Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Is Water in the Church

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
There has been some very strange and wonderful synchronicity emerging in my social/intellectual life over the course of this year. Read on after the break to catch some glimpses inside my head and social life, as I talk about friends, literature, barefoot running, and good, contemporary Christian philosophy...

(Note: This post contains no mention of the excellent album pictured to the right.)

Back in March, in the context of officiating a wedding ceremony, a friend of mine - Mark, an English professor - turned me on to the writing of David Foster Wallace in a small piece called "This is Water." In June, I finally had some time to pick up some of Wallace's books and reflected on one them here on the RT blog (Consider the Wallace).

Last year I spent some time on the Maryland shore with two of my friends, including Mark. One morning he and I went out on a barefoot beach run and ended up going about 3 or 4 miles. I had been daydreaming about barefoot running for a while, and this experience helped prime the pump to do more of it. Later, I came across Christopher McDougall and his book, Born to Run, which I reference along with a few other barefoot-running tidbits here: Baby, we were born to run...sans shoes. I've been running primarily barefoot ever since, using the FiveFingers if I go out of town on rough surfaces.

Which brings me to Robb, a friend of a few people connected to the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, where I'm studying and working. Robb has a cool blog entitled, Traveling at the Speed of Bike. I caught wind from one of my coworkers that Robb had turned him on to the FiveFingers and "barefeeting," so we (the three of us) had a fun e-mail exchange, comparing notes on the ups and downs of barefoot running (mostly ups, sore calves being a pretty insignificant down we all agreed on).

But Robb (living on the other coast in CA) has also somehow been reading many of the same books and/or authors that I've been reading this year. He and I were both reading William Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence at about the same time (which I then blogged about: So many myths, so little time). In conversations with my theology prof at seminary I recently discovered "Reformed Pentecostal" Christian philosopher, James K.A. (or Jamie) Smith. No less than a week after I started wading into Smith work, Robb goes and posts this: Liturgies of Autonomy/Liturgies of Dependency (Liturgies of “the Street”), which references Smith's recent Desiring the Kingdom.

Smith's work (this part of it anyway; he covers a lot of territory) seems to take seriously (in a rigorous academic way) embodied religious expression, something I see as a gift of his Pentecostal background which he's now bringing to his new home, the Christian Reformed Church (via his position at Calvin College), which I see as having a primarily "religion of the head" tradition (an oversimplification, yes). (Sorry for the parentheticals in that paragraph. Oh but also, Smith blogs at The Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation, which I've started following. It's an excellent and exceedingly academic collaborative blog on topics of Church/world seen from the discipline of philosophy.)

To bring us full circle in this rambling post, I recently came across this excellent public lecture that Smith gave at Calvin College earlier this year, also (like Robb's aforementioned post) covering his recent book, Desiring the Kingdom. This is a very smart lecture by a very smart dude and serious disciple of Jesus...but he does a great job of articulating his work in a broadly accessible manner. This isn't just for seminary nerds like me. And what brings us full circle here is this: Smith references not only David Foster Wallace but specifically his "This is water" piece at about minute 16. I started doing backflips in my mind when it happened. Great lecture, check it out:

James K.A. Smith - Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation from Calvin College on Vimeo.

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