Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nobody Writes About Prayer Like this Anymore

Here's Rauschenbusch on prayer (emphasis mine):

If the moral demands of our higher social thought could find adequate expression in prayer, it would have a profound influence on the social movement. Many good men have given up the habit of praying, partly through philosophical doubt, partly because they feel that it is useless or even harmful to their spiritual nature. Prayer in the past, like the hiss of escaping steam, has often dissipated moral energy. But prayer before battle is another thing. That has been the greatest breeder of revolutionary heroism in history. All our bravest desires stiffen into fighting temper when they are affirmed before God.


As is often the case with WR, I'm not quite sure what to make of this.

I think his theology is mostly mistaken.

And I think he's probably a bit naive about the nature of power politics.

But I find his social acuity and passion for justice contagious.

Go figure.

_____
Source: Walter Rauschenbusch, For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1910) pp. 11-12.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Secret Revealed At Last

What was this secret that made this eminent German Church historian lose sleep at night?

Get ready for the bombshell that's going to rattle the playground of the theo-blogosphere.

I'm about about to share with you, loyal readers, the real reason this blog exists. (Come on, you were starting to wonder: Admit it.)

First the context:

Some time back in the 1920s, Karl Barth wrote a letter to his best pal, Eduard Thurneyson, grousing because Adolf von Harnack, the great church historian, had labelled Barth as a reincarnation of the Gnostic heretic Marcion in a review of Barth's Romans commentary.

(You can read about this, I think, in the volume of Barth-Thurneyson correspondence titled Revolutionary Theology in the Making. But I can't remember the page number. I'm good, but I'm not that good.)

Well, as it happened, Barth stumbled into an evening gathering where loyal doters were arrayed around the great Harnack and, apparently, the U of Berlin scholar had just been disposing of Barth as some sort of flash-in-the-pan enthusiast who would probably found some sort of prophetic cult and then, essentially, fizzle out.

What is not recorded in that correspondence or in the Barth biography by Eberhard Busch that also relates the incident is what happened next.

The young Barth walked right up to the eminent Harnack and whispered something in his ear -- the definitive answer to the scurrilous (as it used to be back in those days) charge of Marcionism that made the elder scholar veritably quake in his boots.

This answer is so secret and amazing that Helmut Gollwitzer, Eberhard Busch, Eberhard Jüngel and some other student of Barth named Eberhard made a secret pact that the message would never be revealed.

I'm in possession of this secret message and I'm ready to disclose it to you:

(Now lean in.) There are now 55 published pieces on this blog. (There are 28 pieces that are in "draft" mode that are simply just too awesome to publish here. Sorry, you'll just have to wait until I'm dead to read those). Scroll through the post titles and take the first letter of each title and write it down. At first blush, it will seem like gobbledygook, like ancient Greek manuscripts before the spaces and punctuation are added by diligent scholars.

Be patient and persevere. Never give up. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stranded Bibliophile: Can You Help?



This is a very personal plea on my part to you, gentle readers of the interwebs.

You see, I commute by bus to the day job. Today I was running late and I ran out the door without any books to read on the bus! And to make matters worse, I don't even have the dog-eared Gideon's New Testament (KJV) that's in the pocket of my winter coat, since spring has finally sprung (sort of) here in western Massachusetts (emphasis mine) and I've traded out my coat for a crimson-red hoodie. Moreover, I don't know how to access the interwebs on my very un-smart phone, where I could, at least, read Slate's "Dear Prudie" column and calm myself down a little.

So I'm not "stranded" exactly, but you get the idea: I'm in need of serious help.

My best friend has graciously offered to text to me a copy of a major work of systematic theology that's approximately 9,000 pages long. (I'll keep the text anonymous for now, to avoid the possibility some of you might get turned off and not hear out my request). She has unlimited data for texting, she points out.

But that's way to much for one person to do. So I'm enlisting you, my readers (all half dozen of you) to help her out. Would y'all, each of you, agree to text at least a portion of this major text? I'm not tech-savy -- I've only just this month learned how to make paragraph breaks in HTML -- but I can say this is what you'll need, should you choose to accept this assignment:

1. At least three type-faces.

2. A Greek font.

3. A "cut-and-paste" feature would be most helpful, as this work is agonizingly repetitive.

4. A good sense of humor, as someone who enjoys laughing with the angels.

5. A solid collect of Mozart CDs. (That's not really essential. It could be anything, really, whatever suits your taste: e.g., Cold Play, Willie Nelson, Shostakovitch -- well, maybe not that. But maybe it's just good to go along with the Mozart as reputable scholars claim this text resembles his music.)

6. A quaintly odd predilection for typing longish Latin quotations from 17th and 18th century Dutch Reformed federalist theologians.

7. An certain sort of disposition that doesn't mind typing several thousand pages or so before stumbling, to your delight, upon a small-print passage in which the author has inserted an excursus on Pure Land Buddhism. For no apparent reason. (It is the only passage on Buddhism I can recall seeing in the entire work, but I may be wrong. If you're really fond of Eastern religions and philosophy, this may not be an assignment for you to take on.)

8. But if you are into world religions, and you're game for this task, you may have to endure a longish discussion, about 1,500 pages in or so, about why religion is bunk. Then you might come to find out that number of scholars are now saying that, no, in the original German he's saying pretty much the opposite of that. But you're typing directly from the English. So deal with it.

9. Some sort of quick, key-stroke macro that will automatically insert the name Jesus Christ, because, let me tell you....

So now you're really curious and dying to know what this text is?

Here's one little hint: It's not this one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Die Evangelischen Theologen: Snatched from My Bookshelf

Some of my winter reading, recapped over at DET blog.

Die Evangelischen Theologen: Snatched from My Bookshelf: One friend of DET has issued an appeal for all of us to communicate more about what we're reading, so to honor the spirit of that requ... ==================================

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cranmer Redux

Here's something I wrote last year to commemorate the feast day of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Death Came to the Archbishop

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Credo (By Way of Some Anecdotes)

The pain of the world moves me -- the rat-cage of our late-modern, imperialist, consumerist, capitalist "civilization." Especially its sheer brutality and utter disregard for any genuine human values. The vapidity and indolence of its popular culture and the aloofness of much of its "high culture." Another friend, or friend of a friend, has contracted some form of cancer. Another acquaintance has lost a young member of her family, snatched away from life too early by caprice or malice or negligence. (On everybody else's behalf) all the indignation of the wounded agnostic wells up in me, and I cry out: "What sort of a provident god would set things up this way!"

But to whom am I protesting so virulently?....Check.

***

It's a rainy summer morning, and I'm running to catch the bus for work. I have no boots. Or raincoat. Or umbrella. I'm angry, partially at myself. But at someone else as well. Who? (I recall the Zen saying where a boater feels the jolt of another boat crashing into his boat. Anger wells up in him and he jerks himself around only to find that the other boat is completely empty.) It rains on the just and unjust alike.

Still, by the time I get to work, grumpy, I've worked up myself to quite a lather. In my mind, I began cursing, and pounding on something. That something is a wooden stake.

And the cross is not empty, but I'm pounding the person affixed to it to a bloody pulp....Check.

***

Another time, back when we still had a car, my wife and I have the 1:30 a.m. munchies, so I hop into the minivan and head down the street about one mile to the closest 24-hour convenience store, where the clerks make less than $15 an hour, to purchase an ice-cream-cookie sandwich wrapped in cellophane (for me) and a bag of smart food (for her). It's snowing, and the flakes are making long streaks like comets in my headlights. I'm listening to the overnight classical station. It's something from the Renaissance.

And time stands still....Check.

***

It's a Sunday morning at a church we used to attend. One of the grumpiest persons in the community, one I can never seem to get along with, is kneeling next to me at the communion rail. The Eucharistic ministers comes to her first and offer her a wafer and a sip and say a few words.

Then they come to me and offer me a wafer from the same plate and a sip from the same cup and they say the same words....Check.

***

Flash forward to earlier this week. A friend who struggles calls in the wee hours of the morning. She's in the ER with severe pain. Her toddler is staying with the neighbors. She doesn't know whether she'll be admitted or not. "Surely, they'll just admit her, at this hour of the night, when there are no buses and the cab companies aren't running. And it's single digits outside," I assure my wife. (Because I speak with authority.)

Surely.

I awaken with my early alarm and realize I'd missed her call. We find out she's still in the ER waiting room because, of course, they wouldn't admit her. We give her a number for the cab company and offer to pay the modest fair when she comes. When she arrives, she's wearing one thin layer of clothing and is wrapped in a sheet. She's in almost too much agony to climb the three steps to our front stoop. She slouches onto our couch to get a little sleep and wait five hours until she can call another friend to come pick her up.

That morning she texts me while I'm at work, thanking me for our hospitality. I smile because, what did we do anyway? It wasn't really that much of an inconvenience. Just a little cab fare.

"Hospitality." I smile because, actually, she doesn't know me that well, really. The day before when we had a house full of people, I hid upstairs and buried my head in my blankets. I just couldn't face anybody.

She doesn't know me, really. If it were just up to me, truth be told, I'd probably never let anyone into our house at all.

If it was just up to me....Check.

***

Flash back about nine years ago. An older couple had moved into town just a year or two before. To enjoy their retirement. They had come to our church and gotten very involved. We all became good friends and got together in their home frequently.

Then one day, he complains that he's not feeling well. Then there are tests. And a diagnosis. And a shock. And a temporary remission. And gratitude for some time to prepare and say goodbye to his children and grandchildren. And there's much sadness, but still he has such a zest for life, clinging with a certain resigned joy to every last minute of it. He recounts that a priest had said to him, "You already died long ago when you were baptized."

Toward the end, we're together with our friends. He's at peace. He's smiling. He talks about a walk in the woods. He can see something I can't see, but I see the reflection in his face. But I want to see it too. And somehow I know I will see it too.

Someday....

Checkmate.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DET: My New Gig

Ce n'est pas un théologien.


I'm delighted to announce that I'm going to be blogging from time to time at Die Evangelischen Theologen. Check out my first post, complete with an embarrassing mug shot. (The editor included that picture with a solemn warning: If I fail to produce posts on a regular basis, he's going to copy and upload additional pictures from my Facebook page).

Even though I'm going to be over there (presumably) a lot, I'm still going to post some stuff here at Theology of Freedom. Actually, the spatial metaphor "over there" is somewhat misleading. Both blogs show up on my Blogger dashboard as tabs that are only about one centimeter apart. So you might plausibly think of the two sites as one really one blog. And since it's common now to think of theology as a collaborative effort, and postmodern thought has so problematized the notion of individual authorship, it's plausible to think of the 900 or so posts at DET, in some sense, as my very own work as well.

You will still find content here on this blog for your reading pleasure and edification (or bemusement), though the focus might be a little different. Here you might find material that wouldn't survive an editorial override (such as this post, for example).

To ease the transition for some of you gentle readers who may not be familiar with DET, I've provided this rough guide for the newbie:
  1. Don't let the title fool you: The blog is actually written in English, not German.
  2. Nonetheless, a number of contributors and guest posters study German theology and will throw in the occasional word or phrase auf Deutsch.
  3. The basic function of German terms in Anglo-American theology -- and this is important -- is to cover up the fact that we don't really know what we're talking about.
  4. Perhaps no theologian really knows what she's talking about (you know, "learned ignorance" and that sort of thing.) Nonetheless, the Germans have developed particularly adept idioms for naming what no one really understands. Throw in or take away an umlaut and you can turn one meaningless concept into two very easily. And you have also thereby created a "distinction" (theologians from Aquinas onward have always loved distinctions).
  5. And while we're at it, let's parse the blog title itself: "Die" is (fortunately) not cognate with English. It's just the plural form of the German definite article (so translate it simply as "the"), and it signals the editor's intent that the blog be a truly collaborative enterprise. That makes good sense, as some of the better blogs out there are group blogs. One of these blogs goes by the name of "Itself". Now that has always puzzled me. But the authors read and write a lot about Continental critical theory, so I chalk it to being a postmodern thing. Another group blog, one of my favorites, goes by the acronym WIT, which I find to be cunning and a propos. Another great blog is mainly a collaboration of two fellows, an older and a younger guy. Still, I've sometimes wondered if the older guy character (his name seems made up) is a literary construct and alter ego of the younger one, or maybe there's some sort of Kierkegaardian-type thing going on here with pseudonymity. But I'll just take the blog at face value and leave it at that.
  6. The German Evangelische differs so markedly in connotations from the term Evangelical has in North America that I don't even know where to start, and it's getting late.
  7. The German "Theologen" is pretty much cognate with English and means, basically, individuals who write learned things about matters no one understands. 
But seriously, I am excited about this new blogging opportunity. DET is actually a fairly respectable site.

Or at least it was until yesterday.