Showing posts from 2017

Advent Reflections, Part 2--"He Has Cast Down the Mighty from Their Thrones"


There are many radical ideas and claims in Christianity.  But if I had to pick one, it would be what Christianity, or more specifically Jesus, has to say about power.  There are probably other religious or wisdom traditions have a similar take on power, but I am not aware of any that present it so clearly and so forcefully.

Here is what Jesus, in essence, teaches us about power:  We think that power and having power (in all of its normal forms--authority, money, sex, fame, social or other kinds of status, etc.) makes us powerful.  In fact, phrased this way, it sound like a self-evident truism.  But, and here is the truly radical part, it's not true.  And not just not true--having power and acquiring power and protecting power actually is a trap, a prison that disempowers us in the end.  In fact, the only way to obtain something like "power," if that's the right word, is to voluntarily and self-consciously give up all of our power.
As I said, this is an incredibly …

"So What I Told You Was True . . . From a Certain Point of View"--A Theological Reflection on The Last Jedi

[Warning.  There is no way to talk about what I want to talk about in this post without getting deep into story beats and specific elements from The Last Jedi.  So, this post will be one big spoiler for the movie.  Since the movie has only recently come out, if you have not seen it and want to be surprised, stop reading now.]

I saw the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, on opening night on Friday.  For an overall grade, I would give it an "A -."  There were elements that simply did not work, suggesting (strangely, given that this was such a massive, big budget film) that the script could have used one more editing pass.  Still, it was great fun, with some excellent performances--especially Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), who are excellent together.

Reviews of the film have been very polarized.  On the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, professional reviews were almost uniformly positive, while the fan review score is middling.  And, if you drill down on …

Advent Reflections, Part 1--God Out of the Machine

David Bentley Hart, a well-regarded classics scholar and provocateur, has published his own translation of the New Testament that is a fascinating read.  Hart's goal with this new translation is to try to capture what it would have been like for a 1st Century reader to encounter these texts for the first time, as opposed to the more staid and committee-driven versions to which we are now accustomed.  My Greek is no where near good enough to judge whether Hart has succeeded in capturing these subtle nuances of the original, but his text has a striking quality to it, far different than any other translation I have encountered.

In particular, one thing that Hart conveys very effectively is a frantic, almost manic, quality to many of the texts of the New Testament.  This can be seen most clearly in the earliest texts--Paul's letters and the Gospel of Mark.  Everything is in a hurry, everything is coming soon, events are moving quickly toward their conclusion.  Part of that is driv…

Two Christianities

We are coming to the point where no one really doubts that there is a serious divide in the Christian world, a divide that appears to be getting wider as time goes on.  But I feel like people are struggling to give a name to this divide, and I would like to take a crack at providing some framework for talking about this divide.

On one side, you have a group of people who understand Christianity fundamentally and primarily as a way of life.  Under this view, we have been given by God a model of how to live our lives, a model that reflects the "best life" we and those around us can have, and our job is to go out and try as best we can to do that.  This model, above anything else, is to be found in the life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth as set forth in the canonical Gospels, and then secondarily in other parts of the Bible, and tertiarily in the lives of other Christian witnesses.  
Under this view, the ultimate measure of whether and to what extent one is a Christian can be…

True Fear, False Trembling

1. In 1843, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled Fear and Trembling.  The primary focus of the book is the story of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), known in the Jewish tradition as the Akedah.  Kierkegaard begins his analysis by noting that sacrificing one's own son, or any innocent person for that matter, is unethical.  In the normal course of affairs, if someone asked you or told you to kill your own child or some other random person, you would of course reject that request.  In fact, you would be obligated, by any reasonable moral framework, to reject that request.  Your ethical duty is clear, and it says that you must not kill an innocent child.
But, in the Akedah, it is God who commands Abraham to kill Isaac.  As the creator of the universe and the ground of all being, God is generally seen as the ultimate source for all moral analysis.  If God is the ultimate measuring stick for what is moral, then t…

Telling Stories

Let me tell another story.  I've been thinking about this story quite a bit in the last few days.  I'm not particularly proud of this story, but I think it is worth telling.

When I was in law school, someone I knew well and cared about quite a bit came to me and told me a story.  A very well known and much beloved and admired by a certain segment of the legal world (though, not my segment--more on that below) federal judge came to speak at the school, and several students and prominent faculty went to dinner with this judge afterwards.  One of those people was my friend.  At this dinner, the federal judge groped a number of the female students, evidently in public and in front of the (male) faculty members.  My friend did not say so specifically, but I believe she was one of the one's groped.

She told me this story a day or so after the incident.  I believed her--truthfully, it never occurred to me to doubt what she was saying.  But I also never wavered in what I thought s…

This Is Who We Are

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declar…

What Can Be Said on the Anniversary of the Reformation?

Five hundred years ago yesterday, the Protestant Reformation is generally considered to begin, with the famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the cathedral of Wittenburg by Martin Luther.  Many people have or soon will be writing their takes on this significant anniversary (here's an example of a very bad take; here's an example of a good one from our old friend Morgan Guyton), so I figured I would try my hand at the take machine as well.

The Protestant Reformation, at least in its mature form, can be distilled down to two basic commitments--(1) that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt in a structural or existential way, as opposed to an incidental way, and thus in need of structural reform; and (2) the solution to the structural or existential corruption, and a guidepost for the needed reforms, could be found in a purported return to a singular focus on the Biblical text.  In this way, it differed from the Catholic Counter-Reformation (itself just as much of a revolution as th…

Quick Hitter: Why Pastoral Discretion Is Not a Panacea

There is an excellent series of pieces on Bill Lindsey's blog about the state of things with regard to the Catholic priesthood that I would direct your attention to (and not because he says nice things about me).  In particular, he points toward a rather amazing piece in the Guardian entitled "The War on Pope Francis," and more specifically to the following quote:

"What I care about is the theory," said the English priest who confessed his hatred of Francis. "In my parish there are lots of divorced and remarried couples, but many of them, if they heard the first spouse had died, would rush to get a church wedding. I know lots of homosexuals who are doing all sorts of things that are wrong, but they know they should not be. We're all sinners. But we've got to maintain the intellectual integrity of the Catholic faith."

For those who are not deeply immersed in the world of conservative Catholicism, that quote surely comes across as word salad and …