Friday, January 27, 2006

Maybe it is possible.

My Vicarious Existence, Part Two

Yesterday I took my dog out six times, on the hour, every hour, beginning at 8:00am to go to the bathroom (potty as she is accustomed). That is not the structure in which I would prefer to enjoy my mornings. I got frustrated. I also went to the grocery story after she finally went. There I met Jennifer. Jennifer bagged my groceries. Jennifer also has Downs Syndrome. I learned something...

As much as the lady that helped Jennifer bag groceries is responsible for her, I am responsbile for my dog. Now, I do not want to make a parallel comparison, for the lady helping Jennifer was much more virtuous than myself standing with my dog on a leash. However, I was reminded of our responsibility to care for creation, to be our brothers and sisters keepers. I found myself caught up in Jennifer in such a way that it first, brought a smile to my face, and second, reminded me of my participation in God through Christ and that may I exist in Jesus, through Jesus, and because of Jesus. And, as T. F. Torrance is helping me see, I have a vicarious existence as a part of the body of Christ. I am deficient, like in blogging, of living in holiness. My dog and Jennifer (mostly Jennifer) helped me yesterday. This may seem quaint, but pleae see through my weak analogies.

My Vicarious Existence

Like I always do, I role-play in my mind different scenarios and situations that I might find myself in to see what I would do or what I would say. Maybe I’m a little paranoid, maybe just weird. Reading T. F. Torrance's The Mediation of Christ has brought to my mind, once again, what I would say and do if I ever had to preach as a church summer camp.

"Likewise sin has been so ingrained into our minds that we are unable to repent and have to repent even of the kind of repentance we bring to God" (85).

My fear is leading teenagers into the kind of struggle that I was led into so that they feel like each year of their summer camp experience they have to have this one significant moment of repentance, usually following a respiratory marathon of singing, thus utterly exhausting them, which could actually be the cause of their crying out to God, where they "feel" like they have done it this time. They could say with confidence, "I have repented!"

Wouldn’t it be better to preach the gospel in such a way that indicates, as God establish in Israel, that we can never bring true and real repentance? Wouldn’t this actually make it gospel?

“But Jesus Christ laid hold of us even there in our own sinful repentance and turned everything round through his holy vicarious repentance, when he bore not just upon his body but upon his human mind and soul the righteous judgments of God and resurrected our human nature in the integrity of his body, mind and soul from the grave” (85).

I do not want to erase moments where teenagers have had a specific experience of encountering God. I believe that summer camps can be particularly useful in helping teenagers in their development from the emotional to cognitive and hopefully disciple them into a balance between the two towards worshipping God, who alone in Jesus has restored true humanity. However, the current, and longstanding, trend of revival needs to be reconsidered. At the very least, the language we use about God in such times needs a revision.

Confessing that God was in Christ reconciling the world indicates that our repentance needs to be more than just a static/completed moment. It needs to be a way of life in which we find ourselves caught up in God in a continual turning towards reflecting His image. Even in my own denomination, The Church of the Nazarene, this is being attempted. We hold that we are entirely sanctified, but we speak of this growth in grace. I am not sure I particularly like the language, but it allows me/us to let teenagers/adults walk with God, rather than maintain with God.

It seems that because there is still space and time where sin roams, that what it means to be caught up with God in Christ involves the space and time to allow such to occur.

My Little Plan

So Katie and I have this ongoing game/list of things we like and dislike about Kansas. What can I say, you have to make it through change the best you know how. We consider it therapeutic, not unlike a good episode of Scrubs (my newfound obsession). So without further suspense the newest reason in favor of moving to Kansas is... Getting out of jury duty in the United States District Court of Los Angeles.

It's my way of sticking it to the man.


My Deficiency

I guess it was bound to happen. I do not have my "Read More!" links up and running. I am not as advanced as I thought I was. I still hold true to everything I said in the previous post because at the time it was true. I recant of certainty, not of my experience. I hold no regrets!

Consequently, any help would be appreciated.

Okay...So I'm reading Hauerwas' Community of Character and have come up with a great blogospherical analogy for the training of people to embody the character formed by the virtues of their particular narrative. By the way, Hauerwas is very helpful in navigating the postmodern waters of nihilism. My analogy is blogging. Yeah! Okay, so maybe it's a little anticlimactic. But, since I am frustrated that I have spent half my morning trying to understand why all my post's say "Read More!" when there is nothing more to read I am happy that I, thought not I, have figured it out. Thanks to my friend Charlie and the nice the people who have supplied the blogosphere's helpful scripture (located at the top right corner if your using blogger) I am able to supply a "Read More!" option. Needless to say. I am ready to get back to my reading and am confident that I (We?) have successfully navigated the bloggy waters and am no longer formless and void. Consequently, I have come to realize that part of the bloggers charcater formation is the ability to cram something else into an otherwise nicely scheduled morning of reading and relaxing before work during your break between semesters.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

I found this to be intersting, inspiring, and humbling. Thanks to James Smith for reminding me that I am a pastor and thanks for those who do the work that help me do mine!

This post is from James K. A. Smith's blog.

Christian Scholars, Public Intellectuals, and the Challenges of Finitude

I’ve found myself bumping up against my finitude quite a lot in the past month, which has got me to thinking some about the unique challenges for Christian scholars who want to also try to play the role of public intellectuals. (Gideon Strauss’s recent Comment article on the New York intellectuals furthered my thinking on this score.)

Perhaps some prefatory words about “public intellectuals” are in order. By a “public intellectual,” I mean someone who brings critical, analytic, and synthetic theoretical skills to bear on issues of public concern—and then is able to articulate and express both a critique and vision in ways that are provocative, winsome, insightful, and—one hopes—persuasive. Many public intellectuals are credentialed scholars who feel impelled—as a matter of public trust—to take their skills and expertise outside the narrow (but legitimate) discussions of the academy. (A host of examples here, but a few that come to mind: Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins—not to mention a whole host of French thinkers from Sartre to Derrida to Luc Ferry.) But two provisos are in order here: First, not all scholars are, or are called to be, public intellectuals. And I don’t mean to suggest that scholars who stay within the confines of academic discourse are somehow failing in their vocation. The world of scholarly investigation and conversation is a legitimate end in itself and need not be justified only by “application” to public issues. That would be to fall into the worst sort of pragmatism. Second, not all public intellectuals are (or need be) credentialed scholars. Someone like Christopher Hitchens immediately comes to mind. A brilliant, critical mind emerging from Oxford, Hitchens does not have a PhD. But that hardly undercuts his ability to fulfill the role I’ve sketched above.

Now, with that in mind, I think there is a unique set of challenges for the Christian scholar who would seek to be a public intellectual. Let me enumerate just three as a start:

1. The Christian scholar who senses a vocation as a public intellectual immediately runs up against a challenge that I would think does not confront a “secular” public intellectual: guilt. Perhaps this is the result of my Calvinism working overtime, but I think it is a phenomenon that was glimpsed powerfully by Augustine in Book X of the Confessions. I need to ask myself just why I want to be a public intellectual. Is it just for the (relative) “fame?” Augustine’s reflection on this challenge is, for me, one of the most haunting passages of the Confessions. Extending his reflection on the temptations outlined in 1 John 2:16 (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and worldly ambition), Augustine lands on the third as the one that continues to plague him most: “Surely the third kind of temptation has not ceased to trouble me, nor during the whole of this life can it cease. The temptation is to wish to be feared or loved by people for no reason other than the joy derived from such power.” (Conf. 10.36.59). In fact, upon becoming a bishop, the temptation only increased such that Augustine the bishop could confess: “This is [not “was”] the main cause why I fail to love you.” And I have to confess the same.

And so, unlike other public intellectuals who aren’t beset by this Augustinian self-suspicion, the Christian who would become a public intellectual and who is really honest with himself or herself must run up against this kind of lust for fame operative in one’s soul. That first whiff of public acclaim is an intoxicating drug. But Augustine also recognizes the complexity and messiness of all this, for he clearly counsels that the solution is not a withdrawal from acting for the public good. For indeed, even the one acting as a public intellectual (and surely a bishop was a public intellectual) with the purest of motives will nevertheless find himself the subject of praise and acclamation. Should Augustine abandon doing his public labors well just so that he’s not tempted by fame and the praise of men? By no means, he concludes. This would be akin to think the way to avoid gluttony is to avoid eating. Rather, the good work of a public intellectual should be accompanied by a rigorous self-examination—and real honesty about how easy it is to get hooked on the drug of “public interest.”

2. There is a second unique challenge for Christian public intellectuals, I think: a matter of time, and particularly finitude. Being a public intellectual requires an almost tiring attentiveness to “the signs of the times” and to what’s happening. A public intellectual is almost by nature a reactive beast, responding to the contingencies of always unfolding cultures. And to put the point bluntly: this just requires a lot of time. The day begins by scouring the dailies (The New York Times, and maybe the LA Times and Washington Post; perhaps The Guardian, The Globe & Mail, Le Monde and the BBC for international perspectives). On top of this is the responsibility of keeping up with the monthlies (The Atlantic, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, etc.) and quarterlies (Wilson Quarterly, New Left Review, New Criterion, etc.). Add to this the responsibility of actually reading books, both new non-fiction and fiction (and, in my case, trying to make up for the lack of a liberal arts education by working one’s way through the “classics”—I’m currently in a Proust phase).

And then there’s the challenge—in the midst of all this reading—of finding time to actually write. If one retains an academic post which requires straight-up “scholarly” publication, then writing in the mode of a public intellectual happens in the margins and off the side of one’s desk. And such writing, because of its occasional nature, must often be done quickly.

Now, that in itself is quite a full-plate for anyone (particularly since I haven’t even mentioned the other realities and obligations that are “givens”—especially family). But this is also where the unique challenge for a Christian public intellectual sets in, in at least a couple of ways.

First, when it comes to keeping abreast of what’s happening, the Christian public intellectual has another entire world to monitor and understand, which translates into another complete set of alternative readings responsibilities. So beyond keeping up with the readings noted above, the Christian public intellectual is also reading the Christian Century, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, First Things, Commonweal, etc. There is another world to keep up on—a sort of parallel universe about which someone like Christopher Hitchens doesn’t have to bother. (Though, one could admit that we live in strange times, when the worlds of Vanity Fair and Jerry Falwell have come to overlap!) All of this reading takes time, which is dispensed in only finite allotments.

Second, the Christian public intellectual has another set of commitments that fills up the slate of time. In particular, I’m thinking of the very banal reality that, for the Christian public intellectual, Sunday mornings are pretty much shot (not, of course, on an eternal register, but you get the idea). I confess to having a certain envy for my secular friends who enjoy leisurely Sunday mornings on the upper westside, slowly ambling through the Sunday Times, maybe catching up on a Harper’s article, or curling up with a Wilde play or Rushdie’s latest novel. Sunday mornings, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg, since many of those who sense a burden and vocation as Christian public intellectuals also have a sense of service to the church, and thus are often involved in time intensive labors related to the ministry of the church. (Granted, this isn’t true for all; in fact some “Christian” intellectuals solve this problem by abandoning the church!)

3. Finally, I think the Christian public intellectual is burdened by a multiplication of publics. The “public” for the ‘secular’ public intellectual is relatively defined, though there might be varying levels (from smaller ‘highbrow’ publics to broader ‘middle-brow’ publics). The “public” here just represents those readers of the canonical periodicals and monthlies. But here again, the work of the Christian public intellectual is doubled, since the church represents its own public, with its own institutions (e.g., its own canonical periodicals and monthlies, etc). And this public is much more variegated and diverse, particularly with respect to education levels, political orientations, and general configuration of “what matters.” So the Christian public intellectual needs to have the flexibility of a gymnast and the agility of an acrobat—as well as the stamina of Hidalgo just to keep up the work!

I don’t mean this piece to sound like whining (no doubt it does). Rather, I mean only to say that I have the utmost respect for the labors of our public intellectuals, and that respect is doubled for Christian public intellectuals (Cornel West, George Weigel, etc.) who are able to manage all of these challenges without sacrificing what really matters.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


A guy I work with told me just a few days ago about this guy that does Hasidic Reggae and today I came across a blog that said he is going to be on Letterman on January 16. There is a video available on the blog so you can hear what he sounds like.