2017: Books in Review

Giorgio Vasari
Italian Humanists (Six Tuscan Poets), 1554
Oil on panel

“I am unable to satisfy my thirst for books. And I perhaps own more of them than I ought; but just as in certain other things, so does it happen with books: success in searching for them is a stimulus to greed… Books please inwardly; they speak with us, advise us and join us together with a certain living and penetrating intimacy, nor does this instill only itself into its readers, but it conveys the names and desire for others.”

(Francesco Petrarch, Letters on Familiar Matters III. 18)

Continue reading “2017: Books in Review”

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The Church contra Echo Chamber

Nicolas Poussin
Echo and Narcissus, 1630
Oil on canvas

In his recently-published, and thoroughly insightful, conclusion to the Cultural Liturgies trilogy, theologian James K.A. Smith articulates a particularly-challenging (and surprising) précis for what a Christian political theology ought to be. Following the lead of Oliver O’Donovan and Peter Leithart, Smith speaks Hauerwas to Kuyperians and then Kuyper to Hauerwasians, resulting in a re-furbished and refined view of the Church qua polis, not disjunctioned from the political polis (as it is in Lutheran Two Kingdoms doctrine) nor in charge of the political polis (as it is in NAR “Kingdom Now” dominionism, and several other postmillennial variants) nor its own entirely separate political polis (as the modern Roman Catholic Church functions). These are all, Smith asserts, false leads. Continue reading “The Church contra Echo Chamber”

Confession and Moral Reasoning

Ilya Repin
Refusal of the Confession, 1885
Oil on canvas

There is a dearth of moral reasoning in the present-day American culture, not to mention in the Church. It would seem to be the logical consequence of a libertarian ideal of freedom, despite all criticisms to the contrary. Under the hegemonic ideology of our day and age, the notion of asserting some claim or access to moral authority is offensive (at least), outmoded (certainly!), and tyrannical (at worst!). It is from this standpoint, for instance, that Michel Foucault calls the Augustinian practice of confession the modern’s source of self and, thus, their prison under the regime of biopower (since biopower undergirds and advances an ideological value of subjectification, etc.). This thesis, one of the central pieces of his The History of Sexuality, is questionable to me. Continue reading “Confession and Moral Reasoning”

The Apocalypse of Christus Victor

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Triumph of Death, 1562
Oil on panel

Early in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, we are confronted with the image of a dying world. Digory and Polly have landed, through the Wood between the Worlds, on Charn, a devastated, dry, cold, nasty place where the sun is red, large, and ineffective and where Jadis (the White Witch of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) has used “the deplorable word” to kill all the other living beings on the planet. Continue reading “The Apocalypse of Christus Victor”

Aristotle for Christian Politics

Raphael
The School of Athens, 1511
Fresco

Especially in American schools of theological discourse, there is a nigh-eternal tension between the terms of Christian doctrine-practice and politics. While the most self-evident practice of such dissonance is visible in the particular relationship of the American Christian Church (taken as a broad unity) and its civil government, the American nation-state — a dissonance that includes both doctrines and practices that are debated from a Christian-politics to a secular-nation-state-politics — I sometimes wonder if our dissonance is even more primal, and thus more problematic, than just discourse.

Continue reading “Aristotle for Christian Politics”

Spatial Reading: The Shopping Mall

Amadeo Preziosi
The Grand Bazaar, 185?
Watercolor on paper

The French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard once mused that space has the power to affect the imagination. In this Spatial Reading series, I will be endeavoring to uncover the power of the imagination and the unconscious in familiar architectural spaces. The basic thesis underlying the posts in this series is that spaces constructed by humans are both constructed with particular purposes and values in mind (and ideologies as a result) and received with a variety of purposeful and values affects (and ideologies), and that space in general holds a powerful sway over the ways in which we form our own understanding of lived human experience.

No architectural space more thoroughly exemplifies the American ruling ideology than the shopping mall. In a culture that generally detests being told morality and values, nowhere else are moralities and values more directly dictated than in the shape and form of this space. “Freedom,” the Capitalists say, “is the preeminent human good.” And, so, Freedom is the exalted virtue communicated by the mall: you have the Freedom to pick this store to enter or that store to enter. Continue reading “Spatial Reading: The Shopping Mall”

The History of a Small Church

John Constable
The Church Porch, 1810
Oil on canvas

By the side of the door to our small church here in Hillsboro, IL is a little walking path. On the sides of that path are engraved names of members of the congregation, leading to a list of past preachers and a poem written by one of our congregants. And I feel in awe of these bricks and this path. Continue reading “The History of a Small Church”

Returning Home

Pieter the Elder
The Return of the Herd, 1565
Oil on panel

In March of this year, lawyer and memoirist J.D. Vance announced that he would be returning home. Vance, the author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy, has some practical reasons he’s returning to Ohio, of course — he’s starting a nonprofit to address the opioid epidemic — but there are also some, as he calls them, civic reasons too. In his article from The New York Times, Vance writes:

I realized that we often frame civic responsibility in terms of government taxes and transfer payments, so that our society’s least fortunate families are able to provide basic necessities. But this focus can miss something important: that what many communities need most is not just financial support, but talent and energy and committed citizens to build viable businesses and other civic institutions. Continue reading “Returning Home”

Vacation: A Wendell Berry Poem

We are, at present, in the midst of a transitional season and a vacation, so I haven’t had the time to post new content. Instead, since I’ve been on a Wendell Berry kick, I thought I would share a short excerpt from his poem “Boone.”

Death is a conjecture of the seed / and the seasons bear it out; / the wild plum achieves its bloom, / perfects the yellow center of each flower, / submits to violence— / extravagance too grievous for praise; / there are no culminations, no / requitals.

Proof

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Odysseus and Penelope, 1802
Oil on canvas

In a much-studied sequence of Homer’s Odysseythe old maid Eurýkleia bathes a beggar’s feet only to discover the precise scar that she knows to be of her lord, Odysseus. She responds, in a loud whisper:

“Oh yes! You are Odysseus! Ah, dear child! I could not see you until now — not till I knew my master’s very body with my hands!” (Homer, The Odyssey; trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

Famously, this passage has been discussed by the literary scholar Erich Auerbach as an example of proto-realism in Western literature, of the relationship between historicity, psychology, and text. This, of course, is in contrast (in Auerbach’s argument) to the Old Testament narrative, which has a different sort of relationship with history, psychology, and text. For Auerbach, Homer’s narrative forms the type of literature that aims at “mimesis,” the description of life in all its varied forms, whereas the Old Testament narrative forms the type of literature that aims at transformative truth. Continue reading “Proof”