Saturday, September 23, 2006


Ordinary Time

I'm writing today.

Time for a rant. Want to know how you can tell if a book on religion is utter garbage?

Clue No. 1. Have you heard of the publisher? Me neither. What's the publisher's philosophy and target audience?

Clue No. 2. Do the reviewers offering glowing appraisals of the book exercise great care to refer to the author by his (we won't kid ourselves) title? If you're talking about Understanding the Holy Spirit by "Dr. Doe" instead of "Doe," that means he's been picked up by a fundamentalist leader cult.

Folks used to stop me in midsentence when discussing politics: "You mean Doctor Dobson?"

Of course, it also bloody well helps if "Satan" is listed as a key player in the title...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Ordinary Time

I'm reading at LTS again today, with my boy Campbell. I'll write something inspiring around midmorning, but at the moment, I'm doing some hard thinking on the word ekklesia. And by "hard thinking," I mean "reading Rowan Williams."

In the meantime, enjoy the new quotes on my left sidebar.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Ordinary Time

When the church is true to its calling to exist as a separate polis, a radically alternative society that expresses its values through bodily practices, it will relativize the legitimating metanarratives of the Powers that Be - those stories that a culture of death tells in order to justify its own values and bodily practices.

Consumer choice is dark determinism
Megachurch means you will always want fries with that
Freedom is slavery

If your faith is a private and apolitical thing, you have been owned by the thing called America.

Housechurch people will be this generation's Beat Poets.

(If you're upset because you believe in Freedom, Calvin, or French Fries, direct your nasty letters and hate mail to Josh Hearne, the official 'Captain Sacrament' Criticism Reader.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading the Bible, Part II

Ordinary Time

What follows is my response to the kind and helpful comments from the last post. It got a little long, so I thought this would be better...

I think what I'm trying to draw out in the paragraph I've posted is that attempts to interpret a text that begin and end with the question, "What did the author mean to say?" are insufficient. To a degree, the text says what it says, and what it means is what I make up - even if I'm using the best methods of historical criticism and or being very pious and looking for a "plain meaning" in order discern authorial intent.

My point is that either way, the dominant hermeneutic is a reconstruction of Paul. Taking a cue from Adam, I mean that what really happens (instead of his more straightforward and optimistic formula), Author A authors Text X about situation Z and his audience discern significance Y. Historical criticism must try to reconstruct sitation Z (since Author A isn't interested in rehashing what both he and the audience knew) as well as any changes made to Text X, and from reconstruction of Z try to figure out the significance Y that the first hearers attributed to the text, and while we're at it, try to figure out what kind of fellow Author A really was. Through careful reading and reconstruction of all these things, the historical critic hopes to say that in it's original context, Text X had significance Y, and "whatever you guys think you can do with that, it's your business!" We must also remember that the critic assumes it's possible to nail this stuff down. I don't think it is.

(I think Rob's point is well made, that there can be a difference between the historical meaning of the text and the intent of the author - we can't always "get there from here"! Rob, am I reading you correctly? Or perhaps the better question is, reading you as you intended... :0)

The fundamentalist or Protestant reader, as Peregrinator points out, assumes and immediacy between the ancient and contemporary readings of the text. That reader assumes that a "plain reading" of the text will surrender its significance, and along with it both the intent of the author and the interpretation of the original hearers.

And then they will, as Adam suggests, "author A's meaning X can be legitimately said to have significance Y with respect to some contemporary situation Z just in case it is reasonable to assume that, given X, A would adopt Y if he were to confront Z." Because to them, it is always "reasonable to assume." When those steps are taken, Christian teaching and the reading of the present community is being determined by a reconstruction of the author.

Therefore, both the methodologically agnostic historical critical reader and the dedicate Protestant create (more or less) careful reconstructions of the author and then trust them when reading and interpreting the text - and often don't appreciate it when the model is questioned.

And this is all only in terms of the apparent theology of the biblical writers - it's about what those writers apparently thought was theologically true based upon our readings of the text. It's not like we can talk to them. What about what is theologically true, never mind what Paul or Luke or Matthew might have said about any of it? The historical critic will be adamant that it's none of his business (as Asher always says, theology is crap!), while the fundamentalist will say that only things (he's been taught to believe) that are laid down in the text can be theologically true.

James, this might sufficiently clarify my point, but come back at me if it doesn't.

This is why I think that canonical criticism has some important things to say: in a nutshell, that the Bible means what the Church says it means. Since we don't have direct access to what "God" says it means, our options seem to be to say that the Bible
  1. meant what the historical critic says it meant
  2. means what the lone religious intepreter says it means, more or less based on his or her reconstruction of Paul (or whomever)
  3. means what the Church says it means.
Canonical criticism acknowledges that the documents fit together in a canon, as Scripture. The point of the canon is to guide the life of the Church, both when they were written and still when they were canonized. In Robert Jenson's phrase, canonization was like a "republication" for the Church of the future. In the same way that you have to ask how the original hearers would have heard when you're trying to get at the historical meaning of the text, it is also legitimate to let the present hearing of the Church determine meaning here and now.

I'm not doing justice to the position, but I think I'd like your input from this point. To me it means that I don't have to do foolproof deductive and historical work to figure out what the biblical texts once and for all, "objectively" mean (because I don't think that's possible anyway), but rather, with the rest of the Church, try to listen faithfully to God speaking to the Church through the text and cooperate with his ordering of our life for the salvation of ourselves and the whole world.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reading the Bible

Ordinary Time
Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr

Today I got up, made breakfast, cleaned the kitchen, proofed my draft, ate lunch with (the other) Kyle, edited my draft, went to the store, and edited my draft. I'm about to cook dinner. Salmon briqettes, or croquettes, or whatever. Read this paragraph from my paper:
While not all practitioners of historical criticism have been sympathetic toward the church, the methods have encouraged readers to ask new and often helpful questions. Confessional reading often assumes that a theory of divine inspiration guarantees a ‘Word from the Lord’ that is immediately contemporary and free of ancient cultural distortions. Historical criticism has brought readers to take seriously the problem of the ‘two horizons,’ the distant gulf between original recipients of the New Testament and present-day readers. Instead of asking initially, ‘What does this text mean,’ interpreters must ask, ‘What did the author of the text mean, and how did the original hearers receive it?’ Historical criticism takes various forms. Textual criticism seeks to discern the earliest sources behind the final versions of the texts. Literary criticism seeks to determine the original use of those sources and locate the documents in particular times and places. Form criticism seeks to identify writings within particular genres for comparison, while redaction criticism attempts to trace the work of various biblical editors through history. Because the post-Enlightenment West highly values the idea of systematic, objective approaches to all disciplines, the academy has privileged historical criticism in biblical interpretation for most of the modern period. ‘Meaning’ is a matter of what the author wished to communicate, and to read something beyond that is to do violence to the text. Similarly, even churches considered anti-modern often insist that while a text does possess a contemporary meaning, it is a singular meaning determined by their analysis of authorial intent; even they rely on some form of historical critical reading.
It would make my point stronger if I could cite a particular book to demonstrate the part in bold, so:

1. Can you offer a book that makes this argument? If you can give me page numbers, that's better yet.

2. I'm essentially making the argument that a pious reading of the Bible which insists that a text has one meaning determined by the intentions of the author (and that we can somehow know what that is) is very near to being historical criticism by another name, and has every bit as much validity - which, depending on your viewpoint, could be a little or a lot.

What do you think of that?

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Still Cold in Here

Ordinary Time
"What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe."

- Flannery O'Connor
Quoted in Harold Fickett & Douglas R. Gilbert, Flannery O'Connor: Images of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1986), 38.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006


Ordinary Time

Today's library: W.T. Young at the University of Kentucky

I'm writing my paper. Jesse's memorizing colorful anatomy diagrams.

Chris is home petting his zombie dog.

I saw Daniel Bailey and various critters yesterday and it was totally sweet.

I meant to sleep in until late, like, 9, today, but I didn't. That was totally weak.

If I owe you an e-mail, you'll get it... Monday, probably.

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Friday, September 08, 2006


Ordinary Time

Alan had a great idea the other day, and I'm going to run with it.

First, however, his little paragraph on "liturgy" is a good answer for when folks ask a certain question. Sometimes when I'm explaining the use of prayerbooks and set liturgies to folks, they respond with, "So you have to read this, this and this?" Now, it's an honest question, and there's nothing wrong with it; it just shows that when some people think "structure," think they rigid and overly confining. (There is, after all, a good kind of "boxing-in.")

Go check it out. Now here's my quick take:

When a church says it's "relevant," I assume they are less faithful to the proclamation of God in Jesus Christ.

I think they mean to say, "our sermons and expositons of the Scriptures appeal to the values and lifestyles of people in our society."

I don't think the Christian proclamation is very appealing to the typical American lifestyle or its values, and it shouldn't be. "Relevant" means, "we're offering you a way into what you think is a good or better life," and "Jesus makes good things better." Has anybody seen that recent popular devotional book, Just Add Jesus? That's just the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

(You know, kind of like this. HT: Kendall Harmon)

I would never consider being part of a church that calls itself "relevant," for those reasons. But, I could change my mind about the whole thing - which is why I'm asking y'all. I also realize the question isn't overly diplomatic, but I thought it was more fair to state my position at the beginning rather than say, "Oooh, what do you guys think" and then pounce.

What do you critters think?

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Thursday, September 07, 2006


Ordinary Time

This morning I'm writing at Georgetown College. If anybody wants to come by and say 'hey,' I'll be around the cafe or somewhere on the first floor. I'll have wandered off between 11 and 1 for the Hauerwas group and lunch, however.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Me. Work. Lots.

Ordinary Time

Last week Katie left me a voicemail asking me to e-mail her. Funniest thing ever. (Context here)

I've been writing all day. (The Other) Kyle and I watched an episode of House during lunch. He came over to study.

I'm going to Georgetown tomorrow for Patrick's "Stan" reading group. I think he wants me to beat down on some Calvinists. I'll bring a crucifix and some chrism.

Alan's coming back in a couple of days.

Stupid journalists think that forced conversion to Islam = "warm and fuzzy."

Antony wrote a longer answer to my Liturgy of the Hours question. You know that lil' critter can't help himself.

Aquilina tells us about Gregory the Great, who had a feast day this week.

Several more folks have been writing several neat things I won't get to read until I'm finished with this paper. (Mopes about.)

Oh, and I don't have an opinion about this, but I'm dying to know what Josh Hearne's gonna say...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Library. Booyah!

Ordinary Time

I'm back at LTS. With my dawg Alexander Campbell. You know, "A-Camp." Does that work? No? Okay, never mind.

I'm going to read something by Calvin today. Just for laughs.

Monday, September 04, 2006

More on the Office

Ordinary Time

Last week I asked my readers to chime in with their thoughts and experiences regarding fixed hour prayer. There was a mix of opinions, and many great points about why folks do (and sometimes don't) engage the practice. Rather than trying to summarize, I'll just invite you to go back and read the comments, and stick to answering my own questions now.

I don't really remember how I took up fixed hour prayer; I knew it was something that monks and nuns practiced, and before I went to Dallas, I knew a buddy involved with the Vine and Branches Community was taking it up with Alan's encouragement. I learned to pray Compline (Night Prayer) while involved with an Episcopalian congregation my senior year at Georgetown, and before that did it a little with the help of the Mission St. Clare website. I started praying the Anglican version out of the American Book of Common Prayer while in Dallas, but did it almost exclusively alone. Which isn't so cool.

At first I used the Book of Common Prayer or the St. Clare website, but found the offices to0 long for me at that point. I started using Phyllis Tickle's Divine Hours before leaving for Britain last year, which is a three volume abbreviated Office that requires no flipping back and forth in a book. Before going to Oxford, I packed a copy of Shorter Christian Prayer, which is a short version of the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. I did it originally because I wanted that liturgical connection to my home community (that's what VBCC prays) while spending my time with the (um) hOME Community and the Church of England.

Since then, I have decided that Shorter Christian Prayer is the most economical and practically accessible form of the Daily Office to teach and practice with others.

It's also my experience that burned out evangelicals love it, because it means they can pray and be with the Lord without trying to "get it up for Jesus" - try to muster religious feelings and "excitement for the Lord."

And I think I'll leave it at that, for the moment.

I keep 5 copies of SCP in the house; Jesse and I try to do at least one Office a day, and if any interested friends are around, they join us. It's pretty sweet.

Okay, time to make coffee.

Oh, go read this guy:

Lefty Tude: "Life in the Monastery."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Allegorical Interpretation

Ordinary Time

After a little while, I'm starting so see why people went off the whole "allegorical reading of scripture" just a bit.

This is from Origen's Homilies (and Fragments) on Luke, 63:3.
For we find, also, in Genesis concerning the sacrament that Noah anticipated this same thing and projected the figure of the Passion of the Lord there because he drank wine, because he was inebriated, because he was made naked in his home, because he was reclining with his thighs naked and exposed, because the nakedness of the father was noticed by this second son and reported outside, but covered by the other two, the oldest and the youngest, and other things which it is not necessary to follow up since it is sufficient to comprehend this alone: that Noah, showing forth a type of future truth, drank not water, but wine, and so expressed the figure of the Passion of the Lord.

Bad People

Ordinary Time

On Wednesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader published three law firm ads targeted at the families of the victims of Flight 5191. It is illegal for lawyers to approach victims and their families for 45 days after a crash. All legal ads must be submitted to the Kentucky Bar Association for approval at the same time they are sent to press, and newspapers generally do not wait for approval. After the KBA ruled against the ads, they were pulled. However, think that editorial constrait should have been practiced, but it wasn't. Yesterday the paper's publisher, Tim Kelly, offered a piece defending the decision. You can read it here.

It is not an apology, but a defense. While I can't argue that newspaper publishing standards should have constrained him, and I do realize that the Kentucky Bar Association had not yet ruled on the legality of those ads, it was an ugly thing to do. Mr. Kelly invokes the First Amendment, as if it some way compelled him to publish the ads which had been submitted. The Bill of Rights exists to protect the rights of citizens (and indeed newspapers!) from government censorship. It is not "censorship" to exercise editorial prerogative and refuse to run particular advertisements.

I have written Mr. Kelly voicing my opinion, and have just gotten off the phone with subscription services. I have immediately cancelled my subscription, and I would urge you to do the same. Do give them a call at 1-800-999-8881. Other reader responses have been published here and here. [edit] As I caveat, I told Mr. Kelly that if he issued an apology rather than a defense, I'd pick it back up again.

I hope the Courier-Journal is a good paper...