18 July 2009

Waste not...

My sweet potato tried to overpower me.

16 July 2009

Cavanaugh on Creation and Economy

I never wrote up any thoughts after the Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago last week, but for starters, the folks at Englewood Review of Books have posted audio of Bill Cavanaugh's plenary lecture here. His work has been important to me since some friends first gave me Torture and Eucharist in 2004, and his presence was really the main reason that I was so interested in attending the conference. I don't think EP made 'official' recordings of the conference, so I was happy to come across these files. He spends the first fifteen minutes narrating the collapse of the derivative-based economy, so if that is still confusing to you, maybe his retelling will help.

Proper 11

I'm preaching again this coming Sunday, which is my final day in Tennessee. The text is Ephesians 2:11-22. This passage is right in my wheelhouse; it's one of the most important declarations of ecclesial unity in the New Testament. If I were Episcopalian, I might just get up in the pulpit, read the passage ten times over, and sit down.

As it stands, I don't feel like I'm in a position to preach about division in somebody else's house. And I am finding that it's a little tough to pull together a message that is about such a fundamental matter as this. To me, it's like trying to preach on John 3:16 or Psalm 23. So this week is an exercise in resisting the temptation to make everything new and innovative.

13 July 2009

Review: Theology and Culture

I just finished a relatively new book by D. Stephen Long entitled Theology and Culture: A Guide to the Discussion. It’s part of a series that Wipf & Stock is publishing on its Cascade imprint. The “Cascade Companions” series endeavors to make accessible to non-Ph.D. level readers the richness of our ecclesial and theological traditions. They’ve already published primers on Augustine and the Desert Fathers (both by Jason Byasee) and a really great overview of Paul’s letters by Michael Gorman. The forthcoming volumes look equally worthwhile.

I really love the idea of this series. I like to think that I’m the kind of person the publisher has in mind. It’s a common experience for me to encounter articles or books that seem provocative and interesting, yet they are difficult to comprehend because they are participating in a conversation with which I am unfamiliar. To identify and read all the prior texts necessary to bring myself up to speed would be an immense task—a graduate degree in itself. But a short, accessible primer on the subject would suit my needs much better.

That’s what I hoped would be the case when I bought Long’s book on theology and culture, and I was mostly satisfied by his effort. Whenever people start using the word “culture,” I tend to shut down, because I don’t know what they mean and I am suspicious that neither do they. Long identifies this ambiguity as one of the fundamental reasons why relating culture and theology is such a difficult project.

Like many Duke students, I have been pretty heavily influenced by Prof. Hauerwas’ criticisms of H. Richard Niebuhr, but I have never read Niebuhr and don’t actually know much about him. While Long is definitely also a critic of Niebuhr, he at least is willing to back the truck up and give an account of what Niebuhr’s arguments were (alongside those of his predecessor Troeltsch and his successor Tillich). This discussion helped me to understand that the critique of Niebuhr (and modern liberalism more broadly) stems not only from modernism’s focus on the individual actor, but also from its assumption that the church’s chief task is to relate itself to the present moment:

“It is a peculiar feature of our modern culture that we are so driven to find characterizations of it and then claim we must be relevant to those characterizations. This may be indebted to H. Richard Niebuhr’s and Paul Tillich’s emphases on ‘culture’ as one of the correlates theology must address if it is to speak to modern people” (62).

It is at this point that Long seems to come closest to addressing the theology/culture conversation that gives me the most trouble. The real reason I wanted to read this group was so that I could feel a little less bewildered when I hear or read someone from the Relevant Magazine/Emergent Village/hip Christianity circles. (I recognize it’s incredibly unfair to lump so many people together. I'm doing so here because they all talk about something called 'culture', whereas I like to pretend no such thing exists.) He doesn’t really bring them in directly, and I’m not sure why. But knowing more about Niebuhr and Tillich helps me to understand a bit more where they might be coming from, so I’m glad for that.

I also really appreciate that Steve Long is the first person I’ve encountered who is willing to venture a definition of “postmodernism”. I hate hearing about postmodernity, because it seems even more slippery than “culture”. He writes, “Postmodern culture is not anything but the recognition that we can now see what ‘modern culture’ was and is, and can begin to recognize its limits, even if in so doing we cannot completely transcend those limits” (87). (As I look at that quotation by itself, it doesn’t look very meaty, but in the book it comes at the end of a lengthy effort at describing and questioning modern culture, so it is actually a pretty satisfying answer.)

My biggest issue with this book is rather trivial, and I imagine has more to do with the publisher than with the author: this book is full of typos. In 112 pages, I found eight such errors: errant or absent punctuation marks, confused homonyms, and outright misspellings. You see that kind of thing from time to time in other books, but never with such frequency that you start marking each one in the margins in order to tally them up and blog about it later.

But, let’s not end on that note. All in all, this is a very helpful book that sets out with modest goals and hits them. If you want to become more able to understand theological engagements with culture, it’s well worth your time to read this short volume. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Palin, baby.

I probably don't have enough readers to do a bona fide caption contest, but feel free to post whatever you want about this photo, in today's NYT:

12 July 2009


I looked at my nightstand yesterday and realized I'm in the middle of five different books right now:
The Eichstaedt book jumped off the shelf at me when I was in a Borders in Chicago over the weekend. Published in February of this year, it seems to be a very thorough and vivid account of the toll of the rebel conflict in northern Uganda, where I will arrive in 11 days.

In addition, I hope to post some kind of a mini-review of Steve Long's book once I am finished with it.

Last week's sermon

I was in Chicago over the weekend, and Chicago told me they want to see my 7/5 sermon. Here it is.

08 July 2009

Trading Places

How's this for a role reversal: Halden digs up John Howard Yoder's critique of Christians who seek to perpetuate the faith through defensive education of our youth. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins is supporting the first atheistic camp for kids in Britain.

Tune in next week, when Christians will begin spending their Sunday morning smoking cigarettes and reading the New York Times Magazine on their Central Park West balconies, while secular humanists flood the airwaves with second-rate music promoting their beliefs.

06 July 2009

Palin Takes Bold Action to Shrink Government

Ironically, it was Friday when we saw this in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park:

And on Saturday, while the Anvil Shoot was shaking the ground beneath our feet, we came across this political earthquake:

(As an aside, since I am living without internet or television at home, I am not really plugged into 24-hour news like I usually would be. I can't remember the last time when a news story broke and I first found out about it from a printed newspaper.)

Fourth of July on the Frontier

Mom and Dad visited for Independence Day (and Dave's birthday) weekend. On the 4th, we went to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn. The centerpiece of the Museum's Independence Day celebration is an activity called an Anvil Shoot. It's pretty much what it sounds like: they ignite a bunch of gunpowder underneath an anvil. This is apparently a tradition that dates back to the frontier days. The explosion happens around the 0:34 mark in the video. Enjoy.

01 July 2009

Another Honduras photo

This photo is from the first sermon I delivered, on Tuesday night of our week in Honduras. My sermon contrasted the Tower of Babel - what we construct on our own strength, for our own glory - with the Church, where we rely on God and glorify God. The man next to me is Rigo, a translator who is also a local pastor at a Methodist church in Tegucigalpa.

We still don't know why the flag of Israel was hanging in the sanctuary. Nobody wanted to ask.

What do you mean, "Do I stick out in Central America"?

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