believing and belonging

Michael Polanyi, in Personal Knowledge, makes this claim:
Every mental process by which man surpasses the animals is rooted in the early apprenticeship by which the child acquires the idiom of its native community and eventually absorbs the whole cultural heritage to which it succeeds. Great pioneers may modify this idiom by their own efforts, but even their outlook will remain predominately determined by the time and place of their origin. Our believing is conditioned at its source by our belonging.
Rather than something to be avoided, Polanyi argues that this rootedness for our knowledge is a reality which we must embrace in order to come to any knowledge of the world. We are shaped by the community into which we are born, he says, and this is not a hindrance, but an essential aid to our understanding of reality.

The implications of all this for Deuteronomy are thus: Moses understands that the people of Israel will be shaped by the story of their community. He knows the believing of the new Israelite generation will be formed by their belonging to the community narrative to which they are a part. And so he places that narrative before them, not leaving that story to chance, but rather authoritatively crafting the story of Israel, the story that begins with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and continues into the house of slavery in Egypt and culminates in the mighty acts of Yahweh as he brings Israel out of the hands of their oppressors and into the intimate covenant relationship with himself. This is your story, Moses says to Israel. This is the belonging that must shape your believing. You did not leave Egypt because of your righteousness or your strength--but because you belonged to a larger story, one that stretches back to the beginning of the world, and it is this story that tells the true narrative of the world and your place within that larger frame. Your believing must be shaped always by your belonging--and this story is that to which you belong.


good reading

Greg Orr, The Making of Poems--Greg was a professor of mine at UVA, and this is a great little essay that he wrote for NPR on poetry.

Jeffery Goldberg, The Believer--Interesting article published in my lastest hard copy of the New Yorker on Michael Gerson, an evangelical speech writer for George Bush. Though I don't agree with all of Gerson's politics, his life seems to be a wonderful example of some of the ways a Christian engaged in culture might well act. Some quotes:
Gerson knows that he is an enigma to the liberal
establishment of Washington. He is a churchgoing, anti-gay-marriage, pro-life supply-sider who believes absolutely in the corporeality of Jesus’ resurrection. He is also supremely loyal to an ideological President in a city that tends to grant only posthumous approbation to ideologues, particularly conservative ones. Yet among his role models he counts Martin Luther King, Jr., and the radical evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century, and his chief vocational preoccupation is the battle against infectious disease in Africa.
And Gerson at a presidential speech writer's dinner:
At a Welliver dinner, the remarks of ex-speechwriters tend toward carefully calibrated irreverence; current speechwriters aren’t expected to gripe or to disclose confidences. But at the 2002 event, Gerson spoke with immoderate earnestness. According to several people who attended, Safire asked Gerson to tell the group something it didn’t know about Bush. Gerson, in a quavering voice, responded with a story that left some of his audience nonplussed. He described a call that he got moments after Bush finished addressing a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001. Bush thanked Gerson for his work on the speech, to which Gerson replied, “Mr. President, this is why God wants you here.” Gerson then related Bush’s response, as evidence of his thoughtfulness. “The President said, ‘No, this is why God wants us here.’”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room, and then one of Bill Clinton’s speechwriters said, in a stage whisper, “God must really hate Al Gore."
Gina Ochsner, Thicker Than Water--One of the best short stories I've read in the New Yorker in the last year. Really worth reading.


church planting reflections

I've taken down my MNA church planting reflections simply because I didn't want someone to read me out of context and feel as though I was saying things that I didn't mean. If you're someone who knows me and you want a copy of my reflections, feel free to leave a comment or email me (email link is in bottom of the sidebar).


church planting?

Ami and I submitted ourselves this weekend to a readiness assessment seminar for church planting in the PCA. Overall, I felt like the weekend (really about 2 hours friday night and 6 on saturday) was going fine until we had our exit interview and discovered that the time the assessment folks had spent with us had led them to believe that we weren't cut out to be church planters. Without saying too much, this was a hard pill for me to swallow, especially because it was so unexpected and came right at the moment of most vulnerability. After about three hours of devastation, I think I'm beginning to move toward a more balanced perspective on the whole thing. Ultimately the information they had to make this kind of judgement was limited, and it's not definitive at all. This isn't the end of the world, and MNA doesn't really control how presbyteries and churches in the PCA choose to plant new churches. Who knows what God might have in store for us. MNA's opinion is only an opinion, and a very cursory one at that (which they would freely admit). But I won't pretend that it doesn't still hurt like hell.


little credo

After meeting with my ind. study prof today, I think we're moving toward having a more definite idea of what my thesis will be. The broad question that I'd like to ask is how OT narrative works on us/is authoritative for us (us being the church) in non-propositional ways--especially employing Polanyi's ideas regarding tacit knowledge and Wright's play/act idea of Scripture that he discusses in New Testament People of God. The problem is, that question is potentially too broad, given that the paper is only 30 pages, and my own propensity to overstate my "insights" and deal too much with abstractions.

The tack that we came up with together is examining how the Genesis/Exodus narrative (primarily Exodus) is used in Deuteronomy to shape Israel in preparation for their life in the promised land and then build toward implications for the church today (hopefully bringing in Polanyi and Wright at that point). One of the texts that I'd like to look at in that study is Deut. 26:5-9, what some scholars call the "little credo".

Here the text in the ESV (with 26:1-4 added for context):

26:1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

5 “And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, [1] with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.'"

What I find interesting about this passage is not only how the Exodus story is so concisely told, but also Yahweh's intention in creating this ritual of story recital for the Israelites to participate in. In a sense, this is what we do in worship when we as the church recite the nicene or apostle's creed.

A couple quick comments about Yahweh's potential intent with this ritual:

1) To remind the later generations of Israelites that these events actually did happen--that is to name and uphold the reality of the exodus story

2) To place the Israelite himself in the stream of that story--to self-consciously "inherit" the exodus narrative and see himself as intrinsically related to it.

3) To link that story with worship--in a sense, the worship ritual interprets the story (and the story contextualizes the ritual).


Valentine's Day Poem (for ami)

There are bindings

There are bindings we may never untie.
Your belly will swell with our children,
will slim and swell, slim again.

Your hair I find, brown, in our bed,
stuck on my skin, will lighten.

Our rings, polished gold, will dull.

Then, when even the secret poems
on their hidden curves fade, reaching,
I find—there, in midair—your hand, in mine.


In accordance with the Scriptures...

Some thoughts motivated by N.T. Wright's "The Last Word," where the Bishop writes,

"When Paul says, quoting an earlier and widely used summary of the Christian message, 'The Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures...and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), he does not mean that he and his friends can find one or two proof-texts to back up their claim, but rather that these events have come as the climax to the long and winding narrative of Israel's scriptures" (48).

If Paul rightly saw the death and (perhaps more centrally) the resurrection of Jesus as the telos of God's story in the world recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, then this begs an obvious question--what does it mean for us to live today, as the church, in accordance with the scriptures? Jesus' death and resurrection were the end and goal of the Old Testament story, but the story has now been altered forever by his life and work, and he has left us as his witnesses, as the ones (with his Spirit as our guide) who will finish the story begun in Genesis 1. As Wright points out, it means far more than finding prophetic proof-texts for our vocational calling as the people of God, but rather something more like immersing ourselves in God's story of the world, allowing it to rule our lives in devotion and worship such that our habits and affections become modified until they begin to merge with the trajectory of the story thus far. This is what it means to live "in accordance with the Scriptures": to allow the story to shape us, to find its narrative stream and place ourselves in the middle of its plot. And so, when I teach the book of Joshua I try to show him not so much as our model as our ancestor, a fellow actor in the same play overseen by the same director, and our goal ought not to be to mimic his lines as much as decipher in what direction his chapter in the larger story points us.

(Apologies to Wright for ripping off his play/act metaphor for Scripture).


The short story

These days are full of small joys. Cael is growing quicker than I could have predicted, and it's difficult to grasp the moments of his life that I now know are slipping away. It's a strange love that I have for him--Ami seems to have figured out that part of parenting a lot better than I have. I love him and enjoy him, but the euphoria of the early days have worn off, and our relationship just seems "normal." Perhaps that's natural. I'm not sure. None of this is anything I know or understand.

Classes continue to go well. I feel like I'm studying less this spring than I ever have and probably thinking more. Part of that is because I've learned enough to begin really thinking about the Bible on my own, and part of it is because I'm just moving away from being as invested in the classroom learning style as I have been in the past. Grades are beginning to mean a lot less. I'd much rather read and think and write than have a professor try to indoctrinate me into his point of view on a subject and then be tested on how well I regurgitate it back to him. Not that that's completely the model of instruction at Covenant, but then again, it sort of is.

Lately reading Peter Enns' book "Inspiration and Incarnation," as well as a lot of other reading I've done for an Independent study on Old Testament narrative has raised a lot of questions in my mind about genre and nature of the Bible itself. I'm really struggling to understand how I'm supposed to really cooperate with the text on its own terms and not get swallowed up into a whirlstorm of questions and unrealized assumptions that I then suddenly begin to wonder about. The short story is this: Enns tries to use the catagory of "myth" for Genesis, and there's a sense in which I'm comfortable with that, and another I'm not, and there's another part of me that wonders if I should be comfortable with it at all. I'm still working through the details of my wonderings.

In all, the reading I've done for the study on narrative has been excellent, and I'm now working toward a thesis question I'll try to answer in a longish (30 page) paper for the rest of the semester.

Books I've read so far for the study:

G. Wenham, "Story as Torah"
R. Alter, "Art of Biblical Narrative"
M. Sternberg, "Poetics of Biblical Narrative"
P. Enns, "Inspiration and Incarnation"
V. Long, "Art of the Biblical History"
R. Parry, "Old Testament Story and Christian Ethics"
Parts of others...


Longing to Know, by Esther Meek

WritersRead update: I've just reviewed a book by Esther Meek on epistemology called, "Longing to Know."


More movie comments

The semester just starting to pick up, but things aren't busy enough that Ami and I can't still hang out a good bit. Lately we've watched two interesting (and very different) movies. The first was the new Willy Wonka movie. I've never seen the first one, so I really can't compare the two (and didn't have huge expectations for it, either), but I ended up really enjoying it. It's directed by Tim Burton and Willy is played by Johnny Depp, which is really the perfect combination for this kind of movie. We saw the two of them team up on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow sometime in the last year, but Willy Wonka is a lot better. Overall, the movie was a lot of fun--good script, good acting, good music (and pretty family friendly, too). The other movie we watched recently was In America, which was released a few years ago. It's about an Irish family (mom and dad, two young daughters) who moves to America and tries to make it in New York as well as grieve for the recent death of their son. Again, a very well acted and directed movie. The movie centers on the struggles of Johnny, the Irish father, to let go of his son...as a new father with my own son, watching this was a lot more difficult than it would have been a year ago. Anyhow, both movies are highly recommended.

It's not like I've ever watched the Oscars much before now, but I'm making a point not to anymore, especially after the nominations this year. What's really sickened me about it before is how it's just a chance for all the hollywood celebrities who already think they're the center of the universe sit around and tell each other how wonderful and talented and profound they are and this year they'll be doing that as well as bending over backwards to say how wonderful and profound a movie about men who destroy the lives of their wives and families because they just can't stop having sex together is. Thanks but no thanks. I'm a pretty open-minded guy when it comes to movies (heck, when Ami was gone in VA, I watched "Angels in America" and enjoyed it), and I'm sure Brokeback Mtn. is a well-done movie, but I can't stomach sitting around and being told how wonderful it is, what a great love story it is, etc. If Brokeback was being promoted as a movie about the awful effects of sin on people and the consequences for indulging your lusts, then I probably wouldn't mind even seeing it. That's actually why I liked Angels in America. But everything I've heard about it so far is that it's supposed to be a "love" story, and it's certainly not that.

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