Monthly Archives: June 2006

Since You Asked

Several people have wondered what I think about the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the short answer is, “I don’t know.” I’ll certainly pray for her and her family, for the leadership infrastructure of the Episcopal Church, and for new health for the Anglican Communion as a whole.

But I haven’t seen any reliable sample of her theological reasoning, and at this time we need sound, deep theological reasoning more than just about any other characteristic.

I hear reports that she has a lovely, gracious, attentive, focused personality. She has a pilot’s license and flies her own airplane. To state the obvious, she’s a woman, and there is good in U. S. Episcopalians not assuming that a Presiding Bishop must be male.

At the same time, if she can’t back up her winsome character traits with weighty theological reasoning, all the positives won’t add up to enough to preserve even marginally cooperative relations with the Anglican Communion outside the U.S., nor to bolster the theological integrity of the Episcopal Church. For a variety of cultural reasons, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. can’t quite believe that anyone can (or should) take theological truth seriously, and tends to settle for lo-cal substitutes (convention conflict as “Less Filling!” vs. “Tastes Great!”); the vital (and I mean that word emphatically) importance of theology for the church remains in inconvenient truth. I hope I’ll learn that Bishop Jefferts Schori can handle that aspect of her new calling.

Father’s Day

Whale For Dad

The family honored Father’s Day today with cards and gifts — Si sent me the card above, which Pippa drew for him. It’s a whale of a card, for a whale of a Dad, and Si added a kindly appreciative message on the inside.

Pippa herself gave me a small bag of goodies, including a bouquet of silk flowers that she had made (more in the realm of imaginative flowers than the exact reproduction of familiar floral forms), which hung over my place in the dining room. She added a card of her own, on which she transcribed the definition of “father” from the

Random House College Dictionary

she picked up at the most recent library Book Sale.

Father, Defined

Best of all, she suspended her recent abstinence from graphical endeavors to produce a pastel for me, a wonderful picture of three brilliant tomatoes on a bright blue background. What a wonderful family — I’m very proud of all of them, and blessed that I got the assignment of being “father” among such remarkable, gifted souls!


Tradition, Change, and Precision

I observe that my dictionary software permits using the traditionally transitive verb “expound“ as intransitive: whereas I was taught that one expounds a position, a claim, the Scriptures, or a proposal, the Oxford American Dictionary (on which Apple’s Dashboard software relies) allows us to “expound on” a topic. The Oxford editors do not, however, approve the widespread use of “advocate” with an indirect object. Even in this fallen day and age, one advocates a cause, one does not advocate for that cause.

Just so you know.

And since I’m blogging about academica, I will belatedly point to Alex Halavalais’s now-famous post on ways students could cheat better. It’s not the kind of thing I would have posted — I can’t do anything to make my job harder — the post and some of the comments deserve attention.

Can you tell I’m grading papers and exams?

Joke’s On Me

The PDFs of my Fortress Press book arrived yesterday, and I take bemused delight in one of its features. In a book which includes at least two essays that broach the topic of how typography affects interpretation, Fortress has set the headers in Antique Olive, one of my very least favorite typefaces in the world. At least the body copy is set in a sturdy Janson-family typeface.

In other news, I seem to have succumbed to the cold Pippa developed two days ago. She has seemed pitiably uncomfortable since then, so I’m not looking forward to the rest of the week.

Redeem the Time

Since I posted yesterday, I’ve been flooded with semi-intuitions that the problems I care most about (theological, hermeneutical, ethical, and all) find a common determinant in the character of time. I hesitate to blog any one of the notions that’s crossed my mind — they aren’t that well-developed yet — but if I were a character in an Edwardian novel, I would set out for a cottage in a remote location (say, France, or the Cotswolds, or even Scotland) and spend a year or two working out the connections. As it is, I’ll mull them over in the gaps of my days, and if anything noteworthy comes to fruition, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, in ecclesiastical news, it turns out that Barbara Brown Taylor is not an “ex-priest,” but has stepped down from parish ministry. Sadly, the noteworthy story here is not that the USA Today got its facts wrong in a headline, but that she feels comfortable claiming that “Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and he departed from them. He was not faithful to the Scripture of that time. . . .” When celebrities such as she advance foolishness like this, the job of teaching wisdom to the church just gets harder and harder.

And since I noticed all this through Kendall Harmon’s site, I ought to complete a bizarre convergence of parties by noting that here I repudiate Brown Taylor’s claims, and endorse Al Kimel’s resistance to Paul Zahl’s unnerving theological hybrid of Luther and Zwingli.

But that “time” stuff — so much to think about, from Augustine to Heidegger. . . .

On Weasel Words

The Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention starts its work this week, as even totally uninterested newswatchers will have been informed. We can anticipate a great deal of heat, and a good deal less light, and a sizable number of dissatisfied Episcopalians, no matter what the convention decides.

Some observers have offered pre-emptive strikes against the use of “weasel words” about issues that demand firm, clear, unambiguous verdicts. I’m not so het up about this one — my acquaintance with Anglican history suggests that the strength and weakness of the Anglican tradition depends to a great extent on keeping as many people as possible on board. To the extent that carefully worded resolutions (that may be read in more than one sense) contribute to sustaining broad participation in the church, I think that they reflect one of the defining characteristics of this stream of Christianity.

I’m not defending vagueness, but rather precision — about matters on which there is not a clear, distinct agreeement. That’s not a vice, but a virtue.

On the other hand, I see so little clear, precise writing that I sympathize with partisans who doubt that official church pronouncements aim not so much at precision as at empty but congenial sonorousness.

On a separate but related topic, I finally edited and added the sermon from Paula Harris’s ordination, and on another separate but related topic, Kevin points to the eerie convergence of catholic and agnostic sensibilities.


Yesterday afternoon, Margaret and I sang the hymn“Come, Labor On,” one of those resonant theological classics of sacred music. The fourth verse includes the admonition, “Redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly. The night draws nigh.”

Twenty-four years ago today, we sang “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” and “Come Down, O Love Divine,” two more of those classics; we stood up in front of Margaret’s home parish, of family and friends, standing among saints and angels. We offered to one another and to God and church our willingness to bind our lives together; we promised to stick together through thick and thin, as a testimony to love’s power to harmonize and unite different characters, a tentative witness to God’s love’s ultimate reconciliation of the differences by which this mortal world has been constituted — when earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in the heat of God’s love consuming.

As we begin a twenty-fifth year of life together, we can’t afford to take for granted even a minute of the time we share. We’ve somehow put together two dozen years of affection, care-giving, parenting, support, growth, endurance, surprises, patience, and in all things, praise of God. Who could ask more? Yet we promise one another, our beloved family, our dear friends, and all with whom our lives have become intertwined, to rejoice in each new day, to acknowledge the tremendous gifts we’ve received (and, at our best, shared).

And to Margaret, my love: All this that you have given me far exceeds anything I could ever ask. Thank you, my dearest, for loving me, knowing me, and keeping close very moment — I’m with you, all along, always, all ways.

Not To Boast. . . .

But Pippa was honored at St. Luke’s Annual choir banquet, with a joke award for her punctuality (the Eastern Standard Time Award, for always arriving an hour early). She also received the Attendance Award (shared with our family’s friend Kaethe Wright Kaufmann), and also with the Rector’s Award as the chorister who exemplified the Christian ideals of the choir. She was mentioned as Honorable Mention for most improved, too.

That’s after she had a lovely, short solo during Saturday’s memorial service.

Reporting For Duty

You Shall Not Pass

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, nor have I been crushed by the tree limb that fell down across our street last night. At the end of an exhausting year, I gave myself a week off (not exactly a week off, since I had Seabury meetings every day this week, and two on some days — but more nearly “off” than the rest of the year had been). I’ll be getting back into action this week, gradually.

While I was gone, Jordon pushed back on the “church and popular culture” topic, in an entirely apposite way. I don’t assume we’ll agree about everything, but it’s just the kind of discussion I want to be part of.

David cites Jay citing Raymond Williams to the support his argument that the participatory-media transition accelerates the dissolution of “mass culture,” and that’s a good thing. I second the motion.

While I haven’t been blogging actively, I have been spending a non-trivial amount of time deleting comment spam, which now seems to be flowing in a constant, intense stream despite its total ineffectiveness at this address. I know, it doesn’t cost the accursed spammer anything to try; the whole cost is borne by the host, in bandwidth and time spent deleting. One of my jobs this summer will involve the back-up and upgrade process here. In the meantime, if I’ve deleted a comment you left, I apologize. When deleting hundreds of posts left in the name of a prescription drug, a mode of sexual activity currently under legislative review, empty flattery with links to gambling sites, and invitations to resorts, an innocuous comment from a non-commercial visitor can easily get swept up in the process.

I should also say that this week has been framed by our learning that Allen Strehlow died early last Sunday morning. As I write, we’re sitting at the café while Si and Pip rehearsse with the choir for this afternoon’s memorial service. I would say more about Allen, but trivialities are cheap, and I’m not sure I’m up to trying for profundity yet.

da Vinci Talking Points

Here are some of the points I expect to make in tonight’s (and Wednesday’s) presentations on The da Vinci Code:

To begin with the obvious: ”symbology”? At Harvard? (I mean, maybe out in Boulder they have a symbology professor, but not at an Ivy League institution.)

How does the movie define “identity”? Who are the characters, and what do they stand for? For instance: the movie shows us no Protestant, Orthodox, (or Anglican) believers; only Roman Catholics, and only Roman Catholics of an extreme sort. Only one Roman Catholic character seems to have a shred of conscience, and that after he has already defied church teaching (relative to the sanctity of the confessional) and has disrupted police procedure, supoposedly at the behest of the church. The movie suggests that our identity is bound up with heredity (in a nostalgic, romantic-noble way). Evidently the Merovingian dynasty was all about helping the poor and oppressed (poor and oppressed people who never appear in the movie). The movie (and book) presuppose “origins” and “original [things]” are somehow truer than their contemporary manifestations.

The church’s teachings run in a very different direction. Counterexamples to the contrary notwithstanding (and reality, unlike the movie, admits of counterexamples), the church has from the apostolic time acknowledged that no “blood line” ennobles anyone, but that we are all God’s children by adoption, that God is not partial to one person over another, and that in Christ all particularities are harmonized into a concordant equality.

Who are the intelligent characters (on the movie’s terms)? The ones who believe in a conspiracy theory grounded in dubious evidence and false claims.

How do we discover/encounter truth? In what do we have faith? (Documents hidden in a basement?) Thomas: people we trust. In the movie/book, Clio (the muse of History) is, in effect, the One God; it’s singular, it’s not perspectival, and we have access to the truth. As Margaret points out, the movie communicates its “truth” with the grainy documentary film-clip effect; since we see scenes from the lead characters’ (true) pasts in grainy flashbacks, the movie suggests that the scenes from Christianity’s past are true in the same way. The rhetorical style of the book and movie’s characters conveys the impression that Christianity must be either a plot or a laughable delusion.

What’s the basis for believing in things? The movie suggests that the publicly-available, historic church is fraud, whereas a secret, private, unknown conspiracy represents the truth.

What is a “document,” and how does it testify to truth? If you find a basement full of Top Secret documents, does that make them instantly reliable?

The problem of “liking” theological texts: “Liking” limits interpretation by suggesting that we may concentrate on texts we like, it excuses us from talking about texts we don’t like, and undercuts reasoning about what’s good, true, sound.

What does it mean to kneel at the remains of Mary Magdalene? How does Tom Hanks kneeling at the [supposed] memorial of Mary Magdalene differ from Christians making a pilgrimage to a tomb or memorial? What does any of that behavior mean, on the movie’s terms?

It’s all about genealogical family — but the focus of the family is on the individual. Jesus’ alleged blood line did not expand and extend, but it narrowed down to one person (the notion that Sophie is the only descendant never gets examined in the movie; somehow Tom Hanks just knows that she’s alone).

Stuff like this.