Meme Too

I avoid many of the pass-along-quiz memes, partly because they can sometimes probe to the point of inappropriate self-disclosure for a priest/professor. (You don’t want to know, and even if you did, I shouldn’t tell you some of those answers.) But since Danya noticed that I hadn’t played in this one, and tagged me for the “books” meme — and since few things are more appropriate than my disclosing my reading habits, I’ll take her up on it.

Number of books I own: You’ve got to be kidding. I’d guess several thousand; five? ten? Jane and Beth have first-hand experience with the office collection, but there are eight or nine bookshelves at home over and above the books at the workplace.

Last book I read: The last book I finished was Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (I read through all the “Unfortunate Events” books in a fit of catching-up-with-Pippa before the new Harry Potter).

Last purchased: The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCullough; The Westminster Handbook of Patristic Theology, edited by John Anthony McGuckin; The Westminster Handbook to Origen, edited by John Anthony McGuckin. All three look terrific; I’m impressed with MacCullough’s ability to keep the countless elements of political, theological, cultural, geographic, even medical history in play while keeping the exposition readable, critical, and convincing. I’ll be recommending McGuckin for my Early Church History class next fall.

Books that mean a lot to me: As others have done, so I exclude sacred texts (stretching that to include the Book of Common Prayer).

The Complete Pelican Shakespeare I used to memorize passages from Shakespeare on my way to and from high school, a mile-and-a-half walk or so, learning about meter, diction, English history, love, death, honor, and truth.

Ulysses, by James Joyce. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead. . . .” Joyce breathed new life into the love of words I assimilated in my youth.

The Pleasures of Philosophy, by Will Durant. I doubt I would assent to most of what Durant advocates, but when I picked this up in a used-book store, I had little notion of how a world might make sense, or how philosophy could be beautiful.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. So rich and lovely , it makes me cry.

Nigger, by Dick Gregory. Two generations now know of Dick Gregory — if they know him at all — as a vaguely comic health huckster. This book broke my nose, it changed the way I look, the way I move in the world. I have not by any means gotten where I need to be; but almost forty years ago, I picked it up because I guessed I ought to, and Dick Gregory knocked a little truth into me.

Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault; The Postmodern Condition, by Jean-François Lyotard; Writing and Difference, by Jacques Derrida. I had not a clue, not the faintest notion, that the uncanny cosmos I always suspected of subsisting behind the façade of predictable, conventional everyday life could find words and point toward what may be thought where words fail you.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I read a mountain of modern Jewish literature in the early seventies; this had the lovely effect of training me to recognize and cherish the possibility that people might care so much about God as to allow it to alter their behavior, without triggering the sense that I might be one of those people. (After all, I knew I wasn’t Jewish.) This illustrates God’s irrepressible sense of irony and loving mirth at the follies of human life.

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. My life is in this novel, somewhere; I hope it’s in the parts that move my admiration, and I fear it’s in the parts that touch my pity.

It would be best for me to cite a book by a woman (I certainly love Austen, I admire Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but these didn’t mark me as forcefully as the others). It would be best for me to cite a book from somewhere outside the West (I learned a grat deal from Nurbaksh’s In the Tavern of Ruin, from the Tao te-Ching, from Shusako Endo’s Silence; but I wouldn’t be telling the truth about myself if I claimed that these influenced me, shaped me to the same extent as the preceding works).

Probably others too, that I’ll add here or in the comments.

Since I’m late to this party, I won’t pick anyone in particular to come next — but if no one has asked you yet, and you’re feeling a little piqued, consider this an invitation to take up the meme.

Their Yahoo

I started playing with My Web 2.0 beta the other day, pretty soon after Caterina announced it on the Flickr blog.

It made a weak first impression on me, because — can you imagine! — someone else already had the nickname “AKMA.” That kinda dampens my whole interest in the thing. But I went along (I’m “rev_akma” there), searched a little, then saw something shiny, and wandered off to pursue it.

Today I went back to flesh out “my community,” but it turns out to be a cumbersome process, largely dependent on contacts from Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Address Book, and Microsoft Outlook, none of which I use. Extra bother to generate yet another social network? Not yet worth the bother, and surely don’t want to spam my friends.

The magic of the Flickrfolk is strong, so I’m sure that something groovy is happening there. It’s just not yet happening in a way that leaps up and grabs me by the throat, like the neatness of the Game Neverending and Flickr.

Page? Work?

I was writing about a website earlier today, and needed to use a word that indicated the individual chunks of textual goodness thereon. I wasn’t talking about whole pages — more about the stuff on the pages. I wasn’t talking only about words, either; you know I’m very concerned about the role of images in communication, too. The obvious word for the stuff about which I’m talking, in the business context, would be “content,” but Doc has scolded us often enough about using the word “content,” and even if I were inclined to defy Doc, “content” refers more to the aggregate of a bunch of the subjects about which I’m thinking.

Are they “works”? Sounds grandiose. Are they “pages”? That’s close, but not it exactly; it’s not the page-i-ness I’m trying to convey. If they were all one genre, I could say “short stories” or “villanelles” or “mash-ups.” But I’m trying to point to miscellaneous compositions, expressions, in diverse media, each hosted at a page address but not really identical to the page itself.

You know, a. . . . [fill in the blank].

Hat Tip to Doc

Trust Doc Searls to know more than most of the rest of us will ever dream that there is to know about FM radio. In a long, intricate explanation of FM signal strength, Doc unveils the clue to getting those low-power FM transmitters-for-your-portable-music device to work: “Make the antenna longer by adding a headphone extention cord: female at one end and male at the other. Put it between your audio player (iPod, Archos or whatever) and your transmitter. Stretch it out. The signal increase is remarkable.” Dave Winer attests, “It works.” Si has one of those gadgets; we’ll test it and see, but this sounds intensely helpful.


So, yesterday I finished off the final version of the Winslow-lecture essay (thanks for helpful feedback from David, Ellen, and Phil); I need to write my response to the other essays, and a short preface to the whole collection.

On July 10, I’m preaching at St. Luke’s (they usually tape Sunday sermons, to this time Jeneane may get her wish).

In three weeks, I give a presentation to the Ekklesia Project on how the commandments that pertain specifically to the divine-human interaction (Confession of faith in the one God, prohibition of idols, keeping hallowed God’s name) relate to our current churchly and missional situation, especially — though not solely — in today’s North America. (I don’t know whether to weep or to thank Washington for providing in recent days such juicy tidbits for criticism: “ ‘[I]t’s important that we venerate the national symbol of our country,’ said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.”)

Then, about ten days later, I have a presentation to the Catholic Biblical Association; that’ll draw on my Winslow essay and on a previous article, but I need to mash-up the pieces and apply some new fillips on the synthesized whole. I’ll prepare this with an eye toward my presentation on doctrine and exegesis for the fall SBL meeting.

All the while, I should be hammering out my James commentary faster than I’ve been doing. Throw in some course prep, Disseminary upkeep and oversight, and family responsibilities; that’s the rest of my summer. But it’s good to have gotten one element squared away.

She Rolls Her Eyes

The other night, I had a dream about Pippa’s art. When my recollection of the dream comes into focus, I had gone to a gallery where a prestigious juried exhibition was about to open. I brought one of Pippa’s works — in the dream it was a shallow cabinet that she had painted and decorated — to show it to the various volunteers, ushers, and other interested parties standing around before the opening. All were enthusiastically impressed, and one of the young, black-clad art-student types urged me to get her involved with some outstanding art instruction program, “because it’s already happening right there” (pointing at the painted cabinet). Eventually, I headed for the door so as not to intrude on the formal opening festivities, but as I was leaving, one of the curators touched my arm and told me, “If you can leave that with us, we will find a place for it in the exhibition.”

That’s when I woke up. Pippa, when later informed of this auspicious dream, grimaced and rolled her eyes.

Why I Am Not A Liberal

I’ve suggested a number of times that I’m not a liberal; I’m uncomfortable with the ways bedfellows get parceled out by the superficial horse-race-consciousness of theological partisanship (“And it’s Gay Bishop by a nose!”). A while back, I offered to spell out why I don’t fit with the faction to which I’m usually assigned; “I’m not a liberal, because. . .”

In what follows, I’ll be using the term “liberal” in a conversational way, not as a technical term in political theory, or U.S. electoral politics, or even in technical theology. Many people would be inclined to call me a liberal because I believe that the Church’s wisest way forward includes admitting lesbian and gay people to sanctified intimate relationships, and to the highest roles of church leadership; it’s that sense of the word “liberal” that does not fit.

  • First, I don’t construe faith or theology as a discourse supplementary to the real, genuine, scientific accounts of truth. After science, philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology have sated themselves at the table of knowledge — theology does not come in late to gnaw on the problems that other discourses either can’t or don’t care to resolve.
    I’m not against scientific inquiry — I just confess the faith that the saints know something about the world that one doesn’t learn apart from life in the church. The gospel is not dispensable in deliberation about truth. When somebody begins talking about “what we all know now” (based on X or Y non-theological master discourse), I realize that they are talking about a “we” that operates with presuppositions I just don’t share.
  • Second, I do not accept the premise that change and novelty are good in and of themselves. The church is a body that includes generations past as well as its present participants — and it must bear in mind its responsibility to generations yet unborn. Those of us active in the church this year constitute a relatively insignificant proportion of the church’s life, and it behooves us to show respect for the saints who have bequeathed this endeavor to us by not casually shucking off the life and teachings they have died to uphold, and by not impetuously imposing our will as a norm for future saints. We frame decisions in ways that show the maximal respect for all our forebears and all our children. Though the church can err, that’s not the same thing as the “liberal” notion that “up till this moment everything was a barbaric kludge, and now we’ve finally understood things right.” I affirm the need always to be ready to reassess the church’s teaching (especially on matters about which the church has never before undertaken comprehensive deliberation); I deny that the church needs to play the modern game of continual (illusory) self-reinvention.
  • Third, my humanism is always conditioned by my theocentricity. Human beings are pretty cool, and our capacities extend beyond anyone’s imagination — but Protagoras to the contrary notwithstanding, we are not the measure of all things.
  • So, fourth, God is not there to make us feel better or to affirm us as we are. We confess that we will be transformed in ways we neither control nor anticipate in advance. That implies that our selves bear witness to God’s truth not by the extent to which a hypothetical account of God assures us satisfactorily of our own goodness; rather, we bear witness to God’s truth by allowing that we will be changed apart from our desires (our desires themselves will be changed). If we can stipulate in advance what God must be willing to do, how God must relate to us in order to win our approval, we are no longer talking about God or faith as I understand them.
  • Fifth: doubt, idiosyncracy, questioning, and freedom of choice all come after confession of faith and affirmation of trust in the wisdom of the saints. All too often, people treat doubt, skepticism, and questioning as though they were intrinsically virtuous; the romantic appeal of the fearless doubter will sell a lot of books, win a lot of votes, rack up big points in the people-pleasing business. I am not an Aufklärer, an Enlightenment thinker; I am a priest and theologian, a servant of a truth that did not originate with me. Yes, emphatically, I can and must question the church when I think it in error; but if my inclination to consider the church in error becomes a full-time occupation, I am probably worshipping a very different deity, one who looks an awfully lot like. . . me.
  • Sixth, catholicity (the shared character of theological conviction) and unity matter more than individuality and unique authenticity. Yes, we’re all different (“I’m not”) — but our difference always contributes to a greater whole. An individuality that impairs our capacity to share, to sustain a lived connection with our neighbors, diminishes our humanity; those who celebrate their individuality by reveling in alienation misconstrue the meaning of being human. Yes, large numbers can exercise tyrannical short-sightedness and bigotry. Yes, the church shows some of that behavior. Bigotry constitutes a problem, though, not because all differences are beautiful, but because bigotry elevates locally-preferred grounds for association and connection to unduly general authority.

So, am I a liberal? If so, the term shows so much elasticity as to lack useful meaning except as a term of opprobrium. I may be wrong, I may be deluded, I may be many things — but I don’t understand how I can plausibly be labeled a liberal.


I’ve been asked what I think about the Anglican Consultative Council’s decision to suspend the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada until the next Lambeth Meeting (gathering of bishops) in 2008. There’s not much for me to say, because things played out pretty much as I’d have anticipated. I was surprised, in fact, that the vote to suspend was as close as it turned out to be.

The Episcopal Church compiled a respectable case for its having reflected long and diligently about topics pertaining to sexuality. I’d have wished it a little more thorough, with some different points of emphasis, but my colleagues did a strong job of making a case for the Episcopal Church’s stand. At the same time, a large part of that good case involved demonstrating that the Episcopal Church has been arguing (internally) about sexuality for forty years, while the consistent point of the Windsor Report and the Primates (and now the ACC) has been that the Episcopal Church has made decisions that affect other provinces without the consultation and shared deliberation that might render such decisions intelligible to those others. Sure, we’ve been talking to ourselves for forty years, but we haven’t been taking sufficient part in inter-provincial theological reasoning. Our strong report doesn’t really affect that claim, and indeed the more forceful a case we make that we’ve really worked on this a long time and resolved many of the glitches, the less excusable our relative reticence in global discussion.

Did we try? I don’t know — but as we constantly ask other provinces to listen to us, to the voices of the lesbian and gay sisters and brothers whose lives and ministries we uphold, we owe it to all concerned also to listen to our unconvinced sisters and brothers around the world who firmly maintain that we haven’t listened well enough to them.

It looks to me as though the Consultative Council reluctantly made a decision that the Episcopal Church can’t get along by being brash or headstrong — even if it may be right. I do not estimate that Lambeth 2008 will be markedly more favorably disposed toward tolerating the North American churches’ decisions regarding sexuality. We have three years to find out, however, and to figure out what it’ll mean if the Lambeth bishops finalize what the Windsor Report, the Primates, and the Consultative Council have begun.

History, Cartoons, and Legos

I’ve been working on the historical narrative, layout, navigation, and framing for the whole project; I set up a Flickr account to house Disseminary-related images (distinct from my personal account, which makes sense, really). from now on, I’ll upload Disseminary pictures to the specific Flickr site.

So, at this point I have both images and narration for the first few frames of the history, the portion on first-century Judaism. I lack a bridging frame that illustrates the ambiguity and fluidity of “Christian”-“Judaic” identity in the first- and second-century. From that, I’ll modulate to the story of Ignatius. I need a couple of doctrinal pictures (which I probably won’t make headway on this weekend, with god-daughters visiting and a general backlog of work to be done), then the execution scene. Margaret and I went to the movies yesterday, and when shopping for snacks we came across a Pez Lion that’ll join the wooden Noah’s-Ark lion for the martyrdom of Ignatius. From Ignatius, then, I’ll modulate to Polycarp, and from Polycarp to Justin Martyr (for whom I’m envisioning some good learning-from-philosophers scenes). Then Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, Tertullian, Perpetua and Felicitas. . . .

But the point is that I have an intro-entry page, now, with continuous links through first-century Judaism, and a path forward into the early Christian figures I’ve been working on. Not yet what Amy asked for, but it’s on its way.