a few words

Month: October, 2007

driving tired

A place to go, in this dark
and a time, at the end of the highway
when I must
be there.
I combat silent and slow
the overcoming blankets
of sleep folding around my eyes.

Odd. Gravity’s physical force
loads such slumberous heaviness in sockets
yet is appeased by only one burnt offering
(wholly devoted as any flesh to flame)
hours of my consciousness,
given, altared, and set to blaze in leaps of dream.

If I withhold such time
to claim its control for my own ends,
my subtlety and daring to cheat
the tariff of bodily being–
that very consciousness dims
groans under the burden
of an offering kept in the fold,
until I consent, concede, or am conquered by
Darkness Beyond me.

If my life is sustained; held firm
on the knife’s edge of sanity
by lapses of control,
then by what white-knuckled illusions
do I haunt my own daylight?

david bentley hart on theology :: why i’m occasionally overwhelmed

Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline concerning an immense, profoundly sophisticated legacy of hermeneutics, dialectics, and logic; it deals in minute detail with a vast variety of concrete historical data; over the centuries, it has incubated speculative systems of extraordinary rigor and intricacy, many of whose questions and methods continue to inform contemporary philosophy; and it does, when all is said and done, constitute the single intellectual, moral, spiritual, and cultural tradition uniting the classical, medieval, and early modern worlds. Even if one entirely avoids considering what metaphysical content one should attach to the word “God,” one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines.

Moreover, theology requires far greater scholarly range. The properly trained Christian theologian should be a proficient linguist, with a mastery of several ancient and modern tongues, should have formation in the subtleties of the whole Christian dogmatic tradition, should possess a considerable knowledge of the liturgies, texts, and arguments produced in every period of the Church, should be a good historian, should have a thorough philosophical training, should possess considerable knowledge of the fine arts, should have an intelligent interest in such areas as law or economics, and so on. This is not to say that one cannot practice theology without all these attainments, but such an education remains the scholarly ideal of the guild

James R. Stoner Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Paul J. Griffiths, David B. Hart, “Theology as Knowledge,” First Things (May, 2006).

achan’s stones :: [part two]

The last post on this theme circuitously raised a thorny question about Scripture and God’s speech. Achan and his kin are put to death, seemingly at God’s command, and the execution seems to placate God’s anger. The blood of the offending man and his family satisfies God’s demand for retribution after his command was broken. This post and the next set out most of the escape routes that I can think of—and offer reasons why they create more problems than they avoid.

Anyone who wants to take the text seriously is faced with the problem: God speaks to Joshua to command the execution of Achan and his family. The last post questioned whether Achan was the sole culprit in all Israel (and thus the justice of his execution); but even if he was, the execution of his family seems barbaric. Does God command murder?

Modus operandi for most of us is to simply ignore these jarring and violent texts and focus on more straightforwardly edifying passages. On the whole, I am not sure that this is a bad thing; it is less than wise to quote Joshua 7 in an attempt to build up the church’s faith. But the existence of these texts subverts my desire to speak of the whole bible as the word of God—it makes me uncomfortable. Whether we ignore these texts or not, the picture of God that they present lurks in the dark cellar of faith—and we worry that he may come up into the light. For many, the problem remains whether or not it is faced explicitly.
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moltmann :: bodies and death

“…ideas about ‘the self’ have undergone a remarkable transmigration. As long as the living character of the human being was seen in the inhaling and exhaling of air, the self was localized in the diaphragm. The person is alive in the rhythm of his breathing, and his life ends when ‘he breathes his last.’ Later on, people viewed the living character of the human being in his powerful emotions, in the trust of the heart and in ‘cordial’ love. So the centre of life was localized in the human heart. When the heart stops beating the person is dead. But then the human being came to be viewed as the suject of reason and will; and the self migrated once again, in the world of the imagination, and came to be lodged in the human brain, generally behind the eyes. Today ‘brain death’ counts as real symbol for the death of the human being.”

Moltmann, God in Creation trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 255.

words for the week :: my distractions

The New York Times had an op-ed piece by philosopher Slavoj Zizek on religion in China.

Perhaps we find China’s reincarnation laws so outrageous not because they are alien to our sensibility, but because they spill the secret of what we have done for so long: respectfully tolerating what we don’t take quite seriously, and trying to contain its political consequences through the law.

Dan is carrying out a terrifying thought experiment about Christian terrorism on behalf of the marginalized. He suggests that if violence is even permissable (much less obligatory)–a typical “just war” claim–then Christians would be obligated to take up arms against governments and multi-national corporations on a wide-spread basis. I, for one, am thankful that Dan is still committed to nonviolence.

the weakness of the word :: the great task

“The Word’s power is veiled in weakness. If the Word came in full, unveiled power, that would be the final judgment day. The great task of recognizing the limits of their mission is given to the disciples. But when the Word is misused, it will turn against them.” [Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 173]

As the Body of Christ, the Church is called to speak God’s Word in its entirety (not verbatim scripture!) to the whole world. The Church is called and constituted by Word and sacrament as Christ’s body. This is a great mystery. But the one thing that it does not do, is transform the Church into an entity that in itself transcends the limits of earthly life. Christ’s body is a human body like yours and like mine. Just so, the Church’s proclamation is a human word, formed by human thought, and set loose by a human tongue. It is subject to the weakness of human words; it is ambiguous, it is subject to misuse and misunderstanding, it is subject to circumspection and ridicule. As those who speak of God, to God, and for God, Christians do well to remember two things: one, their place in a body larger than themselves; and two, their own doubt, insecurity, and weakness. The Word of God is spoken on earth within the limits of being human (simul iustus et peccator), not by transcending them.

For all that, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church’s Word is no less than Christ’s Word, freely spoken. Lord, have mercy on us all.

a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love

One hundred thirty eight Muslim leaders have sent a letter to the foremost Christian leaders of the world urging peace and reconciliation between the two faiths. Below is a summary of the letter, the longer version can be found here, or at the organization’s website.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:
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words for the week :: evolution and reformation

Father Stephen wrote a challenging essay on what he calls the “myth” of reformation–including the poignant quip, “Semper Reformanda is not Scripture, it’s just modernism with a Latin motto.” He urges humility in our relationship to the church, and offers a reminder that we do not save the church, the church saves us. Plenty to think about, even if one would like to argue.

Avery Cardinal Dulles has an excellent article in First Things, available online, which gives a brief history of growing Roman Catholic openness toward Darwinian evolution, a typology of three coherent Christian positions on evolution, and a call for dogmatic anti-theists to interact with theologians better versed than the straw-man portrayals of faith that they lampoon.

did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]

Forbidden Fruit The serpent’s first question to Eve is an attempt to get under her skin, fomenting second thoughts about God’s gift and command. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The serpent calls the content of God’s speech into question by twisting the command and putting a harsher edict in its place. Eve is sharp enough to set that twisted serpent straight–for the most part. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say…”

The story is centered on controversy among God’s creatures as to what God actually said, and what was meant when he said it. The snake and the human bring different versions of God’s command–and different gods. The god of the serpent is a restrictive fellow who hoards all the garden’s fruit to himself (even though there is plenty to go around) and threatens transgressors with death (even though he doesn’t really mean it). Adam and Eve have another God’s breath in their veins; they know his generosity and his character, but in their naivete they act on the serpent’s sermon and fall into the serpent’s world. Adam and Eve claim the fruit for themselves, and awake to find themselves shamefully bent. This story is our story.

This post, however, is not about Adam and Eve per se. I want to look at a few other Old Testament representations of God’s speech, and eventually raise a few questions about the nature of revelation, inspiration, and our relationship to scripture.
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new look :: same blog

I am rarely susceptible to fashion trends. The majority of my nicest clothes still come from the salvation army.

But I grew tired of the olive-greeny-browny color lurking behind my words, so I changed things a bit.

Still feels understated and simple, the way I like it.

words for the week :: what I’ve been reading (when I should have been reading something else)

Twelve Angry Men has an excellent two-part post on anti-evangelical bias in academia.

Ryan at Rumblings began to think out loud about a neo-Nietzschean book about religion and deception by the intriguingly named Loyal Rue.

Faith and Theology, in addition to generously posting my bit on Bonhoeffer and Barth, had a great discussion about the relationship between God, the world, and scientific inquiry.

Per Caritatem’s Cynthia Nielsen began a helpful dialogue on Scotus and the idea of perfection.