Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coming Attractions

I haven't been posting as much lately for a few reasons. I preached at the early morning chapel communion service at my church, Fourth Ave UMC, Louisville, this past Sunday. Preparing for the sermon took up some of my writing time. Also, I'm preaching again this coming weekend, filling in for one of my best friends at the Saturday evening contemporary service at Christ Church United Methodist, also in Louisville. He's taking the week off because his wife, who has cancer, went into to hospital for a bone marrow transplant.

Also I've had a bit of anxiety about law school and my vocation of late. I don't wish to dump the details on anyone at this time, but I've been struggling a little bit with my sense of personal identity since I left professional ministry, and there are days when the prospect of going to law school just doesn't fill the empty hole in my soul. Consequently, I haven't been sleeping this past week. That's how I cope with anxiety; I just stare at the ceiling waiting for morning. That doesn't help me get clarity in my writing, which means that even though I still try to take two hours a day to write something, the something that I write isn't always worth posting.

Also, I'm working on two books, neither of which is likely to see the light of day. The first is as of yet untitled, and is a collection of stories about my raising my son. Not quite a memoir, like David Eddie's fantastic Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad, but certainly inspired by that sort of writing. The second is tentatively titled Drawing Water Out of Rocks, and is a collection of cleaned up versions of my sermons, along with some newer ones that haven't been preached yet. It takes a great deal of my time, because I rarely preach from a manuscript. Usually I put together an outline, with notes like Tell the story of... scattered throughout to let me know where I'm going. The end result is usually a pretty engaging, somewhat scripted but mostly improvised - like old jazz, where the changes are marked, but the details are left to the musician's imagination - series of observations surrounding a text. So I've been taking my old outlines and trying to recapture what I might have said from the pulpit, rewriting each sermon.

Anyway, I have a few ideas in the works for this blog, so right now I'm taking a little bit of time to tease you with them:

1. I've been reading Elsa Tamez's The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead. Tamez is Professor of Biblical Studies at the Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana (Latin American Biblical University) in San Jose, Costa Rica. She offers an excellent reading of James from a Latin American perspective, focusing on James' solidarity with the poor and his call for social change. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say that, in light of Tamez's work on James, I'll be offering a couple of treatments of some of my favorite passages from that wonderful epistle.

2. A few years ago I picked up Robert N. Wennberg's God, Human's and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe. Wennberg is a professor of philosophy at Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, California. I swore that I would read it as soon as I had some time off from school, and since this is the first semester in a very long time in which I have been in no way, shape or form affiliated with any school whatsoever, I've run out of excuses for ducking Wennberg's work.

Chapter five of his book, titled Animals and the World of Moral Theory looks at how several different important moral theories deal with the moral standing (or, generally, lack thereof) of non-human animals. He devotes a little bit of time to utilitarian ethics and how it treats the moral standing of animals, and while I think that by and large his treatment was fair, I have a pretty major bone to pick with him on his criticism of utilitarianism. So I'm working up a paper on a utilitarian response to Wennberg's "A Problem for Utilitarianism." The only problem with my paper so far is that every time I try to clean up utilitarian ethics to deal with Wennberg's criticism, it stops sounding very much like what most people mean by utilitarianism.

Anyway, look for those two projects in the coming days. At some point I'll have to finish my sermon for Saturday, so I might only get one of those two done before the end of the week. Having basically just two hours a day (that's how long Adam naps)to do my writing, it gets hard to finish the big projects.

Finally, I want to leave you with a continuation of my last Adam story, The Next Pistol Pete?

The first night that we had the basketball goal up, Adam slept fitfully. We woke up almost every hour, wanting to go play more basketball. He got up for the day at 4 am, which did not work for me. So Sami and I hatched a silly plan. The next night we told him that his basketball goal was very sleepy, and had to go to bed. We told him to tell it goodnight, which he did. Then, he walked up to it, hugged it, and gave it a kiss. He tried his best not to cry as I took it to go "sleep" in the basement.

Since then, telling the basketball goal goodnight has become a part of his evening routine. He won't go to bed unless he's seen his beloved goal put to bed first. He insists on hugging it and giving it a goodnight kiss. But at least he sleeps through the night again.

If only I could.


crystal said...

Elsa Tamez's The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead.

sounds like liberation theology :-) I've been reading a little about Ignacio EllacurĂ­a SJ

DagoodS said...

Why are you going to law school?

Troy said...


I know I also derive much of my identity from my work...I can say, 'oh, I teach college English,' or if I'm feeling espeically natty...'I'm an English professor.' Somehow then I feel like something. The way I used to feel when I put on a real polo shirt in college. Heck, sometimes I still feel that way when I put on a real polo shirt.

Because I teach at a community college I don't always use the latter term, but as my colleague in anthro told me once, 'if you're a doctor at a crappy little clinic in the middle of nowhere you're still a doctor.'


The point is I identify. And I have two words of encouragement (and I hope it doesn't sound like I'm offering a quick fix):

One, you have talent with language and a theological vision of true compassion and complexity. It sounds like the little church that drummed you out was a very poor fit for someone with your background from the beginning;(I only know the little you've shared here). Perhaps ministry will one day feel like a good place for you. Who knows. You surely preach on the blog.

And two, though this may not help at all, you're young. I know you have a family, but man, to be your age and to have read what you've already read...to write as well as you already do...these are impressive indicators; you will have choices and choices after that.

I hope you find a career that meets your interests and uses your talents (as well as feeds your family).

Blessings and all the best,


Amy said...

Elsa Tamez is phenomenal - we read an essay of her's as our first exegesis assignment. I'll definitely have to add that one to my list..

And crystal, Ignacio Ellacuria is also someone I really admire. A few years ago, I visited the University of Central American in San Salvador, and saw the place where he, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Elba Ramos, and the others were killed by the military. Theirs is one of those stories where you cannot separate their work from their deaths...

I don't know if you've been there as well crystal, but it brings a whole new dimension to your understanding....

Sandalstraps said...


I haven't started law school yet. I've applied to start at the University of Louisville Bradeis School of Law for this fall, but there was a slight error with my application which caused a delay, so I haven't gotten the final word from them yet.

Because I live in Louisville, have a house in Louisville, and my wife has a career in Louisville, they are my first choice. However, if I don't start classes there this fall, I've decided to open up my search a little bit. Duke has some dual degree programs which appeal to me. I could pursue a masters in either Philosophy or Theological Studies to go along with the JD. That would be a way to keep a foot in each pond, but it would require moving my family, which I don't really want to do.


Thanks for the encouragement. Its hard to keep remembering how young I am, since I'm older than I've ever been.


Elsa Tamez is liberation theology, but her work also connects very directly to the texts in question. I like that while she sees the text (like we all do) through her own lens, a lens colored by the economic oppression of Latin America, she does not force a particular interpretation onto the text, but instead brings interpretations out of the text.

I'll look for Ignacio Ellacuria. Thanks for the link.


Always a pleasure. You make me miss taking classes with you. What I would give to read Tamez in a classroom setting, with the whole room adding their voices to hers!

Sometimes I hate having to do all of the work myself.


My essay on how Tamez shapes my reading of James should be up tomorrow. I took Adam to the doctor for his 15 month check-up during my writing time today. I've got a whole stack of notes sitting next to my computer, but I probably won't get to type them up into a coherant piece until the morning.

crystal said...

Amy, no I've never been south of the border, but I am familiar with the deaths of the six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter ... their courage and committment was remarkable.

SS - if you decide to go to Duke universite, you could hang out with Mark Goodacre :-)

Liam said...


I'd like to echo what Troy says about your youth and talent. You have a lot of possibilities ahead of you and you have a great of time to develop them. I was 36 when I went back to grad school, and two years before that I had never even thought about studying history.

Besides, in about twenty years you'll have you hands full managing Adam's NBA career.

Perhaps the mistake with your law school application is a blessing in disguise: it will let you take time to figure out exactly what you want to do. And you do have time. I wish you the best with your journey.

crystal said...

Chris, one more thing, I didn't mention it before, becaue I'm ashamed that I flunked out, but I went to law school for a little while. Probably different schools attract different kinds of people, but my school seemed to be populated by the sort who wanted to be personal injury lawyers. Their mantra was "all I need to get me started is that first big plane crash" ... sigh.

Sandalstraps said...

Yikes! I'm happy to say that, since my father is a lawyer I've met quite a few of them, and none were like that. It is one thing to accidentally profit from the misfortune of others (profit as the unintended and uninvited consequence); it is another thing altogether to hope and pray for pain and suffering in order to get a quick buck. That's why there are so many lawyer jokes.

But most of the lawyers I know see their work as a kind of advocacy, representing the law as that which mediates in the place of raw power. Our justice system is still havily tilted toward the rich and the powerful, but the law does help provide another voice, another influence. Not a perfect system by any means, but better than raw power.

Squirrelly said...

That thing with the basketball goal is just about the sweetest thing I've ever read. Seriously.

Noah does a similar thing with Dave's drums; when Dave lets him play with them, there's no way to pry him away from them except to tell him the drums have to go night-night.

Amy said...

That's a bummer about the error with your application - the most frustrating part is that you know it's not because of anything YOU did that the delay is happening. 'Course, you never know what may come of it - I'm in L-ville now because of a lost recommendation letter that kept me from attending school in Chicago (I swear, my name must be on some black list in postal headquarters!) Troop on!

Sandalstraps said...


Alas, the error is entirely my fault. I failed to provide a critical piece of information which made my application incomplete. I simply skimmed the directions, and made some false assumptions.

But now everything is in order, and I'm simply waiting on their decision.

The delay has provided me with far too much time to contemplate my future, throwing all of my plans into confusion. The problem is that my decision to go to law school is a purely practical rather than passionate decision. It doesn't conform to the way in which, in general, I choose to live my life.

I'm not saying that it is a bad decision, or that it is a decision which will cause me to not be me. But it is an uncharacteristic decision for me, made in a time of deep suffering, doubt and confusion. You saw me at seminary when everything was going down at my former church. I wasn't in my right mind.

I'm simply not sure, vocationally, what I want to do with the rest of my life. Law is a great profession, and a noble profession. And it would provide for my family, while keeping us in Louisville. But I need to be able to existentially connect myself to it, don't I, if I'm going to choose it as my profession.

Or can I simply say that it is my job, but I find my identity somewhere else?

Hopefully I'll get into U of L's Brandeis School of Law shortly, and this period of self-doubt will end as quickly as it began. But in the meantime, while I can comfort myself with the knowledge that there is nothing I can do about this problem with my application anymore, the fact is that I, through a hasty and unwarrented assumption, created the problem myself.