Here, until 2 January 2014, is this year’s Theos Annual Lecture delivered on 28 November at One Birdcage Walk, Westminster. The speaker is Marilynne Robinson, and the title of her lecture is ‘Religion in Contemporary America’.
Tonight, when I was supposed to be reading William Stringfellow’s Conscience and Obedience, I found myself somewhat distracted by the thought of two other great passions of mine – Indian cuisine and my wonderful partner Judy. The result was this little song:
Now, with that out of my system, I can return to Stringfellow, and to ‘the impending devastation of political authority’.
Mr Richard Starnes’ intelligent and delightful piece, which appeared in the Friday Morning edition of The Spartanburg Herald on 13 December 1963, is without doubt the very best article that I’ve ever ever ever ever read, or am likely to read, on Handles Messiah. And it was too good not to share, particularly at this time of year:
The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology are sponsoring the 2014 Pro Ecclesia Annual Conference for Clergy and Laity. It will be held at Loyola University, Baltimore, Maryland between 9–14 June.
The promo reads:
“We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness.” So Paul warns his Ephesian readers to put on the “whole armor of God” and be ready for struggle with the world. And yet Paul also says that these principalities and powers were created in and for Christ (Col. 1:16), have now been disarmed (Col 2:15), and cannot separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38). What are the principalities and powers of our time in politics, technology, culture, economy, and religion? How do we understand them as created, fallen, and disarmed? How does the Christian today engage these powers? The 2014 conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology will take up this theme. Presentations will represent a variety of traditions: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.
It sounds like a great conference, and a great opportunity too to do some work with dear Uncle Stringfellow, among others.
Yesterday, with all the grief that attends just completing reading a great book, and with all the joy-in-anticipation of beginning a new one, I began reading Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This deeply personal and somewhat cathartic book is about the forming and reforming of identities, those attributes and values which are passed down from parent to child across generations not only through strands of DNA but also through shared cultural norms (vertical identities), and those traits that are foreign to one’s parents ‘and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group’ (horizontal identities), identities which ‘may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors’.
Through a series of reflections on deafness, dwarfism, autism, Down syndrome, disability, prodigies, schizophrenia, rape, crime, and transgender sexuality, Solomon is concerned to challenge notions of ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’, to examine the value judgements we carry, create, project and/or dismiss about such, and to ward off temptations to play down the ambiguities and ambivalences that surround notions of extra/ordinary.
In lieu of the likely event that I do not get around to writing a review of the book, and because I wanted to share something of my interest so far in reading this book – and for the consideration of fellow parents – here’s the (scene-setting) opening two paragraphs:
‘There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads. In the subconscious fantasies that make conception look so alluring, it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity. We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do. Loving our own children is an exercise for the imagination.
Yet blood, in modern as in ancient societies, is thicker than water. Little is more gratifying than successful and devoted children, and few situations are worse than filial failure or rejection. Our children are not us: they carry throwback genes and recessive traits and are subject right from the start to environmental stimuli beyond our control. And yet we are our children; the reality of being a parent never leaves those who have braved the metamorphosis. The psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once said, “There is no such thing as a baby—meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone but is essentially part of a relationship.” Insofar as our children resemble us, they are our most precious admirers, and insofar as they differ, they can be our most vehement detractors. From the beginning, we tempt them into imitation of us and long for what may be life’s most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us’.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
– W. B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’, in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1: The Poems (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 187.
[Notes: Penned 1919, in the aftermath of WWI, 'The Second Coming' was originally titled 'The Second Birth'. The image, taken by Yeats's wife Georgie Hyde-Lees, depicts Yeats on his deathbed in 1939.]
- The Barmen Theses Then and Now by Eberhard Busch
- Christ, Justice and Peace: Towards a Theology of the State by Eberhard Jüngel (I read this every year. It’s wonderful, and I need to keep hearing the challenge.)
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (trans. by Clive James)
- The Trout Diaries: A Year of Fly-Fishing in New Zealand by Derek Grzelewski
- Karl Barth in Conversation edited by W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (forthcoming with Wipf and Stock)
- The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays 2001–2005 by Clive James
- Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach
- Pure Heroine by Lorde
- Land of the Living by Matthew Perryman Jones
- Swallow the Sea by Matthew Perryman Jones
- Heart Tattoo by Enda Kenny
- Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud (Lift To The Scaffold): Original Soundtrack by Miles Davis
- Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 by Miles Davis
- Standards & Ballads by Wynton Marsalis
- Black Codes by Wynton Marsalis
- Spirit Bird by Xavier Rudd
- Food in the Belly by Xavier Rudd
- Solace by Xavier Rudd
- White Moth by Xavier Rudd
- Koonyum Sun by Xavier Rudd & Izintaba
- To Let by Xavier Rudd
- 13 Songs You May or May Not Have Heard Before by Richard Shindell
- American Kid by Patty Griffin
no shortage of apples or artichokes
no shortage of walnuts or whiskey
no shortage of cherries or chickens
no shortage of lamb or leeks
no shortage of pork or pinot noir
no shortage of edible flowers or eggs
no shortage of sprouts or Green Man stouts
no shortage of capsicums or Colin’s creamy farmhouse brie
no shortage of potatoes or pies
no shortage of coffee or Cardrona merino lamb
no shortage of tabbouleh or Ken’s tussocks
no shortage of bread or beets
no shortage of galettes or garlic paste
no shortage of asparagus or Afife’s Lebanese delectations
no shortage of smoked salamis or short skirts
no shortage of pears or pizzas
no shortage of vegans or vendors
no shortage of buskers on the platform jamming the blues.
By the time we reached Tony’s ’Nemo’ van
the only fish left were
‘It’s been a shocker of a week’, he said.
‘With three hours out to the reef
and three hours back,
and with no calm
to get any sleep. Still,
there’s always next week,
© Jason Goroncy
30 November 2013
[Image: Otago Farmers Market]
about BLACK FRIDAY.
never heard of it
(of all things)
When I see the cradle rocking
What is it that I see?
I see a rood on the hilltop
When I hear the cattle lowing
What is it that they say?
They say that shadows feasted
When I know that the grave is empty,
Absence eviscerates me,
And I dwell in a cavernous, constant
– Donald Hall, ‘Advent’, in The Back Chamber: Poems (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.
See, as we stumble in the Advent snows,
God comes to fathom us. He sends his Son,
A gentleness by whom our fear’s undone,
A jubilance who overcomes our woes.
At first, we hold him in the ancient picture:
Skoaled by great angels, crooned by watching beasts,
Thick-footed shepherds by his side, deep frosts;
Love’s history: for you and me hope’s texture.
Now he is with us, at our village stones,
Fingering the mortar, testing. His mirth
Assaults our streets, and daily he goes forth
Troubling our elegant houses with unknowns
That were and are before whatever is
Began to be. By him was made the air,
Sparrows, eagles, Asias, the sweet despair
Of the free mind. All honest things are his.
He is the holy one we waited for, the Word
Who speaks to us who stammer back, the plot
Against the rich and poor, the Gordian knot
Our wit cannot untie. He is time’s Lord.
Thus, shall we sing him well these Christmas days
And at his birth-feast practice with him praise.
– Arnold Kenseth, ‘A Praise in Advent’, in The Ritual Year: Christmas, Winter, and Other Seasons: Poems (Amherst: Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 1993), 90.
This year, the Centre for Theology and Ministry has produced a resource to ‘assist individuals, households and small groups in their journey through Advent’. The booklet, which combines ‘individual daily reflections comprising a suggested Scripture reading, some words of reflection and a short prayer’, plus ‘ideas that can be used in the household or multi-age contexts’, can be downloaded here.
- ‘The Incarnate One’, by Edwin Muir
- Looking for God – a short reflection
- An Advent Prayer by a 5-year-old
- Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, ‘Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple’
- ‘The Coming’
- On Max Ernst’s ‘The Virgin Chastises the infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard, and the Painter’ (1926)
- ‘Advent Stanzas’ by Robert Cording
- Advent as learning something of God’s own simultaneous ‘Yes’ and ‘No’
- ‘A Reflection on Advent’, by Rowan Williams
- Setting Out into the Dark with God: A Christmas Meditation
A recent episode of Q&A, filmed during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, dispensed with the most-usual band of dull politicians and instead hosted Peter Hitchens and Germaine Greer (a regular guest on the show), as well as two lesser minds – Hanna Rosin and Dan Savage. (Incidentally, I’ve never seen Tony Jones, who normally does a stellar job, moderate the discussion as poorly as he did. An off night for Tony.) As each guest responded to questions on subjects as diverse as the collapse of Western civilization, internet hook ups, women’s liberation, conservative politics and the permanence (or otherwise) of marriage in the ‘modern’ world, it became startlingly obvious that not only was Hitchens by far the best student of history on the panel but that he was also the only one who seems to hae a scoobie about the moral realities that give shape to such.
The final question, which came from Lisa Malouf, in more ways than one elicited the most revealing responses. The question was: ‘Which so-called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if were implemented?’
Here are the responses:
The entire episode, which is worth watching, can be downloaded here.
Luke Hankins (ed.). Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2012). 236pp; ISBN: 978-1-61097-712-8
A guest-review by Mike Crowl.
Luke Hankins is not quite thirty. He’s already published a highly regarded book of poems, Weak Devotions, in which he ‘wrestles with the issues Donne, Herbert, Hopkins … also found worthy of their most impassioned work’ (John Wood), and a chapbook of translations from the French poems of Stella Vinitchi Radulescu (three of her poems are included in this book). He is also senior editor of the Asheville Poetry Review.
In Poems of Devotion, Hankins is aiming to present to the modern reader a substantial collection of poems on the theme of devotion, from a wide range of poets – American, English, and other nationalities, including some translations. If the word ‘devotion’ arouses thoughts of prissy, sappy pseudo poems that barely scratch the surface, you will find Hankins’ collection eschews such works; much of what is here is tough, painful, meditative, worshipful, and certainly deep enough to call you back again and again.
Hankins presents poets who are willing to wrestle with God. Many of them come from angles that are anything but devotional in the generally accepted sense. Some know from the outset where they’re going, but Hankins has looked more for poets who appear to work out their experience as they go along. As he writes in his introduction: ‘Great poems are – if not invariably, at least most often – an unfolding, not only for the reader, but for the poet in the process of composing’. And he quotes fellow poet, Charles Wright: ‘Writing is listening. Religious experience is silent listening and waiting. I have always been able to tell whether something I am writing is genuinely an expression of revelation or if it’s just me exercising my intellect. I can feel the difference, see it and taste it, but I don’t know how I can do that’. In the poems collected here, poetry is for the most part a means of meditating rather than an experience recounted.
That is not to say that these are floppy works without poetic structures: subtle rhymes and rhythms abound, the last lines are often a revelation; sharp metaphors of atmosphere and the spirit and creation are evident on every hand. The poets have taken their original searchings and crafted them well.
Many of these poets are not ‘saints’ in any ordinary sense, though they bring themselves to understand the need to submit to God’s will, even when it seems at odds with their very being, or when they haven’t found the answer they set out to look for. Old poets still look for answers in their old age. (Leonard Cohen has a couple of very good prose poems, for instance). There is also great joy and wonder (for example, in Luci Shaw’s Mary’s Delight; Shaw isn’t a poet I’ve greatly admired in the past, but this is a beauty) and praise (several poems are modern psalms) and worship (Thomas Merton’s Evening: Zero Weather, for instance).
Then there are the strange poems: Amit Majmudar’s extraordinary long piece about the angel we generally know as Satan; Michael Schiavo’s odd ‘dub versions of Shakespeare’s sonnets’, Bruce Beasley’s long, collage-like ‘Damaged Self-Portrait’.
Hankins offers seventy-seven poets in all. Some have only one poem, some have several, some provide several parts of a larger poem. But there’s no sense of stinting on the poets here; each one has room to breathe. There are some familiar names – T.S. Eliot, Theodore Roetke, E.E. Cummings, R.S. Thomas, Denise Levertov, Richard Wilbur – but the majority are unfamiliar – to me, anyway, and I suspect to many readers of the book.
The poems are book-ended by the substantial introduction, and a reprint of an interview between Hankins and Justin Bigos, which gives some background to Hankins and his poetic stance.
Last night, the Knox Centre hosted the launch of four books:
- The Church in Post-Sixties New Zealand: decline, growth and change, and Losing Our Religion? Changing Patterns of Believing and Belonging in Secular Western Societies, both by my colleague Kevin Ward. And,
- Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth, and Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All Things in the Soteriology of P.T. Forsyth, by yours truly.
John Stenhouse and John Roxborogh spoke to Kevin’s books, and Mike Crowl and Murray Rae spoke to mine. All did a super job. It was a great night. Post-launch, the two authors (and a few others) then partied on with Chinese food and whiskey. The gastronomical combo seemed to work well.
Mike has since posted what he really would have liked to have said, some reflections on his experience of reading P T Forsyth.
Glen Soderholm is an accomplished musician and songwriter, an ordained minister (with the Presbyterian Church in Canada), and a teacher in the area of the theology and curating of worship. He tells me that he is also ‘currently part of a group of friends giving birth to a missional community in his living room and neighbourhood, and that he has a deep and abiding interest in the relationship of trinitarian/incarnational/onto-relational theology to worship, arts, and culture’.
Following my recent post on James Torrance’s hymn, ‘I know not how to pray, O Lord’, Glen contacted me and shared with me his own song on that theme, ‘Our Great High Priest’. This song, he tells me, was ‘inspired by a life-changing encounter with James Torrance’s book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. I read it and felt like I’d come home’. Glen gave me permission to share his wonderful song.
Our great high priest now at the throne
You ever live to pray for your own
And to the Father, you make us known
Our great high priest now at the throne
We long to pray, but we don’t know how
We yearn to stay, but lack the power
Our wills are weak, our tongues are tied
Oh lift us now, right to your side
For us you came to this low plane
For us you lived with joy and pain
For us you died to set us free
And rose on high to bear our plea
Sometimes we still sit upon that ledge
and consider the dark fervour of the waves,
wondering why some of us went under
while others clung with every fibre and were saved.
There are no answers to that question. Fortune
(whatever scholars tell us) does not favour the brave
or the virtuous. It rescued some
who could be wicked, hard and wretched ones enslaved
to drink or women, and swept aside
the good, the kind, those who each day forgave
others. We only know a rope was hurled
and we possessed both grip and faith
strong enough to hold it. Nothing else is known to us,
all as dark, intangible as the fervour of these waves.
The Rev. Dr. Naoya Kawakami is the Secretary General of Touhoku HELP, a highly commendable ministry birthed in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. Touhoku HELP produced a video for a presentation at the recent WCC General Assembly in Busan. With Korean narration and English subtitles, it illustrates not only the recent (note: some of the footage was filmed last August) situation in Fukushima but also something of the inspiring ministry that is emerging from the rubble.
Naoya and I maintain a steady and prayerful correspondence. In a recent exchange, he wrote of the overwhelming number – over a half of million! – who live with the effects of radiation. He also wrote of his own need, amidst the crushing wave of need around him, to ‘keep time to think and read’, and of the urgency for what he calls a ‘new theology for this “Post-Fukushima” world’.
He mentioned too about a recent meeting of Japanese and Korean theologians who conversed about the situation birthed by the Fukushima tragedy. Among the topics discussed was the possibility of post-mortem salvation for the many victims of the tsunami and of radiation poisoning. He said,
In the tradition of the major protestant churches, there is no way of salvation for the dead who have not believed in Jesus Christ as Lord during their living time. But many Japanese theologians who have read PT Forsyth have spoken out against this tradition since the triple disaster. Yesterday, we talked about this issue. I shared the logic of Forsyth for this issue from his book This Life and the Next.
Inspired by Forsyth’s lively challenge (via his Protestant reappraisal of the doctrine of purgatory) that God alone – and not death – determines the time when creation reaches its maturity, these theologians found themselves, in faith and together, straining to hear – but hearing indeed – the promise of the Lord of hope in a land crushed under the burden of fear and despair.
Please join me in praying for Naoya (he carries a great burden for the people who live in the Fukushima area, and for the gospel), and please consider supporting the work of Touhoku HELP.
[Naoya’s dissertation was on Japanese receptions of Forsyth’s theology, and the subject of post-mortem conversion receives attention in the final chapter of my own study, Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All Things in the Soteriology of P.T. Forsyth. Naoya kindly described my latest offering on Forsyth, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History, as a ‘big present for Fukushima’.]