At SBL and AAR,
Scholars come from near and far
To drink together at the bar.
At AAR and SBL,
Everyone is smart as hell
(Their papers can be hell as well).
All the scholars stop and stare
At Oliver Crisp and his facial hair.
If you have a PhD
And like to be abused,
You can pay an extra fee
To go to interviews.
Thousands of new books on display,
But which are worth reading? Who can say?
They greet you with kind words and friendly looks.
But when your back is turned they pounce –
And force you to write books.
Two things are exceedingly long
(I won't say exceedingly weird):
The first is a book by Nicholas Tom,
The second is Oliver's beard.
I went to the afternoon panel,
It sounded excellent too;
But I fled for my life when I heard someone mention
The names of Zizek and Badiou.
My friend had drunk too many drinks
At the Wipf & Stock reception.
He kissed my cheek and said, "I'm straight –
But for you I'd make an exception."
When you see them buying and selling your book,
You suddenly feel exposed:
Like one of those dreams where you're preaching a sermon
But haven't put on any clothes.
By Sunday I was feeling blue.
I missed the ones I left at home:
My dog, my cat –
By Tuesday I had missed my family too.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Sunday, 24 November 2013
Labels: George Herbert
Friday, 22 November 2013
The walk back to Salisbury takes about an hour, and even though it was quite wet and cold I made my way along the muddy path with a light heart, feeling very glad and free.
At an upstairs cafe in a restored medieval building in Salisbury I was brought coffee by a girl with a face like Helen of Troy. When she put down the coffee on the table beside my hand, I thought: men would launch ships, they would send their sons to war, for a face like this. She was turning to leave so I asked her for a glass of water, not because I needed water but because I needed her to come back and stand a moment longer near me, outlined against the wide window and the grey sky. I watched her turn to walk away and I thought, my God, even her knees are perfect. I wondered what her knees would look like without the black stockings. And such small feet! I imagined her gently kicking off the small black shoes, one by one, and walking barefoot across the floor.
I tasted the coffee and it was very good. She came back and put a glass of water down on the table. Her hair was longer than I had remembered and her eyes were darker than I had remembered. Because the table was so low, she had to bend down to place the glass in front of me. I averted my eyes. I looked at the light that rippled on the surface of the water in the glass.
I wished I were a stage director. I would give her the part of Cleopatra and find an Antony to make long speeches to her. I wished I were an artist. I would draw her, every inch of her, in blackest charcoal. I wanted to capture the light in her dark eyes. I wanted to bless her, salute her, memorialise her, build an altar to her. I wanted to do so many things.
The glass of water came to rest on the table in front of me. Her fingers slid away from the wet glass. Her small feet padded away on the wooden floor.
I do not mean to make you blush, reader. I record these details purely for the sake of contrast. For am I not the same identical person who, one hour before, had sat in the church at Bemerton thinking the most pious thoughts I have ever had in all my life? That entire hour of prayer and contemplation; my proximity to the bones of a saint whom I have loved my whole life; the feeling of God's will encompassing me like a cloak – what happened to all that? An hour ago my heart had gone to Bemerton. Now with all my heart – the same heart! – I was contemplating other things.
It makes you realise that pious thoughts and religious feelings are a fine thing as far as they go – but they don't go very far. Less than an hour, as it turns out.
So I suppose like everybody else I will have to go on living the Christian life the slow way. I will have to remember that it is more important to be faithful than to be pious. I will have to go on saying my prayers and taking communion and giving alms and wetting my fingers in the baptismal font, day after day and year after year.
I am still glad for one calm clear hour in the church at Bemerton, for the chance to pray with the bones of George Herbert sleeping under my feet. I am glad, too, to have been lucky enough to see a face like the face of the girl at the cafe. For all I know she might have been an angel. For all I know, underneath her clothes there are wings. But angels' wings are no concern of mine. For God made me to walk, not fly.
Labels: George Herbert
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
|Drawing of Herbert's church by Guy Ottewell|
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Saturday, 16 November 2013
Over the past couple of days I've been having a lot of fun writing a tweet for every book of the Bible. Here's where it's up to so far – and thanks to @KristaNDalton for showing me how to storify these tweets. If you'd like to contribute your own versions, we're using the tag #CanonFodder.
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Monday, 11 November 2013
Thursday, 7 November 2013
I finished the book. I put it down. My heart was full because the book had been so good. I looked out the window from my reading chair and thought about Helen Vendler and the way she reads poems. I got up to make a cup of tea. The dog followed me into the kitchen. He looked pretty halfhearted about it because he is always lazy during the day when the children are at school. A house without children is like a yard without a bone, that's how he sees it. I felt sorry for him, the self-pitying way he watched me boil the kettle, so I rewarded him for his sadness with a bit of dried meat from the cupboard.
I got my tea and went back to the chair and opened the next book. It was about the institution of slavery in ancient Greece and Rome, written by somebody named Joseph Vogt. While the dog went back to sleep beside my feet I studied the picture on the cover and opened the book at random to sample a sentence and inspect the typeface. I rummaged through the index. I examined the table of contents. I consulted the bibliography. I loved the way Helen Vendler had described George Herbert's "native delight in neatness." I thought I should write the phrase down somewhere so I wouldn't forget it. I opened Joseph Vogt's book to the first page and began reading. I read the first page, then the second. By the third page I was beginning to find something vaguely unsettling about this book. Something did not seem right. There was a pebble in the shoe somewhere, but I did not stop to wonder what it was. I kept reading, and half way down the fourth page the question formed itself clearly in my mind: But which one of Herbert's poems is he talking about?
That was when I understood the problem. My eyes had been reading the words on the page, but my mind was still lodged in Helen Vendler's book. I had not, in fact, understood a single word that I had read, for I had unknowingly brought Helen Vendler with me to the other book and was still expecting to find George Herbert under every stone. My eyes were with Joseph Vogt but my mind was aligned with Helen Vendler. As soon as I became aware of the problem I looked out the window and took a second to adjust my mind, calibrating it to the new themes of slavery, ancient Greece, ancient Rome. Then I turned back to the first page and started again. This time I understood what I was reading; it was a good book; I no longer thought of George Herbert and was therefore able to enjoy learning about Greece and Rome.
Anyone who reads books as a way of life will be familiar with this experience, and with the way one's mind requires calibration to different authors and different kinds of books. Even casual distractions require small mental adjustments; this happens whenever you get to the end of a paragraph only to discover that the whole time you were thinking of sex or shopping. But more interesting and more subtle is the way books can interact with one another so that, when putting down one book and taking up another, the book you are reading is muted by a sort of residual presence of another book, an echo of another voice.
The act of calibrating one's mind to the specific nature of a book is, I believe, one of the chief pleasures of reading. It is indeed a pleasure unique to reading, exquisitely dissimilar from the pleasures of other arts like cinema and music. The reading life is a life regulated by this practice of precise internal calibration to the books one loves. The best books are the ones that have to teach us how to read them, how to adapt our expectations to what is present in them. It is why so many great books are so long. Moby-Dick has to be as long as it is; if it were any shorter, our first reading would not allow us time to begin to learn how to read it.
This internal alignment might be described as the obedience of reading: the capacity to yield ourselves to another, to suspend our agendas to make room for something different from ourselves. We experience the pleasure of reading to the degree that we are spiritually capable of such obedience. In a strange way, it is this obedience itself that produces pleasure. That is why books that demand very little adjustment on the part of the reader – a book, let us say, in which everything is predictable from the start – also offer comparatively few pleasures. It is the book that demands a more drastic adjustment of the self that also rewards the reader with greater (in some cases life-changing) pleasures.
And this is why learning to read well requires time and effort. It requires a willingness to go back to the first page and start again – not because reading is hard work but because it is hard-won pleasure. There are books that yield up their peculiar pleasures only after many re-readings. In some instances, years of study may be required before one learns how to enjoy a book. But even the most difficult book is read ultimately in trust that the reward, however delayed, will amply compensate for the trouble it took to obtain it. I have read The Tempest fifteen times in the same year – not because I was addicted to its difficulty for its own sake, but because I found the book's elusive promise of joy so compelling, and because with all my heart I trusted that the book would keep its promise. I read it fifteen times to learn how to align myself with it, how to become obedient to its peculiar magic. I read it fifteen times because I wanted to know how to read it.
I have called this internal work the obedience of reading. But really that is misleading. It will be more accurate if we simply agree to call it love. The art of reading is an art of love. It is a way of going outside myself to discover the strange country of another heart and mind. Aligning myself to the customs of that country is not an onerous burden. It is something more like courtesy, a recognition that there are persons other than myself whose voices are worth hearing and whose hearts are worth knowing.
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
I once preached a baptismal sermon entitled “Witnessing Your Own Funeral” (cf. Romans 6:1ff.). The day of my retirement – eucharistic worship followed by a cracking restaurant meal – it too was like being at your own funeral: everybody saying such nice things about you. I guess the old saying “de mortuis nil nisi bene” goes for de emeritis too.
In early retirement I’ve been trying to downsize, separating the wheat from the chaff, discarding stuff that’s accumulated over the years, some of it significant at the time but now baggage, some of it just stuff that got shoved in a corner, some of it crap I’m surprised was even there. Time to get rid and move on. I’ve been doing the same thing with the stuff in my study.
Mañana is said to be the devil’s day. Not when you’re retired. When you’re retired, ayer is the devil’s day – the temptation to look back. Mañana is hoy as hope.
The irony of retirement from pastoral ministry is the realisation that for over 31 years I never worked a day.
I am occasionally asked why I became a minister. The answer is easy: the alternative was terminal unemployment.
Lord, keep me from a Giant Sequoia faith; the small, mustard seed kind will do just fine. For if my faith gets too big, how will I fit through the narrow gate?
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” – passive aggression or what! More deeply, what an exquisite example of the defence mechanism of sublimation, as what is actually felt – “[I] hate the sinner, [I] love the sin” – is transformed into its opposite.
“I am the bread of life” is not good enough for some Christians. They think our Lord was remiss in not adding: “– and you’re toast!”
Why the “delay” of the parousia? Is God giving sinners time to repent? Hell no. Surely it’s to increase apocalyptic tension and terror; but, above all, it is for God’s own good pleasure: vengeance is a dish best served cold, right?
For the Calvinist, God chooses hell for some of his children. For the Arminian, God chooses to let some of his children choose hell for themselves. So it’s like one father kills some of his children, another father lets some of his children commit suicide. And these are the alternatives to universalism? No thanks.
“Love (III)”: George Herbert’s answer to Martin Luther’s question. The definitive answer. Vividly remembering an occasion when she recited it to herself, Simone Weil wrote, “pour la première fois, le Christ est venu me prendre.” For me too this poem is a prayer as sacramental as the feast of which it sings.
I like a good German beer, but I’d rather a bottle of an excellent Burgundy, say a Côte de Nuits Villages: that’s why I prefer Calvin to Luther.
“And you’re special, how?”: the short version of God’s answer to Job.
Shorter version: “Shit happens.”
Silent version: [God hands Job a DVD of The Tree of Life.]
Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. Pope Frances will be the hurricane.
In his recent homiletical broadside against “Christian ideology”, the pope drew an important distinction between praying and saying (set) prayers. I would only add that the Lord’s Prayer itself is not exempt from Francis’ critique. In Luke 11:1ff., the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, not to teach them a prayer. Ditto for eucharistic anaphora: they are not priestly incantations but (as I once heard Rowan Williams put it) “aides-memoires”. Yes, the holy of holies itself may become an ideological charade – indeed an ideological cover-up (cf. I Corinthians 11:17ff.).
On not reading KB: As Walter Benjamin (almost) wrote, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of Barthianism.”
Claude M. Steele’s seminal Whistling Vivaldi (2010) takes its title from the story of an African American student who discovers that, walking the streets of Chicago’s Hyde Park, he can take affirmative action and disarm white folk by whistling “tunes” from The Four Seasons. Which suggests a tactic for women students who are pissed off at feeling marginalised in Barth Studies departments: sisters, don’t give up reading CD, a Pyrrhic protest, rather take the fight to – and the piss from – the Boys with targeted “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” whistle-ins.
I see Joel Osteen has a new book out: Break Out! 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life. Yep, 5 keys ought to do it, for sure. Ask Steven Tyler or Kate Moss.
What next for Dan Brown? Perhaps The Apostle Screed?
On the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate, I admit to taking the view of an anthropologist on Zog, but you gotta love Rachel Held Evans, who clearly speaks to and for many a shackled sister, while both beguiling and riling the menfolk. Sweetasmicawezizzle, she’s the (married) Mary Poppins of theo-blogdom, “practically perfect in every way”. Indeed, as a theme song for her website, how about “A Spoonful of Sugar (helps the medicine go down)”? I put RHE’s winsome sass down to an undoubtedly Welsh heritage (Ifan, btw, means “God is gracious”): women have always proved more than a match for the men in the “Land of our Fathers.”
At F&T, scrolling down “Blogs I like,” I came to the fine Near Emmaus and clicked “If you could ask @Pastor Mark Driscoll one question…” “OOPS!” the screen informed me. “It looks like nothing was found at this location.” You couldn’t make it up.
Speaking of MD… Jesus asks, “How can Satan drive out Satan” (Mark 3:23)? To rephrase the question in a Lewisean kind of way, “How can Screwloose cast out Screwloose?” I don’t know, but it looks like Driscoll and John MacArthur are trying to find out.
Bonhoeffer famously said that not becoming a saint but learning to have faith was his spiritual goal. Here’s a more modest proposal for Christians: let’s try learning not to be such jerks. Like Paul, I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, but too, too often I’m ashamed of myself and the church.
Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God? Maybe, maybe not. But then the same goes for Christians and atheists.
“He follows Jesus and the New York Yankees (in that order)” – From About Peter Enns, on his blog. I love the parenthesis: it is an inerrant example of a contradiction masquerading as a qualification. (Btw, here’s a proposal: that Peter change the name of his blog to The Enns-Time, to give it an eschatological edge: apocalyptic always sells. Mind, his opponents might prefer the name Ennsolence.)
Labels: Kim Fabricius
Sunday, 3 November 2013
It appears there is something wrong with the toes, for each of them has grown a curious yellowish claw. What are they for? What will the feet do with these sharp protrusions? Use them to catch prey? Dig holes? Peel fruit? They could, I suppose, be used to soothe me if I brought my mouth down very close to chew them. Chewing the nails along my fingers is a thing that I have always liked to do, and I have always found it soothing. But the toes do not look appetising, and besides, a centipede is making his way across one foot and I would never want to startle him or to bite his little legs off by mistake. Walk on, little brother! I will keep an eye out for you and make sure no harm comes to you!
And how did they get so wrinkled, my toes? The rest of me is young, youthful, very fresh and new, a spring chicken. But the toes are prunes. They look, if I am not mistaken, nearly a hundred years old. There must be some mistake. I check my legs, running both hands from the knees down to the ankles. No, there is no denying it, those feet are definitely my feet, the toes my toes. Well. That is disappointing. I forgive you, toes! I hold nothing against you!
Just think, I must have been lugging these toes around with me all this time but never knew it. Oh, I suppose I might have caught a glimpse of them from time to time. I recall trimming the nails once or twice. I recall showering, toes being washed and dried with a towel. I must have noticed them too the time I cut my toe, for I must have cut it once upon a time, the scar is proof. I am sorry if I hurt you, toe. Forgive me! Let us speak no more about it!
Let us say then that I have seen these toes before, yes, that I have quite definitely seen them, but had never truly noticed their existence until now, until today, until I pulled my shoes off and sat down under this kind wise tree and prayed and stared for one hour at my toes.
The centipede has stopped to take a look around. He cannot decide whether to walk across the toes, five arduous hairy hills, or to go back where he came from. He is sniffing around with his antennae. Perhaps he is trying to establish if this is all dead meat, these feet, or a living thing; he wants to know if he should start eating me now or come back later. A little later, brother! A little longer and I will lie down in the ground and feed you.
The tree's big shade is very good to me. It makes it good to sit here praying and looking at my feet. The branches creak when the wind comes up the hill. Some of the leaves fall down but not too many. I lie back in the grass and look up at the branches that stretch into the sky, a leafy ladder. Sometimes, I have often felt it, a great urge has come upon me to climb the ladder. I would go up to the highest branches and look out from the treetop. I would love to climb your branches, sister, and to look down at the river. Nobody would see me there but I would see the winding river and the bridge and the cows over the first or second hill. One day I will do it, I know I will. One day, sister, when I am younger I will climb every branch until I reach the top. And then I will climb back down smiling at the terrific secret of it and climb down under the ground and rest there in the shade with my toes tucked under your roots for fertiliser, deep down there beside my brothers, and all of us will pray under the ground and feed you and feed the grass and I will be a great feast for the little tickly centipedes which I love.
But not today. I am only resting. This is just the dress rehearsal. Some days, on days like this, the thought of dying grows so big in me that I am frightened that my face will break in two from smiling.