[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball


i never knew war

until i had ellie, i never knew. you see, i now believe that someone w/o a child has a less than complete understanding of the consequences of war, no matter the so-called justifiability of the war. i'm 36 years old, and i have been a democrat, a republican, a democrat again, a screw-all-the-labels-i'm-votin'-for-nader-crat (or perot or, most recently, dean -- and did i mention i really like dennis kucinic?). my grandfather fought in wwii, my father in korea. i barely remember anything of vietnam, but i remember clashes here and there over the years, from operation urgent fury in grenada in 1980, to persian gulf i (which, apolyptically minded as i was then, i was certain would usher in the second coming; i don't think that any more, obviously), somalia, haiti, the balkans, and now afghanistan and iraq. i confess to a morbid, sickening glee @ the news we had initiated operations in afghanistan, and (sadly) one of the most troubling things to me about gulf war ii in iraq was that its advent coincided w/ the beginning of the ncaa basketball tourney, which i had flown home from boston to watch w/ my dad. talk about your shallow reasoning.

yet i am learning. and my greatest lesson has come in the form of my little daughter. i recently watched an emmy award nominated documentary by susan sonneborn called "regret to inform" (1998), which recounts sonneborn's own 20-year struggle to come to grips w/ her husband's death in vietnam. ultimately, on the morning of the 20th anniversary of his death, she realizes that she will have to go to vietnam in order to understand, to remember and, @ last, to let go. she allows the viewer along, but she also includes candid documentaries from widows, american and vietnamese, who lost their husbands in that war. some of the images were the least "doctored" that i had seen in a war documentary, and one in particular depicted a woman lying in a rice field, clutching her child to her, in the wash from the blades of a helicopter hovering directly above her. in another scene you hear a child, a very young child, screaming amidst carnage of strafing runs and bomb detonations. i will most likely never watch this movie again.

i am not, generally, averse to violence on film. violence in some form is often a central figure in my favorite movies, such as braveheart, pulp fiction, apocalypse now, even the last samurai. badlands, a clockwork orange, elizabeth, fight club, gangs of new york, the godfather all rate a 9 or 10 on my movielist @ imdb.com. so it's not that i'm sickened by violence; indeed, i appear to be quite enthralled w/ it, @ least on the screen or on a hockey rink. but war -- i have come round to a place that i cannot expect anyone else to reach, necessarily, but i can't see my way out of it.

in divinity school, i wrote a paper about war and discussed the "just war" theory of augustine and his progeny, the o.t. passages depicting the army of israel slaughtering nations under the cammand of god, the warlike images in apocalyptic, not least in the revelation to st. john. interestingly, i wrote that paper in dec. 2001, just months after the sept. 11 attacks in new york, washington and pennsylvania. but after reading origen and celsus and irenaeus, tertullian, athenagoras and clement of alexandria, i concluded that i could not be anything except a pacifist. the n.t. polemic against violence, jesus' own message @ its center, and the early church's views on war held sway in my intellect.

but not my heart.

i've been a dallas cowboy and boston red sox fan long enough to learn that players come and go, you win and you suck, but you pull for the jersey. as such, when the sox are in last place, you don't switch teams in midstream, to mix my metaphors. also, i'm a "homer." i pull for the home team against all others. i threw my lot in w/ mississippi state, so i pull for them, and i go the extra mile and pull against all other sec teams in almost all other situations, whether they're playing state or not. that's a long way around to say this -- i didn't vote for bush, but i don't want him to fail. i pull for him. i pray for him. i want him to succeed, and if that means another 4 years i want him to succeed then, too. go bush! he is my president. i say that so, even though i probably won't vote for him in november, i won't automatically get lumped in w/ those who hate the guy and just want him out of office @ any cost, and things going badly in the war almost seem to be, for those people, acceptable means to that end. if i judge those people too harshly, well i am acquainted w/ my own duplicitous heart, and i suspect the hearts of others are similar to mine own in their sinfulness and ill motivation. but i watched a movie, a simple 72-minute movie that didn't win the emmy and probably shouldn't have, and something began to happen.

earlier i wrote: "but not in my heart." i was opposed to war in my mind, but my emotions betrayed me. i was glad when saddam hussein was caught. i opposed the war in iraq, but i was glad when things went well for the u.s. and disappointed when they didn't. i would like a few minutes in a room w/ osama bin laden (although he looks kinda big and would likely kick my ass, my not having been in a fight since the late 80s and, as a result, being above fighting weight and most decidedly out of fighting shape). i want revenge. i watch "the west wing" and empathize w/ pres. bartlet's soul struggles over the use of force, but i say "i'd have done the same" when he sends in the troops, which he almost always does, albeit reluctantly. i get pissed @ the french, want to see the self-righteous germans taken down a peg, yearn to find the almost certainly non-existent "wmd's" (i hate that construction; it's on a par w/ "atm machine"). i have opposed violence, i have opposed war, in my mind.

but not in my heart. and then i had a daughter. and then i watched a movie. and then i heard a daughter's cry in that movie. the war was in her village, not my own. the little girls who ask "why are they burning down our house" have war in their backyards; mine has a sandbox in the shape of a turtle. i am removed, i am selfish, i have never served in an armed force, i do not own a gun, i've never actually hit an animal w/ a bullet or whatever it is that gets shot @ them (i've only shot one time, and i missed by something like 2 football fields, i'd imagine). i plan to become a priest, i love my wife, i love my parents, i have never known want. but now i have a daughter. one should be required to have a daughter to be allowed to vote on resolutions to allow the use of force. a family should be imperative for generals and heads of state and nato or u.n. delegates. hell, family members should have to be there, in plain sight, whenever ballots are cast for war or peace. war causes untold suffering, however precise the weapons and however "pure" the motives (do not kid yourself either way -- bush's motives are not as malevolent as you assume, nor are the doves or pacifists' or yours or mine as clean).

we are all fallen, and i do not naively believe that a world w/o war, a pax humana, would be utopia. indeed, to preach such social utopia is, in my opinion, heresy. for "utopia," we require a savior, for god is too just to accept people like us w/o atonement. but that is theology, and this is, well, i suppose it's ethics, although it wasn't my strong subject, either in law school or seminary. robert mcnamara, in the fog of war, said that it is necessary, paramount, essential that we empathize w/ our enemies in war. the former secretary of defense, himself a philosophy major, is, i presume, a just war advocate, as are many roman catholics and evangelical protestants, whom i assume would make up the majority of whatever paltry readership i have here. when i hold my daughter, only then am i able to follow mcnamara's counsel and, however imperfectly, begin to empathize w/ the wives, daughters, sons, parents, husbands of those whose loved ones die horrible (they are likely never clean) deaths in war. i may never preach this message from a pulpit, nor may i ever urge others to adopt it outside the confines of these pages, but i am beginning to appreciate it for what it is.

it seems to me that god must see war in this way. but, then, he has daughters, too.


who is worship for?

for anyone interested in (or concerned about) the anthropocentric hymnody that sometimes prevails in western churches today, you should read s. m. hutchens' "please me, o lord" (from the may '04 issue of touchstone: a journal of mere christianity). i was taken aback somewhat by hutchens' tone, but that doesn't necessarily undermine the logic underlying his analysis. in short, methinks (don't you just love that word?) he is "offputting but onto something."

real live preacher

interestingly, it seems that 'bloggers travel in the same circles. often when i'm surfing about, checking up on the thoughts o' the day from the other inhabitants of the blogosphere, i come across the same names and sites again and again. take, for instance, gordon atkinson nee real live preacher, whom i link to my left and your left, is a daily surf stop for me. my old friend seth @ mr. otis has written glowingly about rlp. then, just this morning, i came across an older post, scott korb's review of real live preacher @ therevealer.org. for those of you who find rlp's writing beautiful or thought provoking, whether you agree w/ it or not, it might be an interesting review to read, w/ particular attention to the comments, some from rlp himself. i can't say that i agree w/ everything rlp writes, but he certainly does it w/ panache and, needless to say, in a manner far superior to anything you're ever likely to read in these here "pages." btw, he's even got a book deal now! just be careful if you ask him to sign a copy. ;)


the church vs. eminem?

just now, while searching for a cite to flannery o'connor's quote "push back against the age -- as hard as it pushes against you," i ran across an article by barbara nicolosi on catholiccitizens.org entitled "easy things the church can do to fix the culture: taking the microphone away from the promoters of heterodoxy and hedonism." high point: "eminem is not my enemy." say that 3 times, fast (and read nicolosi's take on xtianity and art).

never did find the exact wording nor the cite for the o'connor quote, so email me if you run across it.

kerry, conscience and communion

matty b asked whether i have any polemical ideas about bishops excommunicating politicians. well, i think i do, and strangely enough it seems to coincide both w/ some orthodox roman catholics and the evangelicals behind the editorial in christianity today on "the politics of communion" (thanks, again, to amy welborn for the heads-up). in contrast to what i said in the last post, wherein i castigate myself for being so dogmatically minded and quick to wrap myself in the cloak of "captian orthodox," it is precisely the bishops' bailiwick to stand guard over the faith once delivered to the saints. if the church, in the personages of the bishops, fail to fulfil its charge to defend the faith, it undermine its own position as "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 tim 3.15). in fact, it's reprehensible that the idea of barring the table, a sort of "minor excommunication" (see "excommunication" in the catholic encycl.) in other words, is seen in today's "hypermodern" world as so, well, reprehensible. i'm a kerry supporter, don't get me wrong (although i may write in the king of town); but i think he's off the mark when he draws this line b/tw acts and consequences in public and private life. the following is attributed to justin martyr by archbishop charles j. chaput: no one may take part (in the eucharist) unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what christ taught. i think all of us should think about that (and ponder 1 cor. 11.27) more often, politicians included.

hooowahhh, matt.

chock full o' sammy

sometimes i get so full of myself that i just want to throw up. seriously. maybe it was seminary (where, incidentally, i was lucky just to be in the same room w/ most of the students, much less actually understand half of what they were talking about); maybe it's paranoia induced by being in a church that's so rife w/ discord ; maybe it's just fear. whatever "it" is, however, i have tended of late to take unto myself the mantle of "the great defender of orthodoxy," and not only is it an unflattering job, i suck @ it.

take tonight, for example. an ordinary night @ ye olde booke club(be), just hanging out and talking about ben sherwood's the life and death of charlie st. cloud. given the topic of discussion (a book i wouldn't necessarily recommend, but it's interesting in its own way), the subject of theology came up. eschatology, rather. either way, i'm afraid i may have offended a friend who opined that heaven is this way or that way, and i blurted some blanket statement about religion (that's probably not really true, now that i think about it) b/c . . . well, b/c that's what i do. "hi, i'm sammy -- please allow me to blurt on you." i assure you that i intend to apologize on the morrow, but upon reflection, what on earth did i think i was doing? it's not my job to be the defender of the faith, @ least not @ a freakin' book club! i'm not inclined nor especially equipped to render unequivocal answers to every question about god, metaphysics, epistemology, what have you. so i should have kept my mouth shut and just loved my friend. if, in time, our relationship develops to the point where we discuss theology, et cetera, and the spirit gives me something to say that is important and truthful, well then i can talk, humbly and sincerely and honestly. until such time, why can't i just be who i am, admit my lack of definitive answers (maybe that's why i'm always so quick to defend god, as if he needs defending from a peon (peon? is that spelled right?) like me) and love my friend? that's what i should've done, anyway, and i hope she'll forgive me tomorrow.


political compass

seth recently posted his "political compass," so took the test and checked mine. scored -4.00/-2.72, so it seems i'm in the economic leftist/social libertarian quad (whoodathunkit?) alongside such august individuals as the aforementioned seth, nelson mandela, the dalai lama (i knew it!), beethoven, mozart, shoshtakovitch, al sharpton and dennis kucinich. interestingly, although i knew he didn't have a snowball's chance in oxford of winning, i agreed w/ kucinich most often among the candidates in the early democratic presidential debates. and this should affect you how? i haven't a clue; just thought it was interesting. if you've got 10 minutes, see where you fall!



i don't know who this woman is, what she's about, nothing -- but i do think she's written a thought-provoking article entitled "the do-it-yourself doctrine" (the premise of which, i must disclose, i wholeheartedly affirm). it's worth a subscription to the l.a. times to read it. thanks to amy welborn for the link. hopefully i'll find some time to comment on this more later.

the 80s sound again

school's out around here, which means u-92's been playing a loop for the last couple of weeks. that, in turn, means that i've been hearing a lot of modest mouse's "float on" and jet. now kottke says franz ferdinand is growing on him. while i do not particularly dislike any of these bands (i'm even a little hooked on modest mouse), does it not seem to you that every new band sounds like the clash or talking heads reborn? just curious.


the temptation of relevance

if you read these pages, you know i'm struggling a little bit w/ how i am to be a priest in such a "broad" church as the ecusa. how does one preach to a community when we don't agree about everything (or, really, anything)? well, from out of the badlands of kansas, the first threads of an answer come. caleb loaned me henri nouwen's in the name of jesus, which i now believe every priest and minister should read every few months (along w/ reading baxter's the reformed pastor every year or so).

nouwen's book is short enough to read in just a few minutes and deep enough to meditate on for days @ a time. for me, nouwen's most incisive words serve as permission, in a sense. i'm so worried about being accepted, intent on preaching "relevant" messages, enamored w/ the idea of my own indispensableness (and, obviously, fantastical vocabulary). so, apparently, was nouwen, but then he came to live in a community of mentally retarded people, and god used nouwen's community to give him permission to become something else. he writes:
i am . . . convinced that the christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world w/ nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. that is the way jesus came to reveal god's love. the great message that we have to carry, as ministers of god's word and followers of jesus, is that god loves us not b/c of what we do or accomplish, but b/c god has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life. jesus' first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread . . . but when he was asked to prove his power as the son of god by the relevant behavior of changing stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of god." [christian] leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of jesus there. (39-31, 35.)
wow. i brought the book to renee' and announced "i think if i've ever needed to read a book @ a particular time, it's this book right now." centered around the stories of jesus' temptation in the desert (matt. 4.1-11) and his call of peter (john 21.15-19), the book is chock full of insight into the necessity of confession, community, humility and incarnational theology. hopefully i can find a used copy on ebay or somewhere b/c i intend to read this book often as i move toward the priesthood.

thanks, caleb. you're not just ellie grace's g-pop, you're a shrewd judge of "what sam needs to hear right now." and what sam needs to see right now is foulke get a 1-2-3 ninth.


andy kaufman

dear relevant (and any other press outlets reporting this story): as much as i'd like this to be true, you've gotta be kidding me! if the story of andy's return ain't a hoax, i'll eat fifty eggs. or my hat. maybe a small appliance. something suitably unpalatable, anyway.
Update: AHA! i told you this smacked of fake-icity -- see snopes.com's take.


why i do what i don't wanna do

so i've been talking to a friend lately about some of my "secret sins," parts of my life that i hold back from god, running from sanctifying grace as if it were a grizzly and i were, well, made of meat, as i indeed am. and i smell good. but some of the things i do every day just suck! if 3 years of seminary taught me anything, it taught me that i'm a sinner. pretty sure that wasn't on the syllabus, but it happened anyway. and so i love god all the more, right? and so i try and try again to live a holy life, right? more often than not, the answer's "nope."

i listened to a derek webb cd @ work this afternoon, and the lyrics of "crooked deep down" jumped out @ me like the aforementioned grizzly. listen here:

My life looks good I do confess
You can ask anyone
Just don’t ask my real good friends
‘Cause they will lie to you
Or worse they'll tell the truth
‘Cause there are things you would not believe
That travel into my mind
I swear I try and capture them
But I always set them free
It seems bad things comfort me 'cause

Good lord I’m crooked deep down
Everyone is crooked deep down
Good lord I’m crooked deep down
Everyone is crooked deep down
(Everyone is crooked deep down)

There was a girl she was made for me
But stood me up our wedding day
And now that girl runs around on me
And she’s drunk all the time
But I died to make her mine

Good lord she's crooked deep down
Everyone is crooked deep down
That girl is crooked deep down
Everyone is crooked deep down
Everyone is crooked deep down

But I’m not water and I’m not wine
You could say I’m just here for the party
With one thing on my mind
Squeezing me and my camel through the needle's eye
sound familiar? if so, then maybe you're dealing w/ some of the same issues i am. even though i usually want to do the right thing, i can't seem to pull it off on a regular basis. but something my friend said last night about the conflicts inside us struck me as both obvious and elusive. read phil 4.6-7. one of the ways we "image" god is in that we are both thinking and feeling beings. god thinks; i think. i'm emotional, and i don't think one succumbs to patripassianism just by describing god as "emotional," too. but w/in myself, deep down where i'm crooked, my heart and mind are often @ loggerheads, e.g., when i know i should love my neighbor but she persists in obnoxiously refusing to let me park in her driveway (silly, silly woman). the problem is that my mind and my heart are both tainted by the fall, so they both need to be guarded. and how do i do that? well, i don't; god does. but paul gives me a little formula, albeit not the equivalent of a thaumaturgical phrase or some mystic mantra, that can help out -- when i screw up, ask forgiveness and leave it in the past (plus take any remedial action necessary, like apologizing to the driveway-nazi . . . er, my neighbor). and don't worry so much about how i be livin' but take time every day to stop for prayer, petition and thanksgiving -- in everything. the result should be the all-surpassing, comprehension-transcending, undeserved, miraculous, awe-inspiring, mysterious peace of god laying down protection around my heart and my mind.

the experiment begins anew today. maybe i'll let you know how it goes. so long as you let me park in your driveway.

christianity & the arts

just this morning i added a link from my sidebar to the homepage for christians in the visual arts. renee' used to work for the civa office on gordon college's campus in wenham, mass., so that's how i'm familiar w/ them. this icon is from civa's website (hope i haven't broken any laws) and is the work of elaine lasky. if you have a few minutes, click on her site and look @ some of her other beautiful icons. anyhoo, i'm interested in christian artists and how they incorporate their faith into their creations, so lemme know if you find a cool website i should look @. i found the link to image just surfing around the other day, and i hope i can find others like that. many thanks! Posted by Hello


"pop" church

what do you think about these?
  • cnn reports god goes online @ shipoffools.com

  • update: reuters reports "virtual devils curse internet church"
  • the new york times reports on "alt-evangelicals" and the christian "generation gap"

  • no time to post what i'm thinking, but i'm curious about whether anyone's starting to think the "alt" in alt-evangelical is a little shady, shall we say. more later (unless i'm struck down).


    you're gonna be a priest in what church?!

    hoo boy. browsing the church of england newspaper this morning, i couldn't help but notice that of the 10 headlines in the "news" section, @ least 4 pertained to division, and 3 even contained the word "row" (one of my favorites, which the american heritage dictionary of the english language (4th ed.) defines as "a boisterous disturbance or quarrel; a brawl" for heaven's sake!). not that tcen is an infallible indicator of the state of the church (@ least my church, the worldwide anglican communion), but when "row" describes some 30%+ of the news items of note on any given day, you've got to admit that's troubling. everywhere one turns, in fact, there are rows over christology, homosexuality, liturgy, mission, bcp revision, "adequate episcopal oversight" (wish i'd never heard that one), "who's leavin' whom for what now?" and blahblahblahblah.

    is my frustration showing? oh. thought so. i used to ask all my systematic theology professors in seminary whether they thought it a bit curious that a group of followers that professes allegiance to jesus -- who appears to have implored his followers to seek u.n.i.t.y. (sing it to me, latifah!) above all -- would have divided up into (obvious hyperbole alert) 40 gazillion little groups, denominations, cliques, claques, movements, waves, communions, factions, what have you. my profs were not amused. nor, i'd imagine, is jesus real jolly about us right about now! i'm not saying there's anything definite we can do about it right this moment, but i'm suggesting we shouldn't be all that surprised if jesus drops in one day and he's pissed (for the un-sacriligeously-minded among us, please read: "he is a bit put off").

    so, just why am i working so all fired hard to be an episcopal priest? why do i, exasperated, ask my friend and priest ollie just how he expects me to be a pastor in a church that seems hellbent on schism, division, turning the other "cheek" (read: "moon")? if you'll allow me a supposition, i'd say i'm a little nervous. ok, i'm a lot nervous. i know i'm called to teach "being christ" to episcopalians in the bay state, and perhaps more importantly i am to model this behavior, which i understand means i am to be broken and poured out for them day after day, year after year, as long as god gives me breath. cool. but how in the wide, wide world of sports am i to preach every week to a church committed to (if not founded upon) diversity to the exclusion of all else? shall i embroider "this is just my view" on all my vestments? well, thank god for st. paul, i think i'm starting to get a clue. in one letter, paul exhorts the brethren (and sisthren, i assure you): "by the name of our lord jesus christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you" (1 cor 1.10 (nasb)), and he turns right around and explicitely states what his "message" was -- "christ crucified" (1 cor. 1.23, 2.2).

    alas, this post is more to me than to you, i'm afraid. you can even stop reading if you want, w/ my apologies for your having spent some matter of seconds reading this. i, however, must recognize that i am learning. dots are starting to connect. i'm still a baby in the ecusa, and my voice, such as it is, whispers and wavers among a cacophony of others', but i'm not a priest yet so what did i expect? today, i am to be faithful as a disciple, husband and father, for i am sammy, follower of jesus, husband of nadie and pop of ellie grace. note to self: later on, when writing sermons for delivery every sunday (george, i don't know how you do it), when in doubt, preach the gospel. god willing, i will stand up, clear my throat, and warble on about "christ crucified." all other rows notwithstanding, if i get defrocked for that, i'll still be able to sleep @ night.


    the silence

    well, what can i say? i finished bergman's trilogy last night, due more to the fact that i always have to finish stuff when i start it than b/c i was particularly moved by the movie. in fact, i watched about half of the film in fast forward, which just might have colored my appreciation of the movie, now that i think about it. but i doubt it.

    in short, i was way, way over my head. i had very little idea what was going on while watching. the story was that of two sisters, ester and anna, and anna's son, johan, who stop in an unnamed city on their train ride home from wherever they've been. it seems ester has tb or some terminal disease, and her death approaches rapidly, so they check into a hotel so she can rest (or die). interesting facts about the movie include: no one can understand anyone else, either linguistically or emotionally. ironically, ester is a translator by trade, but she can't communicate with the bellhop-guy or, more importantly, her sister. i mean, obviously they speak the same language, but they have some weird relationship that smacks almost of incest, and while one drinks herself into a stupor as she dies, the other goes on sexual reconnaissance missions into the city, both sisters growing farther and farther apart. johan is this weird little kid that wanders the halls (kubrick gave a cinematic shout-out to bergman w/ the hall scenes in the shining) where he meets . . . wait for it . . . midgets! and possibly a pedophilic old man, i'm not sure.

    oh, in the long run, i think there was probably so much going on symbolically that i just missed it all. perhaps it will come to me. i did notice (but only after watching the commentary on the dvd) that the movie was pretty much devoid of religious imagery, in contrast to the way god sort of saturates the first 2 films. i suppose this was bergman's way of putting away the trappings of religion he felt were foisted upon him as a child. if so, what he sees as liberation i see as pitiable, bergman's abandonment of any hope of true transcendence in favor of a lifetime of trying to create transcendence with a camera. maybe that's the story; maybe it's not. there are several comments @ imdb, which indicates that @ least some people understood the movie. i just don't happen to be one of them (but i sure am thinking about it a lot today).


    las congratulationes!

    congratulations to the guy in this picture (the big, goofy lookin' one, not the diminutive but prematurely dashing baby, who just happens to be my god-son)! bart just found out he's been offered a position as curate at christ church of hamilton & wenham, my old (and i guess current) parish. if you know him, i'm sure you don't question his cred, nor his skilz. we wish you luck, bartimaeus! Posted by Hello


    meeting marcus borg again for the first time

    if you've been following my reading list, you've noticed i recently read marcus borg's meeting jesus again for the first time: the historical jesus & the heart of contemporary faith (san francisco: harpercollins, 1994) (it must be out of print b/c amazon only lists it in z-shops). now that i've "met" my brother marcus, i'm a little non-plussed, although he appears to be exactly as i imagined him. if you've read the book, and if you're familiar w/ me @ all, then you can probably guess that borg and i disagree about pretty much everything.

    w/o going too in depth about the book, i want to emphasize some of borg's ideas that are not just heterodox but pretty close to heretical (if anyone from the diocese of massachusetts is reading this, you may want to stop now and click on something warm and fuzzy, perhaps a website about bengal cats). first of all, for all his blather about not reading the bible literally, borg cannot seem to comprehend that the gospel of john was written as a theological document, which does not mean that it's necessarily ahistorical. he condemns john to the trash heap of non-historical-ness (or some such word) and denies jesus ever said anything john records (like john 3.16, for instance); therefore, the book must be about the "christ of faith" and not the "jesus of history." his incredulity stems from his realization that all the stories he had been taught as a child (one imagines felt-boards and elderly sunday school teachers) were merely the products of human ingenuity; in short, lies. the idea of god speaking through israel's prophets and ordering salvation history became simply "impossible" for borg to believe (37). but jesus, that's another story -- that cat was a "spirit person," or "one for whom god was an experiential reality." once borg discovered this, and began to posit a duality b/tw the "pre-" and "post-easter" jesuses, "god was no longer a concept of belief, but had become an element of experience." perhaps borg should take a listen to the current series on npr about "new religions in america" to see what this open-ended model of experiential christianity can lead to.

    indeed, borg sees fit to condemn the creeds and re-appraise god, this time doing it right. god's holiness and justice are cancelled out, it seems, by his "dominant quality" of compassion (54). thus, jesus' actions in "shattering the purity code" applies to everything now. for instance, to seize upon one of the issues of the day, it's as if gal. 3.28 reads, in borg's words, "in christ there is neither straight nor gay." he concedes: "granted, paul didn't say that, but the logic of 'life in the spirit' and the ethos of compassion imply it" (59). as for jesus' own authority, the "sovereign" tone of his proclamations arose from his "enlightenment experience" like other sages', and since jesus was obviously wrong about the central message of his ministry (the coming kingdom of god), jesus' actual invitation (whether he meant it or not) was to a life beyond boundaries, the aforementioned "life of the spirit" (87). for borg, this means a jump from "secondhand" religion (that which we have learned from the church, its creeds, tradition, our forefathers) to "firsthand" religion, which he defines as relationship to "the reality we call god" (87). after all, the creeds are suspect with all their trinitarian theology and the hogwash about dual natures of christ. borg claims that all the ways scripture speaks of jesus (son of god, etc.) are clearly metaphorical. for example, it wasn't actually jesus that was preexistent w/ god "in the beginning" as the church traditionally interprets st. john's prologue; rather, "proper" exegesis reveals that the wisdom (sophia) of god was preexistent. so it's more accurate to speak of jesus as "son of sophia," or "the wisdom of god," or @ least to recognize that "son of god" just means god was an experiential reality to our man in the desert.

    borg's goal is, as he puts it, to "broaden our framework" for thinking about jesus (120), but in actuality he limits our framework by putting certain images of jesus beyond the pale of this new and enlightened orthodoxy. for instance, the "priestly story" of christian life and the sweep of history is off limits b/c the sacrifice necessary for such a story to make sense demands that god's forgiveness become "contingent or conditional" (131). b/c he can't conceive of a god that would make salvation contingent upon faith in the sacrifice of jesus, then this metanarrative obviously must be flawed, an invention of a patriarchal and androcentric culture in which the church came of age in the 4th century. "moreover," he writes,

    this [priestly] story is very hard to believe. the notion that god's only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that god could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. but taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the christian message (131).
    i submit that is precisely the point, and it is also the reason the orthodox version of christianity is so hard for enlightened individuals like borg to swallow. the concept of sin, the necessity of forgiveness and the scandal of god's grace in jesus is, indeed, an obstacle, and that is as it should be. borg is so observant and well-written that he fairly accurately describes the problems w/ the modern western church, but he can't seem to bring himself to believe the problems are problems, so he casts his lot w/ the "generation or two of seminarians [that] got this message: we can't know much about jesus, and what we know is that he was wrong about the central conviction animating his ministry and message, and it doesn't really matter, for the historical jesus is theologically irrelevant" (12). indeed. the jesus borg has met (again) for the first time, and the one i met in the pages of this book, is just that: irrelevant.


    2nd of three

    just watched winter light, the second film in bergman's faith trilogy (the 3rd's on my coffee table) that i talked about in an earlier post. i was too verbose in my review of the first film, which i thought was technically, aesthetically and narratively superior to this one, but never let it be said that i don't finish what i start!

    the story is that of a lutheran minister in a remote swedish village who is losing his faith @ an exponentially increasing rate. his wife's death 4 years earlier started the decline (although one scene intimates he always lacked the conviction of a minister and entered the profession only to please his parents), and the suicide of a parishioner sends the minister off the precipice. allusions to jesus and to his crucifixion abound. the minister accuses god of forsaking him; as an imdb commenter noted, the movie occurs b/tw noon and 3, the hours of the crucifixion, on frostmas; and the minister's lover, marta, recounts a rash on her hands which calls to mind stigmata. interestingly, marta, who bears the stigmata of sorts, is an atheist, although she prays for the minister; the minister himself almost never prays except to castigate god for his silence or some other perceived slight.

    i'll just mention one thing that i think the film implied, although it's the "faith lost" leg of the trilogy. marta offers so much to the minister, but he is blind to god's gift in the relationship. the parishioner who shoots himself is terrified by the prospect of the chinese developing nuclear weapons, and he misses god's gifts of a loving wife, three children and another on the way. w/ the exception of one member of the cast -- the sexton, whose faith is in many ways much more real than the pastor's -- none of the characters apprehend god in and among themselves in this remote stone church. they haven't the eyes to see the "splendor in the ordinary," to steal a phrase from tom howard's book of that title. and this is a danger for us 40 years later, as well. god meets us in the guise of strangers, family, friends, even cats (my own idiosyncratic theology, i'm quite sure), but we so seldom are awake to the thrill of it all, this everyday life of ours. in a world suffused with grace, we still cry out for meaning and revel in our blindness. bergman's film shows us how isolated and bereft of feeling we can become when we look for god in all the wrong places, as he is, all the while, right in front of us.

    contextualizing the gospel

    whenever i pull out my old michael w. smith tapes, renee' claps her hands over her ears, and rightly so. talk about your cheesy music. but that's a part of what made me first prick up my ears to the message of the gospel. i'm continually amazed @ the newest generation of xtians and their ability to put the gospel in clear terms for xers, millenials, whatevers. case in point, switchfoot's dare you to move video, which i think is almost perfect. makes me want to sit down w/ these guys and hear their stories, just like i hope my actions and words make other people want to sit w/ me and hear mine (preferably w/ a beverage on a porch). the only way we'll persuade 20somethings of the truth of the gospel is if we live it w/ integrity and, firstly, put it in their lingua franca, which is art, narrative, music, ourselves. kudos to switchfoot and other bands that engage the culture w/ their message of forgiveness but shy away from the cheese. i thank you, and my wife thanks you.

    happy birthday to elmo!

    for those of you who couldn't make it to the party, elmo turned 1 last week! Posted by Hello

    closed captioning

    on the way back from a visit to ackerman for mothers' day, i caught the last half hour or so of thacker mountain on mpb and heard trent dabbs play. caught my attention b/c he's an old band-mate of a friend from seminary (joey, dude, if you're reading this, i need your new email, address, etc., you college ministering fiend), who had tipped me to old kelly wingate and always sunday cds. trent recorded his new album, closed captioning, @ sweet tea studios here in oxford w/ dennis herring and clay jones (whom i recognize as a guitar god). what i've heard of it sounds great. i plan to go see trent play @ proud larry's on 5/17, so if you're in the area . . . could you babysit ellie grace?

    p.s. the author on tmr happened to be john sullivan. judging from his reading, i'm thinking you should check out blood horses.


    "who am i?"

    who am i? they often tell me
    i would step from my cell's confinement
    calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
    like a squire from his country-house.

    who am i? they often tell me
    i would talk to my warders
    freely and friendly and clearly,
    as though it were mine to command.

    who am i? they also tell me
    i would bear the days of misfortune
    equably, smilingly, proudly,
    like one accustomed to win.

    am i then really all that which other men tell of?
    or am i only what i know of myself,
    restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
    struggling for breath, as thorugh hands were compressing my throat,
    yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
    thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,
    trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
    tossing in expectation of great events,
    powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
    weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
    faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

    who am i? this or the other?
    am i one person today, tomorrow another?
    am i both at once? a hypocrite before others,
    and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
    or is something within me still like a beaten army,
    fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

    who am i? they mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
    whoever i am, thou knowest, o god, i am thine.

    dietrich bonhoeffer (june/july 1944)
    executed @ flossenburg concentration camp 9 april 1945
    "letters & papers from prison" (new york: collier books, 1972), 347-48.

    "project knuckleball"

    great article by ben mcgrath in the new yorker.


    an open letter to a friend

    the following relates to an article in slate way back on 9 april, which prompted an email exchange w/ a fellow blogger on the hope of ever finding the historical jesus (assuming one exists, of course). w/ his permission, i'm posting part of the letter for your consideration:

    i actually think we're a lot closer than it might seem. in fact, most of the people who are weighing in on this and other issues aren't as separated as we may seem @ first glance. this is sort of a "family argument," i suppose. but i remain convinced, perhaps naively, that the search for the historical jesus is not "only a step removed from sheer speculation" @ best. i agree that the jesus of history is almost impossible to apprehend completely, just b/c of the nature of history, the way the debate has become complicated due to questions of "inerrancy" or "infallibility" or what have you, etc. and the gospels do present a complex portrait of a complex man. still, there's enough of the historical jesus available for the humble searcher to find and embrace as savior.

    when i concede that the gospels were written to serve particular agendas -- that they were "theological" documents, not mere history texts -- i am not conceding that they have no historical validity whatsoever or that we cannot piece together enough of a picture of the "historical" jesus to find out who he really was (is) and how that should affect our lives today. in other words, there's a "semantic field," so to speak, and jesus is inside those boundaries. if we disagree that jesus was enacting a prophetic parable when cleansing the temple, that's one thing; if we deny the mystery of the two natures of christ, then that's quite another (the dreaded "h" word).

    i do appreciate the efforts of barth, et al., to salvage something when everything seemed to be slipping away in the wake of the first quest, but i contend (w/ n. t.. wright, as you point out) that the "risen christ" is one and the same w/ the "historical jesus." i can't quite agree w/ your assertion that "what his true motives were, whether he believed himself to be the son of god and god himself, whether he considered himself the messiah . . . lose some urgency when viewed through the lens of christianity, b/c christianity has attributeed these aspects to him whether he would have agreed or not." jesus' understanding of his mission or messianic identity aside, if we are worshipping a god-man who was, in actuality, just a failed messianic pretender w/ dreams of grandeur who died for his hubris, then that makes all the difference in the world. while you contend that christianity's "underlying spirituality, sense of community, and sense of connectedness w/ god" are what have allowed our faith to "blossom from an obscure jewish cult into one of the most significant religious movements in the history of mankind," i contend that the blossoming of christianity (in spite of how the church has mischaracterized jesus and twisted his message toward evil ends @ times, mind you) is due to a single, simple but earthshaking fact: it's all true.

    how else are we to account for the martyrdoms in the wake of jesus' exit from the earthly scene? it's hard to believe anyone would willingly die for the sake of a myth (in the "crap-we-just-made-up" sense). i certainly wouldn't. and i'm afraid i can't dedicate my life to the priesthood, or make any other commitments for that matter, w/o the jesus of history to hang my hat on.

    i'm glad you ended your comments w/ a reference to the "stumbling block" you describe as jesus being "in there somewhere" but "not knowing exactly where." it's just that i think the jesus of history is the stumbling block. that jesus stands ever ready as the scandalon, the living stumbling block, bringing many to their knees in recognition of his messiah-hood (-ship? -dom?), but bringing others, perhaps many, many more, to their knees only @ the last. and i fear that all too often our pride refuses to accept that jesus was who he (and the church) said he was; we refuse to stumble. i confess i don't know what the afterlife will be like -- i like to think it's akin to lewis' description in the great divorce where we get umpteen chances to see the truth and only the truly hardened or proud or twisted souls ever finally miss it (him). but one way or the other, we'll stumble.

    thanks for the time and thought you put into correction. it's a great weblog, and i, for one, am richer for having read it every time i visit.

    christ's peace,
    ~ sammy


    through a glass darkly

    i've often thought about the idea, in communication theory, that one does not know the content of one's beliefs until those beliefs are expressed, tried on, taken out for a spin. once it's out there, whatever "it" is, then it becomes obvious @ times that the "belief" is just a load of poo. @ other times, the belief is confirmed and becomes faith.

    all that sounds very theological for what i'm about to do, and i do not intend to mislead. actually i'm only reflecting on a movie i just watched, the first in ingmar bergman's "trilogy of faith," through a glass darkly (1961). the cast of four comprises an habitually absent father, his progressively schizophrenic daughter, his physician son-in-law, and his 17-year-old son, all of whom are @ one of their homes on a secluded island (somewhere in the north atlantic, i have to suppose). the father, david, who has sacrificed his life w/ his family for the sake of what he now sees as his fairly pathetic art, is bergman, who in 1961 had just married his 4th wife, to whom the film is dedicated. the commentary on the dvd revealed that bergman's father was a clergyman, an advisor to the queen of denmark, and the three films (w/ winter light (1963) and the silence (1964)) are his attempt to sort out his own religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) through the medium of his chosen art.

    david's children, karin and her younger brother minus, obviously have caverns inside themselves which their father's love should have filled, but david has always gone away too soon and stayed too long on his projects (the last of which, we find, being his own daughter's descent into madness). a pivotal locale in the movie is an upstairs room w/ tattered wallpaper where karin is often drawn by "voices" assuring her that "he" is about to come. her perception that the voice emanates from behind the wallpaper (the original working title of the film was the wallpaper) demonstrates how karin is careening b/tw two worlds, and she even voices her horror @ seeing her own confusion and yet understanding it @ the same time. in her crisis, however, we learn she has decided to sacrifice the love of her husband, martin, who truly does love her inasmuch as he can, for the one behind the wallpaper.

    there is much in the movie that i'm sure i didn't understand, and some of the comments i found online about it seem to be a little off the mark, imho. i wouldn't want to put too many spoilers in here @ any rate b/c i do suggest that you watch this film (the other 2 are in my netflix queue already). still, i was moved by particular scenes in the film, and that's why i'm typing away as the house goes quiet to see what i really make of one of them.

    perhaps b/c i've been reading niebuhr's christ & culture and too many theological thoughts rattle around in my head all day, or maybe it's my own personal "culture" (that of postulants for holy orders in the ecusa) and my tendency to see my own face @ the bottom of the well, but i was struck by one scene where karin is testing minus on his latin @ a table by the stone house. she asks him the meaning of constructio ad absurdum (or some such thing -- if you know enough to know i'm off the mark on that grammatical term, then you've long since given up reading my parenthetical-laced tirades anyway, so bug off), to which he replies: it is a grammatical construction that is correct, but it is altered to fit the context. here's where i go out on the "say-what-you-think-to-see-whether-you-really-think-it" limb, but it seems to me that this one scene is a key to unlocking the film and, i think, some of bergman's ideas about god. the "grammatically correct" construct is communion b/tw a loving father (insert "heavenly" or "earthly" to suit taste) and his children. the context of this film, however -- a remote island populated, @ times, only w/ a beautiful woman and her younger brother, who is clearly in love w/ her and conflicted about his awakening sexuality (i propose {spoiler!} that the two had sex in an old wrecked ship toward the end of the movie, which served both to trigger karin's final descent and as a single element of the spiral which had begun long before) -- inspires a fatal alteration to the construct, and the result is despair (although this was supposed to have been the "assurance found" movie in the trilogy, followed by the "assurance shaken/lost" and the "silence of god").

    so, what fresh hell have i just wrought? who knows? i'm likely babbling mindlessly about something i don't understand. i may be putting words in bergman's mouth he never intended to speak (and we all know how i feel about authorial intent). but however we try to apprehend god (bergman essentially equates god w/ love in the final scene, which he apparently wishes he had resisted the urge to include), there is, somewhere behind the wallpaper, a "grammatically true" construct. this isn't neo-platonism b/c i'm not really sure what neo-platonism really means. but we may rest assured there is "truth" out there (thank you, fox mulder), triune truth that doesn't turn away from us, as david's shadow turned away from karin's kneeling form @ a critical juncture in the film; and when we alter that truth in a foolish attempt to make it better fit the context of our broken, pain-filled world, we come away w/o any god @ all, and the result is always despair.

    now, maybe i'll read this tomorrow morning and delete it post haste. but maybe i won't. perhaps i lost you, dear reader, in the middle somewhere, as i lost renee' when i asked her to proof this. (it's helpful to have watched the movie before reading this, like that tidbit gets you any closer to having back the 6 minutes you just squandered reading all this for nothing). anyway, it's just a thought. forgive me, ingmar, if i've slandered you. i really liked your film.

    the great (H)ope

    remember talking about the "coming hydrogen economy" in a post a couple weeks ago? here's another rather skeptical report, this time from deborah ziff @ motherjones.com. if schwarzenegger's on board as saying ca could convert in 10 years, doesn't that necessarily mean it doesn't have a snowball's chance of actually being viable?

    (remember: think smart!)


    big fish

    renee' and i watched big fish tonight, and i can't say that i liked it as much as a lot of people seem to have. i think i still suffer from the trauma i experienced w/ forrest gump -- a movie i did, and still, hate. but while i didn't particularly like the movie, it reminded me of something real live preacher wrote a few days back, and i do like the stories he tells.


    a ghost is born

    i commend to you wilco's forthcoming album, a ghost is born, which tracy roberts informed me was available for preview and pre-order @ wilco's site. i'm constantly amazed @ the ability of tweedy and stirratt, et al. to always sound like the band i love and reinvent themselves @ the same time. agib is a break from yankee hotel foxtrot (which was itself a break from anything i had ever heard), but i love it nonetheless. in classic wilco fashion, it gets better the more you listen to it, too. interestingly, the title seems to find its genesis in the gospel of john, parts of which "theologians" quotes (jn 10.18, 13.36). i, for one, am a "ghost follower" that's gonna buy this album (once i get some money from selling blood or doing yardwork, i suppose). until then, i'll just click and re-click and re-click and . . . .
    WWW [rough draft]