Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What's Goin' On

I don't have the time or energy to do a real post today, but filled with pangs of (mock) guilt for not writing what I meant to write today, I thought the least I could do was write some bloggy update. So, here's a bloggy update.

Adam started preschool today, though I still don't have a job. Having struck out looking for "real" jobs, today I spent the time he was at school going from retail outlet to retail outlet, dropping off my resume. It looks like, at least for a little while, I'll have to make some money peddling goods.

But, even though we signed him up for preschool so that we would have someplace for him to go, near his mother (she works in the same building), while I was in law school (another hairbrained scheme foiled - I don't want to be a lawyer after all), his starting preschool today feels a little like a rite of passage. He's not my baby any more. Like it or not, he's a big boy. A big boy with a backpack, which looks really cute on him even if he did throw a fit when his mother tried to make him wear it for a staged picture this morning commemorating the event. O.K., maybe he still has some baby in him after all.

I'm also working on two "projects" for church:

1. A sermon for this Sunday's chapel communion service, using Jeremiah 1:4-5 as the text. The sermon will, unlike the aforehyperlinked blog post, have less to do with "morality in a plural society" and more to do with how we rob the Bible of its power when we yank passages out of context to speak to the issues we wish it would speak to, reading meaning into the text rather than drawing meaning out of the text. The thesis, then, has less to do with moral permissibility or impermissibility of abortion, and more to do with affirming a contextual reading of that critical passage, apart from a political agenda concerning abortion.

2. A seminar, which kicks off our next semester of Wednesday Evening Forums (perhaps the reason I agreed to lead the Education team at my church, before I knew that I would be perpetually swamped by the ongoing crisis that is Children's Ministry), that I'll be leading on the nature of the Bible, and how it has been read throughout the past and present. When I agreed to the topic (which, alas, I helped form) it didn't occur to me what a huge topic that is. I'm going to have only 50 minutes to cover three basic sections:

I. What is the Bible? A look at the nature, structure and history of the Bible.

II. How Do We Read the Bible? A look at the literary genres represented in the Biblical text, and at the modes of interpreting that text.

III. Reading the Bible in Christian Community: A look at how we balance the need to critically engage the Biblical text with the spiritual needs of a community of faith that holds to the authority of the Bible.

As if all of that will fit neatly into a 50 minute time slot! Even better, the format I agreed to (which really is the best format, unless I want people dropping like flies in the middle of the second section) includes only 8 minutes of lecture time for each section, followed by group discussion on the issues raised. This requires more discipline than I've ever tried to have as either a writer or a speaker, as you've probably noticed by the extreme lengths of some of my posts.

To top it all off, it turns out that my pastor, with whom I have a wonderful working relationship (if it weren't for her I may have never stepped foot in another church after I left ministry - meeting her saved my spiritual life), did her doctoral dissertation on this very subject! She even used many of the sources that I've been using to put the seminar together. No pressure, but I can't bluff, since for once someone in the room may know even more than I do!

At some point I should be posting a new piece on the problem of evil, a piece which oddly enough comes from:

a.) reading these two posts at Debunking Christianity, and

b.) watching an episode from the fifth season of my all time favorite TV show, the West Wing (yes, it has finally supplanted Northern Exposure - I have many seasons of both shows on DVD, and the West Wing stands up better, in my mind, to repeated viewings; and that's the tiebreaker).

What, you might ask, does that have to do with the problem of evil? Well, the posts at Debunking Christianity are concerned with an issue related to the problem of evil: what can Christians make of people who really want to and try to believe, but simply can't? To see how that relates to the problem of evil either read the posts yourself (less antagonistic and more personally vulnerable than many of the posts there), keeping that question in mind, or wait for me to finally take the time and energy to write down the thoughts that have been swimming in my mind.

As for the West Wing, it indirectly directed me to a book that a seminary student gave me right before I flunked out of college the first time. On the show, president Bartlett quoted, in Latin, as he is wont to do, a line from Aquinas concerning the problem of evil. For whatever reason, it reminded me of the opening of a lecture that neo-Platonist Jacques Maritain gave to the Aristotelian Society of Marquette University in 1942, since published as St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil. So late last night, with my thoughts concerning the issues that Joe E. Holman and Matthew raised in their respective posts still swirling around, I picked up the text of that lecture and re-read it. I hadn't looked at it in maybe six years, having long since given up any attempts at theodicy. As I read it, expecting to see in Maritain's lecture the cold rationality, so unsuited to human suffering, that I had always seen in both Aquinas and Augustine (from whom Aquinas borrows heavily on this issue), I was stunned to see a deep pastoral concern.

I still have issues with the theodicies offered by Aquinas, even when Maritain uses his so eloquently poetic voice to present them. But the post that I will eventually write will take less exception with Aquinas than I thought that it might, and much less exception with Aquinas than my paper on his and Augustine's treatment of the problem of evil from a Medieval philosophy course.

So, that's what's goin' on. Hopefully I'll actually get to write some of those things soon. Meanwhile, the search for work which (unlike my writing) actually pays money continues!


Troy said...


I am looking forward to reading what you're working on. The theodicy thing (which I also have abandoned, choosing only to look at the healing-work of Christ while on earth) but even more the reflections on the Bible.

Teaching colonial Am. Lit. this week...seeing one Underhill defend the killing of Nat. Am. women and children in King Phillip's War by using the OT as holy much as I respect some of those who say the Bible is wholly God's word (Witherington comes to mind) I find line by line inspiration or inerrancy a deeply troubling description of the text we have.

Does this mean God wasn't in covenant with the Hebrews? No. Does it mean God didn't 'speak through the prophets' as we say in the Creed? No. Does it mean we don't have substantially what Jesus taught and did? No. But to lump all 66 (even this number is ironic) books into one pile and say they were all protected from any error, historical or moral, seems ludicrous to me. The questions you list here are the exact ones I am wrestling with right now.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to your 50 minute lecture. Maybe it can turn into a 500 page book. Once again, I am struck not only by your learning and analysis, but by your diplomatic and charitable tone.

Troy said...


and one more thing: do you think you could post some of the sources you and your pastor recommend on this issue when you get a chance? I'd even read her diss.