Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The limits of Stan the Man Hauerwas

in Toledo, IA
When I was in seminary, I got drunk on Stanley Hauerwas. His polemic works against Modernity, Christendom, Liberalism, Individualism, etc. - struck a chord with me, and gave me a certain set of diagnostic lenses to see "How stuff works" in our late modern world. For all that I learned from Hauerwas and will no doubt continue to learn, I am in his debt.

Yet even while I was stumbling drunk on his work, there were moments of clarity where I saw something lacking. In his hyperbolic assertion that Christianity hangs or falls on the fidelity of the Church as a concrete social/political body, understood as an alternative to "the world" - this all seemed to at least downplay or, worse, denigrate things like personal piety or spiritual formation. The self was lost in that elusive, fugitive "We/Us" of the capital-C Church.

So for all kinds of good reasons I remain generally positive on Hauerwas, but I'm also grateful for smarter folks than I doing critical engagement on his work, because it might give me better handles on where the limits of his work lie, and where I might mark out points of departure. The most recent, and what looks to be very intelligent, entry in this field is Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction
, by Nicholas M. Healy
, published by Eerdmans. And First Things has a helpful review of the book up from John Webster, tellingly entitled "Ecclesiocentrism." It's short and sweet, so give it a look if you love or hate Stan.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Peace: More or Less

in Toledo, IA

Back in July, I preached a sermon at the three local United Methodist congregations, filling in for Pr. Brian Oliver. He had a sermon series going on the fruits of the Spirit, and gave the Anabaptist guy the one on peace. My outline/notes appear below...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Willa Cather's bishop on miracles, vision, and love

Here is a stunning passage from Willa Cather's novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop:
"Where there is great love there are always miracles," [the bishop] said at length. "One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices of healing power coming suddenly from far off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."
I was in dire need of a novel this summer and picked up this book at a great independent bookstore in downtown Chicago when my family was vacationing there last month. The book turned out to be worth its weight in gold. I had previously read Cather's My Antonia in my undergrad, and my prof for that class was a Cather scholar; so I knew I was in for goodness going into it.

And that passage above speaks to me on a number of levels...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sexist Economics 101

in Toledo, IA
Emerging economics scholar, Kate Bahn, points out...
Early (US) census takers at the turn of the twentieth century were instructed not to consider women as employed if they were not earning at least a majority of the family’s income. Men were not subject to the same strict definition of employment. Because a lot of the work women did to earn money was done within their homes, it was not considered actual work unless it brought in money above a certain threshold.
(Source: How Gender Changes Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Nation)

The word "economy" comes from the Greek word oikos, which can be translated as "household." In the ancient world, the household was more than the nuclear family, it was the site of economic production.

This is blatant evidence that modern conceptions of economics/economy are incredibly limited and therefore limiting in any number of ways. In this case, women's work in the home wasn't counted as "real" or "worth it."

I've argued somewhat recently that Wendell Berry's work on economy is far more fruitful and equitable...

(H/T Ric Hudgens - @rdhudgens)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pets and the police: Neighboring in the 21st century

in Toledo, IA
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" (thanks to Gary Larson)
Photo by glenn_e_wilson via Flickr
The dog would not stop barking. It barked morning, noon, and night. Out there in the front yard, seemingly barking at every visible moving object large or small, or every movement of air however slight. It just. Did. Not. Stop. Barking! And its owners, our neighbors whom we didn't and still don't know, were nowhere to be seen. This was a problem.

As a telecommuter that works out of my home office and as a family that tries to have our windows open as much as possible during Iowa's more pleasant seasons (limited as they are), the incessant barking of a neighbor dog has a real impact on the quality of my daily life. I had endured it for a few weeks, but finally I decided something must be done. But what?

One option seemed straightforward enough: Go over to the neighbor's house, knock on the door, and ask with all possible humility and kindness to please, please, do something about the dog's incessant barking. The only problem with this route was that we'd seen these particular neighbors displaying some rather troubling ways of relating to each other while outside their house, for all the neighborhood to see and hear. So I was not thrilled about what kind of reception I'd receive for my complaint, no matter how gently presented.

So I called the cops. But let me back up a bit...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Immigrant or Refugee?

in Toledo, IA
Master and protégé - Gustave and Zero in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

There's a moment in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which I watched last night, that struck me as particularly poignant social commentary. For the sake of not spoiling any of the plot, I'll speak as generally as I can...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Following and Straying: The paths of my ancestors

in Toledo, IA
"Foggy Morning Frolic" by Mike Gilchrist & his cat, Wink
(used w/ permission)
My grandfather, Dale Mullins, started his adult life as a farmer. This wasn't a "start" so much as it was a continuation of what he was born into on his family's farm outside of Monroe, Iowa. Born in 1915, his father passed away when Dale was only 24 years old, at which point he took over full control and care of the family farm. He was born and died in the same house and lived out and worked most of his 77 years on the same 80-acre piece of earth overlooking and rolling down into the South Skunk River bottom that meanders nearby.

My other grandfather, Max Gumm, started out much the same, having grown up on his family's farm about an hour northwest of Monroe near Jefferson, Iowa. Unlike my maternal grandfather, though, Max altered course a few years into farming. He felt, as us church folk say, "the call"...