Givenness and Revelation

“There is revelation not because paths have been made straight, the valleys filled, the hills made low, and everything straightened that was winding (Lk. 3:4, quoting Is. 40:3-5), as just so many preliminary conditions to be filled before God can manifest himself. No: there is Revelation precisely while these paths remain twisted—or even so as to show they are.”

Jean-Luc Marion, Givenness and Revelation, p. 59


Slowly, I am wading through a dense little book called Givenness and Revelation by Jean-Luc Marion (Oxford University Press, 2016). Marion is delightfully and unashamedly verbose. He expects of the reader a solid working knowledge of phenomenology and Aquinas, so I’ve put Google to work defining terms. I feel like I’m always several steps behind. So I read, and read again.

Despite my shortcomings, I have found myself scribbling notes, underlining phrases, and putting exclamation points next to striking sentences. The quote above received two exclamation points.  Continue reading

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When the Author Predicts Your Question

[This post is one of several on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to order the book. Click here to read the other posts.

In an earlier post about this book, I asked a question similar to this: During congregational worship, is it better to confess “we believe” instead of “I believe” when reciting the creed? Ben Myers directly addresses that question in his final chapter. Continue reading

“They Will Forget to Die”

[This is one of several posts on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to purchase the book. Click here to read the other posts.]

Gerascophobia. Do you know what that word means? It is a fear of growing old. My beard hairs are turning gray, so I have entered a stage of life in which I can no longer pretend I won’t become old someday. Sometimes I am gerascophobic.

In his chapter on “the life everlasting,” Myers summarizes a story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which a man drinks from a stream and becomes immortal. Eventually, the man realizes that “without death, life lacks definition; it doesn’t mean anything.” This story sets Myers up to make a proverbial statement: “You cannot make life better just by increasing its quantity. What matters most is its quality.” Continue reading

Death is serious…

[This is the third interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

I am reading Ben Myers’s new book chapter by chapter, slowly and joyfully. In this brief book, a new believer will meet figures like Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, and Athanasius. Yet these towering and often complicated thinkers are met as someone would meet a friend of a friend at a diner. We get a name and something witty or important they said. Just enough to make you say, as you sit down at your own table with your friend, “I’d like to get to know them more.”

The presence of important figures from church history is pertinent in Myers’s chapter on the Creed’s claim that Jesus “descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” In this chapter, Myers helps the reader get a sense of early Christians’ views of the dead, especially martyrs, by describing some of their practices. From teaching new believers in graveyards to singing during funerals, Myers suggests, Christian views and practices related to death would have offended pagan sensibilities. The practices revealed the Christian conviction that “death has been subsumed by life” (p. 79).

Myers’s use of dead theologians is pertinent because each time he quotes a dead person he resists Death’s attempt to silence the life of the faithful. So, among the many one-liners worthy of quoting (“Death is serious; but not as serious as life”), Myers includes several words of wisdom from various saints. Here are a few: Continue reading

“I” or “We” Believe?

[This is the second interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

Picture of Book2I worshipped for two years in a United Methodist congregation. City Well UMC was a diverse and joyful congregation. They prayed the traditional liturgical elements of the UMC Book of Prayer but with spirits of fire. During that time I learned that the prayers, songs, and sacraments all preach in their own way. “The Great Thanksgiving” was itself a blessed sermon, that came from somewhere in the past, but each week challenged me afresh.

So when I began an internship at a United Brethren church whose worship did not include elements like “The Great Thanksgiving,” I began to dream about including bits of the church’s beautiful traditions. The pastor, Kevin, was kind enough to let me try. On one of my first Sundays preaching, I invited the congregation to recite the Apostles’ Creed together. “I believe,” the congregation repeated. “I.” As I read through the creed with all of my brothers and sisters in unison, the “I” felt out of place. What does that word preach? Does it imply Christian faith is mainly an individual thing? Shouldn’t it be “we believe” instead? Continue reading

Pledging Allegiance

One day while at the University of Aberdeen, Prof. Phil Ziegler invited Kent to look over his shoulder at some new-fangled thing on his computer screen. It was 2006 and he was pointing at a theology blog. “Take a look at this,” Ziegler said, “there is some really thoughtful stuff here.” It was Kent’s first glance at a theology blog, and it just so happened to be Faith and Theology by Prof. Ben Myers. Eventually Kent and some pals decided to give theology blogging their own twist, and Theology Forum was born.

Picture of Book2
I discovered Faith and Theology nearly a decade later, through Theology Forum. I latched onto it because of Kim Fabricius’s doodlings. “Doodlings” are joyfully incomplete thoughts, like someone hastily doodles an idea for a picture or project. How does someone provoke such thought and such laughter at the same time? Through the blog, I discovered Myers’s thoughtful writing.

Now I am reading Myers’s in print form. His new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is fresh off Lexham Press’s printers. (This is, to my knowledge, the first Lexham Press review on Theology Forum!) The print edition is aesthetically pleasing, hardbound, and small enough to carry with you. Grayscale images throughout keep the copy interesting. Continue reading

A Radically Different Imaginative Landscape

Through the mouth of Jeremiah, God urges exiles to plant gardens, build homes, and pray for the prosperity of the cities to which they’ve been dispersed. A brief review of church history reveals that we foreigners in the many strange lands on earth have prioritized that command but often in unhealthy ways. What might this command mean for the church today? How do we “pray for the prosperity of our land” without conforming to the models and definitions of prosperity exemplified by people in the land? (After all, Hosea warns us not to consecrate ourselves to idols, for we will “become detestable like the things we loved,” Hos. 9:10.) The church, suggests Rowan Williams, needs to offer the world “a radically different imaginative landscape, in which people can discover possibilities of change — and perhaps of ‘conversion’ in the most importance sense, a ‘turning around’ of values and priorities that grows from trust in God” (p. 73). 

9781472946119Williams’s book, Holy Living: The Christian Tradition for Today,* is a collection of thought-provoking essays (even if certain essays seem better fitted for a different volume). Drawing from the deep wells of Christian tradition (from early church writers to contemporary theologians, preachers to professors), each essay reflects upon Christian disciplines in contemporary Christianity. The chapter “Urban Spirituality” helps respond to the questions I’ve raised above. Continue reading