Monday, August 21, 2006

God and (non) dialogue

I’ve been reading Speaking into the Air by John Durham Peters, as it is assigned for my class this week. It’s interesting on a number of levels. Peters traces the history of the idea of communication, beginning (as many do) with Plato and Jesus. He challenges the assumption that dialogue is superior to dissemination, and suggests that both have advantages. He uses Plato’s Socrates in the Phaedrus as the advocate of dialogue. Socrates suggests that the ultimate love is the love of two souls connecting in dialogue (this is where we get the term Platonic love from). He is suspicious of writing, then, as a type of communication without a specific lover in mind – promiscuity of the soul.

Jesus, particularly in the parable of the sower, presents a different image of loving communication. Jesus message is nonspecific – he intentionally broadcasts it far and wide, and leaves the responsibility of interpretation to the listener, if he has ears to hear. God’s communication puts the responsibility of understanding on the receiver rather than the sender. As I thought about this standpoint, I realized this is not the only part of the bible where God seems disinterested in playing by the rules of dialogue. Jesus often answers questions in obscure ways, such as parables or bizarre turns. In the old testament, too, when God responds to human questions, the response is not what we expect. In Job and Habakkuk, for two salient examples, God responds, but does not answer their questions.

What are we to make of a God who does not engage in dialogue? How are we to understand a relationship with a God who does not create relationships in this primary mode? Peters seems to believe that dialogue isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that the indifferent dissemination of grace is a great blessing. Perhaps. And perhaps a God whose logic goes beyond tit-for-tat is indeed required, when we cannot meet expectations. After all, the great joy of grace is that God gives when it is not deserved - God responds to us in a way that is entirely unexpected and over-abundant. The God of excess shows this part of divine nature even in the non-specific manner of communication. I am also reminded of Socrates’ own example of dialogue, which is perhaps more manipulative than a message disseminated. I have long been frustrated by God’s dodginess in the biblical text, but also inspired to wonder. It is unfair to characterize God as unwilling to interact entirely; after all, God emptied himself and became human, embodied, to show us love in a concrete and personal way. But even that embodied God confuses our social rules and rarely responds directly. How are we to understand the mysterious ways our God communicates?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Book Meme

Kristen tagged me and I couldn't resist:

1: One book that changed your life: Changed in what way? Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. It's a book that is your friend, and it will always tell you you aren't crazy. Or Madeline L'engle Walking on Water, because it helped me develop my views on christians and culture as an adolescent.

2: One book you have read more than once: Traveling Mercies. Or most things we used a lot in Jazz Vespers.

3: One book you would want on a desert island: Something with lots of new material (like Kristen said). Maybe an anthology of contemporary liturature, or the complete works of shakespeare.

4: One book that made you laugh: Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Sometimes in public. It was embarrassing but I didn't care.

5: One book you wish you had written: Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. Because we're the same kind of nerd. Or Anything by Anne Lamott because she's incredible.

6: One book you wish had never had been written: I'm going to agree with Kristen and go with anything by Anne Coulter.

7: One book that made you cry: The Brothers K by David James Duncan

8: One book you are currently reading: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglass Coupland

9: One book you have been meaning to read: everything. well, my pile has David Dark's The Gospel According to American and some Stanley Hauerwas. I don't know what is taking me so long with the rest of the Coupland catalogue.

10. One book you wish everyone would read, and why: Brave New World or 1984 (or any dystopia really) so you know what we're trying to avoid.

Now tag five people.

my dad
kristin (who is an english teacher)
matt(both because thorubos definately deserves the shoutout here.)
or whoever.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Yesterday was my first anniversary of living in Athens.  I moved here exactly a year ago.  As I am a big nostalgia-pot, this has got me thinking about the year, and my life here in Athens.  I also realized that a number of recent events have led me to reflect on how I have become at home in this place.

I got into a habit when Jim was here of meeting him after teaching my class in a coffee shop near my office.  After a few weeks of spending the late morning reading and caffeinating there we started to know the regulars, who shared the place with us most mornings.  We had friendly exchanges, mainly over plugging and unplugging laptops or looking after a person’s things when he put change in the meter.  One day the barrista predicted my small coffee order before I placed it.  This was an important moment – I had become a regular.  Even if it was only conspicuous consumption, I felt like I belonged.

Yesterday I got my hair cut and dyed at the local cosmetology school (photos on my xanga).  My stylist and I hit it off, I intend to visit the bar where she works so we can talk some more, that’s how much I like her.  I guess we were kind of noisy at the hair place too, because a man who was there yesterday saw me in Barnes and Noble today and asked if I still liked my new haircut.  It was strange but also oddly comforting.  It felt like the town was a community, not just a city.

I think, too, of the close friendships I’ve developed after only a year.  The friends in my department who I feel I can tell almost anything, who one year ago I was concerned about impressing and befriending.  I don’t think I could have expected then the conversations I’ve had over pizza or a drink or some untouched grading about a wide range of subjects.  These people make me smarter and more well-informed.  I can talk to them about news or frustrations or career or relationships.

Just driving around Athens seems so familiar and normal, when I remember a year ago going anywhere was a trial.  And in many ways Athens will be a special place to me because it’s the first place that I made my home all by myself, without my family or other people owning it first and bringing me in.  In fact, Athens could be the only place where I establish myself by myself.  I became an adult here in ways I didn’t in Grand Rapids because it was just too easy – too familiar and too automatic.

I’ve learned quite a bit over the last year, about myself, about others, about academics and life.  I learned that the seeds of community are everywhere, although in some places it is easier than others to find and nurture that community.  I learned to be more comfortable with solitude and silence (hours alone with your books will do that for you).  It’s been a good year.  Thanks be to God.