Surreal Spam

I’ve begun receiving commercial comments that read, “This post isn’t a spam,” followed by links to pharmaceuticals, casinos, or whatever. Though the questions it raises delight me, I’m still going to delete all of them.

Two Davids

I’d rather listen to a record by David Byrne, but I’ll turn to David Weinberger for analysis of ideas and knowledge. Byrne set out to “draw an evolutionary tree on pleasure,” or “draw a Venn diagram about relationships,” but Weinberger sees that when we construct tree-like maps and treat them as the true shape of knowledge, we impose an extrinsic order that conceals other sorts of connection. I’ stick with David W. on the miscellaneity of knowledge, but — to be fair — even on his best day, David couldn’t equal Byrne’s “The Great Curve” or “Born Under Punches,” or even a lesser effort such as “Don’t Worry ’Bout the Government.” And, to be fairer still, Byrne doesn’t present these as “the nature of the world,” but as thought experiments. I just think that David B. does better with music than with thought.

Deja Vu

When I was in grade school during the Cold War, I was taught that in Communist countries, the government could spy on their citizens with impunity — citizens could never know whether their phone calls were being tapped. You weren’t allowed to take pictures of trains or public buildings. This (I was instructed) proved the superiority of our free, open society.

Hmmm, No Clever Title

Well, the sermon came and went (transcribed in the extended section) , and people seem to have received it cordially, though I would myself level some criticisms of it (in line with yesterday’s post). In fact, Pippa herself gently prodded me to justify what she took to be a relatively tenuous link from the readings to the sermon. She had missed an explicit thematic connection, but she’s right that it should be stronger, and I’m intensely proud that she can listen critically and identify flaws.

In one of those preacher’s-nightmare scenarios, the 8 o’clock congregation read a different psalm fro the 10 o’clock

I thought of David and the congregation at St. Patrick’s; I hope that today’s service helps them make another step out of devastation into restoration.
Continue reading “Hmmm, No Clever Title”

Preaching: Content and Structure

I’m fiddling around with tomorrow’s sermon. I have a heap of points that I want to make, but “points” are cheap; anyone can meander around and hit a few points, valid points, if you allow enough time.

A standout sermon will pick up some of the same “points” that a more casual sermon touches on, and will order them in a way that strengthens the convincing power of each, and integrates them into a vision of the whole gospel. Here’s a significant weakness of much “justice” homiletics; many preachers walk through a relatively predictable series of points about inclusion, equality, poverty, and liberation, without structuring the sermon so that these carry more weight than “a bunch of things that Christians think are good [or ‘bad,’ depending].” Theologians didn’t simply discover justice and liberation in the 1960’s, and the theological significance of these themes ramifies through more stories than only the Exodus, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus, and so on. “Justice” absolutely constitutes a cardinal theological theme — but we only enfeeble our preaching when we don’t make strong connections with the whole of the gospel. (And it’s not only “justice” preaching — one could say the same thing about “the tradition” or any of countless other homiletical themes).

We preachers often care so much about our points that we neglect the vital importance of integrating them in a coherent, intelligible, convincing structure. That’s a more complex task, and we don’t always do it well even when we try. But (as my students will acknowledge), the gospel is more complicated than just the points, and we best serve the whole gospel when we attend not only to its fruits, but to its roots as well.


I’m preaching Sunday, working on the texts, looking for the hook. The readings are Joshua 24:1-2a,14-25 (“Choose ye this day whom you will serve”); Psalm 16; Ephesians 5:21-33 (the dreaded “Wives, be subject to your husbands”); and John 6:60-69, the end of the Bread of Life discourse.

Right now, I suspect I’ll want to pick up and interrogate the question of “choosing” — but since I don’t have a hook, it’s hard to tell what’ll become the most important element in the whole.

Church History At Last

This fall, for the last time, I’ll teach my Early Church History course. (Next year we switch to semesters, and this course will be wrapped into a one-semester über-survey of church histry; I may occasionally teach topics in early history, but will no longer have this intro course).

For the occasion, I’m fine-tuning the Theology Cards game. I never erally liked the designation for people who died a natural death, so I’ll go fix that on all the cards.

I’m also going to look into make a set of Chronology cards. Pippa has developed in interest in Chronology in the past year or so, and we play by a simple set of rules (simpler than the rules given with the game): each player turns over a card and has to guess/say where that card fits among the cards in the other player’s tableau. For instance, my first card may be “Abraham Lincoln assassinated,” and Si’s is “The Battle of Hastings.” I draw “The beginning of the Tang Dynasty,” and have to determine whether that was before or after Lincoln’s death in 1865 (it was, founded in the early seventh century). Si draws “U.S. Bicentennial Celebration” and has to guess whether that came before or after 1066. Then I draw “Morocco conquers the Songhai Empire,” and I have to decide whether that took place before the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, or between that date and Lincoln’s assassination, or after Lincoln’s death. (It was 1581, so between the two otehr dates.) And so on.

I’ll make up a series of cards for the church history class, so that they can play this homegrown version of Chronology to learn the basic sequence of events in church history, and I’ll post it on the Disseminary site when it’s ready. And once I wangle the upgrade to our MT install, I’ll begin working on the Beautiful Theology reading group, I promise.

Two Graphic

Weekend before last, giddy with thinking, I stopped in at Comix Revolution (looking for Scott McCloud’s forthcoming book) and wandered home with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Steve Ross’s Marked. I was at one point thinking about writing on both of them in one entry, but I fear that would take up too much room, and would short-change each, so instead I’ll accord each one a separate entry. (I’m impressed that Alison B. keeps her website with blog software — cheers to her for that very insightful, practical decision!)

Fun Home rehearses Bechdel’s growing-up and coming-out, with particular reference to her father, and to their relationship. The story is grim — her childhood was not cheery, and her father dies while she’s in college — but Bechdel will not permit the story to descend into [self-]pity or facile denunciation of her father’s remoteness. When the story’s tensions and tragedy lurch toward despair, she foregrounds moments of relief, of delight. She studies her family’s fissures with the candor of detachment and the intimacy of involvement, and invites her readers to see past the deceptions on which her family’s identities were grounded. But she goes further, to teach her reader to reckon with the possibility that every conclusion is premature, that neither she nor we can escape building identities from fictive elements that we may at any moment betray, that may at any moment betray us.

Bechdel’s insight and patience mark the book as an impressive memoir; even more remarkable, though, are her gift for communicating the memoir in comic panels that constitute a complex mosaic of motifs, echoes, recapitulations, and cadences. She reproduces pages from her childhood diaries, from the books that illuminate her father’s life, from postcards and letters — her depictions representing both the original source and the extent to which she has appropriated the material for her story’s purpose. She illustrates several scenes multiple times, using different emphases as she urges her readers to see the scene differently, this time. She bares to her readers a soul clothed in dire beauty.

I would not recommend this book to everyone; it is too harrowing for many, and may stir painful memories to the surface for some. The sexual dimensions of her narrative will offend some with their explicitness, some with their affirmative homosexuality. Many, many readers, though will find here a remembrance that touches their memories and imagination with images, insights, and rhythms from a hauntingly subtle narrative artist.

Different Approach

If United Airlines stopped junk-mailing every member of our family “Limited Time Offers” for Mileage Plus credit cards two or three times a week, they could lower fares on all their flights. If fares were lower, we might fly more often.

I’m just saying. . . .

Five Things

A belated Happy Birthday to Librivox! Listen to their anniversary special here.

NPR interviews Edward Tufte (yes, I’m still thinking through a Beautiful Theology online discussion group) — Weekend Edition Sunday offers audion and video here.

Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Never Fail,” courtesy of Joel Johnson (link from Boing Boing). There’s a connection there to Beautiful Theology, but we’ll have to wait for the discussion to figure out what it is. Does anyone know what “Ben” stands for in these frames?

Tim made me go look at a clip from the Colbert Report. I’ll bet Tony Campolo could’ve named the Ten Commandments, unlike pro-Commandment crusader Lynn Westmoreland.

Micah wanted me to check out this and this. They’re both from Canadian sources, which makes me wonder whether I’m living on the correct side of the border. No, I don’t really wonder.