Friday, June 13, 2008

Hopkins vs. Hewson?

Man's spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best
But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bones risen.

Those are the closing lines of one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Caged Skylark.

I love Hopkins' poetry.

Glory be to God for dappled things- For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles in all stipple upon trout that swim...

And then, from the same poem, perhaps my favorite lines in all of poetry:

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

Those lines from Pied Beauty.

There's another poet I'm quite fond of too. Here are some of my favorie lines from his works.

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

It was a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Beautiful day

What you don't have you don't need it now What you don't know you can feel it somehow What you don't have you don't need it now Don't need it now Was a beautiful day

Yes, those are the words to Beautiful Day penned by none other than Bono (aka Paul Hewson). Here are a few more pearls:

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

If you're interested in art and culture I want to recommend an online magazine that I learned about this year called Catapult. I learned about it because a friend of mine, who is a terrific writer, had an essay of hers about the sacrament of laundry published there. They've just published a brief exchange between my colleague Jamie Smith and myself concerning dumbing down culture. This discussion was originally published in a student led publication at Calvin College where both Jamie and I teach in the philosophy department. Jamie worries over the loss of high culture among our students (and probably all twenty-somethings) and laments the fact that popular culture is "revelationally thin." I, on the other hand, reply to Jamie and defend the depth and substance of both popular culture and our students. I also confess there my low tolerance for arrogant academics. You be the judge as to who wins the argument about culture. And then, if you want, come back here and share your thoughts.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Breaking News: Stonehenge Mystery Solved

It's been a long time coming, but the secret of Stonehenge is finally revealed by National Geographic.

My friend Steve, a biologist, will often say "it would be great if we could run an experiment" on this that or another interesting claim or theory. Well, Nigel's is not just another theory. He's got lab work to back it up.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tony Jones and The New Christians

We last left Tony in chapter four, The Theology Stupid. Today we pick up in chapter 5, After Objectivity: Beautiful Truth.

Tony notes that emergents place a high priority on interpretation and thus conversation. The more interlocutors, Tony suggests, the more likely we are to come to a better interpretation, and the closer to truth. (That's right--truth.)

Now some who listen in on conversations that take place here, whose identities lay safely hidden behind online handles that provide a safe haven from which to launch vitriol and self-righteousness, which shower down like dirty bombs causing injury to the name of Jesus and contributing to the uglification of the Church, some such as these I say, may think:

But, c'mon; multiplying stupidity will never add up to intelligence. Hundreds of inept interpreters sitting around on couches, sipping lattes from s-bux and pontificating on blogs and in books about social justice after they just drove their hummer the 1.5 miles to the coffee shop is no more likely to get you closer to the truth or to a better interpretation than two such imbeciles chattering away to each other on facebook.

It’s like the C student who comes to me and asks if he could write a couple of extra papers to raise his grade. How do you tell him, without crushing his spirit, that more average work will not eventuate in an above average grade?

I get the point of the naysayers (although I don’t think I’ll ever get the ad hominems and inflammatory rhetoric such folk characteristically employ). But here’s the difference between what Tony’s saying and my imaginary student. Emergent Christians speak and listen. And they are forever extending the boundaries of conversation.

It’s not unlike Wikipedia. While I advise my students that consulting Wikipedia when writing a philosophy paper is as useless as consulting a dictionary to discover the meaning of words when writing such a paper, there is a dynamic at work in the writing of Wikipedia that is absent in the case of my student. And the difference is network. Wikipedia is open to all via the world wide web and experts with access generally do not allow misinformation to last very long on Wikipedia before it is revised and corrected. Likewise in the conversations that animate emerging. Hearing the voices and stories of others can have the effect of enlarging your world and sometimes making you think “you know, I’ve never quite thought about it that way before. That does seem a more faithful reading than mine, now that I think about it.”

I’m going to keep this short and invite others to throw in. But let me pick up on just one more aspect of this chapter—beauty.

Tony tells a story of a young boy who after hearing a lecture and discussion on the (im)plausibility of the Virgin birth went up to the lecturer and declared that he himself believes in the Virgin birth. The speaker asks him why and he says “Because it’s too beautiful not to be true” (p.160).

I’ve said this many times on this blog, but it bears repeating. If I were asked why I believe in the Christian story, why I believe in a Creator God who pursues his fallen and perverted creation with the urgent love of a mother or father, I think I’d be tempted to answer as the boy. I really can’t help but believe it. I think when you really, truly sense that you are a “crooked soul trying to stay up straight”, when you sense that you are sick and in need of healing, when you sense that you don’t have it all together and stand in desperate need of love and forgiveness, when you recognize that both you and the world you live in are broken and you feel deep down in your bones that a better world and a better you are possible, then the Christian story overwhelms you with its beauty. There’s a fittingness to it. It fits your experience of yourself and the world. It’s too beautiful not to be true. Messy? Yes. But beautiful in its messiness.

What do you think about that? What do you think about beauty or aesthetic qualities as indicators of truth? Is it the case that in math and science we discard one theory in favor of another sometimes because the replacement theory is more elegant, more aesthetically beautiful than that which it's replacing? Granted, the replacement theory is generally expected to have more explanatory power. But is there nothing to the idea that elegance or beauty is truth indicative?

Well, that's enough for now. I'll blog about the final chapter next time. But let me say here that while there have been places in Tony's book where I’ve paused and thought “I don’t know about that” or “That seems a little self-indulgent to me” the major chords being struck in the book and in emergent are ones that resonate very deeply with me. Very deeply indeed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Where Things Are Headed at HSAB

Hello Strangers! A spate of grading, followed by a roof tear-off and re-roofing job on my house kept me very busy (and sore) over the past couple weeks. But, all that is behind me. Standing before me now, wide-eyed and inviting, is my friend summer. And she is beautiful!

For the first time in four or five years I am NOT teaching a summer session. Instead, I will be focusing on three different writing projects. One is a paper on human nature and life after death which will be delivered in Austria at the end of July as part of a conference jointly sponsored by the metanexus institute and the departments of philosophy and theology at the University of Innsbruck. I'll be joining Dean Zimmerman, Eric Olson, Hud Hudson and Steve Davis as a plenary speaker. What an incredible privilege to be on the same bill as these folks. I'll be delivering a paper titled Constitution, Resurrection and Relationality.

The other two projects I'm working on may also be of interest to readers of this blog. Both are books. One is a book I am editing and it includes chapters by Scot Mcknight, Jason Clark, Pete Rollins and myself. I'll tell you more about it later. The second book is one I started working on over a year ago and is currently laboring under the title Incurably Human. This one is a combination of coffee house philosophy, theology and spiritual autobiography. In it I puzzle over such things as suffering and evil, pluralism and tolerance, the Christian doctrine of hell, community and consumption, what it means to be moral, creation and evolution, what it means to be human, etc.

Summer has proven to be my most productive with respect to writing and research. What that means for this blog is that I am very likely to post only two or three times per month. I'd like to finish blogging my way through Tony Jones' The New Christians and follow that up with more topical posts. So stay tuned!!!!! I'll have another post on Tony's book before next week.

Looking forward to conversing with you again.