In his recent book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies – New Zealand and the United States – which I’m yet to read (a fact which doesn’t always give me reason to pause from offering comment) – David Hackett Fischer observes that whereas public discourse and public policy in America is dominated by the rhetoric of freedom and liberty, here in New Zealand the same are organised around the principles of fairness and social justice. Throwing Australia into this mix would make a fascinating study and, I think, challenge some of Fischer’s conclusions. Still, Fischer’s sounds like an attractive thesis (nicely summarised in this article), and I look forward to checking out the book. (Just as good, however, might be reading a review of the book by American ex-pat Kim Fabricius.)
- Wonderful stuff by Slavoj Žižek on the miracle of Tahrir Square
- Fascinating pieces by Bert Olivier on Egypt: The crisis of modernity all over again?, and on Panopticism, Facebook, the ‘information bomb’, and Wikileaks
- Immanuel Kant’s guide to a good dinner party
- Jason Byassee on mentoring people with books
- David Gambrell on welcoming children in worship
- The 2011 Barth Conference is on the theme ‘Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: An Unofficial Protestant-Catholic Dialogue’
- On the subject of conferences, registrations for the ‘”Tikkun Olam” – to mend the world’ conference and exhibition are now open. This is shaping up to be a really exciting event.
- Kent Eilers offers ‘four handles’ on reading Barth
- The so-called ‘Romero Prayer’, by John Cardinal Dearden:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only’. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
- Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ by T.F. Torrance (2009).
- The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist by Angel F. Mendez Montoya (2009).
- Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity by Paul D. Molnar (2009).
- Christ the Key by Kathryn Tanner.
- The Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing the Gospel As News by Christopher Morse.
- On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene: Unpublished Lectures and Sermons by Ernst Käsemann.
- An Alien in a Strange Land: Theology in the Life of William Stringfellow by Anthony Dancer.
- Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906–1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. (For the record, I thought that Eric Metaxas’ ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was one of the most over-rated and poorly-reviewed books of the year. Clifford Green’s review, ‘Hijacking Bonhoeffer’, published in the Christian Century, 19 October 2010, pp. 34–9, is the review to read).
- Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral by Thomas Long (2009).
- Concerning The True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer (2009).
- The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church by Andrew Root.
- The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord by Andrew Purves.
- George Herbert’s Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton edited by Christopher Hodgkins.
- Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
- A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide by Linda Melvern.
- Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820–1921 by Judith Binney.
- A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis (2008).
- Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans by Darryl Estrine.
- In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love by Melissa Clark.
- Anjum’s New Indian by Anjum Anand.
- Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi.
- Angina Days: Selected Poems by Günter Eich.
1. Officium Novum by Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble.
2. The Age of Miracles by Mary-Chapin Carpenter.
3. Foundling by David Gray.
4. Scratch My Back by Peter Gabriel.
5. Sacrificium by Cecilia Bartoli.
6. Women and Country by Jakob Dylan.
7. 100 Miles From Memphis by Sheryl Crow.
8. Great and Small by Butterflyfish.
9. Downtown Church by Patty Griffin.
10. No Better Than This by John Mellencamp.
Honorable mentions: All Delighted People by Sufjan Stevens; The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens; Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant; Go by Jónsi; April Uprising by The John Butler Trio; The Promise by Bruce Springsteen; The Astounding Eyes of Rita by Anouar Brahem; American VI: Aint No Grave by Johnny Cash; San Patricio by The Chieftains & Ry Cooder; In Person & On Stage by John Prine; How I Learned to See in the Dark by Chris Pureka.
- The Social Network
- Edge of Darkness
- The Wolfman
- Alice in Wonderland
- Robin Hood
- My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?.
Best TV shows
Some Personal Highlights
- Samuel arrived.
- Found (what we hope is) a great school for Sinead.
- Made some great friends.
- Defended my PhD.
- Participated in the historic first meeting of the United General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, in Grand Rapids.
- I went to my first, and possibly last, Leonard Cohen concert.
- I began journalling … again.
- I stopped wearing a watch.
This morning I was at St Margaret’s in Frankton (part of the Wakatipu Community parish) where I met some wonderful folk, resisted going fishing, and preached on Luke 15:1–10. The sermon was partly inspired by these words on joy by CS Lewis, and those of Karl Barth on the miracle of the love of God:
‘I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order – with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order? How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? – either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?: No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven’. – CS Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (London: Collins, 1977), 94–5.
‘God’s loving is concerned with a seeking and creation of fellowship without any reference to an existing aptitude or worthiness on the part of the loved. God’s love is not merely not conditioned by any reciprocity of love. It is also not conditioned by any worthiness to be loved on the part of the loved, by any existing capacity for union or fellowship on his side … The love of God always throws a bridge over a crevasse. It is always the light shining out of darkness. In His revelation it seeks and creates fellowship where there is no fellowship and no capacity for it, where the situation concerns a being which is quite different from God, a creature and therefore alien, a sinful creature and therefore hostile. It is this alien and hostile other that God loves … This does not mean that we can call the love of God a blind love. But what He sees when He loves is that which is altogether distinct from Himself, and as such lost in itself, and without Him abandoned to death. That He throws a bridge out from Himself to this abandoned one, that He is light in the darkness, is the miracle of the almighty love of God’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1 (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance; trans. T.H.L. Parker, et al.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957), 278.
Here’s how I concluded:
If these two parables teach us anything at all about repentance, it is that the whole of our life is ‘finally and forever out of our hands and that if we ever live again, our life will be entirely the gift of some gracious other’ [Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace, 39]. The Gospel is the announcement that God finds us not in the garden of improvement but in the desert of death. It’s precisely from death that we are brought home. And these parables are about coming home. They speak to us about the nature of lostness, and about the necessity of experiencing lostness if we are to experience homecoming. ‘Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful, He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home’ [Marilynne Robinson, Home, 102]. So they teach us something about the nature of God.
They also give us a hint … of what history is about: that history is the time that God creates in order to find and to restore the lost. And, finally, these parables give us a hint about how that time will end, offering us every hope to believe that our stories do not end at the grave. Even hell is no obstacle, for this is a God who, in Jesus Christ, comes not only into the far country in search of us, but who also descends into the very depths of hell in order to carry us home. This is the God of relentless grace – the Hound of Heaven – and it is he and not death or any human decision who will decide how history ends. This is what it means to call God the judge of the living and the dead. Like the good shepherd in Ezekiel 34 who searches for the lost and rescues them from all the places where they are scattered, Jesus’ work is not done until all come home. He keeps seeking the lost, even in the grave. He seeks those who have refused his love. He seeks those who have abandoned his love. He seeks those who have never known of his love. He seeks those for whom life has ended prematurely. In Christ, there is no such thing as empty time, or ‘dead’ time, for all time is filled with Christ’s lordship over the living and the dead, and filled with experience of the Spirit who is the giver of life …
And here in Luke 15 we are given a picture of the nature of God, an insight into the purpose of history, and, I believe, a glimpse of how history ends, of how your life ends and my life ends – of how the lives of those we love and of those who have made life hell for us, will end – with celebration, with a banquet, with the extravagant joy with which God welcomes the found and eats with them, … with homecoming.
‘The question of providing religious services for summer holiday-makers in the country was before the Dunedin Presbytery at its meeting yesterday in relation, particularly, to the growing popularity of Warrington and contiguous seaside resorts.
A report submitted recommended that a tent be procured at Warrington, but this proposal did not seem to find general favour although the point has not been settled, the matter having been referred to a small committee.
The Rev. J. Chisholm said it seemed to him that more attention should be given to these seaside resorts in the future.
The churches were almost empty for a few weeks in the year, and unless more attention were paid to the young people they would form habits which would doubtless be confirmed, and that would be to the injury of their church.
The Rev. R. Fairmaid brought the matter nearer home than the northern coast by referring to Broad Bay and the Peninsula.
A young man had told him that a kind of pagan life was lived thereby the young people who gathered for week ends.
This was a deplorable condition from the moral point of view, and, so far as he understood, there was no service provided by their people in these quarters.
The committee appointed could perhaps attend to this matter, too.
It was pointed out by the Rev. W. Scorgie, in concluding the discussion, that there was a Methodist Church at Broad Bay and a Presbyterian Church at Portobello’.
Also, there’s some good reading around the traps at the moment:
- William Cavanaugh on Christopher Hitchens and the myth of religious violence.
- Matthew Bruce reviews Matthias Gockel’s Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election. [BTW: my own review of this book is available here].
- Richard L. Floyd shares an appreciation of Donald Bloesch.
- Kim Fabricius shares a wonderful Call to Worship.
- Steve Biddulph on fatherhood.
- Robert Fisk on ‘honour’ killings and on the pain of satisfying family ‘honour’.
- Ben Myers shares a note on misreading.
- Robin Parry (shamelessly) plugs a forthcoming book on universalism: “All Shall Be Well”: Explorations in Universalism and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann.
- Luther is still bugging the locals.
- Simon Holt shares a nice prayer from Ken Thompson about pigeon holes, compartments, and other places.
- And Ken MacLeod offers a brilliant solution for distracted writers: ‘One of the major problems for writers is that the machine we use to write is connected to the biggest engine of distraction ever invented. One can always disconnect, of course – there’s even software that locks out the internet and email for selected periods – or use a separate, isolated computer, but I think something more elegant as well as radical is needed. What I’m thinking of is some purely mechanical device, that took the basic QWERTY keyboard with Shift and Return keys and so on, but with each key attached to an arrangement of levers connected to a physical representation of the given letter or punctuation mark. These in turn would strike through some ink-delivery system – perhaps, though I’m reaching a bit here, a sort of tape of cloth mounted on reels – onto separate sheets of paper, fed through some kind of rubber roller (similar to that on a printer) one by one. The Return key would have to be replaced by a manual device, to literally ‘return’ the roller at the end of each line. Tedious, but most writers could do with more exercise anyway. Corrections and changes would be awkward, it’s true, but a glance at any word processor programme gives the answer: the completed sheets could be, physically, cut and pasted’.
BTW: I haven’t abandoned my series on the cost and grace of parish ministry. If all goes to plan, I’ll be back posting on it this week.
As part of my contribution to Ben Myers’ hunt for some appropriate reading for a post-grad seminar on the ‘spirituality of theology’, I suggested that he ‘shoot for something outside of the past century’. Here’s part of the reason why:
‘When we learn to listen to the tradition faithfully, not assuming that we already know what we shall hear, but instead allowing earlier voices their own integrity, we will inevitably be surprised by the strangeness of much what is said. At that point we will be faced with a choice: we might take the modern way of patronising earlier voices by assigning them to their “place in history”, and so pretending that they have nothing to say to us; or we might believe that to listen to these voices in all their strangeness, and to regard their positions as serious, and live, options is actually a theological imperative. Perhaps the most two obvious areas where this will be true are sexual ethics and biblical interpretation …’. – Steve R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002), 86.
Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed my interest in Church history. While the seed for this interest was planted decades ago, it has sprouted more rapidly in recent years as I have focused my attention on one of Church history’s outstanding figures, PT Forsyth. One of the real joys of doing a PhD is being introduced to so many new names and so much unfamiliar literature. For me, this has principally been Victorian/Edwardian nonconformist theologians from Britain.
Having enjoyed these introductions so much, I thought it might be a good idea to (from time to time) share some biographical material on, and quotes from, various theologians that I come across that are of particular interest. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will be a principal source. The series will include posts on:
- Matthew Arnold
- James Baldwin Brown
- John Caird
- John McLeod Campbell
- Reginald John Campbell
- Samuel Cox
- Robert William Dale
- James Denney
- Andrew Martin Fairbairn
- PT Forsyth
- Alfred Ernest Garvie
- William John Fairchild Huxtable
- Lawrence Pearsall Jacks
- John Scott Lidgett
- William Robertson Nicoll
- James Orr
- Joseph Parker
- Hastings Rashdall
- Vincent Taylor
- John Sheldon Whale
(If there’s a biography that you’d particularly like to see included, let me know … and why).
The upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion includes a review by Diane Bell (University of Adelaide) of the book Aboriginal Religions in Australia: An Anthology of Recent Writings, edited by Max Charlesworth, Francoise Dussart, and Howard Morphy (Ashgate, 2005).
Bell notes that the contributors to this volumes are ‘predominantly non-Indigenous anthropologists and well-established ones at that’. However, not a few new strands in the study of Aboriginal religion are unrepresented in the book. Bell states that she ‘would like to see more about the intertwining of new age beliefs and practices, eco-tourism, new religious movements, and the emergence of distinctive Aboriginal theologies—some of which have a strong social justice core and others of a decidedly evangelical nature’.
Bell identifies Fiona Magowan’s essay ‘Faith and Fear in Aboriginal Christianity’ (pp. 279–295) as ‘an excellent account of the Yolngu from Galiwin’ku in northeast Arnhem Land, and Ian McIntosh’s ‘Islam and Australia’s Aborigines’ (pp. 297–318), also on the Yolgnu, as ‘a fine example of how outside influences can be absorbed’, but she says we also need to hear from people in rural and urban settings. Bell, who lives in the Ngarrindjeri territory in the southeast of Australia, would have liked to see more teasing out of how Aboriginal religion practiced in the inner cities,’ in the more densely settled south’. ‘What role, for instance, do mainstream churches, evangelical, and fundamentalist religions play in the lives of disaffected youth?’
No anthology – by definition – can possibly traverse any given field fully. Bell criticises this anthology with being ‘too vast’. She concludes: ‘Choices must be made. In my view, the choices made regarding the“recent writings” for this anthology give priority to old concerns. There is much that is new and challenging for scholars of religion, much that is relevant as to how we live our lives in the twenty-first century. The potential audiences for writing on religion are wide ranging. This anthology was an opportunity to address readers beyond the academy. Instead the editors have stayed very much within the lines’.
You can read the whole review here.