December 11, 2018

Monday Miscellany

Across the Harvest Fields (2018)

Monday Miscellany

Yesterday’s lectionary Gospel reading was Mark 10:2-16, a passage I understand a lot of pastors dread preaching. It is a “divorce” passage where Jesus speaks directly to the subject.

I like what our pastor said. He stressed God’s design for couples to marry and live together in love for a lifetime. And then he said, “Of course, we know that we fail to live up to that design in many ways, and sometimes marriages end, and all kinds of troubling things happen in our family relationships. That’s when we take care of each other. It’s just what we do as God’s family.”

I loved this word of grace, a sharp thrust of the sword to self-righteous moralism and judgmentalism, which is always the temptation for religious people. Too bad we so often relate to one another on bases other than grace.

It is always — ALWAYS — about faith working through love for the one who trusts and follows Jesus.

• • •

As you may have noticed by yesterday’s post, I have started re-reading Christian Wiman’s luminous My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. It is near the top of the list of my favorite books of all time, with its honest and heart-breakingly beautiful prose about life, death, faith, and the journey through it all.

You can’t get out of the preface without being stunned by Wiman’s brilliant writing. Here’s an excerpt:

Initially I thought this book wouldn’t even mention my illness. I told myself that I wanted to avoid any appearance of special pleading, wanted to strip away the personal and get to ulterior truths. In fact, I think what I most wanted was escape and relief. During the years that I have worked on this book—which is very much a mosaic, not a continuous argument or narrative—my cancer has waxed and waned, my prospects dimmed and brightened, but every act and thought have occurred in that shadow. The form of the book reflects this, not simply the fragmentary and episodic quality, but also the accelerating urgency of the last chapters. I feel quite certain that I would be writing about matters of faith had I never gotten sick—the obsession is everywhere in my earlier work—but I also suspect that without the impetus of serious illness, my work would not have taken the particular form that it has. It seemed dishonest to avoid this dynamic.

When my life broke open seven years ago, I knew very well that I believed in something. Exactly what I believed, however, was considerably less clear. So I set out to answer that question, though I have come to realize that the real question—the real difficulty—is how, not what. How do you answer that burn of being? What might it mean for your life—and for your death—to acknowledge that insistent, persistent ghost?

• • •

Cleaning Up the Harvest Fields (2018)

• • •

Another book I’m working through, after hearing the podcast Pete Enns and Jared Byas had with him, is Craig Allert’s important A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon.

Allert makes the case, which I find utter persuasive, that evangelicals (and he himself is one) have failed to seriously take into account how the NT was put together in forming their doctrines about scripture. When you do that, the whole debate about the Bible’s authority takes on a different cast.

Most evangelicals, particularly at the popular level, have what I call a “dropped out of the sky” understanding of the Bible. What I mean by this is that since the Bible is the primary source for evangelical faith and life, it is taken for granted as being always there and handed on to us as such. We give little thought to the question of why we have this particular collection. How, when, and why did this collection come into being, and why was it raised above all other documents of the early church? How was the authority of this collection recognized and appropriated in the early church? Did it act as the church’s sole authority?

It is a significant lacuna that the understanding of the formation of the Bible is rarely broached by those who offer a “high view of Scripture.” A constant theme in what follows, therefore, is that a high view of Scripture should take account of the historical process that bequeathed to us the Bible, and that examination of this issue should actually precede an investigation into what the Bible says.

…Even when evangelical treatments of Scripture cover the issue of canonicity, this near deification of the Bible sets the agenda. For example, in the only full-length evangelical treatment of New Testament canonicity and doctrine of Scripture to date, R. L. Harris argues that the recognition of a document’s inspiration determined inclusion in the canon. The divinity of the text sets the agenda for his examination of canonicity, and the very real and important work and judgment of the early church is glossed over in favor of God virtually forcing these documents on the church so that even the process of canonization is deified. This, again, has the effect of making any further examination of the canon process unnecessary because such evangelicals claim that the church did not choose the documents to be included in the canon; rather, the documents forced themselves on the church by virtue of their divine inspiration. Thus, all the church did was recognize, not choose. Yet how this inspiration was recognized is given little explanation.

This neglect of the canon process has left evangelicals with an inadequate understanding of the very Bible we view and appropriate as authoritative. (pp. 10, 12)

• • •

My Autumn Playlist for 2018:

1. North Country (The Rankins)
2. Summer’s End (John Prine)
3. Autumn Leaves (Nat King Cole)
4. Bach Goldberg Variations – Aria (Glenn Gould)
5. September Grass (James Taylor)
6. Je Suis De’Sole’ (Mark Knopfler)
7. No Footprints (Bruce Cockburn)
8. These Days (Jackson Browne)
9. Our Town (Iris Dement)
10. Ready for the Storm (Kathy Mattea)
11. Southbound Train (Jon Foreman)
12. Orangedale Whistle (The Rankins)
13. Last Train Home (Pat Metheny)
14. Start It All Over Again (Battlefield Band)
15. Mandolin Rain (Bruce Hornsby & the Range)
16. Northern Downpour (Panic! At the Disco)
17. If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)
18. The Dangling Conversation (Simon & Garfunkel)
19. How I Spent My Fall Vacation (Bruce Cockburn)
20. Asheville Skies (The Milk Carton Kids)
21. Late in the Afternoon (Tracey Thorn)
22. And So Begins the Task (Stephen Stills & Manassas)
23. Bach Cello Suite #1 – Prelude (Yo Yo Ma)
24. Goodbye Again (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
25. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (Faith Like a Butterfly’s Wings) (Bill Mallonee & Vigilantes of Love)
26. Ho Ro Mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach (The Rankins)
27. Beautiful (Gordon Lightfoot)
28. Harvest Moon (Neil Young)
29. Autumn Waltz (The Wind River Turnaround) (Bill Staines)
30. Before Gas and TV (Mark Knopfler)

• • •

Season’s End (2014)

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    >> I have come to realize that the real question—the real difficulty—is how, not what.

    That is an excellent way to phrase it. Over the course of life-so-far the What that I believe has not changed all that much – but the How? The How is a different thing entirely.

  2. Taking care of each other is certainly what we should do as God’s family, but both Church history and personal experience provide ample evidence that we often do not.

  3. While I don’t subscribe to a view of the canon that would make the Bible infallible or inerrant, I do tend to think the formation of the canon has a mysterious/”magical” (when the word is broadly defined) element to it that cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of the human choices by the Church about what to put in, and what to leave out, and that this mysterious/”magical” element no longer is operative. If that is not the case, then why is it right to consider the canon closed?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > If that is not the case, then why is it right to consider the canon closed?

      I would argue it is closed by virtue of its own stasis.

      When a document goes a significant period of time without modification, it becomes unmodifiable. Attempts at modification will be met with “who do you think you are?” and no consensus will be possible – the longer a document is static the more phenomenal it feels to amend it.

      The must be doubly true for a document like Scripture where when it is viewed as overly hide-bound people have the option to simply walk away from it; why fight the fight?

    • Christiane says:

      Hello Robert,
      instead of ‘magical’, think ‘work of the Holy Spirit’

      I myself have wondered why evangelicals didn’t make up a canon of their own from scratch rather than ‘accept’ the working of the early Church. For example, the Book of St. James doesn’t jive with the current ‘conservative Christian contempt for social justice: solution, the Church of What’s Happening Now could just throw St. James out of their new canon so it won’t trouble their consciences or make their children ask annoying questions. 🙂

      I figure the way evangelicals solved this problem was to think that their INTERPRETATIONS of sacred Scripture were themselves ‘inerrant’ . . . . . and even they must know that this assumption doesn’t hold water, except maybe in some cults where the leadership declares what is to be considered ‘true’. . . . . . Maybe Mike Pence could explain this better than me. 🙂

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > instead of ‘magical’, think ‘work of the Holy Spirit’

        The difference is?

        > could just throw St. James out of their new canon

        Done and done. Back in my days as a Bible class teacher I encountered numerous people who had doubts about the cannonicity of James; that James was a “one off”. James doesn’t jive with the Red Letters that “the poor will always be with you” – that verse where Christ granted generous license to privileged thugs for all the rest of human history.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          > instead of ‘magical’, think ‘work of the Holy Spirit’
          The difference is?

          If I do it, it’s a Work of the Holy Spirit;
          If YOU do it, it’s magic?

          James doesn’t jive with the Red Letters that “the poor will always be with you” – that verse where Christ granted generous license to privileged thugs for all the rest of human history.

          Doing some “plain reading” (before I got told what it REALLY means), that line from James sounds more like a statement of basic fact than anything else.

        • Christiane says:

          Hello Adam,

          as per ‘the difference is?’

          what’t that old saying, this: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
          (Thomas Aquinas)

          as per the Book of St. James and ‘the poor will always be with you’, this:

          Not sure it’s the Red Letter Christians pulling this stunt so much as it’s the ones who DON’T see ALL of sacred Scripture through the LENS of Christ . . . . and that is a huge difference

          for anyone who takes a portion of sacred Scripture and applies a meaning to it that violates the Royal Law of Christ, it is possible to say that their interpretation falls short of the mark

          it’s kind of like these ‘privileged thugs’ quoting St. Paul for their own miserable agendas against the poor, against immigrants, etc. etc.; and forgetting that Paul ALSO wrote Corinthians Ch. 13

    • Robert, if the canon were not closed the bible would become more of a battleground that it is now. It would become prostituted, politicized with every trend in theology, or power struggle in church authority, or change in government. We see a bit of that with various translations trying to influence theology or gender roles. If we keep adding and subtracting to the bible text, there’s no end to it.

      While I support a closed canon, I insist that prophecy is still an active gift. Just don’t expect to add every little prophecy to the bible. Those are usually more temporal and local and personal, although there may be the occasional prophetic word to those in power. And lately, not enough of those.

  4. Pellicano Solitudinis says:

    This post is like a second chance at brunch. Happy holiday to all you US iMonk people.

    Given what else is on your listening list, I’d recommend checking out “Appalachia Waltz”, Yo-Yo Ma’s collaboration with Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor, if you aren’t already familiar with it.

  5. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Yesterday’s lectionary Gospel reading was… a passage I understand a lot of pastors dread preaching.”

    This neatly summarizes why using the lectionary is so important. It forces everyone to confront the “difficult” passages (whichever those may be: it varies from church to church). The outcome of the confrontation may be to preach on one of the other readings, but even then the pastor has to consciously think about that difficult passage, and assuming he doesn’t cheat and omit it from the readings, the congregation reads and/or hears it. Many churches have a de facto canon that they acknowledge exists, which is a small subset of the actual canon, with the remainder of the actual canon being quietly ignored.

    • Agree, but also would say that one of the weaknesses of the lectionary is that it tends to leave out some of the more difficult texts of scripture.

      • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

        Is that something that can be fixed, or compensated for?

        My church doesn’t use the lectionary; I didn’t even know about it before I started hanging around here. Instead, the minister preaches on whatever takes his fancy in the morning, which can get very hobby-horsey, and the afternoon service is based on the Heidelberg Catechism, which is a rather narrow focus. Between those two extremes, there are large chunks of the Bible that are rarely touched on. So I find the Lectionary to be a breath of fresh air. I don’t suppose any system is perfect.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Is that something that can be fixed, or compensated for?”

          On the level of the individual (Protestant) congregation, a modified lectionary could be adopted by just doing it. The difficulty is that this means either omitting something that is currently in it, or piling more material in. The lectionary is a tool negotiated between many churches. Where two or three are gathered, you have politics. I think they did a very good job striking a balance of what different churches want in, while being faithful to the liturgical year. But it is not, as Mike points out, perfect. My concern about an individual pastor futzing with it is that the result is more likely to be fewer difficult texts than more, and more pet sermon topics rather than fewer. Absent an extraordinarily self-disciplined pastor, I think it better to stick to the standard lectionary.

  6. Christiane says:

    “Allert makes the case, which I find utter persuasive, that evangelicals (and he himself is one) have failed to seriously take into account how the NT was put together in forming their doctrines about scripture. When you do that, the whole debate about the Bible’s authority takes on a different cast.”

    I have waited for a long time for some really serious discussions on this topic. The formation of the Canon was a work of the whole Church, as were the Councils and the Creeds. So much of fundamentalism has not considered that one of the ways the Holy Spirit works may be through ‘collegiality’ within the Body of Christ.

    Will evangelicals ever give this some thought that is not ‘anti-Catholic’ or ‘defensive’ or ‘dismissive’? If they do, they may find some treasures that were lost to them for millenia that today is much needed.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Too wrapped up in refighting the Reformation Wars.
      Plus, “No Popery!” has become a Tribal Identity Marker – “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?????”.

      “If we stand because Enemy Christians kneel, that is Protestantism carried to its most sterile extreme.”
      Evangelical is Not Enough, a good primer on Liturgical churches

      • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

        Refighting the Reformation? Among the stricter Calvinists, that war has never ended.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          At which point, they’re nothing more than the “Angry Young Man” sub-type of Perpetual Activist. Also known as The Perpetually Offended, their entire identity is caught up in fighting for The Cause. They can never be satisfied, as that would mean their entire reason for living (Being Perpetually Offended and Fighting) becomes null & void. And all the rest of us are along for the ride as extras and red shirt mobs in the never-ending Reality Show of My Righteous Fury.

    • Unfortunately, the trend nowadays is people wanting even less and less nuance and even more Clarity and Surety. I am in full agreement with the spirit and goals of that discussion, but I have small hope that it might reach a wider audience.

    • “So much of fundamentalism has not considered that one of the ways the Holy Spirit works may be through ‘collegiality’ within the Body of Christ.”
      Evangelicalism to tied into a one-size-fits-all activity of the Holy Spirit. I have an acquaintance (actually several) who are very tied to evangelicalism. He has opined that many of the mainline denominations are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they don’t have altar calls, and congregants don’t raise their hands, don’t have sermon series on how to live your life, don’t always believe in a literal reading of every jot and tittle of the Bible, and have liturgy. If you don’t see church like he sees it, then your church is not really a spirit filled church.

  7. Love the list of music. I’m familiar with most of the artists, but not many of those songs.

    Love that Mark Knopfler makes it twice!!

    • His album “Get Lucky” is my favorite autumn album of all time.

      • Nice. My favorite of his (not necessarily of “autumn”) is “Sailing to Philadelphia.”

        • +1. My daughter grew up hearing me sing Sailing To Philadelphia and the first cut, What It Is, on the way home from daycare. Strangely she still enjoyed hearing them. Speedway at Nazareth is also tops. And Prairie Wedding. Awesome album? Yes.

          • Oh, my…get this…I used to hold my toddler baby girl and dance/sing “Who’s Your Baby Now?” She’s now almost seventeen and still remembers that. Fond, fond memories of that album, a very special album for our family at a very special moment in time.

            Speedway at Nazareth is probably my favorite track. Love how that song builds into the amazing guitar work. But Like you said, Prairie Wedding, too, and What It Is, and…and…

            The whole album is full of great storytelling done with music and lyrics. A marvel.

  8. Glad to see Bruce featured on your list. I just learned to play his song Rumors of Glory. A line from the one you featured: I saw an old lady’s face once on a Japanese train, half lit rich with soft luminosity, she was dozing straight upright, head bobbing almost imperceptibley. Wheels were playing fast in 9/8 time, her husbands friendly face suddenly folded up in a sneeze…”. Great writer.

    • Michael Bell says:

      One of my favourite albums of all time.

      Was also re-listening to the “Trouble with Normal” album. Written 25 years ago but oh so relevant for today.

      • Michael Bell says:

        Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
        Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
        Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
        What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
        Person in the street shrugs — “Security comes first”
        But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
        Callous men in business costume speak computerese
        Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
        Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
        And the local Third World’s kept on reservations you don’t see
        “It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
        But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

        Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
        When ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
        Tenants get the dregs and landlords get the cream
        As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
        Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
        The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

  9. Another book I would highly recommend is Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s an excellent counterpoint to the prosperity gospel mindset.

  10. I watch as the first
    leaves make their timely descent
    to the falling world