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Showing posts from January, 2019

The value of keeping up with the news

If you've been paying attention the last two weeks, an ongoing controversy erupted Saturday, January 19, and is still unfolding in one of the many seemingly endless iterations such controversies generate today through social media, op-eds, and the like. Last week, in Alan Jacobs's newsletter, he wrote this:

"On Tuesday morning, January 22, I read a David Brooks column about a confrontation that happened on the National Mall during the March for Life. Until I read that column I had heard nothing about this incident because I do not have a Facebook account, have deleted my Twitter account, don’t watch TV news, and read the news about once a week. If all goes well, I won’t hear anything more about the story. I recommend this set of practices to you all."

This got me thinking about a post Paul Griffiths wrote on his blog years ago, perhaps even a decade ago (would that he kept that blog up longer!). He reflected on the ideal way of keeping up with the news—and, no…

Remembering Nama (1921–2019)

My maternal grandmother passed away this afternoon, after nearly 98 years of life on this earth. She was born in Mississippi two and a half years after the end of World War I. She lived through the Great Depression, the second World War, and every other major event you can think of from the last 75 years. She gave birth to seven children and, after losing one in childhood, raised the other six—spread across 21 years—together with her husband, who worked as a mailman. She lived to see 15 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She was widowed in her early 70s, and never remarried. She suffered the loss of her oldest son in his 70s, but no one else; she outlived the rest.

She was an extraordinary woman in the most old-fashioned of ways. A dutiful wife and stoic mother, a quiet Catholic and yellow-dog Democrat, she believed in loving your family, working hard, and doing what you can, with what you have, while you're able. She took wry pleasure in in…

Exorcising theological demons

Over the last few semesters, teaching both upper-level Bible majors, most of whom plan on going into some kind of formal ministry, and freshman non-majors, who are required to take a sequence of two courses on the New Testament, I've noticed a number of assumptions shared among them. My students are by and large low-church Texans: non-denominational evangelicals, Baptists, Church of Christ-ers, and the like. They are diverse in terms of race and ethnicity and socioeconomic background, but quite similar in terms of ecclesial and theological identity and commitments.

By the end of last year I realized there were two primary "isms"—but let's call them theological demons—I was implicitly seeking to exorcise in class: biblicism and Marcionism (or supersessionism). Upon reflection, as I plan to teach some upper-level majors this semester in their one and only Theology course before graduation (it all comes down to me!), I realized I have a lot more theological demons in vi…

New essay published at Comment: "The Church and the Common Good"

I've got an essay up at Comment today titled "The Church and the Common Good." Go check it out.

Writers who read their mentions

There may be nothing more poisonous for the quality of a writer's work than "reading your mentions." You can tell immediately when reading or listening to someone (say, in an interview or podcast). Everything is couched, defensive, anticipating the inevitable "ur the wurst" tweet-reply or comment at the end of the article. It doesn't matter the style of writing, or the subject. It's present in politics as much as in sports journalism. I suppose in certain sub-cultures of theology, it might actually be muted, because while the rabies theologorum is a vast, multi-headed beast, it feasts on numbers and passion. So you find it in evangelical arguments and intra-Catholic skirmishes—both of which communities are large enough to have sizeable Extremely Online contingents.

But academic theologians? Now that's a small group of folks. And surprisingly friendly online, at least in the corners I frequent.

Regardless, though, we're all susceptible to it. And…

The coronation of Jesus

Sitting in church yesterday, listening to an account of Jesus's baptism, it occurred to me that there is a good analogy that works against the adoptionist overtones historically seized upon both by critics and by heretics (but I...). All agree that the use of Psalm 2 paints the scene in royal colors: this is a coronation. The adoptionist reads this in line with Israel's long-standing practice of suggesting that, in some important but mysterious sense, the king of Israel is or becomes God's son upon succession, for to be the human king under the divine king implies a relationship of intimacy and representation analogous to human paternity and generation. The anti-adoptionist reads the scene as both the fulfillment and the archetype of such a practice, for Jesus is uniquely God's Son, naturally and from all eternity. The Gospels (not least Mark) all bear out this distinct status and relationship, from which derive all that Jesus is, says, and does.

How, then, to explain …

Audience age for Star Wars films

Over the last year or so I've re-watched nearly every Star Wars film. My sons (6 and nearly 5) have been making their slow initial journey through the Original Trilogy and into the prequels. (We're currently paused between Episodes II and III. The former is even worse than you remember.)

Reflecting on these repeat viewings in conjunction with the recent new entries and the conversation surrounding them (not to say controversy, though whether that term calls for scare quotes is an open question, given the heavy doses of bad faith and trolling involved)—anyway, upon reflection, I've noticed one way to slice up all ten films: by the implicit age of the film's target audience. Let me show you what I mean:

IV: All ages
V: Adults
VI: Children
I: All ages
II: Children
III: Adults
VII: All ages
RO: Adults
VIII: Adults
Solo: Adults

These designations are arguable, obviously. And audience age doesn't in itself correlate with quality (though I suppose that's arguable, too…

Party spirit distorts vision

This is an old story, but it's one worth reiterating nonetheless. Partisanship mitigates the analytical clarity necessary for deep understanding, of oneself, of the situation (whatever that may be), of those one disagrees with, of strategic action. That is, the drive to win itself becomes the obstacle to winning. But even if that were not the case, winning is not understanding; practice is not theory. And time and again one sees would-be analysts—thinkers, whether in the political-cultural sphere or the academy—blinded by their all-consuming focus on defeating their opponents, to the point that they simply cannot offer a plausible account of the situation beyond "they're bad, we're good, Must Vanquish All Enemies."

A good recent, and ongoing, example of this is the NYT podcast The Argument, co-hosted by David Leonhardt, Michelle Goldberg, and Ross Douthat. Listen to any episode in which Goldberg and Douthat talk to each other directly, not about a normative ethic…

Blogging in 2019

It has been a slow—and I mean slow—year on the blog. In the last seven months of the year, I think I wrote a single "real" post, by which I mean a post that wasn't a list or a quote. I wrote nine similarly "real" posts in the first five months of the year. Oof.

I did write "real" things for other venues (more on those here in the next few days), but that is not what I'd been hoping for or planning when I revived this blog in a new form two summers ago. Teaching 10 courses in 12 months and welcoming our fourth child into the world had a lot to do with that; I very much doubt I had the time to give to writing the occasional post on here, much less a couple posts per week.

But in 2019, I'd like to get back into the habit—especially of the 2-3-paragraph, bloggy sort of reflection that this venue's made for. I'm prolix in writing and talking both, and drafting a blog post always sounds time consuming, even if in reality it would take fewer …