Thursday, October 30, 2008

Comforting Reflections

1) God loves me. Always a winner.

2) I have good friends. Here, in WA, in VT, in Boston, scattered through the country as only post-graduates can be, my friends and family support, pray for, talk to, and just generally are awesome in relation to me.

3) God will finish what he has started in me (Phil. 1:6). One of the most timely sermons of my recollection was today in chapel, and most of those there with me agreed. God will bring to completion the work He has set up for me, as is true for everyone.

4) Connected: Everything will be okay. This is one of the bedrocks of my belief, that even in death, so long as I cleave to God, everything will be okay. Not necessarily great. Not even necessarily at all good. But okay.

5) Even if I don't post on this blog for, like, two weeks...still, I can come back to't, and it's doing what it is supposed to do.

Prayers for:
Rachel, who is suffering from depression and poor insurance
Ruth, for healing following her surgery
Shannon, whose Philosophy exam is next Wednesday
Hebe, Hestia, Epione (formerly Updo), and Polymnia, all of whom are extraordinarily stressed

Oh - and a happy birthday to the Barkeep! He's a prime number!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Piratae Penzantiae et Puellae

When I was three, I watched a tape of Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty, featuring Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline, and the lady from Murder She Wrote whose name eludes me, into the ground (yes, I know I could look it up, but I feel it has so much more a personal connection if you guys know I'm fallible). The actual magnetic tape in the VHS physically broke, as I recall. Such is the power of a child with a pirate obsession.

I mention this because in just a few short hours, I am departing to New York to see a school friend in a production of this most sublime play. And that's pretty exciting. Also exciting - I get to explain to Updo and Hestia the short-attention-span plot. And I love this play so much, that that idea is pure pleasure to me.

Later this weekend, we'll have some soteriology (new favorite word), and some Old Testament maybe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What I Learned This Week, Vol. II


So, Systematic Theology was the doctrine of the Trinity. And what do you say about that? I think I mentioned this, but at a certain point you have to just say, "Yes, the Trinity. Three in one. One in three. There it is," and move on, or you will make yourself crazy.


My Calvin class gave me the most interesting revelation, both about Calvin himself and, more broadly, about the value of considering audience in literary analysis. Professor McKee has been hammering at this, but she finally got it through to me on Thursday of this last week. I can some up the point in these few words.

Calvin didn't know anyone who wasn't Christian.

Calvin was never writing to a secular world. He was never writing to a non-Christian world. With the notable exception of reaching to the Roman church, he was never, ever, an apologist. That just was not in his conception. Ever and always, his concern was for his flock.

For that reason, the doctrine of predestination makes sense. It doesn't have to be defended to non-Christians. Except for some Jews, there aren't any around in Calvin's world. And, as a method of reassuring a population that was always in doubt about the surety of its salvation, Calvin's predestination is spot on the money - you needn't worry about your soul, you are of the elect, and so you're fine. Focus on your work, then, on God's work, and don't worry yourself about your hope of heaven - it is sure (this of course is later replaced by anxiety over how to know whether or not you are of the elect - but that's a different blog post).

That extends out even farther. If we consider the audience of any text, and especially any theological text, we will see that there is an impact of intention. A sermon to a congregation will say different things than a letter to a prisoner. But fundamentally, the message must always be the same - the story of Christ resurrected, and the remission of our sins.

Theology is a science of mysterious tensions. God is three. God is one. Christ is God. Christ is a man. God foreknows all things. God has made us in his image, to be like Him. All these statements are equally true in Christian thinking, but they seem contradictory. To be faithful theologians means explicating them all in different ways and at different times. But reading any theologian, it is absolutely worth our time to investigate their intended audience, to see what their emphases are.


Other than that, things are good! Next week is shaping up to be the doctrine of election and Joshua. Good times.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Res Publica

This is one of the few times I think I will ever use this blog for anything overtly political. I might get critical of this or that issue, but I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say:

Please vote. Please register to vote, if you haven't. For everyone in this country, this may be the most important election of our lifetime.

For this reason, I offer a few interesting government terms - what they mean, and why they're important.

Republic - from Latin res publica, the public thing, the common affair. Our Republic is not for itself. It is not for other countries. It is public property. We own it, lock, stock, and barrel. And we all have a responsibility to contribute, not just our tax dollars, but our judgment, and our votes, to what this republic should look like. It's our country - let's have our say.

Government - from the Latin guberno, to steer, to navigate. The purpose of the government is to point the republic in a direction. When we have an election, we're choosing our pilots. Who do you want to be your pilot? Do you want someone else to pick who's driving this thing? Or do you want your own say in the process? Take it. Vote.

Democracy - democratia, Greek for "government by the people." The Athenians had some real trouble with oligarchies and dictatorships. This always remained their ideal - that all the citizens governed the country, all citizens had a vote and a say in what was going on. We still live in a democracy. You are the people. And you have the power. Use it.

Mkay. Classical soapbox completed. Please vote. will help you figure out registration. God bless.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trinitas et memoriae

So apparently I've never mentioned the Trinity here. We're all of us allowed these little lapses, I suppose. We've been doing Trinity in my systematic class, and I feel a wee bit bad, because I feel like I had a trinitarian (blogger loses 5 points for not knowing the word trinitarian) phase a few weeks ago, and I feel a little Trinity-worn-out. There's only so long you can spend looking at a Moebius strip before your brain shuts down and you have to go have a nice tall glass of perspective and soda.

That said, I have a few more analogies I want to try out, that have come to me in the course of trying to explain the Trinity to some folks here.

Y'know how in an old TV, you had these pixels that were made up of red, green, and blue phosphors? The Trinity works like that. Turn 'em all on at once, and you have a white pixel. But each light, while still being light (this is the divine ousia, or being), is of a different color (the hypostasis, or person).

The Trinity is also like the Three Stooges. Yes, I'm serious. Three guys, right? But you never seem them when they aren't together. They always work together. They work in tandem, and are interrelated, but they each have a different personality. This one doesn't stretch as far.

Finally, I'll toss this out in a more practical way for me. When I feel a particular need to talk to God about a problem I have, I imagine myself talking to Christ. When I am praising the creator, I'm directing it in my head to the Father. When I am praying for inspiration, or for the blessing of my work, I have in my head the Holy Spirit. But they're all God to me - all of them always working together on whatever's up.

I know that's a bunch of little thumbnails, but, in my head, that's all we're ever going to get of the Trinity. It's worth spending time on a regular basis exploring our ideas of our rather unique Triune God, but a certain point you have to just say: "Yeah. That's weird," and get on with the business of loving your neighbour, etc.

In other news, had a conversation with Updo (she's going to kill me when she finds out that that's her blog name, but I've had worse) about the worth of memorization. Our Professor said something to the effect that we should be teaching the catechism or some part thereof to our youth, so that they will remain embedded in the church after high-school. He specifically underlined the idea that "memorizing something creates an ownership - we posses differently, we truly know things that we have memorized." He also lamented the destruction of memorization in our "sound byte" culture.

I would argue, briefly, that I could go into chapel tomorrow, go up on the pulpit, and say the words "Fezzik - are there rocks ahead?" and a rumble would reply to me "if there are, we all be dead." Memorization is by no means dead - it has simply shifted into secular and popular, rather than ecclesiastical, forms. I think if you could do "Theologian Celebrity Jeopardy," you might be able to sneak in long sections of the catechism. You just have to be subtle.

Updo's point, though, and it's a good one, is that forcing people to memorize things is precisely what has gotten the church to its current bad pass. I'd like Oriana to comment on whether she tries to have her kids memorize the catechism, and what kind of wailing or gnashing of teeth there would be if she did. My counter is that I don't think our professor is wrong - memorization is totally valuable. I just wish there were some way to inspire, rather than force it.

But it is only through iteration and reiteration that we can hope to impose a foreign concept upon a reluctant mind.