27 September 2009

Nineteen couplets on the cost of progress.

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, there is a poem by our friend Wendell Berry. It's called "A Speech to the Garden Club of America" and you should read it. You can't top this: "Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens / By going back to school, this time in gardens"

25 September 2009

Not just one disc. Two discs.

I support an organization that does humanitarian work on the US-Mexico border. I really care about their work. But this offer, which I just received via Facebook? Not the most appealing. I wish them well:
Man Makes Music from Border Wall. Avant-guard musician Glenn Weyant plays border security infrastructure as string and percussion instruments, and has recorded it all on a 2-disc set! You can receive this or other goodies by participating in our effort to support the border humanitarian work of [organization].

24 September 2009

18th Sunday after Pentecost

For the last 21 years, the Wesley Fellowship at Duke has celebrated weekly Eucharist in the basement of Duke Chapel. This has been an important part of my life for the entirety of my time at the University. On September 16, I delivered the homily at that service, using some of the lectionary texts for Sunday, September 20: Proverbs 31:10-31 and James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a. I preached from an outline (which is increasingly becoming my custom) so I don't have a full text version of what I said, but wanted to pass along one portion of the exegesis here.

While Proverbs 31 is clearly about "a capable wife," and has been exploited for that reason, it still contains real truth that can be normative for all of our lives. The text exhorts us all to be in partnership with others, and to let our service be guided by wisdom and seasoned with humility, skill, and savvy. By this reading, an irony emerges: Proverbs 31, beloved text of evangelicals obsessed with gender roles, may be talking about the same thing as James, the patron saint of liberal Christians obsessed with justice and equality. For James says, "Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom." Both texts are describing the Good Life as that in which wisdom, not individual will, is the guiding force. Wisdom is often associated with the Holy Spirit; elsewhere, Paul called Jesus "the power and wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). In other words, to be Christian is to be transformed by our encounter with the triune God. James has already warned us that faith without works is dead; here, he is saying that works without faith -- that is, works not born of divine wisdom -- these works are also, in a sense, dead.

In short, our task is to figure out how to be both Matthew 25 AND Proverbs 31 women and men.

22 September 2009

Infants and the Grace of God

Although it has taken me a long time to stop thinking of blogs principally as a big joke or a passing fad, I have to acknowledge that I really enjoy having a group of friends who are deep thinkers, witty critics, and gifted writers, who are willing to share those gifts with others.

In that spirit, you should read Melissa's brief post on babies and original sin.

I was up in NJ this weekend for my nephew Liam's baptism. The Catholic rite is very clear about naming the cleansing of original sin as one of the primary effects of baptism. Augustine's thought has obviously been preserved through the liturgy and doctrine of this sacrament.

Melissa has identified beautiful imagery of Augustine's in order to point out that babies' theological "meaning" should not be confined strictly to their proving the doctrine of original sin. But what I like about her commentary is that it doesn't necessarily preclude or rebut the doctrine of original sin. In Augustine's thought, both images were true: the self-centered baby with the corrupt will, and the helpless, clinging, loving baby, nourished only by God.

In fact, it may be precisely because of the first image that the second image is so meaningful. If we were not thoroughly corrupted by original sin, then the helpless and dependent baby would not be a fitting metaphor for our spiritual state. If we were not corrupt in this way, we would not be utterly dependent on God's grace; we could save ourselves. So in a sense, the baby clinging to the mother can be seen as just as much of a refutation of Pelagius as is the baby who cries until its physical desires are met.

17 September 2009

It is quite possible to please none of the people all of the time.

Imagine that you and I are trying to come to an agreement about where to go on vacation. Let's say that we've both contributed money to our vacation fund, and we can only choose one place. I want to go to Miami (a southern beach), and you want to go to Chicago (a northern city). Then, in hopes of striking a compromise, I suggest that we go to Louisville instead.

Max Baucus' bill sounds a lot like Louisville.

15 September 2009

It's a long summer.

Here is a sentence I didn't need to read:

"Phillies RHP Pedro Martinez pitched eight scoreless innings yesterday, eliminating the Mets from playoff contention."

06 September 2009

University, Church, Society

In today's NYT Book Review, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust writes that the American university must become more of an incubator for ideas and ideals, and less an instrument in the service of the market, if it is to have any future at all. She casts an inspiring vision for what the academy can contribute to society.

Interestingly, the "transcendent" parts of the university's vocation seem so similar to what was once expected of the Protestant church in this country. I wonder whether the disestablishment of mainline Protestantism in the postwar period, and the separation of churches from the eminent universities they founded, has left us with neither churches nor universities capable of "rais[ing] the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society."

Newbigin on Salvation

"There is an unexamined assumption that we know what we are talking about when we ask such questions as: Will the devout Hindu or Muslim be saved? It is the unexamined concept of salvation which needs to be scrutinized. The whole discussion, if I am not mistaken, is focused on the destiny of the individual's soul after death. But that is not at all the focus of attention in the Bible. Attention is focused on the final event in which God will complete His purpose for all humankind and all creation. The urgent question is not: How shall I be saved? But: How shall God's name be hallowed, His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as in heaven? The focus is on knowing and doing the truth now, so that we may be partakers in the corporate and cosmic consummation at the end. Not only in the Old Testament but also in the New, the commanding vision is not of a way by which I can leave this world for another where I shall be safe, but of the way by which God will come to this world, the way by which God will come to this world to communicate His purpose for the whole creation. Salvation lies in the future for Abraham and Moses and David as much as for me. And being saved means being made part of the company which bears in its life and communicates to the world the secret of what God has in store for His whole creation." -Lesslie Newbigin's 1986 Henry Martyn lectures, Signs Amid the Rubble, p. 71