Tuesday Reading Roundup

“Canonical Theism: 30 Theses” by William J. Abraham (reproduced at Inhabitatio Dei)
I had never heard of that title concept before reading around Abraham’s Wikipedia page two days ago. What I like best are the broad sense of tradition; the recognition that the clean, clear, beautiful unified first few centuries of the Church are a (in my experience, evangelical) myth; the explicit emphasis on the work of the Spirit through the canon(s); and the heart toward ecumenism. I’m still not sure about the emphasis on soteriology understood as opposed to epistemology (although I am quite happy for epistemology to lose primacy).

“The Myth of Maturity” by Jonathan Andersen
Don’t keep waiting to be ready/qualified/skilled/smart/holy enough to love others in Christian ministry.

“The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians”
The whole tone of this epistle makes it clear that the church it was addressed to was a church that was experiencing intense suffering. I’m intensely, admittedly sometimes irrationally, reactive towards Christians who talk about how the world today is worse than it’s ever been. (For instance, I don’t understand what middle class, white Americans are talking about when they express doubts about bringing children into the early 21st century. They are speaking gibberish to my ears.) Reading this book repeatedly this week, however, gives me pause in my common reaction to Christians who talk about persecutions and signals of the end of the world. That apocalyptic turn which humans in pain make towards a rapidly approaching End of Days (not just in 2 Thessalonians, but throughout the apocalyptic and prophetic literature of the Old Testament as well as plenty of times in history, including very recent US history) may be a fear-driven response to our surroundings, but our fear does not keep God from entering faithfully and weightily into our lives and communities.

The Girard Reader by Rene Girard, edited by James G. Williams
I first heard about Girard and his concept of scapegoating while at Duke Divinity. In the time since then, I’ve heard more, particularly from emergent and progressive evangelical Christians and others in search of a non-violent God and a non-violent atonement. For this week, our group read the Introduction (a brief biography and overview of the development of Girard’s thought) and the Epilogue (a wide-ranging interview with Girard).

First impressions: this kind of feels like reading Freud might have in the 1930s. Until I’m convinced otherwise, I read Girard’s theories on mimetic desire, human development, and myth as entirely requiring Freud’s (not just any) theory of the unconscious, then applying it to all human societies, not just all human individuals. For another, Girard is a thinker entirely convinced of an idiosyncratic theory and interpretive tool which can be used to explore, describe, and sometimes explain basically anything involving humans. His work, like Freud’s, is provocative and (more-or-less) plausible, even if one is not personally convinced of its accuracy. And the next century will likely bring the scientific method to bear on Girard’s claims in a way that will change our reception of Girard but not remove his impact on our thought. Our final Freud comparison: Girard is still alive, but the next generation of scholars are the ones extending his theories.

How To Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin
I surprised myself at not devouring all kinds of pregnancy and birthing books during Melinda’s pregnancy. Not only am I a reader and a generally curious person, but I want to be a good husband and father. However, (1) I mostly read a bunch of articles and now feel relatively well-informed, and (2) early in the pregnancy I realized that all kinds of soon-to-be parents consult prenatal books, but the whole ballgame is the actual raising of the child.

My previous Montessori experience is actually a light connection to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, based on Sofia Cavaletti’s work exploring how our spiritual life follows developmental patterns just as much as our emotional and physical development do. Montessori methods are sometimes stereotyped as hippy schooling, but the reason for that is that they value creativity, curiosity, and independence, things which I definitely also value.

I am loving this book.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
I’m nearing the end of the book, and it seems like Merton is setting off a fireworks grand finale: quotations from other mystics throughout history alongside his own deep insight in rapid fire.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Still being gorgeous. Now it has me thinking about how I loved its emphasis on life-long friendship the first time I read it. This time, I see that all the more, as friendship is the piece I most resonate with in Hauerwas’ work.

“Renounced Ambition: David Schickler Talks About ‘The Dark Path'” by John Williams (New York Times ArtBeat)
The award-winning novelist talks about his Catholic faith, his prayer life, and God.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

“The First Epistle to the Thessalonians”
From loving pastoral guidance to an early Christian to apocalyptic descriptions of the end of the world, this book really has it all. Seriously, though, I keep being struck by this, 1 Thess. 4:9-12 (emphasis mine, which may have to do with trying to find JP2’s reverence for manual labor inside my current latte-centric paycheck):

But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
Sometimes I forget that Merton was not just a great spiritual sage and teacher but that he had a great mind too. He taught theology to monks and priests, after all, and he was essential to the beginning of Cistercian studies as an academic endeavor. In the last week, this book blossomed from a deep book about contemplative prayer practice to a book about the history of the contemplative tradition inside and outside of Christian monasticism. The closest similar work I’ve read, looking at theological development and history at the same time, is Simon Tugwell’s Ways of Imperfection.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
You decide if it’s worth reading.

Read this blog and be thought-provoked. You can start here: “Manly Me (Theology Edition)” and its follow-up “Un-Womanly Me (A post about, and full of, paradoxes),” both by Brandy Daniels.

Look! There! On the horizon! Fresh from the Amazon warehouse!:
Together with a couple friends, I’ll be tackling The [René] Girard Reader. Look for some wrestlings with it in the next couple weeks.

Hellbound?: Part I

I do not want Hell to exist.

And yet…I believe there is reason enough for me to believe in a traditional conception of Hell from the words of Jesus in the Gospels and in Revelation.

Some might say that writing those words or holding that belief is a hair’s breadth (or less) from those–Calvinist, Calvinisht, and otherwise–who replace every Mystery of God with, “God’s ways aren’t our ways. Would you put yourself in the place of God?!” From Abraham to Moses to Hannah to David to Jesus in the Garden, however, questioning God has a vital lineage as one of the truest expressions of faith available to a human being.

The emphasis I just mentioned–Mystery–is at the heart of my understanding or beliefs about Hell (and every other Last Thing). Because what I believe about Hell and Judgment more than anything else is what I believe about God. What I believe about God is that every mercy I can imagine ever existing is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the literally infinite ocean of the Mercy Who God Is.

Even if Hell is what the mainstream of Christians have thought it is for a couple thousand years, God’s mercy will provide the shape for even that. It is God’s Mercy which will define every part of whatever The End is.

Hellbound? is a 2012 movie directed by Kevin Miller, now available on Netflix Streaming. This is the first in a series of posts on the film.

Called to Parenthood

There is absolutely no way I could be at this place in my life without your love and prayers. Everything I most needed to know about God I know from being your son.*

In twelve short weeks, Melinda will bear our first child, a son named Milo Francis Jordan. I’m the guy who’s wanted kids since I was under three years old, so this is further along in life than I would have planned it, and Mel and I are elated that we are in this together.

When I read the words above, I think about how true they are for me and my siblings in our relationship to our loving parents and our loving God; how true they are as well for those who were taught by their parents’ relationship to them about an unfaithful or absent or abusive God; and how true the words will be for Milo.

When I read those words, I respond to them in the same way I responded to reading my ordination vows for the first time. To be a parent is a high and heavy and joyous calling. I feel my eyes welling, hear my throat swallowing unconsciously, and I need to take a deep breath and hold it for a moment, because I know this is the ocean into which I want to jump.

It’ll be twenty years and more after Milo might be able to physically speak the words that he’ll realize their truth, but I wonder how I might be able to keep the words before me in the way that I choose to show and tell him my love, so that one day he’ll be able to say to Mel and me, Everything I most needed to know about God I know from being your son, and he will mean it as a great, great thing.

Actually, he doesn’t need to say it. I’d love it if his bones just knew it.



*The final words of the Acknowledgments section of Jonathan Martin’s Prototype, with which he dedicates the book to his parents

On Old Age and On Friendship

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

I remember the first time we came here, and what we were then, and that brings to mind my age, four years past sixty. Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards–the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees–have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with.

Whatever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected. Some of us suspected that money wasn’t even very good for people–hence Charity’s leaning toward austerity and the simple life. But we all hoped, in whatever our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life…

Leave a mark on the world. Instead, the world has left its mark on us. We got older. Life chastened us so that now we lie waiting to die, or walk on canes, or sit on porches where once the young juices flowed strongly, and feel old and inept and confused. In certain moods I might bleat that we were all trapped, though of course we are no more trapped than most people. And all of us, I suppose, could at least be grateful that our lives haven’t turned out harmful and destructive. We might even look enviable to the less lucky…

I didn’t know myself well, and still don’t. But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted. My feeling for them is one part of me I have never quarreled with, even though my relations with them have more than once been abrasive.

In high school, in Albaquerque, New Mexico, a bunch of us spent a whole year reading Cicero–De Senuctate, on old age; De Amicitia, on friendship. De Senuctate, with all its resigned wisdom, I will probably never be capable of living up to or imitating. But De Amicitia I could make a stab at, and could have any time in the last thirty-four years.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

Prototype: What Happens When You Discover That You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think?
by Jonathan Martin

It was an oversight that left this off of my listing for the last Roundup, because clearly I was already reading it. This morning I finished this book with my appetite whetted rather than satisfied. I would love for Martin to write both a memoir and a novel, and I would read both of those and perhaps be closer to satisfied, because he is a fantastic storyteller.

Jonathan, if you somehow read this, (1) no, you are not too young to write a memoir (as Lauren Winner proves) and (2) the novel can be about anything and your stamp will be on it (in a great way).

Everyone else should listen to the Renovatus podcast. (I recommend starting with “Suffering” from 7/1/12.)

Contemplative Prayer
by Thomas Merton

Several years ago I decided that the monks had a good idea (#facetiousalert) when they made devotional reading part of their daily spiritual rhythms, and I’ve added such readings to my daily devotionals ever since. This is the current book in that position.

According to Douglas Steere’s Foreword (not to be confused with Thich Nhat Hanh’s Introduction), this was Thomas Merton’s final book before his death. I honestly don’t know if that means it was published or completed or mostly completed and then pulled together posthumously, but it is at least a symbolic culmination of Merton’s life and teaching. It is deep and intense and knowledgeable in a way that makes me think, “I could return to this book once every eight months or so, for the next several decades, and it would be a new book every time.” Which is why I shared a lengthy quote from it two days ago.

Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner

I discovered Wallace Stegner at a church rummage sale over ten years ago, with this very copy of this very book. He’s one of those ‘writer’s writer’ types, supposedly, someone whom writers know and read, but who never enjoyed a ton of wide knowledge and acclaim (crazy to say, since he won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for two separate works). I apparently have something about books written at the end of people’s lives, because this was Stegner’s final novel, and all his wisdom and skill are deposited in it.

It’s also one of those books that I’ve been afraid to return to, because I love it so much that a re-read twelve or thirteen years later can only diminish my memory of it. Why do I love it? Because it’s a quiet novel which has a plot but which is about its characters. It’s also about friendship over time, and more and more I believe that maybe about the most important thing we have on earth.

Meditation “firmly rooted in life”

Merton Contemplative Prayer

[T]he supposed “inner life” may actually be nothing but a brave and absurd attempt to evade reality altogether. Under the pretext that what is “within” is in fact real, spiritual, supernatural, etc., one cultivates neglect and contempt for the “external” as worldly, sensual, material and opposed to grace. This is bad theology and bad asceticism. In fact it is bad in every respect, because instead of accepting reality as it is, we reject it in order to explore some perfect realm of abstract ideals which in fact has no reality at all. Very often, the inertia and repugnance which characterize the so-called “spiritual life” of many Christians would perhaps be cured by a simple respect for the concrete realities of every-day life, for nature, for the body, for one’s work, one’s friends, one’s surroundings, etc. A false supernaturalism which imagines that “the supernatural” is a kind of Platonic realm of abstract essences totally apart from and opposed to the concrete world of nature, offers no real support to a genuine life of meditation and prayer. Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life. Without such roots, it can produce nothing but the ashen fruits of disgust, acedia, and even morbid and degenerate introversion, masochism, dolorism, negation. Nietzsche pitilessly exposed the hopeless mess which results from this caricature of Christianity!