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.

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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?)
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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.

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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.