Archive for October 2007

16,000 Words

October 22, 2007

Cathedral ruins across the street from my house

Atget I am not, but here is a link to my first pictures with my very own camera (thanks John!):


Vangelis and Me

October 14, 2007

I went running yesterday evening, and decided to head out to the beach for the first time. The sky overlooking the North Sea was incredible; greyish-blue with streaky clouds streching out to the horizon. I was filled with awe and wanted to run faster, to cry out in joy at this seeming infinity. And then it hit me: this is the beach where the final scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed. You know, the dudes in all white running down the beach while Vangelis’ classic da-dadada-DA-DA theme causes the tears to stream. Or something like that. Anyway, that was me.

This morning I returned to the beach and went for a swim. Needless to say, it was very, very brief.

Reason to Believe

October 10, 2007

Inexplicably, the Rod Stewart song “Reason to Believe” has just lodged itself in my head. In my book, Rod the Mod never quite lived up to his Jeff Beck/Faces-era potential, but right now I’m really enjoying this song.

I lead with that seeming non-sequitur because the tune’s title sums up what I’ve been going through the past few days. I’ve spent days staring at my computer screen, typing up every argument–and every refutation I could think of–for my core beliefs about the relationship between the church and the world, and, more broadly, how that relationship fits into my understanding of the Christian tradition as a whole.

Yesterday afternoon I came to a crisis point in which I realized I was entirely unsure of the argument that I’d been developing over the past week. In short, my argument is that Christian churches (at least pacifist ones) can and sometimes should aggressively confront society about its failures to take care of the poor and marginalized; but, unlike typical theories of Christian activism, specific churches only have the ability to be confrontational on a given issue when they are actually living out a concrete alternative to whatever society happens to be doing (or not doing) on that issue. I was working away happily on this argument, when it occurred to me that there were two significant problems with it:

(1) The rhetoric of “aggressive confrontation” may play too much into the vitriolic climate of the religio-political debate that characterizes our world.

(2) There has been a somewhat recent move in theology and biblical studies to argue that the church’s mission is not to go out and convince anyone of anything, but to attract people to itself by embodying its teachings in local communities. This is sometimes considered a “Jewish” model of (non)mission, taken up by Jesus and the early church. There is, in my view, substantial evidence in the Bible and church history to justify this argument.

So I was in a crisis, searching, with Rod, for a reason to believe that something I’d invested in so heavily was not going to disappear so quickly. I called it quits yesterday evening, got in a workout and a couple drinks, and went to bed unsure of whether or not I had anything to write on.

I spent this morning leafing through some relevant portions of scripture (mainly portions of Acts and Romans on the Gentile mission) and the section on mission in Tom Finger’s Contemporary Theology of Anabaptism (to get a perspective from within my theological tradition). My conclusion was that my argument could be made, even though it would have to be heavily qualified.

To the first objection, the one about the vitriolic climate of current political debate, I realized that my vision of “aggressive confrontation” depends on a Christian theology of nonviolence. Nonviolent confrontation is not only nonviolent in the sense that it gives up fists, bombs, and guns as its tools of confrontation; rather, it is also “methodologically” nonviolent in the sense that it gives up all claims to control history (God does that). Since we Christians don’t control history, and can never predict exactly how God will move it along, we can never pretend to have a “master” argument about how a given issue should be dealt with, or the one solution that must be followed, at all costs. We must lose the arrogance that assumes we are the only ones that God is moving through in the world, even though we speak out with the confidence that God has called the church to creatively imagine what the coming kingdom looks like. Christian nonviolent confrontation is thus a fragile thing, always open to being changed by the one being confronted–and thus always receptive to being confronted.

Concerning the second objection, I came to see that a biblical theology of (non)mission may be the dominant paradigm with which to work, but the theological concept of witness certainly has a proactive, outwardly-focused component. That is, there are resources within scripture and tradition that point us to “getting out there” and not simply seeing social embodiment as the extent of our witness. But, as I indicated before, this “getting out there” depends on some level of embodiment. In other words, the church can only speak when it has something to say, when it is living out the content of its message. My hunch, which I will try to elaborate in my book, is that embodiment and active witness are in fact dependent on one another: there can be no embodiment that excludes active witness, and there is no active witness not rooted in embodiment.

These arguments may not be foolproof, but I feel pretty good about them at this point, confident enough to start working on an outline and research. Needless to say, I’m glad to leave Rod behind and get to work!

A note: I realize that for some of you this is the only blog you read. Applications like Google Reader are mainly useful when you need to keep track of several blogs, and would rather not check each one of them regularly to see if it’s been updated. If this is the only blog you read, then it’s probably easier to just check in once a week or so (or however often you’d like) to see if I’ve written anything.

In the beginning…

October 3, 2007

…the brain hurts. I just finished my first real day of studying, or I should say, thinking. My professor has ordered me to think–and only think–for the next 6 days. I’m supposed to sit in front of my computer and figure out exactly what I want to write this book on. I can use my computer to write out and organize thoughts, but I’m not supposed to be doing any research at this point. After the 6 days are up, I take another 6 days to figure out the precise structure of the book. This means coming up with chapter titles, subheadings within the chapters, and the overall title of the book. I put that on a page, get it approved by my professor, and I’m ready to write a book. Or say he says.

Anyway, I like working like this, because it prepares us for the world of publication, in which a publisher gives you a couple weeks to come up with a summary of the book, and then you write it. My professor says: writing good, everything else bad. He’s basically preparing us to write lots and lots of books. He’s got 18. He’s in his mid-40s.

All I know is my brain hasn’t hurt like this is a long, long time. Welcome to the PhD, Mr. Pitts.