Crabs and fish

I can feel the summer waning--fall classes start on Thursday. So, a poem for summer. I'm posting this because I miss poetry and don't know how to get back into that world, and this is the best I can do-post old poems on my blog.

Crabs and fish

We caught crabs the way the Indians who first called
the river Rappahannock must have—two boys, a piece of meat on a string,
one long-handled net. You had to be careful
of your shadow. Crabs could see you coming.

When we snared one, we danced; blue shelled crab
trapped on the pier under the net, scuttling sideways,
in circles, jagged pincers snapping at our toes.
You had to grab hard from behind. You couldn’t let go.

When I was seven, and James five, Gramps took
us to the middle of the river to teach us to fish.
Handling the blind and slippery worms, he showed us
how to stitch the hook through one end and then the other.

Sunday mornings at the river were the only times
we didn’t go to church. It wasn’t even mentioned.
During summer, the boat’s metal bottom burned our bare feet.
If the fish weren’t biting, Gramps would spend hours

sitting with one foot hanging over the side, leaning
forward, right hand pulling the line, trying to explain
how to tell, with your lead sinker, oyster bottom from mud.
I didn’t really know. Sometimes I just pretended.


who's afraid of postmodernism? (pt ii)

Click here for my first post on this book.

James Smith opens the introduction to Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by attempting to place himself (as many writers do on various topics) in the middle of what he sees as two opposing evangelical perspectives on post-modernism: critique (Smith names Carson, Colson and Erickson as proponents of this view) and unquestioning acceptance (here he names McLaren and Webber). Rather, Smith asserts that he intends to employ a "Schaefferian strategy," meaning that he plans to consider postmodernism as a philosophical system rather than cultural reality, and to argue his case in popular terms as much as possible. It also means, it appears, that Smith intends to offer an appreiciative critique of postmodern philosophy--to weigh it carefully and consider whether parts of it at least might be of use to the church instead of dismissing it all out of hand or accepting it all without question.

I haven't read enough of Carson or McLaren on the topic of PM to evaluate whether Smith's analysis of their approachs to PM is on target. I imagine he's painting with a fairly broad brush here (probably intentionally so, his book hardly has the scope to go into the nuances of Carson or McLaren's positions) but in general I appreciate his sentiment. This Kuyperian approach (i.e. believing that all truth is God's truth and test PM to see carries any value before dismissing it) seems to me to be right on target. Of course it remains to be seen if Smith will indeed carry it out.

In order to consider the value of PM thought, Smith tells us here that he has structured his book around three statements by three of the most prominent PM philosophers.

Derrida - "There is nothing outside the text (il n'y a pas hors-texte)"

Lyotard - PM is "incredulity toward metanarratives"

Foucault - "Power is knowledge"

So far, so good. It seems best to interact with the words of PM guys themselves. I'll take his word that these three statements are representative of PM thought. At first glance these statements seem opposed to traditional Christian thought--challenging the authority of scripture, the nature of truth, etc. But Smith suggests that these statements, and the larger thoughts that stand behind them, may actually illuminate and encourage the church in its worship, theology and practice. Interesting. We'll have to see where this goes.

Smith then goes on to begin to link PM thought and "radical orthodoxy" - one of the new theological movements coming out of Britain, which has John Milbank at its center, advancing a compelling vision for the church that is worth quoting at length. Smith writes:

I want to advocate a shift from modern Christianity to a postmodern church, one akin to the paradigm shift experienced by Neo [in the Matrix]. My point here is confessional: as attested in the Apostles' Creed, I believe in the holy catholic church, and I believe that the very notion of the holy catholic church undoes the modern individualism that plagues contemporary evangelicalism. Indeed, we would do well to recover a much-maligned formula: "There is no salvation outside the church." This doesn't mean that a particular ecclesial body is the dispenser of grace or the arbiter of salvation; rather, there simply is no Christianity apart from the body of Christ, which is the church. The body is the New Testament's organic model of community that counters the modern emphasis on the individual. The church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery or emotional satisfaction. The church is the site where God renews and transforms us--a place where the practices of being the body of Christ forms us into the image of the Son.

Thus far, I'm comfortable with where Smith seems to be headed. I'm not sure if postmodernism really has a lot to offer the church, but I trust him enough to hear him out. The best aspect of the book so far is Smith's tone (which is positive and hopeful without being naive) as well as his vision for the church, which resonates a great deal with my own ideas of what the church should be. Next up: Smith's chapter on Derrida's statement that "there is nothing outside the text." Any comments are welcome.


Today's sign of the apocalypse:

Albert Pujols and his wife appear on Focus on the Family.

From the episode description:

"Like many kids in the Dominican Republic, Albert had a dream; and that dream was to play professional baseball. Today, you'll see a side of a major leaguer who despite fame, fortune, and MVP status remains true to his family, marriage, and his faith in Christ. Dr. James Dobson discusses things that matter with St. Louis Cardinal Slugger, Albert Pujols and his wife Dee Dee."

There's no incipient gnosticism in there, really. I promise.

All kidding aside, I think Albert's faith is great--and if you can put up with Dobson, the interview gives a good picture of Bert in his off the field life. I'd still love him even if he wasn't a believer, but it seems like Albert does do his best to honor God, etc. Can't complain about that.


who's afraid of postmodernism?

Over the next week or so, I'm hoping to blog my way through James Smith's new book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? My desire to read the book is really a convergence of several different interests. For one, James Smith is one of the American writers involved in a theological conversation termed Radical Orthodoxy -- something I've heard bits and pieces about but haven't really been able to look into in any detail. (Interesting sidenote--Ami and I both had classes with John Milbank's wife, Alison, in the literature department while they were teaching at Virginia. At the time I had no idea who her husband was. She was one of the kindest professors I knew at UVA).
In addition to this, I don't really feel that I've thought or read about postmodernism (in the philosophic, not cultural sense) in any kind of systematic way, though I have a great deal of interest in reading postmodern thinkers as I share their concern (because of Polanyi and Newbigin) regarding the enlightenment assumptions about epistemic certainty and "objective truth." So my purpose in reading Smith is to both gain some familiarity with Radical Orthodoxy (which I understand to be based on a fairly sympathetic reading of postmodern thinkers) and to begin to consider how postmodernism might converge with and help develop the epistemological convictions I've come to hold by reading Michael Polanyi and others.

Finally, Peter Leithart calls the book both "very fine" and "lucid," which makes it all the more appealing.


Israel's True King

For friends/family that weren't able to attend the evening service on 8/13 at Providence, here's a link to download a mp3 of my sermon that evening on Mark 6:30-44. Right-click on the link and select "Save As" to download. If the link stops working, just let me know by leaving a comment.


Liturgical piety (and knowledge)

Shookfoil recently posed this question to me: If you were going to write a book on Liturgical Piety, what chapters and
subjects would you include?

Though there are many directions one could go with such a book, there's no doubt in my mind what the topic of one of the first chapters should be: an epistemological framework which affirms the value and necessity of non-propositional knowledge--which is of course the primary kind of knowledge that one gains from participation in the church's liturgy.

In my mind, the reason why many evangelicals turn up their nose at a "high church" or structured liturgy is that it seems so meaningless from the perspective of their modernistic frameworks. Give me my forty-five minute sermon, thank you very much. But there's more to learning than information transfer. And so the problem is fundamentally epistemological--for a modernistic epistemology either dismisses completely or essentially minimizes those kinds of knowledge which are unarticulatable.

But the kind of knowledge formed from participation in a structured liturgy (that is, in a weekly service where the sacramental meal, not the preached word, is the center point of the service) is most fundamentally "skill" knowledge--a way-of-being in the world. In the liturgy, the posture and ritual actions and words we make and speak toward God and each other gradually come to inform and shape our posture and words and actions during the other parts of our lives. (This shaping process, in my mind, is what "liturgical piety" means). In this sense, liturgical knowledge is more similar in type to something like knowing how to ride a bike than to knowing that George Washington was the first president of the United States. And unless this type of knowledge is acknowledged and valued, there's not much point in talking about it.

An interesting book that seems to argue among many of these same lines: Worship As Meaning, by Graham Hughes.


Hezbollah, etc.

It's good news whenever an armed conflict in the Middle East (or anywhere else) finally begins to wind down. Hopefully both sides will actually follow through with the cease fire that's been proposed. Of course it's difficult to imagine real lasting peace between Israel and the various groups that oppose their nation. Hopefully this pause in the fighting will last for a while.

However justified Israel may have felt in pursuing their invasion and bombing of Lebanon, it's hard for me see how an aggressive policy really helps their long term goals of peace and prosperity. In the short term Hezbollah may have been damaged, but in the long run they've probably been strengthened in their own, more sinister agenda, as this article argues. Not that I'm blaming Israel for defending itself and its citizens...though I wonder if there was a way for Israel to both effectively defend itself and not kill innocent Lebanese. The whole situation there (and with the Palestinians) is a very tangled web, and has little hope of unraveling without a real advance of the gospel in that part of the world. Indeed, I'm very confident in saying that it's not a problem America is going to solve anytime soon (or ever).



I'm in the middle of preparing my first "real" (i.e. non-classroom) sermon and realizing how conflicted my view of homiletics actually is.

I've been taught a certain way of preaching here at Covenant and I'm not even sure if it's a good way in general for scripture to be communicated, not to mention if it's a good way for me in particular to communicate scripture.

Turns out it's one thing to think you know what a passage means and another to articulate it.


Why blog?

It’s a good question.

Paul Graham (British blogger) has a good answer:

I think what most bloggers are doing is thinking out loud.

It’s a little misleading to talk of “putting things into words,” because that implies the ideas come first. In fact, expressing thoughts creates them. And especially expressing thoughts to other people, even people you don’t know. So I think the reason many people like blogging is that they like the thinking it causes.

The relationship between ideas and words is an odd one, and perhaps isn’t possibly understood in any kind of complete way. But it does seem that there is a difference between an idea or image or memory that merely resides in our heads and one that is articulated in language. Blogging is just another avenue of that articulation.


New Cardinals

One of the best things about intensely following a baseball team over a season is “getting to know” its players. Obviously I don’t really know any of the members of the St. Louis Cardinals…my relationship with them is based on their appearance, demeanor, radio descriptions, performance on the field, etc. That said, it’s always fun when there’s new year and new players to develop affection for. Some of my favorite new guys this year:

Chris Duncan–Sure, he’s the pitching coach’s son, but it’s always nice when Tony gives a young guy a legitimate shot and he performs well. Personally I think Young Dunc looks like a bumbling idiot most of the time on the field, with his height, build, thick gold chain, mighty Casey swing from the heels and running forward then back to catch a routine fly ball. But he’s a lovable kind of guy. And he’s got a real power stroke, something that’s always fun to watch.

Anthony Reyes–Probably my favorite young player. Talented, a little cocky and distinctive fashion. Actually the stockings are a little scary, what with the not so distant memories of the implosion of the last pitcher who pulled his red socks up his calves. But Reyes is fun to watch pitch, with good movement on his fastball and a great changeup. Here’s to hoping that TLR and old Dunc let him actually try to strike guys out once in a while.

Hector Luna–Oh wait…never mind.

Adam Wainwright–Descended from a long line of wagon makers, I’m just hoping Adam actually gets to throw that wicked breaking pitch in the first inning sometime next season. Tall, lanky, talented–if he gets a shot Wainwright could definitely be the best thing to come out of the J. D. Drew trade (although Marquis, King, Bigbie and Miles haven’t set the bar too high).

Jeff Weaver
–I really want to like him, anyway. He’s got good stuff, which is more than can be said for half the Cardinals’ staff. Could be another great Jocketty trade. We’ll see in the next two months. The strikeouts against the Reds are encouraging.

New Cardinals I don’t have that much affection for:

Tyler Johnson
–Blah. Another LOOGY for TLR to play with. Not much to see here.

John of the Incarnation–What an ugly swing. He’s better than I thought he’d be, but I didn’t think he’d very good. Actually pretty good defensively and better power than expected. If only the man took a walk once ever homestand or so.

Aaron Miles–I’ve had it with Tony’s obession with scrappy middle infielders who are slighty better players than he was at that age. If only Hector had gotten the playing time that Miles did. He’s obviously much better at pinch-hitting, just ask Brad Lidge.

Ricardo Rincon
–Now that was a good investment.

Sidney Ponson–See Ricardo Rincon.

Scott Spezio–Again, better than I thought he would be. If we win the division and the Stros don’t make the playoffs, it might have to be traced back to the solo shot he hit off Lidge in July that led to Albert’s winning homer. The bright red soul patch on the other hand…that’s what’s keeping me from really liking the guy.



In another life, I’m a father/husband who leads morning prayer with his family every day. I don’t think there’s any spiritual area I’d like to grow in more. In reality, I have no idea how to get to that place.

If I ever get to be that guy, the Reformed Liturgics Institute seems to be a great resource.

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