Remember?

Jeff Munroe considers the ways of memory and forgetfulness at The Twelve. Over against our forgetfulness, is God’s remembering. As he concludes:

Our value in this hyper-cognitive world doesn’t come because we remember, but because we are remembered. Certainly we hope in a material way our families remember us as we age. More than that, Christian hope is in God’s memory. The scripture says “God remembered Noah,” “God remembered Abraham,” “God remembered Rachel,” and “God remembered Hannah.” He remembers you and me, too. We are remembered. Therefore, we are.

This leaves me wondering. To nudge Jeff, is this really Christian hope?  After all, when Scripture speaks of God remembering it often comes in response to the fear that somehow God has forgotten, that we are left alone, stuck in our exile, our oppression, or in the prison of of our own bodily weakness. Remembrance comes with an act, God delivers. Christian hope does not lie in the idea that God remembers, but that God has remembered and come to us as Savior (cf. Luke 1.54). In the wake of that, we are called to remember, to make memorial; the sign that God has remembered us is the Feast. And there, no one is forgotten.

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Holy Saturday

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Deb Rienstra points to the physical practice of getting ready, for this time of dormancy, a non-time if you will. Along with many good liturgical ideas she suggests

If you are a gardener, today is a good day to perform an early spring task that prepares for new life.

Ah gardening

It’s certainly something of a odd paradox, that while Christ is in the tomb, buried in death, we are in the garden stripping dead leaves out, cleaning. And for what? The red knob of the rhubarb knows; the practical first tulip pokes through with a hooded glance as if to say, “soon there will be more;” overhead the robin also sings of days to come. We work through the yard, front to back, raking, scraping, removing, filling bags with the debris and old leaves. All this will be taken away, but for now we can only take off, waiting to see what will be.

Flat Earth?

Over at The Twelve, Joshua Vis keeps exploring the theme of Lent but not Easter. That is, we all have a tendency to read Easter back into the story, to think of Easter as a miracle that does not really touch our lives. (Put another way, even the resurrected Lazarus still dies — miracles are not forever). Here is how addresses the issue:

The message of the triumphal entry is that we should reject the idea of a fantastical and mercurial God who occasionally breaks into our world to save someone from pain and suffering. Likewise, the cross says “no” to that version of God. Instead it asks us to find the courage to hope in each other, in our acts of love, mercy, and kindness toward one another—not because God has abandoned us, but because God has empowered us.

God urges us to choose to love one another. God will not be experienced through miraculous interventions. Rather, God will be experienced through acts of justice, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and love.

On level, he’s right, God is not experienced through miraculous interventions, but seen another way, the experience of knowing God does leave open the possibility of the miraculous. While the narratives of rationalism (per Hume) or of apophatic theology want to rule out divine intervention, the people of God have also held other narratives where God in-breaks, and where that in-breaking is known. Vis only gets to his position by starting with an assumption about what narratives are to be listened to.

The embodied life of faith knows that the universe has a surplus of meaning, that there is more to our lives than our own particular frame. “Miracle” is one of the ways that this reality gets proclaimed, that “justice,” “mercy” and “love” are in fact possibilities for people generally and not simply for our kindred. Indeed, justice requires an open universe, one larger than the imagination of the status quo, for only in that universe can forgiveness be shared and the wrongs be restored.

So today, on Palm Sunday, the Triumphant Entry is not so much a hope of cheap grace, but a prophetic act, a pointing away from the Palace and the Temple to the purposes of God. There is another story being written, a good story: God’s purpose for us and for our communities is not played out.

 

The Carpenter

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We live in our home, heedless of the carpenter who first gave it its frame. To live theologically in the late 20th C meant living in the post-liberal house build by George Lindbeck. Ephraim Radner gives a very sympathetic understanding of his project:

The point of his theory was to outline how religious communities might better understand other communities, such that dialogue might be fruitful. Lindbeck proposed a now well-known threefold typology that contrasted more conservative scholastic communities (at least in their self-understanding) with more liberal experientially oriented communities, commending finally a third type that was construed in a more “culturally” ordered fashion, in which language, social rules, and coherence provided the framework by which truth is identified. Doctrine, Lindbeck argued, functions differently in these three types of religious community. In the first it is a set of cognitive propositions regarding truth; in the second, it is the articulation expressive of some common religious experience; or finally, in the third “cultural-linguistic” understanding of a religious community, doctrine functions as a kind of ordering “grammar” for practical life with God, and truth is somehow evident in this coherent life.

Another very nice tribute can be found at the Christian Century, where Matt Fitzgerald explains how Lindbeck rescued his faith.

in my last semester, I was assigned The Nature of Doctrine. The force of Lindbeck’s argument overwhelmed me.

The book explained to me why God felt close when I slept on Noah’s Ark sheets, but utterly vague when I tried to be religious without the story I was raised on. If you learn a particular religion’s vocabulary—its strange, unique way of ordering existence—the Divine will become clear (or at least clearer). It is not possible to take a superior stance to a faith tradition and also experience the power it holds. In Lindbeck’s words: “One can no more hope to be religious in general than one can hope to speak language in general.”

As beguiling as the appeal to general knowledge, to the universalization, faith is only known (and practiced) in the particulars, the local, this place and time, this tradition.

Quiet, Modest Pioneer
George Lindbeck saved my Christianity

 

Man of the Hour

26brooksWeb-superJumbo-2This is nothing like the attention Paul VanderKlay pays, but the man of the cultural moment certainly seems to be Jordan Peterson. As some one outside the moment (and basically wanting to remain that way), I found Patrick Mitchell’s review of Peterson useful. Not surprisingly, David Brooks connects some of the dots.

Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.

What strikes me as particularly relevant to the age is the insistence on fundamental truths about humanity, not just about our gender tendencies, but our seeking meaning as a necessary condition of our life — that’s a variant of Abraham Heschel’s approach, that we possess the moral duty to explain the wonder, the ineffable we encounter. Both Brooks and Mitchell highlight the realist, the tragic sense of life, this too, coming as an echo of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Ours is a conservative age, if not a reactionary one, and in that framework Peterson provides the essentialist and ethical voice necessary for its navigation, a voice with strong appeals to conservatives. The same voice, its fundamental humanism also offers the alternative to the tawdriness of expression and sloppy ideas that marks so much of the conservative ruling class.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules
The Jordan Peterson Moment
photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star, via Getty Images

 

Why “Pro-Life”?

Some long thoughts in response to two posts by the always interesting Matthew Loftus:

If Anything is Pro-Life, Nothing Is
pro-life, anti-abortion, and a consistent ethic of anything

 

There is a much stronger case to be made for the term Pro-Life than what has been argued in this and the earlier post.

Even when considered in its narrower fashion, as you have it (against the lawful yet immoral intentional killing of innocent people), “pro-life” has always understood the problem of abortion more systemically. The reasons that drive women to make this choice are often anchored in economic insecurity, lack of proper medical care, fear, hopelessness, and on occasion a moral carelessness. To say that one is “Pro-Life” is to make a claim about the woman, that she is more than the act of will, but that her life is conditioned by a host of difficulties, difficulties that if properly addressed change the calculation about the decision to end the pregnancy. In a final form, Pro-Life thinks in terms of prevention not proscription: the day after abortion is banned women will still seek abortions; unless one addresses the conditions driving the decision to abort, the law is inadequate, after the fact.

Secondly, Pro-Life is a far healthier platform than the nominalist, proscriptive approach when it comes to the changing world of bio-technology. The landscape we now face (e.g. the consideration of CRISPR technology) is radically different if faintly forecast at the time of Roe v Wade (see Leroy Augenstein’s Come Let Us Play God, 1969). Our fertility science has outrun the conventional framing of anti-abortion with cloning, in vitro fertilization, and the shift to chemical as opposed to surgical abortions. One can see the inadequacy of current approaches with the confusion over hormonal contraceptives generally, and over Plan B in particular. The questions about the boundary of life and of what it means to be human will only increase with advanced technology — we need some way of thinking holistically and redemptively about these challenges, and that I submit, is the term “Pro-Life.”

Third, there is a practical, political reason for preferring the term “Pro Life” as opposed to the more functional “anti-abortion.” Evangelicals in particular need some way of separating themselves from the partisanship of the present day, all the more when it comes to social policy and the contentiousness of issues surrounding abortion. The terms of common good and of anti-abortion prove inadequate since both reference one or the other side. Where Evangelicals desire to contribute to the public discussion on left as well as right, let alone to make critical distinctions on the right as well as the left — they need a third place to stand, a place that is their own. Pro-Life again offers such a space. It offers the possibility of engagement and critique that is holistic, systemic, and critically, that is technologically alert.

In this final framing, Pro-Life provides the robust framing for “doing good to all,” for coordinating and informing our actions. I believe that properly understood, “Pro-Life” is less a position on abortion (though that), than a way for Evangelicals to properly speak of what others mean by “common good.” It is less a stalking horse for proscription than an invitation to flourishing, a window to the Kingdom.

Abortion and the Rise of the Religious Right

Allison Vander Broek picks at one of the puzzles of the Christian Right, viz. it’s relation to the anti-abortion movement. Did the Christian Right really arise as a reaction to Roe v. Wade, as the common internal narrative would have it? Or should we follow along after Randall Balmer, and think of the Christian Right as emerging out of the reaction to the civil rights movement, and particularly the emergence of the white Christian schools? Vander Broek notes the absence of evangelical engagement on the question of abortion (something Balmer does as well) and proceeds to ask a couple of questions,

Why did evangelical leaders create and perpetuate the narrative that abortion is what spurred them to political activism? … Why might American evangelicals craft an origin story that’s so off base from reality?… Could it be that it’s a much more heroic tale that evangelicals got into politics to defend babies rather than to oppose desegregation?

Vander Broek decides that the racism narrative is the dominant one, the secret sin of evangelicals. This may be a case of reading our history through lens of the present: the Christian Right drew from several streams.

What Balmer omits is the role of Orange County, where the children of the Okies took on Northern California elites, waging war over several cultural issues, while holding to a virulent anti-communist ethos. This was a movement grounded in the sociology of the sunbelt suburbia, whose issues were not schools but the cultivation of American values. In their emergent mega churches they shaped a politicized faith that elected Ronald Reagan to the governors mansion. Their rise and impact is nicely document in Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt (Norton: 2010); the flavor of the movement can be caught in None Dare Call It Treason.

A second stream that plays an important role in the evangelical church and in national politics are those immigrant churches of the Upper Midwest. These were organically Republican communities that also incorporated a high degree of religious motivation to their politics. Social issues were important, but often with a slightly more communitarian shape; and while there was a caution about racial issues particularly in urban areas, nonetheless the community maintained an openness to civil rights. These were the churches that self-defined as evangelical and not fundamentalist, a community that maintained numerous academic institutions: Bethel, Calvin, Trinity Evangelical, Wheaton, and others.

And then there are is the southern revivalist stream that Vander Broek and Balmer identify, whose life was shaped by the reaction to the civil rights movement. Even this has a deep root. The southern revivalistic church was a populist phenomena, with the weight of that racial narrative; it shared the rejection of the post Civil War centralized state. This is the seedbed of Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and the nascent Moral Majority.

The genius of the Paul Weyrich was to find the issue that took these three regional movements and organized them to a common political purpose. As Balmer relates

“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

This new movement would indeed become powerful, but not all at once. It’s politics grew not only from political strategy but for a host of cultural reasons. It was the long march of a generation, a topic for the next time.