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.

- - - - - - -


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.

- - - - - - -

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.

- - - - - - -

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Spiderweb in East Boston

Down below ordinary line of sight, beneath a bridge in east Boston, mere inches above the high tide, is a spiderweb. Affixed to the corner of a bit of old decaying wood from what used to be some man-made edifice, the web glistens and hovers above the splashes of water surging in from the Atlantic or lapping up from the wake of duck tours' clockwork passing to and fro. A spider spun it, and it has served as a sticky, weaponized home for a good while -- a spiderweb takes time, after all, and requires an architect. It is an open question how many pairs of eyes, human or otherwise, have marked its existence, and how many of those have remembered it after the fact.

Bear this in mind: Whatever power keeps the universe in being, whoever or whatever it is that brought it here and keeps it here and propels it along in time towards somewhere new and different and unknown -- the very same evidently has the time, the care, the presence to attend to this single spiderweb of days' or at most weeks' duration, and to its architect, from start to finish, alone. This web and the frightful, dainty creature who spun it are the recipients of an incomprehensible and wholly unaccountable attention uncalled for, unasked for, and undeserved. While cars have barreled back and forth overhead, while heady humans have cut through the water in either direction, while the earth itself has spun around on its invisible axis in an unfathomable cosmic darkness, a half-dollar spider and its foot-long web have been held in the mystery of existence, have lived, for no apparent sake than their own. And perhaps they yet remain; though we know they will soon cease to be, a no less mysterious fact.

This is the grace of God.