Purpose of this blog

Exploring: theology, philosophy, religion, ecology, pop-culture...and seeking the good life!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another Drought, A Move, and Beyond

Friends, yes...there has been a long drought here at TAGL blog.  Part of me has been asking should I still blog?  Another part is asking as to whether or not I should re-brand.  But the main reason is that my  life has been undergoing some major personal changes.

First, having a kid at home whilst balancing a family, a full time ministry, and writing for my PhD is and always has been a tough balancing act.

Second, and perhaps more to my point is that both my wife and I are transitioning into new roles....in terms of our work.

My wife is taking a new management job within her company in December of this year.  And I am so proud of her for this...

while I will take a new post as the Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Education at Peachtree Christian Church in Midtown Atlanta, GA.  There, I will lead the education and discipleship ministries as well as offer leadership to a bevy of other ministries and staff members.  We are at once excited and terrified for our new adventure.  Please pray for us.

This will be a big move: away from family, and away from our support group.  But we have faith that God is calling us to serve the community of PCC and Midtown, ATL.

At any rate, that is why my blog has been so lacking....transitions are difficult, right?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pope Francis I, Different?

It happened again this morning.  As I was drinking my tea, and playing with my daughter -- something of a morning ritual -- I heard another report on the radio about how different the current Pope, Francis I is from his two predecessors.  This report frustrated me deeply.

Confession: I am not a Catholic, nor has anyone sought me out as a counselor to the Vatican.  So, I in no way have special knowledge about all the inner-workings of the Vatican.  But I do follow stories about the Pontiff and with much interest.  Broadly, because I am an ecumenical Christian (some might say a post-Protestant), and as such, I have a vested interest in the health of all communions of the faith, especially the juggernauts like the Roman Catholic church.  But more specifically, my own theological formation and imagination has been shaped by much of the Catholic imagination...and the works of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have both played a considerable role in that.

NOW MY POINT: Back to my point.  I am getting quite tired of those who describe Francis I as though his papacy represents a great disjunction from his two predecessors.  Is he different?  Yes, he is outgoing, which we all know that Benedict was not.  Also he is uncomfortable, or so it seems, with ceremony.  Essentially, Francis is much more at home in the office of a Pastor than he is in the office of a theologian or even a politician.  (these are broad differences. of course all three men were theologians as well as pastors; this issue is about giftedness....)

But are these differences ones of substance?  I hardly think so.  Oh it has become vogue to say, however, "Francis cares for the poor and reforming the Vatican, that is a break from the agenda of the other two."  Is that fair?  It was JPII, after all, who spoke of the "personalistic norm," the principle to radically humanize a world that was increasingly post-human...all predicated on Christ's command to "love your neighbor as your self."

Benedict XVI's social teaching afforded much attention to both the ecology of the human and the ecology of nature.  He had a keen eye toward supporting both concepts without denigrating or idolizing one or the other; indeed you cannot have one without the other (a radical creation theology).  Further, he claims....often...that the family is a global family, and that all people have a responsibility for all others, a la the principle of solidarity.

And even though there was much critique of Benedict's dealings with the Vatican and curia....he like Francis I was supremely interested in reform.

No friends, Francis I's papacy so far, cannot be seen as a change in direction from the other two; rather it is a continuation.  There are several reasons that Francis' work might look a little different:

1.) Each Pope dealt with problems and issues as they were pertinent in their own time.
2.) Each Pope is uniquely different in terms of temperament.
3.) Each Papacy has to engage Vatican II in new or refreshed ways given the current status of the church.
4.) Francis I is NOT European.

But make no mistake about it friends, if you look a little deeper, read the encyclicals and theological texts....you will see less difference and more unity, or rather continuity between the three.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lumen Fidei: A commentary by Fr. Barron

The Historical Jesus and NPR's Fresh Air

Terry Gross is a tremendous interviewer, that is unless she is interviewing someone who is religious.  It is true, I do have a criticism of "Fresh Air," which is one of my all time favorite shows.  The criticism is that I do not think that Terry understands religion very well at all, or enough to truly probe its most vexing and deep questions.

But this was not the problem with last night's episode.

It was with Reza Aslan, a one time convert to Christianity from Islam.  He now denies many claims about Christianity because of his research into the strange and elusive field that is called "The Historical Jesus."  The first major problem with this interview is that Aslan is at one time happy to dismiss the scriptures as historical and theological written bits of polemicizing.  Yet he is also happy to accept as truth certain Biblical accounts of Jesus, if for no other reason than to disprove later Christian doctrinal claims.  You cannot have it both ways. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review of the CoTP's International Conference: "The Soul"

Food, song, and cheer!  These words might describe the psychology of Tolkien's fictional Hobbit people, but they also exemplify the experience I had at The Centre of Theology and Philosophy conference on the Soul at Oxford University.

I arrived home yesterday, and my first bit of analysis is that the conference was truly edifying--intellectually, spiritually, and even I dare say (because it was an academic conference) ministerially.

Firstly, the conference was at St. Anne's in Oxford.  The accommodations were nice, but who could ever wish to be confined to their quarters when the the environment is adorned with the medieval splendor and beauty of Oxford's architecture?  The only downside in my opinion, is that there was not one clear, central place for people to congregate in between sessions, but that was worth giving up just to tread where people like Lewis, Tolkien, Newman, Carroll, Hopkins and many more once walked.

The theologian and priest Simon Oliver organized the conference, and he did a brilliant job.  It was planned well and went off without a hitch!  I am thankful to him for his help and also his many aids who include these very capable students and alumni from the Univ. of Nottingham: Eric Lee, David R. Mosely, Michael DiFuccia, Sam Kimbriel (a guest lecturer at Nott.).  It was fun to fellowship once again with these very bright and lively cohorts.

There were a great many papers at this conference, and at times I was torn on where to go for each panel session had two or three equally interesting presentations.  I thoroughly enjoyed Angel Mendez-Montoya's paper on Dance and the Soul, Steve Cone's work on Theosis in Ireneaus, Christopher Ben Simpson's comparison of Merleu-Ponty and the Church Fathers, Ruth Jackson's very interesting piece on flip books etc.  These were all highly creative pieces as were others.  Indeed, most of the presentations that I participated in were directed by men and women of deep reverence for the world, that is they all are people who are guided by a profound appreciation for the mystery of life and all of its manifold relations.

The plenary sessions were fascinating.  Ian McGilchrist spoke to the group on brain chemistry and how the hemisphere's of the human brian allow a person's perception to shift between the atomistic and the whole.  His was probably the most different presentation in terms of metaphysics, and as such proved very thought provoking for the garden-variety theologian/philosopher.  Conor Cunningham's followed, and as always his presentation was engaging.  He argued against materialism as well as showed how much of the philosophy of mind (at least in contemporary thought) is self-contradictory.

John Milbank and David Bentley Hart provided some very rousing thoughts on the soul.  Milbank's was a follow up to a previous work on the soul and politics (found at ABC' Religion and Ethics page); and without much surprise, Milbank pulled from such a wide list of sources that it almost seems impossible that someone should be able to synthesize in such a thorough way, but he pulls it off so wonderfully.  Hart's was equally brilliant...all I can say is that his work has me wanting to dive head first into reading the church fathers.  He too, like Cunningham, provides a leveling critique to the contemporary "philosophers of mind."

There were other wonderful plenary presentations, but I will only highlight two more.  The first comes from the American Pulitzer prize winning author Marilynne Robinson.  She spoke against materialism and the reduction of mind to matter with eloquence and joy.  Her paper followed many of the arguments she makes in her book of essays called The Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self.  Robinson utilizes Calvin's thought much, and though I do not normally like Calvin, her reading of his work is quite different than the garden variety one would find in the States.  Some people could not get over her use of Calvin, for it seems that their minds were too focused on the Reformer and the later consequences of his thought....but it seems that most of the audience, even if they were not so much into Calvin, tabled all of that for the points that Robinson was trying to make.  I fall into the second category; for me and those who did so....we were inspired by her paper, but even more so by the questions that followed (those were indeed, the best of the conference).

But what was most edifying about her presentation was the challenge for theologians to write more beautifully; theological stylings must match the importance of its content, indeed.  She pressed for the revival of the essay, and to a large degree I agree.  Wendell Berry, Stratford Caldecott, Hart's In the Aftermath, anyone?   I left Robinson's paper wanting to improve my writing skills...I was moved by her words, indeed.  And though she used Calvin for her guiding notions of aesthetics, I sense that her overall point, that is the substance of what she was saying about beauty, would be wholly affirmed by Von Balthasar too.  As an extra note, I was blessed to join her, Mark Shiffman (he was previously interviewed on this blog about the work of Wendell Berry), the Miner's (a married couple who are both philosophers) and Matthew Vest (a fellow student and friend) for dinner during the main banquet.  Talking with them all, as well as one of my favorite novelists about literature, film, theology...and even food, is something that I will always cherish.  What a delight.
Marilynne Robinson, and Me

The other presentation is one in which I will not comment on in terms of content.  It was quite deep, and there are others who are entrenched in such thought that could do much better (Christopher Ben Simpson and Corey Tutewiler to be exact).  The presenter was William Desmond.  After speaking eloquently on the soul and "soul music," he was challenged by Milbank to offer a song from one of his favorite boyhood soul singers.  And so with the lush brogue of this Irish gentleman, we closed out the conference in song, and standing cheers!  Who says that academic conferences should be boring and without joy?  Shouldn't conferences with theologians and philosophers always include laughter, song, and stories?  Well I think so and for me this conference fit the bill.

As for the food, well...let me just say that there is not much to do in Oxford (besides site-seeing and
history) except for eating and drinking in the local pubs.  And there are many lovely places to visit.  The Eagle and Child is simply o.k., but going to the place where the famous Inklings hung out was still a welcome thing for me and my travel companions.

But whether a pub has good fare or not is not the whole matter at all, rather your company can make all the difference.  I had the chance to spend time out with many wonderful human beings...who happen to be brilliant thinkers as well: Jeff Hanson, Adrian Walker, Chris Hackett, Matt Tan, Nathaniel Lee, Nigel Zimmerman, Neil Turnbull, Kimbell Kornu, Justin DeVore, Corey Tutwiler, Alyson Milbank, Orion Edgar, Nathan Strunk, Karen Kilby, Tony Baker, Pete Candler, Brent Driggers....and many more.  So in addition to some of the meaty English plates, I also got to spend time learning from these very clever people.

A few highlights: 

Simon's Tour-  After spending time at "The Bear" which is a medieval pub in the shadow of Christ
From left to right: Simon Oliver, Tony Baker, Chris Simpson
Church, Simon Oliver led Tony Baker, Christopher Ben Simpson, and myself back to St. Anne's.  But along the way he gave us his own un-official tour of the city.  He showed us where he studied, and other interesting places like where he famous "Oxford Movement" began.  (Do I hear Jerry Seinfeld sneer whilst saying "Newman!"? )

My Paper- My presentation was well received.  William Desmond said that he is now interested in watching Joss Whedon, so that is a feather in my cap, I think.  Others too agreed: Andrew Davison, Alyson Milbank, Tony Baker, etc. I enjoyed presenting with Marcia Pally and Ben Schewel....the feedback was nice, and very helpful.

Dinner at Graham Ward's- Graham Ward, the Regius Chair of Divinity at Oxford, graciously included me in a dinner at his place in Christ Church.  It was stunning.  There, I got to fellowship with several other wonderful people over plates of pasta, as we discussed ecclesiology, ministry work, film, theology, and even the notion of humor.  That night truly exhibited a eucharistic sensibility!  His home is situated in Christ Church.

The view from Graham Ward's front door!Church, just check out this picture which is his view from the front door.
PhD Progress Talk- John Milbank, my supervisor had many good things to say about my progress.  He was very encouraging, and that was obviously good to hear.

Baseball is Better than Cricket: David Bentley Hart and I celebrated baseball talk at this conference, and conspired to argue with both John Milbank and Simon Oliver on the fact that baseball is a much better game, not to mention a much more metaphysically beautiful game.  Perhaps we can find a time to debate this soon....I'll probably sit silently, write notes and hand them to DBH so he can use the content in his arguments.....b/c the Lord knows I cannot defeat those two in an out an out debate of any type!  I suggest at the "Ye Ole Trip" next summer in Nottingham...!  All kidding aside, it was nice to talk America's Past Time with another true fan of the game.

A few regrets: 

Missing Papers- Sadly I missed Stratford Caldecott's paper, and I am a big fan of his work, so that is sad.  But I also regrettably missed Mary Midgley's plenary talk, Tony Baker's talk on Shakespeare, and a few others.

Missing Mass at St. Mary's- Due to the filled schedule and jet-lag, I missed church on Sunday.... I cannot help but feel as though I missed out on a gift there.

Not Spending Time With Folks That I Intended Too- The names are legion...but hey, the conference was large and packed.  Another time perhaps.

All in all: 

This conference, for me anyway, was filled with laughter, cheer, food and drink.  I learned much and am blessed with new friendships, and additionally I deepened older ones.  Even though I am now tired from the travel, I have an inner energy that is driving me to work more both in my day to day ministry work and in my PhD research.  In the end that is the initial take away from this conference.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Conferences, Conferences, Conferences!

I have been a busy little bee these past few months.  My life is filled with being a father to a near 10 month old baby girl, day to day ministry work, writing and research on my PhD thesis, and also: 3 different conference papers.

I recently told my wife that I need to stop the conference stuff for a while; I need to get back to my thesis.  And currently, I am glad to report that I am 2/3 of the way through my conference presentation cycle.  That said, I'd like to give a brief report and analysis of the conferences I have already participated in...and look forward to the last one of the summer.

Ecclesia and Ethics-  On two separate weekends in May I participated in a totally online (via mega meeting) international conference that dealt with the church and ethics.  Three of the major plenary speakers included: Biblical Scholar, N.T. Wright; Theologian and Ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas; and Pastor/New Monastic, Shane Claiborne.

All of the sessions were attended in an online space.  Frankly, I viewed and participated in most of the sessions whilst wearing pajamas and sitting in my "man cave."  That was nice.  And so was the price, the conference only cost me $10.  The fellas who put this together are PhD students at the University of  St. Andrews; they seem like nice chaps, indeed.

Pros: Price, ease of participation, and the unique conference theme.

Cons: embodiment, indeed something is lost by not being together or having the opportunity to go for a meal or coffee with people you meet at a conference like this one.  Another con was that most of the parallel sessions were not attended by the main speakers.  They seemed to do their part, respond to questions, and then move on about there day.  It would have been nice to have some of those presenters comment on other papers and so on.

My Paper: My paper was called "The Church as the Community of Creation."  It was an ecological piece as well as an ecclesiological one.  It was poorly attended, as it was the last session and for the UK folks it was 11pm when I finally shared.  But all sessions were recorded and can be viewed even to this day.  If you did not attend, you can still sign up and view whatever presentations you would like to.

Christian Scholars Conference-  This was held last week at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  It was mostly comprised of Church of Christ Scholars from various fields of inquiry.  The topic was "Crises in Ethics."  The plenary speakers were great and the same can be said of every parallel session that I participated in.  This conference was the most surprising so far.  C.O.C. folks reflecting on Church fathers, medievals and the like.....and they were very very good.

Pros: Nashville is an awesome town to visit, so the location was good.  Also as a PhD student in a Church of Christ ministry, I was awarded a scholarship to attend.  The conference was also very creative: a radio show visit, a featured play, cross-discipline presentations/workshops, etc.

Cons: I had to leave early, because my wife had to go on a business trip....so I did not get to make the most out of my time there.

My Paper: My paper was called "You Cannot Have One Without the Other: Human Ecology and the Ecology of Nature."  It was a reflection on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's work on human and environmental ecology, especially as it relates to economic development.  I think it went fairly well.

Next: The Centre of Theology and Philosophy international conference at Oxford Univ. on "The Soul."

My Paper: The Soul in the Secular Pop-Aesthetics of Joss Whedon.  Looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and oh yeah meeting one of my favorite novelists Marilynne Robinson.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Update: My Favorite Books (read) of 2013

As an avid reader, I might not always find myself reading the latest titles.  But as an avid reader I encounter books that are new to me; both old and new.  Here are some of my favorites that I have encountered in the young year of 2013.

The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist by Angel F. Mendez-Montoya.  I have read bits of it in the past, but since the new year I have read and re-read it a few times...it is very good, indeed.  This work makes me want to eat Mexican Mole--made by a master chef!  This work blends some of my favorite thinkers -- like any good mole should -- Bulgakov, Desmond, and Milbank.

The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying by Jeffery P. Bishop.  Jeff is a friend of mine.  He is an M.D. and holds a PhD in philosophy, and teaches bio-ethics/philo at St. Louis University.  He, more than most, is able to reflect on the theo/philosophical meaning of the body, corpses, and modern medical practices....this book should be read by theologians, philosopher, and even clergy.  But be forewarned, the first bits of it might make you cry....there Jeff gives some heart-wrenching personal testimonials.

Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Samuel Wells.   In this work Wells synthesizes N.T. Wright and Hans urs Von Balthasar in order to develop a dramatic structure in which one might understand the scriptures.  Improvisation is the ability of those who are so formed by the script that they can enact its meaning spontaneously....even when considering issues that are not addressed in the script itself, i.e. free market capitalism, abortion, ecology, etc.  Simply, this book is one of the most important works in Christian ethical theory that I have read in a long time.

New Creation by Herbert McCabe.  Need I say more?  I do?  Ok, well if you want to learn about sacramental theology within an ecumenical age, then this book will provide some helpful insights.

Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another by Rowan Williams. This book reflects on the works and ideas of the Desert Fathers and Mothers so as to offer insights into contemporary spirituality.  Readable, though not easy, for each page will make you reflect deeply on your own circumstance.