throw up anything on the online canvas here. A strange coincidence worth noting, but in any case, we'll push on.

Upon considered reflection, my "placement" online is a bit odd. In getting into the theo-blogging business, I did not at the time personally know anyone who was doing it, nor did I know of or follow the retinue of excellent blogs populating my current blogroll. Nor still, two years later, do I actually know of a single personal friend who is not a family member that regularly reads the blog. (Explanations, cordially received, usually revolve around the scholarly or technical tone.) And yet, in late August of 2008 I decided to start blogging theologically on a regular basis, and I presently find myself in a richly interconnected network of bloggers and their online abodes, discovering, to my delight and surprise, that I have some kind of a regular readership.

The benefits of blogging, the blessings that have come of it and the unforeseen gifts to have plopped in my lap, are legion. As one who felt like an outsider (and, to be sure, a marked amateur) initially, and still a relative stranger in any normally conceived understanding of friendship or personal interaction, I am startled and grateful to note all the kind links my way from exemplary scholars, students, and bloggers in the theological corner of the internet. One of the many reasons I am excited for both AAR and SBL being in Atlanta this fall is the wonderful opportunity to meet all these people whose reading I have enjoyed, whose engagements I have appreciated, and whose graciousness makes a medium known for its impersonal brutality a happy lodging for pilgrims thinking themselves along the way.

Somehow, in other words, without prior connection or ongoing face-to-face interaction, I have found a place online -- that postmodern height of placelessness itself, chief culprit of inhospitable disembodiment -- and just so have found and expect to continue to find personal surprises and friendships in the process.

Professionally, it has been an enormous boon -- and that, again, prior to any sort of professional career having begun! I published my first article based on a brief blog post expanded into a full piece, by way of contacting an editor through an online call for papers posed on another blog. I am participating in the upcoming Karl Barth Blog Conference, solely based on David Congdon having appreciated my previous interactions with film here on the blog. I will soon be in the process of editing a portion of a blogging scholar's upcoming book, and analogously I have a piece out to a handful of folks I've met through blogs that are looking it over for me in the hopes of submitting it to a journal. I have discovered fellow Yoderians and Jensonians through my thesis meanderings since May who have helped me enormously in my research and whom I have pointed in particular directions as well. And allow me to note once again how utterly bizarre it is to come upon a footnote (37n.1) in Yoder's For the Nations, published in 1997, in which he shares that the essay in question was presented as a lecture per the invitation of one (then dean) Dr. Michael Gorman -- the very same New Testament theologian who inexplicably links to me from his current blog!

But it has not simply been happy connections fostered and professional futures enabled -- the point of my starting Resident Theology was to carve out space for taking time to think the gospel; and just so, the essential components of that practice -- individual and communal -- have obtained.

On the one hand, I have been moved over and over again by the extraordinary quality of theological blogging on offer to reconsider established thoughts, to engage important questions, to entertain questionable notions, to question tenuous doctrines. I have expanded my grammatical, rhetorical, philosophical, and theological landscape. (As a side note, it is telling -- and, so far as I see it, in a positive sense -- that in almost no discernible way do I belong to the "church of Christ" blogging world, though that too has its own cubby hole in the online churchly discourse. I am happy to present myself sufficiently an ecumenical theological blogger!) I have received suggested authors and books whose works -- particularly given my present academic location -- I would not have heard of for years. (Another note: I didn't know Lewis Ayres was Lewis Ayres until after I had already had him for a class on Christian history. Trust me: I would have paid more attention had I known.) I can state for a fact that the only reason I have read, and/or paid serious and sustained attention to, Karl Barth, Robert Jenson, William Stringfellow, J. Kameron Carter, Rowan Williams, Augustine, Nicholas Healy, Arthur McGill, and many others is because someone in a blog post or email referenced or appropriated them and in so doing made me realize they were important thinkers I had to attend to.

And in light of that sentence-ending preposition, it has been a singular gift of this blog to learn how to write. I often tell the story of my first one-page reflection paper for an exegesis course in undergrad, that I had never seen a red mark on a paper of mine in my life until I received that single piece of paper back, looking like it was dripping with blood it was so marked up. My professor, Glenn Pemberton, taught me the essential first lesson that I had no idea how to write -- utterly crushing at the time -- and then proceeded to teach me what I did not know.

Blessedly for its practice and its practitioners, theology is the unending task of what Hauerwas rightly calls "word work": attending to language, to talking and writing, as the medium and performance of truthful speech about God and God's works. Precisely in that spirit, to the extent that I have learned over these last two years to write better and better, I have also been learning, through writing, how to speak about God more and more truthfully. Two years ago I would not have been able to articulate a single coherent thought about the historic nature/grace debate, if only because it was so bewilderingly dense. Recently, however, I was finally able to put my finger, in a single sentence, on what had always troubled me: it's ungospeled, and therefore relatively unbiblical, presuppositions regarding its own terms and the content of the message about the crucified Christ. My entire time working through writing thousands upon thousands of words on this blog -- and simultaneously reading just as many, in print and online -- could be fairly and representatively reduced to the patient process of learning how to respond, and how to do so well, to that all-important question of grace and nature.

In the end, whether I am right or not is not the point. The point is that, through this beguilingly unbridled medium, I have joined the conversation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Single Corrective Sentence on Grace and Nature

Grace does not destroy nature, but neither does it perfect it; rather, grace crucifies nature, then raises it from the dead.

The Fall 2010 Course Load

Following John's lead -- especially as the pre-semester blogger's block has hit in full force -- I thought I'd share about the courses I'm taking this fall. I'm planning on returning by the end of the week with reflections on two years of blogging; hopefully the words will start flowing by then.

Theologies of Religious Pluralism (Jenny McBride)

This was the two-week short course I mentioned in August, which is already done and only awaiting a final paper. The class was split into two parts: one week devoted to various Christian theologies of religion (inclusivism, exclusivism, universalism, etc.), and one week devoted to Jewish-Christian relations. The class culminated in the last day of class, in which Jewish colleagues and students were invited to come share the time with us in the practice of Scriptural Reasoning together (which, by the way, was a phenomenal experience).

Jews and Christians: People of God, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson
Abraham's Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations, by Michael Wyschogrod
The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives, by Stephen R. Haynes

The Theology of Karl Barth (Andrea White)

This course is exactly what its title announces, and will be centered on Barth's doctrines of God and of the human person in conversation with each other, though we will be beginning with Romans. (Note: Out of the 20+ persons in the class, the range of familiarity extends from some who had only heard Barth's name secondhand prior to the course -- and then still unsure about the pronunciation! -- to others who read German fluently or who have already read much of the Dogmatics. Should be interesting.)

The Epistle to the Romans (6th ed.)
Church Dogmatics II/1: The Doctrine of God
Church Dogmatics III/2: The Doctrine of Creation
The Humanity of God

Sex, Sin, and Salvation (Ian McFarland)

This is a course in McFarland's specialty, theological anthropology, which will be a perfect set-up for his new book coming out in November, In Adam's Fall: A Meditation on the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin. The class will especially be focusing on the relation of gender, sexuality, and the body to a doctrine of the human person and the reality of sin. (Much of the reading will be selections from church history, beginning with Irenaeus all the way up to the present, which isn't reflected in the books listed below.)

Christ the Key, by Kathryn Tanner
Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way Into the Triune God, by Eugene F. Rogers, Jr.
Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin, by Alistair McFadyen
Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire, edited by Catherine Keller, Michael Nausner, and Mayra Rivera

New Testament Ethics (Luke Timothy Johnson)

Unfortunately, this will be my first time to have Johnson for a class in my time at Candler, so I will be making the most of it. Fortunately, I have already read Hays' volume, so it will be enjoyable to be able to read it again without the anxiety of a first time through. The course is what it sounds like: an exploration of how the New Testament informs and is able to direct Christian morality, including diverse proposals for methodology.

The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, by Richard B. Hays
Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church, by Luke Timothy Johnson
Scripture and Ethics: Twentieth Century Portraits, by Jeffrey Siker
The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Century, by Wayne A. Meeks
The Ethics of the New Testament, by Wolfgang Schrage

Cosmopolitanism and Theology (Felix Asiedu)

This is a 1-hour directed study, which will more or less entirely be devoted to reading and discussion with few assignments. I'm joining Dr. Asiedu and my friend Leonard (with whom I did City of God and De Trinitate in the spring) to explore Isaiah Berlin and Charles Taylor in dialogue with each other -- a subject, and authors, outside my field of expertise, which is exactly why I am doing it.

The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, by Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin: A Life, by Michael Ignatieff
Charles Taylor, by Ruth Abbey
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, by Kwame Anthony Appiah
A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor
A Catholic Modernity?, by Charles Taylor
Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, by Charles Taylor
Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The Philosophy of Charles Taylor in Question, edited by James Tully

Thesis Research: Yoder and Jenson

Since May I have been documenting my ongoing thesis research, so there's no need for me to repeat myself here. This week I am finishing Jenson' Canon and Creed, The Triune Identity, and The Futurist Option, as well as Yoder's He Came Preaching Peace. After those are done, all I will have for each author is listed below, which according to plan will be done by the end of October. After that I will have supplementary reading by Nation, McClendon, Lohfink, and Jones, to be finished by Christmas.

Yoder: The Christian Witness to the State; Nevertheless; Nonviolence; To Hear the Word; When War is Unjust; The War of the Lamb; Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution

Jenson: Lutheranism; A Religion Against Itself; Christian Dogmatics; America's Theologian; The Knowledge of Things Hoped For; Visible Words; Alpha and Omega; God After God

Other: John Howard Yoder by Mark Thiessen Nation; Doctrine: Systematic Theology Volume 2 by James McClendon; Witness: Systematic Theology Volume 3 by James McClendon; Does God Need the Church? by Gerhard Lohfink; A Grammar of Christian Faith: Volumes I and II by Joe R. Jones