Monthly Archives: February 2005

Feature, Someday

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: collect a bulletin from a garden-variety congregation and go over somme elementary steps by which one could make the bulletin a more effective device for communicating with its users — sort of a makeover program for church bulletins, such as Mean Dean provides for websites at Heal Your Church. “Teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteous bulletin design. . . .”

Is That the Clue Phone?

I’m not sure how I got to this article [also described here; sorry for the busted link, Mitch and Joe!], but it’s double-edged message delights and daunts me.

The first cut, of course, enables me to chortle that other people show so little awareness of their folly. Not only are they foolish, but their limitations prevent them from recognizing the full extent of their occlusion! Lord, what fools these mortals be!

The second cut so neatly severs my vanity from me that one might easily miss the line of the cut. If semi-competent people can’t see their own limitations, then my own confidence that I’m not one of them. . . may be misplaced.

Luckily, I am protected from error because I so regularly encounter people who know so much that they couldn’t possibly be wrong.

Churches and Managers

Once upon a time, I was a church-management know-nothing. I deliberately avoided any of the tawdry books about increasing attendance, about church marketing, about management and leadership with a thin theological icing. I knew I was spiritually superior to people who relied on such works, and I didn’t bother to learn anything about the claims I rejected.

That was a long time ago. I’m still cautious, skeptical, about the relation of “management” to the life of that peculiar institution, the church, but I’m more guardedly skeptical, and I hope I’m humbler. For instance, although I agree with some of the points Jay Bauman makes in an article for TheOoze, I would want to couch his criticisms differently, and to register an appreciation for management/leadership theory. Yes, you heard me right.

I’ve learned enough from my neighbors online — some of whom include those grievous sinners, the marketers — and from experience in churches and academic institutions, and from my retired colleague John Dreibelbis, that I see ways I’ve benefited from business theory. I’d steer away from thinking of that as “management” (for reasons I’ll stipulate in a minute) and “marketing,” but I participate more productively in various contexts through a refined understanding of organizations, communication, and desire. I expect that a large part of Bauman’s work as an Executive Pastor draws heavily on responses and insights informed by his business experience.

At the same time, Bauman’s arguments rightly point toward subtler versions of his critique. No one has laid this out with more clarity and theological nuance than my friend Phil Kenneson in Selling Out the Church. Alasdair MacIntyre tackles the ideology of management in After Virtue and Against the Self-Images of the Age. Even Chris Locke has gone on record (in last night’s Chief Blogging Officer report, if not earlier) as an anti-marketer. I’m not going to rehearse here the points they all make at much greater length, with admirable subtlety, but will simply assent that a great proportion of what gets passed toward churches as management theory or appropriate marketing ought to be passed even further — to the dumpster.

That last increment, though? The what’s-left-over after we throw out the dross? I hope that my colleagues don’t fall for the same spiritual pomposity to which I fell victim. We can’t afford to decide in advance that we have nothing more to learn, in any area. Sometimes, though, we learn most when we’re learning something a little different from what the teacher thinks we should be learning. I’m still cautious and skeptical.

Webs of Solidarity

(a) I hope that enough people support Jason Kottke that he can make it as a full-time blogger. I threw my change in the guitar case.

(b) Speaking of supporting people, Blogarians band together today to call attention to the situation of the Iranian bloggers Mojtaba and Arash.

(b) If a place like Seabury wanted to start with its MT-based web page and commission someone to redesign it using CSS and templates — something like a page from the CSS Zen Garden — roughly what ought they expect to pay? The question will probably turn out to be purely hypothetical, but the answer should be worth learning.


That was odd. For the past two days, posting has been closed down here due to “Got an error: Bad ObjectDriver config: Connection error: Too many connections.” I don’t know what that means, but it kept me from posting yesterday.

Illicit Pleasures

I realized recently that if I don’t start reading again, I may lose the will even to try.

It’s hard to clear my mind enough to read a serious printed work, and the tenor of Seabury life militates against thinking of reading as something more than a self-indulgence. That’s a fatal attitude, though, and I simply have to read a number of works to prepare for my inaugural lecture in the spring. Today Yesterday I indulged myself with a dip into the essays of David Jones, an English artist-writer who had a special interest in meaning, the topic of my lecture.

Reading Jones has helped me see the discipline of biblical hermeneutics as having hobbled itself by taking the special case of “translation” as the fundamental model for the much broader phenomenon of signification and interpretation. The notion of textual univocity loses its sense of coherence if the text in question is, for instance, an image (what’s the single correct meaning of the “Mona Lisa” in a non-da Vinci Code universe?). Meaning doesn’t cooperate with human (academic) efforts to constrain it to equivalences. (One idea I had for the lecture was to present my talk with a soundtrack; a strictly textual version would thereby signify very differently, in a way that most observers would acknowledge.)

Jones makes the point that sacraments (in a lower-case sense) surround us, and we participate in them daily, as our actions bespeak a meaning greater than their explicit, objective definition. Tonight Laura reminded me of an example from her caring for her grandmother, who died Sunday night. If a sacrament is “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” then much more sacramental activity is going on all the time than only the church’s seven sacraments (that’s right, Protestant readers, I said “seven”). But when we locate the matter of signification in the domain of sacramentality, we situate our participation in the economy of singification (and in the ecology of signification) in a context that far surpasses our capacity to pin down or to limit to the narrow model of formulating ideal textual equivalences (What’s the meaning of anointing Grandmother’s feet with lotion? Don’t equivocate, now!). Moreover, a sacramental context appropriately invokes the liturgical, doxological dimensions of our acts of interpretation (biblical and otherwise). When we venture into the realm of signification, we can’t invoke any consoling regulative principles to protect ourselves from criticism, to ensure that we did the unassailably right thing; signification doesn’t work that way.

Going, Going. . . .

In case anyone in the Evanston area cares, I’ve reached the end of my patience with the drywall that’s occupying one corner of our basement. We have about eight sheets resting on sawhorses, and if anybody wants ’em you may have them. But first come, first served, and if I don’t hear about them in the next few days, I’ll just dump them.

I’m reclaiming that space for some bookshelves. The kids and I will conquer the basement!

Quarter-Baked Ideas and Recollections

  • One of the most effective ways to render ideas unthinkable is to leave them underdeveloped, unconsidered — so that one can plausibly submit that “nobody takes that seriously”
  • Roger, the cameraman of the French camera crew, was balancing light and camera angles, and I heard him say, “Non, c’est un peu too much.”
  • I should work harder on outlining. I hate outlining, but I should work harder at it.
  • When we continuously experiment with the liturgy, we re-enact and reinscribe ourselves in the fractured, discontinuous, scattered way of life (anti-Way) against which a sympathetic reception of the catholic liturgical tradition helps protect us. Ad hoc liturgy makes a gamble of the living connection of our participation in the liturgy; and the existence of skillful gamblers and of lucky people doesn’t make gambling a benign practice.
    Liturgy changes, and we must experiment to learn what forms that change should take. But when experimentation itself becomes the liturgy, we invest in the economy of disorientation that serves the late capitalist trivialization of meaning, and we thin out the ecology of signification in our lives.

If Our Charity Were Not Already Exhausted

As the Primates of the Anglican Communion meet, I wonder whether it’s possible to acknowledge that we [all] have missed a long line of opportunities to respond with grace to the controversial course that the Episcopal Church has charted. If our charity were not already exhausted, we might put our faith in one another on the line by praying for the Holy Spirit to bring us to unity, and by ordering our institutional lives in ways that would make that possible.

First, we would have to agree that it looks as though our present differences will not immediately be reconciled by mediation or meditation or legislation. Some side or another can force its will on the other — in the name of God, of course — but having come so far in this particular direction, I have a hard time imagining that effecting anything but the violent excision of some part of the Body.

Second, then, we would have to acknowledge that some vital parts of the Body cannot honestly confess their sin if [what they take to be] an entire category of sin be overlooked, excepted, accepted; and by the same token, other vital parts of the Body cannot honestly confess their sin if [what they take to be] not-sin is included as sinful. The imposition of force at this point can only impair the conscience of some of the saints, and that serves no holy purpose.

Third, although God can raise up a Body whole and new from mere bones or dust and ashes, yet we ought not presume to dissolve the Body when that Body is surely stronger if all its sinews, organs, members are working together to their fullest capacities (and especially when it’s always possible that we have erred in our prayerful discernment of what path forward best reflects God’s will for the church). We need, for the sake of all, to do everything we can to sustain the fullest degree of communion possible.

Fourth, we should be looking for ways that hands and feet, eyes and nose can remain together in such ways as permit each the conscientious exposition and embodiment of their divergent understandings of the Body’s well-being. The hands, of their charity, should remain with the feet, at least to bear witness to the holiness and purity they espouse; and feet should, of their charity, remain with the hands, to bear witness to the expansive love and the commitment to covenanted fidelity that they espouse.

Fifth, with mutual charity, all Episcopal dioceses and agencies should develop their political and financial systems with a view toward flexibility (not coercion), toward oversight that strengthens (not erodes). Any office or budget line in the Episcopal Church should be ordered so that it could be administered by a hand or a foot, an ear or an eye, without a revolutionary reversal (so that the Spirit’s conversion can draw us from our entrenched positions without unnecessary resistance rooted in our institutional structures). Congregations of hands might have the oversight of a Hand Bishop, and congregations of feet might be guided by a Foot Bishop, freely and respectfully, without hands or feet pursuing coercive financial or legislative manipulation. We would acknowledge that such oversight reflects a condition of the very thinnest conceivable unity, but that we hope so ardently for the Body’s solidarity that we cling to that thinnest unity as preferable to the violent excision of even one faithful soul. We would have to endure an interval — forty years is a biblical precedent — of recognizing that sisters and brothers in duly ordered ministries, sharers of our tradition, had gone perniciously astray, and yet out of long-suffering and patient love, we all were endeavoring everything we can to prepare for a yet greater degree of harmony.

We might offer one another such accommodations, in the earnest mutual hope that the Spirit would bring clarification to what now is murky, nearly opaque — if our charity were not already exhausted. I pray that we, with no remaining charity to offer one another, not all be found at fault.

Day of Rest

I actually got off to a leisurely start today — but that disappeared quickly. During Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Pippa needed her pancake breakfast. After breakfast, we needed to go to the library (Pip was wrongfully accused of keeping their copy of Harriet the Spy overdue); we vindicated her good name, and proceeded thence to pick up some storage boxes for Pippa and some rutabagas for Si, whose birthday comes up Thursday.

(“Rutabaga” is the family circumlocution for surprises and presents. Back when Pippa was too young to understand the idea of “secret,” she would repeat the last few words she had heard without knowing what they meant. When we were shopping for presents, the boys and I would always make sure that we said “rutabaga” a lot after we finished talking about the specific gift we bought, so that Pippa wouldn’t blurt out “necklace” or “Legos” at an inappropriate moment. Thereafter, we’ve used “rutabaga” to signify a surprise.)

Got back from the rutabaga farm, and I had a half hour to shower up, wrangle Beatrice down to get her hair cut (photos tomorrow), and keep headed south to pick up Phil Kenneson and take him to O’Hare. We had a great conversation, caught up on various developments, and I got back to the pet groomers just before they closed up shop. (Actually, they called Margaret to tell her that her dog had been abandoned, but that wasn’t true; I had told the groomers that I wouldn’t be back till 6:30 or so, and they called Margaret at 6:35).

Got back here, worked on uploading images from Juliet’s wedding (many of the nicest ones are protected, since neither Juliet’s nor John’s relatives live with the expectation that any expression or gesture could be immortalized for a Web-reading audience), tagged, titled, rotated, and protected/unprotected them.

IM’ed with various people about Seabury, Pippa, life, the universe, and everything. Now I’m ready to crash. I hope tomorrow I get a little less rest — I need a break.

Reading Week

Next week Seabury celebrates a Reading Week, in which our usual piety and erudition continue, but at a more relaxed pace. No classes, only two services a day, and fewer meetings (an all-day faculty meeting, but hey — you can’t expect to go much more than two months without an all-day faculty meeting). This break comes at a vital time; with half a chance, I can keep up with this term’s obligations, plan ahead for next term, and get a little reading done toward my writing and lecturing obligations.

Even if none of that happens — apart from the all-day faculty meeting, which will happen no matter what — it’ll be a rest. A much-needed rest.