Wednesday 28 November 2012

Getting into the Christmas spirit

I asked my children which parts they were hoping to get in the Christmas pageant.

Felicity: I want to be one of the shepherds!
Anna: I want to be one of the sheep!
James: I want to be the floor!

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Christ the Stranger: around the traps

My Rowan Williams book, Christ the Stranger, has been getting a lot of generous attention over the past week or two. I was astounded to see it listed as one of the Guardian's books of the year for 2012 (selected by the travel writer Colin Thubron). Even my wife decided to read it when she saw that it came recommended by the Guardian!

It was also listed today in the Christian Century's year-end list of top books in theology and philosophy. Wesley Hill gave it an extended review last week in Books & Culture, and that was picked up by über-blogger Andrew Sullivan in a post on theology for dark times. Simon Perry gave it a generous review in Oxford's Regent Reviews [pdf], and Philip Harvey from the Carmelite Library in Melbourne reviewed it with some thoughtful criticisms about the importance of Williams' Anglicanism.

I'm very flattered by all the attention! It says a lot more about Rowan Williams than it does about me – but I'm thankful all the same. And I'm glad so many people are reading about Rowan Williams: he's well worth the trouble, that's what I've found.

On other writing fronts, I recently turned in the manuscript of Salvation in My Pocket: Fragments of Faith and Theology, to be published by Cascade Books. It's a collection of the best short pieces from this blog, together with a bunch of new pieces that I've written lately (which explains why I haven't been blogging much!). The book has new pieces on childhood, saints, silence, time, the cross, the death of Thomas Merton and Karl Barth, travel notes on Illinois, and who knows what else. 

And I'm back at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena for the next month, where I hope to finish a draft of Dear Mister Herbert, my letters to George Herbert on the Christian life.

Friday 23 November 2012

Sarah Coakley on women bishops and the collapse of Anglican theology

Sarah Coakley has a terrific piece on the ABC site about the Church of England's vote this week – a vote against women bishops and for theological incoherency:

So what we have created in the past twenty years is a theological anomaly which has insidiously been made to seem normal: a whole cadre of priests – a third of our priesthood now – who are supposedly intrinsically disabled from exercising the charisms of spiritual unity and authority historically associated with the episcopate. It is here that the main theological scandal still lies: the implicit creation and normalization of second-class priesthood. The terrible danger is that this may now be extended into second-class episcopacy.
Coakley situates this theological disaster within the wider story of the church's growing bureaucratisation in recent years, and the evacuation of theological seriousness from church polity:
In our supposedly "secular" culture, the Church of England seems to have succumbed to the idea that theological ideas do not matter very much, and this may bespeak a deeper malaise even than the current crisis itself. Young people are turning back to the Church, longing for spiritual and intellectual bread; by and large stones await them, even despite a most promising new generation of young priest-scholars (women and men) who are beginning to rise through the ecclesial ranks. Perhaps in a generation things will be different. But for the moment the Church has in effect signed its own theological death warrant.
And she points out that our bureaucratic ecclesial culture comes with a cost. It displaces the culture of prayer that is indigenous to the church's life, and on which the church's spiritual vitality will always ultimately depend:
Along with the notable turn in priestly life in general to the secular bureaucratic models of "leadership," "efficiency" and "mission-efficacy" has gone an almost unnoticed capitulation – as I see it – to the idolatry of busyness.... The costliness of this pressure merely to "cope" in a whirlwind of ever-consuming administrative demands and inevitably eroded prayer is a problem that goes well beyond the particular matter of women bishops. But I dare to raise it because it says something about the culture in which a merely pragmatic or political, rather than a truly theological, solution to an ecclesiastical impasse [is sought]. Is our creeping ecclesial bureaucratization indeed the way forward for the Church in all its ministries? Is it here – rather than in any inappropriate commitment to worldly feminism and egalitarianism, as is often claimed – that the issue of women bishops is stalled and hiddenly entangled with secular mores?
 This is an excellent piece of public theology: a serious-minded, prophetic call for a recovery of Anglican faithfulness.

Sunday 18 November 2012

The cross and the lynching tree: an AAR panel set to verse

Tonight's AAR panel on James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree was quite an experience. We heard from J. Kameron Carter, Christopher Morse, Nate Kerr, and James Cone. Here's an account of the panel, told in four poems:

Lynching Tree Blues (J. Kameron Carter)

Take him down (poor boy) from the tree,
Lay him down (sweet boy) next to me.
Papa gonna hold you now (don't cry),
Mama take your photograph (don't die).
Close your eyes, it's as easy as one-two-three,
And you'll wake up in the morning come judgment day.
Take him down (poor boy) from the tree.

Theological Malpractice (Christopher Morse)

Reinhold Niebuhr, 
fastidious theorist of original sin,
went by a lynching tree one day
and never said a thing. 

Songs of Jericho (Nate Kerr)

Gray sky, barbed wire, business is booming;
we cleared away the trees to build 
these excellent high walls (Satisfaction Guaranteed). 
Outside, investors study annual reports, count sums.
Inside, because there is nothing else to do,
the women join hands, singing.

Crosses Too (James H. Cone)

By the cross I suffered,
by the cross I persevered:
there's a riddle for you.

If God was with Jesus
then God must be with us, 
for we are up on crosses too.

Thursday 15 November 2012

AAR in Chicago

I'm on my way to Chicago for AAR and SBL. I'll be chairing a panel on Saturday morning: M17-105 Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology (Saturday, 9.00am-12.00pm), with papers by Eugene Rogers, Serene Jones, Nate Kerr, and responses by Sarah Coakley.

Three of my doctoral students will be presenting too: Janice Rees and Steve Wright are both giving papers (one on gender, the other on evangelism) in M16-205 The Salvation Army and Intersections of Contemporary Theology (Friday - 1:45 PM-4:45 PM); and Matthew Wilcoxen is giving a paper on Augustine and Nabokov in A17-312 Augustine's Confessions and Its Afterlives (Saturday, 4.00-6.30pm).

As usual there are loads of interesting panels at both AAR and SBL. Some that I'm particularly interested in are:
  • A17-223 The Philosophy of Evagrius (Saturday, 1.00-3.30pm), with Kevin Corrgian, Sara Ahbel-Rappe, Robin Darling Young, and Joel Kalvesmaki
  • S18-145 Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts (Sunday, 9-11.30am), on the theme of "Exegesis in the Context of Asceticism and Culture"
  • M17-403 Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic (Saturday, 6.30pm-9.00pm), on the theme "James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree, with Nancy J. Duff, Nate Kerr, Christopher Morse, J. Kameron Carter, and James H. Cone.
  • M18-407 Diagonal Advance: Discussing Christian Perfection with Anthony D. Baker (Sunday, 7-9pm), with Dan McClain, Frederick Bauerschmidt, D. Stephen Long, Sarah Coakley, and Anthony D. Baker
  • A19-104 The Authority of Doctrine: In Dialogue with Khaled Anatolios (Monday, 9.00am-11.30 am), with George Hunsinger, Francesca Murphy, Bruce Marshall, Matthew Levering, and Khaled Anatolios
  • S17-341 Interpreting the Psalms Theologically (Saturday, 4-6.30pm), with Ellen Davis, Matthew W. Bates, Patrick Henry Reardon, Andrew M. Selby, Ellen T. Charry, and William Brown
  • P16-210 Karl Barth Society of North America (Friday, 3.15pm-6.15pm), with Katherine Sonderegger and Paul Dafydd Jones
  • A19-202 Teaching Bonhoeffer in Undergraduate Settings (Monday, 1-3pm), chaired by Joel Lawrence.
If you're going, I hope to see you there!

Sunday 11 November 2012

Daffy doodlings

by Kim Fabricius

It’s the gyneconomy, tonto.

In the end, the only thing Mitt Romney had going for him is that he was named after an item of baseball equipment.  And still he dropped the ball.

Evangelical pundits declared that Hurricane Sandy was God’s judgement on Obama’s liberalism/socialism. Then they declared that the storm helped win the election for Obama. As Cowper’s great hymn puts it:
Morons moves in mysterious ways
Their wonders to perform;
They plant their footsteps in the sea
And ride upon the – er, storm.
Hurricane Sandy was not God’s judgement on America, rather the gaggle of blowhards who declared that Hurricane Sandy was God’s judgement on America is God’s judgement on America.

For a quintessential oxymoron, “successful church” ranks right up there with “smartphone”.

Ours an age of individualism? More like branded bipedalism.

I’ve never written a sermon in my life. Hundreds of manuscripts – but no sermons.

The best cure I know for a Sunday morning hangover is having to preach at 11:00.

Sure, you can prepare for the event of revelation with a rigorous askesis. Like a swimmer can prepare for an encounter with a shark by doing laps.

The gay lobby in the UK has just unleashed its secret weapon. It is called George Carey.

There are only two books – the Good Book and the Bad Book (“I have written a wicked book”).  Your salvation is in doubt if you do not know the latter.

If Jesus were married, surely there would be evidence for it at Nag, Nag, Nag Hammadi.  Not to mention a scroll or ten of mother-in-law jokes.

The cover-to-cover coverage of the uncoverage of the Duchess of Kent? A storm in a 30C cup.

Warner Sallman’s uber-popular Head of Christ, with its “radiant, incandescent glow” – it’s a crappy white man’s worship-song in paint, isn’t it?  Game to Feuerbach.

What, in a word, is Jesus Christ to the principalities and powers? Kryptonite.

Rarum bellum jus in terris nigroque simillima cygno (to riff on Juvenal).

Look at Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. (And remember Grenada, the war to end the Vietnam “syndrome”?)  “Just war” turns out to be, er, just war.

Christian pacifism would be unintelligible without the resurrection of Jesus.  Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus would be unintelligible without Christian pacifists.

Alas, it is not always true that faith without works is dead. All too often it’s a zombie.

In the city centre of Swansea a man stands brandishing a Bible and shouting, “We want to make hell as empty as possible!” Not with that tone of voice, he doesn’t.

In my experience, there is only one kind of Christian more unbiblical than a liberal – a conservative evangelical.

Should there be an age of consent for becoming a Christian? Absolutely. No one should be allowed to commit to Christ before they have gotten laid, to exclude the confusion of faith with heightened adrenal hormone activity.

Dawkins is correct that religious people are bewitched by self-deceit. His error is his failure to universalise the observation. It is this half-truth that makes him a half-wit.

Who is the greatest contemporary writer of science fiction? Probably Richard Dawkins – he’s a more elegant stylist than Dennett or Pinker. Alternatively, you might call the New Atheism a non-fictional form of magical realism.

If Jesus played baseball, what would his batting average be? 1.000? No, .000. For with the bases empty, he would always draw an intentional walk; and with men on base, he would always lay down a sacrifice bunt.

“At the still point of the turning world…
… at the still point, there the dance is.” 
—T.S. Eliot, in “Burnt Norton” (Four Quartets) – on the shortstop. (cf. Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding, 2011)


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