Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cleaning the Basement

My mom is making me go through the boxes of stuff in our basement – books, notes, paper trails from my years of schooling and other activities.  I thought a lot about how much fun I had at various times of my life, how much I’ve learned since then, typical sentimental stuff.  I also thought about how things serve as tactile reminders of what we were.  For me, it is mostly paper.  But I imagine for others it’s more object-based.

It turns out I was funny and awkward before, kind of like I am now, only in a younger sort of way.  It’s fun to see my writing develop through my education.  When I was a kid I started novels in notebooks.  I have several of them stowed in the basement for me to read later.  None were finished.  This is an artifact of my nerdy adolescence.  Is it any surprise that this same person is now a compulsive blogger and graduate student, with delusions of poetry fame?

It was also interesting to think about how much technology has changed recently.  I have so many things archived on floppy disc and photographic paper.  And even more just printed on paper, written by hand.  What will my children have to store in my basement?  A few cds or a memory key with some photos and school work (complete with powerpoint)?  What does it mean that our history is becoming less and less tactile?  It’s not that big of a deal for my hypothetical biographers; so what if we lose all record of what happened to me in the year 2005?  But on a larger scale, I wonder if it will matter to all of us.  What kind of archives will future historians use to figure out how our lives were.  Blogs?  Email archives?  Online photo albums?  Will the abundance of public information about the everyday make it impossible to conclude what is banal and what is of note?  Perhaps this is the responsibility of the academy – to sift through the present and find themes and events that will be important to the future.  Like me, paging through my high school journals and placing them carefully in the “keep” box, and putting my biology notes lovingly in the garbage bag.  I’ll leave it to my biographers to cull through the reams I left and find a few key quotes to include in their book.  Or more likely to an older, less sentimental me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

And Dwelt Among Us

I was sitting at Centrepointe today during the sermon and listening and thinking about distance and presence.  I thought about these people sitting around me who I hadn’t seen in five months, and how at home and welcome I felt anyway.  I thought about all the people I had reunited with already since coming home, and about being with my family, and how no number of emails or IM conversations is quite the same as being physically with people.

Derrida talks about how language is built on absence – you write something down, and send it away or leave it and then somebody else gets it and reads it and you’re not there and they weren’t there when you wrote it and it may or may not mean the same thing to the reader as it does to writer.  Language in itself creates space between people – we must assume an imaginary presence in order to function at all.  But this assumed presence that’s really absence means that everything is built on this shifty ground of absence.

And in this world of absence, of distance, of loneliness, the Word becomes Flesh.  God becomes one of us – God With Us.  God stops being absent – God becomes so intimately, humanely present that he is born – he grows inside a woman and then arrives in a cave in Bethlehem with a man and a woman and blood and flesh and dirt.  He became a person who can touch and hug and bleed and die.  This is imminence, this is presence, this is Christ.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On DA Carson on Emergent Church

Matt directed me to this DA Carson article, which is one of the best summary/critiques of the Emergent Church conversation/movement/whatever that I have encountered.  Carson summarizes some of the main books and thinkers in the movement and the general gestalt of the whole thing.  

One of his best thoughts, I think, is when he points out that most of this is a clear reaction against “seeker sensitive” and “megachurch” models of Christianity.  Much of the literature (although certainly not all of it) tends to ignore the more traditional churches that aren’t doing some of the things they are reacting against.  He points this out particularly with Dan Kimball, when he says “some of his suggestions—such as insistence that sermons should be theocentric and not anthropocentric, that they should not insult the intelligence of the hearers, that instruction in the Word should go on throughout the week and not be confined to public services on Sunday, and what we should aim for in kingdom living, one could easily find in Reformed exhortations.”  Indeed.

I also think Carson’s suggestion for a closer examination of the assumptions about postmodern culture that underlie the emergent movement is right on.  A rigorous look at what, who and which ideas we mean when we say “postmodern” is important.  Some thinkers, most notably Grenz and some others involved in Radical Orthodoxy are doing good work in this area, the trouble is much of this is too complex or esoteric for the laity.  But, as Carson says, “the difficulty of the task… cannot exempt us from making an attempt.”  I hope to continue in this vein here and elsewhere.

Carson’s most important concern is this: “Is there at least some danger that what is being advocated is not so much a new kind of Christian in a new Emergent Church, but a church that is so submerging itself in the culture that it risks hopeless compromise?”  And I imagine some might suggest that most of modern Protestantism is equally submerged in the culture of Western Philosophy – based in Plato and Descartes.  The Platonic tradition, I would argue, is not inherently holier than the Sophistic one.  The truth often lies between two extremes, and swinging too far toward relativism is also a concern.  But I wonder if we need the sophistic pole, particularly in the present culture, where the Christianity that gets the most press is dogmatically Cartesian.

I think Carson’s concerns are important, and I think he would agree with me that these are warnings for an imperfect vision, in hopes that we get closer to the truth.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Becky’s recent post (and our related conversations about going home and growing up and how much we’ve learned and changed over the semester) reminded me of a poem I had been working on. And since ideas bouncing around between blogs and through comments is one of my favorite things about weblogging, I thought I’d post it here. See also my July post anticipating some of these thoughts too. Critiques, comments, or further discussion invited:

I have become intertwined with this place

It is almost as if the pavement
presses back against my foot
in a more friendly way, now
that we know each other.
As if the swing of my hips
has learned to match the
quirks of this sidewalk.

I wonder if my last place will
still recognize me when I return.
If the rhythms of its staircases
will re-enter my legs,
if the gentle curves of its streets
still fit the steps my car and I
dance together, hands, feet,
wheels in sync.

I wonder if it will fold me back
Like a missing page or lost coin.
Or if it will pull away,
Curious of this familiar new
Our reunion simultaneously
awkward and expected,
like an adolescence.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Derrida on Jesus as Deconstruction

I just discovered a passage of a conversation with Jacques Derrida from 2001 which was recently published, and it both helps me a lot with my current project and points out that Derrida himself (among others) may be a step ahead of me.  Derrida, here, seems to affirm an open theist view and also points out the paradox and deconstruction inherent in Biblical Text and the person of Christ.  

“We usually identify God with the almighty, that is, with absolute power.  I’m trying now in seminars and in texts, by following a political thread, to deconstruct, so to speak, the onto-theological heritage of the political concept of sovereignty, without abandoning the unconditionality of gifts, of hospitality, and so on.  That means that some unconditionality might be associated, not with power, but with weakness, with powerlessness.  Now some would say this is still Christian.  There is in Jesus Christ some weakness, some vulnerability, some powerlessness, but there you see that the powerlessness, of course, is also a sign of the almighty.” (from a Roundtable Discussion with Derrida in Augustine and Postmodernism 2005.  page 41)

Perhaps Derrida doesn’t undermine biblical hermeneutics as much as I thought.  Perhaps he actually illuminates it.