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  1. 1. c o n t e x tMARTIN E. MARTY ON RELIGION AND CULTURE July 2010, Part A Volume 42, Number 7 $2.50 Published by the Claretians 12 times a year. Claretian Publications, 205 West Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60606. Material may not be reproduced or photocopied in any form without permis- sion. All rights reserved. We welcome annual subscriptions at $39.95 for U.S. mail delivery or $34.95 for electronic delivery. Call 1-800-328-6515. ISSN 0361-8854. This saving cup Dipping first into the basket marked “History,” we find this reference: A couple of years ago the newsletter of Luther Seminary in St. Paul published this account: “A little more than 25 years ago, a youth walking by the old log Muskego Chapel on the seminary campus peeped in its window and noticed a beautiful chalice sitting on the altar. He broke into the chapel and stole it. Naturally, the young boy didn’t know that this chal- ice had been a gift to Luther Seminary in 1936 from Norway’s King Olaf. “In October 2006, the pastor at a nearby church called the seminary president ask- ing for a meeting to discuss ‘an interesting matter.’ The boy who had stolen the chalice, now a grown man, had visited his congregation. He was dying of cancer and had one request: He wanted to return the stolen chalice to the seminary. He had kept the pewter chalice in perfect condition. It had sat on his mantel for 25 years. Finally, its presence had become a source of discomfort and unease. Before the man died he wanted it returned to its rightful owner and place. “Luther Seminary president Rick Bliese received the gift of ‘the prodigal chalice’ with surprise and delight. Letters were written to this dying man expressing appreciation, as well as forgiveness for his earlier misdeed. The lost had been found; now the blind were gaining their sight. The man received the letters with gratitude and died soon afterward. “Now this chalice has become doubly special because it was returned after serving the purpose for which it was really intended: Calling sinners to repentance and forgive- ness. It has become a powerful sign of Luther Seminary’s mission.” —Quoted in Homiletics (homileticsonline.com), March 2010 Divine drama One of the most perplexing and promising issues in religious life these years appears on the front where theology and science meet. Ilia Delio, O.S.F., senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, reviews one of the most important recent books on the subject: John F. Haught’s Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life (Westminster John Knox), which she calls “a rich banquet of thought”: “On the one hand Haught confronts the cryptotheology of scientific materialists, “He had kept the pewter chalice in perfect condition. It had sat on his mantel for 25 years.”
  2. 2. C o n t e x t 2 July 2010, Part A and on the other hand he elaborates a new understanding of God in an evolutionary world. He challenges the ‘either-or’ criticism of popular atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett by pointing out their primitive understanding of God.” Haught, she says, contends that “bad theology, like bad science, simply leads to bad results. Religious reductionism, like scientific reductionism, fails, according to Haught, to see the big picture. By reducing God to a literal designer colored by a stroke of dualism (good God/bad God), scientific atheists wind up making dogmatic claims on the incompatibility of religion and science. He suggests that there is a religious yearning even in the best of atheists who cannot admit of God because they refuse to move beyond a primitive knowledge of God.” Then comes a radical contention: “As Haught moves his discussion from the misplaced concreteness of scientific materialism to theology, he articulates a new understanding of God, brought about by evolution. In his view, Darwin’s gift of evolution liberates the God of promise and hope, the God of the future, who is the God of Jesus Christ. Evolution does not dismiss God but opens up a new window to the divine mystery. ‘The God of evolution is a humble, self-donating liberality that avoids any unmediated manipulation of things.’ God is at home in this unfin- ished creation, allowing the created world to be at play, to mess up and to go forward into a new future. Haught emphasizes that drama is inherent in this evolutionary creation; it is an unfolding story of beauty, goodness, and love. Only within the context of drama and story, he indicates, can we make sense of tragedy and suffering. ‘If God had not opened up the universe to novelty and drama from the start, there would have been no suffering, but there would have been no increase in value or beauty either.’ The reality of tragedy and sacrifice in nature is an essential part of evolution’s forward movement in the drama of life toward greater unity and beauty.” Haught, let it be noticed, is not in the company of religious thinkers who retreat in the face of evolutionary thinking on one hand, or turn critically brash on the other. —America (americamagazine.org), 3/15/10 But will it be on the exam? Just in time for next month’s reopening of the academy is this reflection, which is of continuing interest to those who study faith and culture issues in the academy. Mark S. Cladis, professor of religious studies at Brown University, writes on the place of religion in the university: “Scholars of religion such as myself have been overly worried about the practice of students’ referring to their religious identity in the classroom. The approach suggested by my favored model allows the religious stud- ies classroom to continue to be a ‘safe space’ protected from confessional battles and privileged speech while at the same time modeling how we as a nation can talk about religion in a helpful and civil manner. “Why is the study of religion held suspect? I think the reasons some want to keep religion out of public life are the same reasons some want to keep it out of the university. People often believe that the study of religion: (1) is subjective, because “God is at home in this unfinished creation, allowing the created world to be at play, to mess up and to go forward into a new future. ”
  3. 3. C o n t e x t 3July 2010, Part A religion, it is held, is based on an inward faith that is not subject to inquiry; (2) lacks proper subject matter because the basis of religion is an illusion; (3) is a covert form of religious training, a subtle way to proselytize in the classroom; (4) goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the separation of church and state Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. “These worries usually have little relation to the way religion is actually taught and studied in religious studies departments. Religious studies in the American acad- emy is an interdisciplinary, multicultural field of inquiry rooted in the social sciences and the humanities. Nonetheless, religious studies professors often find themselves needing to educate university administrators and colleagues about the manners and methods of religious studies. “My claim is that scholars of religion should distin- guish between the regrettable student practice of privileg- ing experience and the potentially valuable practice of students expressing non-privileged life experience, religious or otherwise. My recommendation is that religious stud- ies educators focus more on the kind of conversation that is suitable to robust, critical inquiry in the class- room—an atmosphere of rough-and-tumble argumentation, exchange, and discovery— and less on the issue of keeping religious identity out of their classes. “When it informs our interpretive stance, we stand to see the religious studies classroom illuminating how we can engage with religion in a helpful and civil man- ner; moreover, we see religious studies learning much from the greater civil society about the role of religious identity in the classroom.” —Soundings (web.utk.edu/~sounding), Vol. 91 No. 3 Reappraisal of the evangelical mind We’ve touched before on the once-touchy subject of evangelicalism and anti-intellec- tualism. Historian Mark Noll, in his 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans), explained that the “scandal” of the title was that “there is not much of an evangelical mind,” despite what he saw as a biblical mandate to better understand creation. Times are changing, writes Jonathan Fitzgerald, managing editor of patrolmag. com, a New York-based journal of culture and politics. “At this relatively early stage,” Fitzgerald says, “most of the examination takes place not in the public square but on the campuses of evangelical colleges and in Christian publications, and much of the discussion is about the nature of the evangelical mind. [In one well-circulated 2008 article, a young evangelical writer named] Matthew Lee Anderson suggested that though new evangelicals are marked by a shift away from the ethos of their parents’ generation—including moralism, political partisanship, and anti-intellectualism—the change is not as drastic as some have come to think and is actually just ‘version 2.0 of the seeker-sensitive movement: it’s trendier, better dressed, and more open to con- versation.’ The scandal, Anderson suggests, is that the perceived shift among younger evangelicals is more a matter of expression than substance. “This position set off a firestorm of debate among evangelicals. . . . In perhaps “Religious studies professors often find themselves needing to educate university administrators and colleagues about the manners and methods of religious studies.”
  4. 4. C o n t e x t 4 July 2010, Part A the most poignant critique, Biola University professor John Mark Reynolds asserts that though Anderson accurately identifies the problem, he fails to see its cause. In ‘The Evangelical Intellect,’ Reynolds [says] the new evangelical is not a true intel- lectual. Instead, the new evangelical is what Reynolds calls an intellectualist, or a person more concerned with appearing to be an intellectual than with actually being so. Reynolds has a plan to take evangelicals the rest of the way; the solution he proposes is a return to the concept of Christendom, which he defines as a ‘culture created by the happy fusion of Greek and Roman philosophy with Jewish and Chris- tian thought.’ This, he says, is a culture infinitely more engaged; intellectual as opposed to intellectualist; and all-encompassing. “Many young Christians who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, myself included,” Fitzgerald writes, “are trending toward intellectualism as a rejection of the experience of evangelicalism that we grew up in, with churches focused on reaching congregants’ hearts at the exclusion of their minds. Many of the pastors and other leaders of these nondenominational congre- gations were not seminary-trained; rather, they were impassioned speakers—converts, often, from the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the 1970s. Though the situation has changed somewhat, seeker-sensitive megachurches continue to mass-market this feelings-based evangelicalism.” Fitzgerald recently participated in a New York conference on “Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual,” and he notes that former Nation literary editor Christine Smallwood asked, “Is there something anti-intellectual at the root of an experience-based movement?” “The answer is yes,” Fitzgerald replies, “and that must determine the course of evangelicals’ progression from decidedly anti-intellectual to intellectualist to intel- lectual. As this movement evolves from self-examination and moves into the public square, it may be that to fully achieve a robust intellectual culture, the ‘experience- based movement’ that is contemporary evangelicalism must recede, thus making way for Christendom.” Dedicated Context readers know that we often at least mildly disagree with authors of many of the excerpts which we pass on. Around the editorial table we express some uneasiness about three elements in Fitzgerald’s proposal. First, he is truly counter-counter-cultural in his plea to restore Christendom. Christendom (with the fateful –dom suffix), has to do with power, “lording it over” a culture, etc. Historically, Christians bought trouble in the fourth century when they bought cul- tural power, and today most know that such a “-dom” is not retrievable or project- able in today’s pluralist world. Second, we think the resources of Greece and Rome along with Jewish and Christian expressions, are too narrow: Most of the churches who show signs of life deal with other or additional cultures, and they have to be included. Seeing that Christianity is always packaged with and in dialogue with culture(s) is obvious; well and good. But culture can imprison the imagination as well. Third, isn’t Christendom at its best open to emotion? Psalms. Gospels. Epistles. “The new evangelical is not a true intellectual. Instead, the new evangelical is what Reynolds calls an intellectualist, or a person more concerned with appearing to be an intellectual than with actually being so.”
  5. 5. C o n t e x t 5July 2010, Part A Song. Mysticism. Folk piety. They all fit in, at least potentially. See the next item for more on this topic. —The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com), 12/18/09 Joining mountain climbers with valley dwellers The arts-and-faith magazine Image recently interviewed pastor and author Eugene Peterson: How does poetry move you in a way distinct from prose? What are your responses to the poetry of the psalms, the prophets, the preachers in scripture? Peterson: “One of the reasons that the psalms have been so important to me, and that I’ve spent so much of my time reading and praying them—along with the other great poetic piece in the Bible, the Revelation of John—is that they constantly train me in listening to the rhythms and getting into the nuances, so that I’m not just reading for information or entertainment or inspiration. At least half of the Bible is written in poetry. Why don’t Christians immerse themselves more in poetry so that we can learn how language works? We live in a culture where very few poets get attention. Language is related to information, for getting things done. But the Chris- tian life, the spiritual life, is not about information or getting things done. It’s about living. I want to live. I want to find out how. I want encouragement to live. I need companions in living.” I know you are a lover of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, for both of whom nature was a lens for viewing the divine, for discovering transcendence. What worlds does their writing make more vivid for you? “Hopkins and Dickinson have a similar effect upon me. As with all poets, a major part of their work is the use of metaphor. These two are conspicuous in how they pick up the ordinary, natural world and use it as a link between the visible and the invisible. Most of existence is invisible and inaudible. How do we make a connection with this huge world? By metaphor. The Bible is lavish with metaphor, but metaphors can very easily become clichés. The poet is a defense against clichés. “For me, Dickinson and Hopkins have been primary in taking the ordinary stuff of life and putting it in such a way that you see or hear something other. I love Hopkins’ word ‘inscape.’ It took me a long time to understand what he meant by that, but once I did, I saw it everyplace [sic]. Dickinson seems less self-conscious. So much of what she wrote seems to have come out of the blue. She didn’t seem to be writing for publication. I’m sure there was a possibility of it in her mind, but I think the writing was just spontaneous. That’s influenced me as a pastor. Can I do nothing in terms of publication, publicity, or getting a job done, but instead focus on getting this lan- guage into myself—written, spoken, prayed—unselfconsciously? If I can, then I’m being honest. “The task of preaching, as the task of poetry, is to say the old thing in a new way. Some expository preaching is just a repetition of what’s in the Bible: a listing of texts, proving things by a text. Instead, as a pastor you should think about what you want to say, re-say it, live into it, and then you’ll be able to say it in language that’s “The Christian life, the spiritual life, is not about information or getting things done. It’s about living.”
  6. 6. C o n t e x t 6 July 2010, Part A alive. I think one of the primary motives behind [my translation of the Bible, The Message] was an attempt to find new metaphors for metaphors that had become cli- chés. I translated ‘mustard seed’ as ‘pine nut.’ You wouldn’t believe how much objec- tion I got to that. ‘It’s not what the Bible says,’ people said. I’ve never seen a mustard seed, but I’ve seen a lot of pine nuts.” On writers and theologians that have influenced him: “The two writers who’ve most influenced the way I use language and the way I developed vocationally as a pastor are Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. Theologically I was brought up on Calvin and Luther and later on Barth. They’re all magnificent theologians, and not without imagination. They care about words, but I think of them as mountain climbers. They go to the heights. They see the whole thing. But five or 10 years into being a pastor, I was introduced to Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. They are theologians of a very different kind. I think of them as theologians of the valley, where people live. Teresa is a storyteller. . . . John is a poet. Much of his writing is explication of his poetry, but all of it is rooted in the poetry, which has its basis in the Song of Songs. I realized that as a pastor I need Teresa and John right alongside Luther and Calvin and Barth. My job is not just announcing the truth of God; it’s getting people into the country where the truth is lived. Teresa and John do that magnificently. While Luther and Calvin are proclaiming truth from the mountain, Teresa and John are down in the valley plowing the fields, sowing the seeds, pulling the weeds. That’s what pastors do. That’s also what poets and novelists do. I couldn’t live without the mountain climbers, but I couldn’t do my work without the farmers.” —Image (imagejournal.org), Winter 2009-2010 Our passion for compassion The last two items are from the same source. First, Joan Chittister speaks of compas- sion in a 2009 broadcast of the Chicago TV program 30 Good Minutes: “Evolutionary scientists tell us that later-day evolution of the limbic brain with its capacity for feeling, for emotions, for bonding, marks the human as more human the less self-centered we are. The brain, in other words, is hard-wired for compassion. “Compassion is not a social facade. Compassion is not a sham designed to mask our essential self-centeredness. Compassion is the emotion that links us to those outside ourselves. It is the capacity for outreach. It enables us, it drives us, to go beyond ourselves to the beating pulse of the rest of the world. Compassion, then, is a veritable dimension of what it means to be fully human. “The other proof, the second proof, the overwhelmingly improbable proof of the universalism of compassion is religion. Religions, with all their diversities of creeds and canons, rituals and liturgies, all their conflicting truth claims, all their standard- brand assertions of superiority, all of their traditional differences, have two things in common. At the base of every religion—however distinct, however unique, they claim themselves to be—stand two common pillars: One, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And the other, the undisputed and indispens- “As a pastor I need Teresa and John right alongside Luther and Calvin and Barth. My job is not just announcing the truth of God; it’s getting people into the country where the truth is lived.”
  7. 7. C o n t e x t 7July 2010, Part A able moral compass of them all, compassion, the unwavering ability to feel pain that is not our own. It is compassion, then, which is the divinely dangerous glue of the human race.” —Reflect [the Chicago Sunday Evening Club newsletter] (csec.org), April/June 2010 Better than walking on water Now here’s Tony Campolo, a Jesus-man if we ever saw one, in a 1996 broadcast on the same show, describing what we can do since we can’t walk on water: “We can’t duplicate the power of Jesus. We can’t walk on water. I don’t have the ability to raise the dead, neither do you. But we do have the opportunity to express the love of Jesus. When it comes to the bottom line, Jesus was more committed to expressing love than showing off his power. “I was in Haiti and, walking to the entrance of my hotel, was intercepted by three girls. The oldest could not have been more than 15. The one in the middle said, ‘Mister, for $10 I’ll do anything you want me to do. I’ll do it all night long. Do you know what I mean?’ I did know what she meant. I turned to the next one and I said, ‘What about you, could I have you for $10?’ She said yes. I asked the same of the third girl. She tried to mask her contempt for me with a smile, but it’s hard to look sexy when you’re 15 and hungry. I said, ‘I’m in room 210, you be up there in just 10 minutes. I have $30 and I’m going to pay for all three of you to be with me all night long.’ I rushed up to the room, called down to the concierge desk and said, ‘I want every Disney video that you’ve got in stock.’ I called down to the restaurant and said, ‘Do you still make banana splits, because I want banana splits with extra ice cream, extra everything.’ “The little girls arrived and the ice cream and the videos arrived. We sat at the edge of the bed and watched the videos and laughed until about one in the morn- ing. That’s when the last one fell asleep across the bed. As I saw those little girls stretched out asleep on the bed, I thought to myself, tomorrow they will be back on the streets, selling their little bodies. Nothing’s changed. I didn’t know enough Creole to tell them about God’s love, but the word of the Spirit said this: for one night, for one night, you can be little girls again. “Now, you may be thinking, ‘You’re not going to compare that with Jesus walking on water.’ No. But if Jesus were to make a decision as to which is the greater work, walking on water or giving one night of childhood back to three little girls who had it robbed from them, which do you think Jesus would consider the greater work?” —Reflect (csec.org), April/June 2010 Martin E. Marty “I’m in room 210, you be up there in just 10 minutes. I have $30 and I’m going to pay for all three of you to be with me all night long.”
  8. 8. T a k e n o u t o f c o n t e x tT a k e n o u t o f c o n t e x t  Esteemed editor (Portland magazine), writer, and poet Brian Doyle says that novelist “J. F. Powers [d. 1999] was one of the finest Catholic writers of the 20th century. Read his novel Morte d’Urban (NYRB Classics) and the stories in Lions, Harts, Leaping Does (Time Inc.) if you have never dipped toes in his ocean.” Doyle’s poetic tribute “Death of a Novelist” (below) serves as an inspiring example of how to humanistically eulogize someone—including even seemingly trivial details—without lapsing into the kinds of wasn’t-he-fun-to-party-with irreverencies offered up at so many funerals today: In his living room, on a June afternoon, in rural Minnesota. While folding the laundry. Lived alone in a college cottage. The college was Benedictine. Ora et labora, pray & work. He had taught there many years. Students thought him testy But excellent. There is hardly any laundry when you are 82 Years old, almost. Almost every day he walked to the grave Of his wife and daughter, gone ahead. Seven pairs of socks, He had discovered, cover about every situation and weather. And what man in his right mind really needs more than four Pairs of pants? Two pairs of black for weddings and wakes, Brown for daily use, white in memory of Betty, who always Loved to dress for summer, and itched to buy him a summer Suit. Why did I not let her? Why my insistence on frugality? We did have four other children. Such very little money. A National Book Award doesn’t pay for all that many socks. She would always say, Betty would, maybe you didn’t need Many clothes when you were in prison for refusing the draft, Jim, but our children are not prisoners, and I like to dress up For summer. He folds the towels first, to get his hands loose. For years after their daughter died he washed and folded her Clothes too. Finally he quit. Those years we lived in Ireland, He thinks, my God, how did we manage that army of socks? I don’t remember now. She’d know. He folds his underlings, As his daughters used to call what he called unmentionables, A word he heard from his own father, who heard it from his, And so on: stories ripple and wander just like that, he thinks. I spent my whole life on rivers of stories. And folding socks. Ora et labora. Stabbing pains in upper chest. Novelist James Farl Powers, age 81, died on Saturday afternoon in his home. He is survived by four children and an amazing pile of socks.” —U.S. Catholic (uscatholic.org), November 2009

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