Friday, September 29, 2006

Home for a Mudsill

Dear Walker Percy,

It was like awaking from a "deja vu." The sonorous rattle of the cicada clacking across the patched cement of our back deck. The disconcerting thing is that the sound of a single cicada, 2 1/2 inches long on the outside, is a racket. And that is when I realized that I am homeless.

Strange for someone who nests, who gathers around herself impatiens and begonias, who puts family snap-photos in groupings under the plexiglass of poster frames, who keeps second grade successes marked with stars, and trophies from mini-marathons for the benefit of a children's hospital, but there it is.

My husband speaks it out loud, but he is wont to do that, ready to up and out of there at the notice of a moment. He isn't homebound. "I've had it," he'll say. But I'm trapped by a few pieces of homeliness. Something in the turf or in the walls can cling to me, but mostly it's the cleavings of relationships. Up and out of there isn't comfortably part of my framework. However, in spite of my longings, my propensity to be a local, I haven't found a nail for my Welcome Home sign.

Walker, you say, "New York is New York", but localities in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (and perhaps Tennessee too) share traits which set the region apart from much of the United States. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps there is a southern traitedness that shuts its door on outsiders who would seek a home place, laughing with that Southern irony you talk about so much, at visitors who knock and seek to gain some entrance. I'm not sure if it is refusal based on irony or refusal based upon refusal, that otherly refusal of the traitedness. "Y'all come back, now," is after all predicated on the delicious assumption that we'all are leaving.

Janine just arrived from up north. Well, West Virginia. Her family moved her in with a rush, what you might term "Northern edgyness". The apartment was set up and operating before I arrived with my dolly. Welcome, welcome, good luck. We stood outside in the warm evening with glasses of unsweetened tea and she asked me a very unsettling question. "What is that sound? It's driving me crazy." What sound? What was she talking about? And that was the moment that started the deja vu. It set me up for an awakening of sorts. I had stopped hearing the cacophony of the cicadas.

Your frontispiece to The Last Gentleman quotes Father Romano Guardini from The End of the Modern World. "Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another."

And so it has, love is gone, North, South, East, West, publicly gone. We're a lonely bunch and in the midst of the static of life it is hard enough to identify other lonely faithful even when you can speak the same cultural language and there nothing to distract you from hearing. So shall I go home to the North or stay here and continue in failing attempts to find the flow of love as it exists here?

Perhaps I should be encouraged that the cicadas have faded from my attention. It could be a sign that I may find a home here after all. And, as the good Guardini went on to say, "Perhaps [wo]man will come to experience this love anew, to taste the sovereignty of its origin, to know its independence of the world, to sense the mystery of its final why? Perhaps love will achieve an intimacy and harmony never known to this day. Perhaps it will gain what lies hidden in the key words of the providential message of Jesus: that things are transformed for the [wo]man who makes God's will for His Kingdom his [her] first concern (Matt 6:33)."

May it be so.

Betsy DeGeorge

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Memoriam for AJ

Dear Bloggers,

I began blogging because I am interested in technology and publication. I am a manager of a publications department and was scheduled to do a workshop on using the tools of the 21st century for communication in the classroom. So I began my blog. And I began reading blogs. Meanwhile, I heard about AJ. He is the son of a friend of a friend. He had cancer and the prognosis was not good. And he was posting to a blog called Care Pages.

So I began to read this blog, a phenomenal account of strength and love, the fortitude of a family in faith dealing with the worst fortune. The whole family got involved with the posting especially as AJ got weaker and could not always record the account of the day or event himself.

AJ continued living fully every day and continued
his faith journey with authenticity and with energy for doing good. And he continued his adventures, visiting an aquarium when he was no longer able to pursue more exotic interests like parasailing. Even in his last days, he initiated a partially blog-driven campaign to raise money for the hospital that served his needs during his treatment. The last day of his life it was announced that the fund had reached a milestone of $50,000.

We blogreaders knew that today's post was inevitable and that it would not be written by AJ, this strong friend who had come alive to us on the pages of a blog, and who had, through it, encouraged us to a fuller kind of living. AJ's Dad said,
"We felt sorrow, pain, relief, joy, doubt, amazement, comfort, calm, anxiety, anguish, mercy, and other emotions that words can't describe just yet. So, I come to my familar place and time to share with all of you. I am not sure how long I will need to do this."

Publication is a communication, a public form of communication. Blogging allows us to publish. AJ's life deserved to be published, for he was a fine young man and gave beautifully to his family, friends, and those around him. I'm glad he published that spirit to those of us in the etherworld also. We, too, have benefited from knowing him.

Blogging, I'm sure, met a particular need for AJ and family. It meets needs for all of us blogging souls. We ship our thoughts out bottled up in electrons and corked with a .com, and we have said something, whether useful or not. Certainly, AJ didn't waste a word.

Domine, Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae
libera animas omniurn fidelium. . .
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam quam olim
Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Preface for a New Creed--A Survey

Dear Theologians,

I am getting ready to write a new creed. I promised my daughter that I would. Perhaps you could give me a jump start. This Scripture is one that is a bit of a driver for my thinking. How about you?

"We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
- 1 John 3:14-18

OK. Here is the survey question.

What do you consider to be an important, primary faith statement, not present in current credal statements that should be included in those statements?


Apostle's Creed
Nicene Creed
Athanasian Creed
Steve Martin Creed

Thanks for any ideas you can contribute.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Words, Words, Words

Dear Anne G G,

Take up as much of my cyberspace as possible! I will answer in this new post because the other post that I'm currently working on is taking too long to develop. It's kind of about being a Northerner living in the South. (Touchy stuff.) Here is my response to your response.

1) Your father quotes Meatloaf saying, "We can talk all night but it ain't gettin' us nowhere." I say that a diminished 5th chord may, in fact, communicate a precise "something" more universally than a word. But for ideas of a certain sort, we are left with only words to build concepts and, no matter how flawed, they are the tools of humanity. But, does that mean, that God can foist something upon these puny tools that we cannot? If He/She can, then I would say with Max of the Princess Bride, "It would take a miracle," at every single reading, which is possible given that we are talking about God. But, if that is so, why don't we all receive these words in identical ways. We surely do not.

The miracle may be that we seem to be able to sustain some remnant of the original concept, a common range of meaning. I refer to my survey on goodness. I find it revealing that people find common themes of understanding and that those understandings are persistent. Nonetheless, I would maintain that slippage occurs.

Oh dear, I'm out of writing time and I only covered one of your three questions. Well, to misquote the original ground round musical composition, "One out of three ain't bad."

I will return to the question of Christian Exclusivism in my next post, because it is indeed, and should be I think, a hot button or at least hot fodder for thinking.

I love talking and thinking with you, in spite of the inadequacy of language.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Heart of Christianity (Marcus Borg)--Chapter 2--A Study

Dear Stevie et al,

I'm dragging through this book very slowly. Perhaps I'll ending up posting per chapter and long after your group has moved through the material. Oh well. I'll try not to be long winded this time.

As I read through this I am immediately reactionary. It comes from a life of reaction I suppose. Borg too is reactionary, but he is fighting it and so I will too. His Returning to Faith as Believing at the end of Chapter 2, shows that he is, indeed, fighting his own reactions.

I appreciate the four words that he presents as faith definitions: Assensus-Belief, Fiducia-Trust, Fidelitas-Fidelity or -Allegiance, and Visio-Vision. I think these are good, though I thought that the vision concept actually goes outside the bounds of the freight that faith is typically asked to carry.

Here is what I liked about what is said. Faith is not just a list of beliefs for us to tuck away in our heads and pull out whenever we are asked for our statement of faith. First of all, we are asked to do that very infrequently. Second, this list rarely helps us live, really live our lives.

Borg at first seems to say that our Biblical Credo is not much more important than a Steve Martin schtick, but he redeems his thinking later in the chapter. First he says, "Does God really care what is in our heads?" He answers that question with a "No." That was uncomfortable for me. Later though, he fesses up and says, "We cannot give our heart to something that our mind rejects." And lets face it, he is writing a book to convince people via their heads to think/believe a certain way about Christianity, ergo he must care about belief as "assensus," belief as rational content.

I have long accepted an image of my faith that fits his description under Faith as Fiducia (Trust). It is linked to Soren Kierkegaard and the expression he introduced in the book The Concept of Anxiety. Borg talks about Soren's floating metaphor. The metaphor I relate to is the Leap of Faith. This is the point of existential engagement when, not knowing for sure in the typical rational, empirical sense of knowing for sure, not knowing comprehensively because our minds fall short, we study and forget, we have only about 80 years to work through the material, we don't get it, when that. . . we take a leap into the not sure, ready to free fall in our belief, our trust.

Part of that Leap is not knowing, but knowing that we will choose this, nonetheless. That is how I feel about the teachings of Christ. I choose this. I affirm this. I say "Yes" to this kind of loving, this kind of good, this kind of justice, this kind of living. As far as my head can go with this, I say "Yes" and then my heart takes over and leaps to the arms of Jesus.

One last thing, Borg's description of modern use of creed reminds me in an eerie way of the last scene of the initial Battlestar Galactica movie, when the commander describes Earth, which he does not believe exists, and convinces everyone that it does, ending with a raucous, "So say we all, so say we all, so say we all."

I have been for some time been working on a new credal statement, one that revamps the worn and inadequate one we currently use, replacing the term "Father Almightly" with "Creator All Loving", etc. The creeds need work not vacuous recitation.

I love you,


Friday, September 08, 2006

Article from Ha'aretz

Dear Ha'aretz,

Thanks for the clear sighted article.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Out of the Debris

Dear Rukshani Weerasooriya,

I have enjoyed (is that the right word? I don't think so.) reading your poetry. My sister Debby gave your book, Salt to me for a few days. It is very good. Out of the Debris is very touching. On the site you have titled the work Tsunami. I understand that, but I prefer the title you used in Salt for I pictured so many places, Pakistan, New Orleans, Iraq, and Sri Lanka.

I appreciated the words of Lance Corporal also:

"I'm tired
It's midnight.
I'm propped up
Against the mud
Like a cannon gun,
To fight
The battles you
From behind
Your trenches
Of ink.

My blood.
Your right.
That's not so hard
To rationalise,
When I'm out here
And you're safe in there.
Your sovereignty
Well intact.

Our skies are not the same.
Mine and yours.
Mine is black.
You've taken my stars
To stud
Your darkness
With my light.

I was like you
When I signed my name.
Just a father,
A son,
A lover. A friend.
But today
I am a coin in your
Treasury of blood.
Cold, worthless blood
You so casually

More people need to be able to read your thoughts. But I couldn't even buy this on Amazon.

Email: isn't enough of a marketing plan for you. Are you working on it?


Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Heart of Christianity (Marcus Borg)--Part I--A Study

Dear Stevie (and Your Study Group),

I have started the book. I thought I might throw a little information at you that would be like background. Let's start with the terms Borg gives for two kinds of Christianity, "Earlier" and "Emerging." I think he is trying to get at something here, but those choices, though they do accomplish one thing that he is aiming at, fail at another.

1. I think he is trying to do plain talk. He doesn't use the technical terminology. He is moving away from terms that carry unnecessary baggage with them, i.e. fundamentalism, evangelicalism, liberalism, etc. He succeeds here.

2. However, he chooses terms with their own built-in baggage system and does so inaccurately. For instance, liberalism in it's most prominent current form does predate fundamentalism in its current form and predates evangelicalism by a long shot. Therefore to identify what he defines as earlier with the term earlier, is not intrinsically accurate. Old line liberalism is hardly an "emerging" theology. It has been around since the days of Darwin. (Darwin was not operating in a theological vacuum. I'm not saying that Darwin was primarily speaking of theological things, just that he was not alone in his willingness to question theological suppositions.)

So, I don't like his terms because they mislead us.

Next, let's talk about verbal plenary inspiration. Again, Borg avoids the tech terms. He calls this literal-factual.

"Verbal plenary inerrancy means that one believes all of the Bible is inspired down to the very words of Scripture. The belief in non-verbal plenary inerrancy would mean that one believes all the Bible is inspired, but only as to its concepts—not all the words—meaning that it might contain historical errors."

Conservative Bible scholars would immediately defend "verbal" inspiration, claiming that concepts are built upon words, so you can't give up the God-source for the very words of Scripture. Less conservative folks, me included, would say, yes, but words are, after all, only words. They do not remain stable, meaning slips out from under them.

(Eg What did William Butler Yeats mean when he wrote:

“I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
Of poets that are always gay,”

Not a comment on sexual identity, but. . . )

Words do not have the power to remain verbally inspired even if they want to, even if God wants them to. Not in the world we live in.

At any rate, the whole inspiration discussion is an important one, but not one that you can engage in properly without the whole history. I’m not saying he is doing an unfair thing. Just that you, as a “hunter” need to acknowledge that there is more, much more, to be said on this subject.

It wasn’t until the second century that people started talking about such a thing as verbal, plenary inspiration. Augustine in the fourth century probably tackled the subject more completely, but that was at a time when the content of the Canon of Scripture was still under debate. Augustine included in his Canon a book or two that we don’t include. Groups of church leaders got together to argue vehemently about this stuff, back then. The fact that we are discussing it now should not be hard to believe. However, we should not draw too many conclusions without doing all of our homework.

Borg has done some homework, but his opinions come from a particular perspective. It is a different one from mine. I have done some homework too. You have a perspective. You have done some homework. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have more homework to do.

This is getting long. But, I want to include comments on what we discussed on the phone.

Borg lists 3 things as specific issues that divide the contemporary church.
1. Ordination of women
2. Gays and lesbians
3. Christian exclusivism

The first two are cultural hot buttons. They are important. You know your feminist mother is very active in the cause of the first issue. I am doing my homework in the area of the second. But the third is in a totally different category. Putting the third in the list with the first two and only those two minimizes the qualitative difference of that issue.

I’m not saying that it is out of line to discuss the third.

A realtor friend once said to me, “everything I own is for sale, if the price is right.” For me, everything I believe is up for discussion, if the thinking is clear enough.

However, this list is not clear thinking. It is using hot buttons to introduce a categorically different line of discussion. That is intellectual manipulation. Don’t be fooled by it. Borg should know better. Again, I’m not saying he doesn’t have important things to say.

More later,

I love you.


PS. I meant to give you some background on Borg and Spong, who he refers to. I’ll do that later. But the connection between Borg and the Jesus Seminar is key to understanding him. This is part of the “Quest for the historical Jesus” movement, driven by the idea that you can take the Gospels and figure out which statement Jesus actually made and which he did not make. Of course there is very little historical information about Jesus outside of the scriptural texts. Just a quick reference to him in the works of Josephus. That’s about it. Obviously, the work of the Jesus Seminar is pretty speculative. I think they would like it to be authoritative and Borg’s more popularized books (with their non-technical prose) are an attempt to present the work of the Seminar to the “common folk.”