Thursday, December 16, 2010

Unmasking politics in the Science Guild

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
My last post contained a sizable (for the web) theological academic paper, in which I quote James Davison Hunter who says that “politics has become a 'social imaginary' that defines the horizon of understanding and the parameters for action” and “is the way in which social life and its problems are imagined and it provides the framework for how Christians envision solutions to those problems” (To Change the World, 168). Both Hunter and I are writing within and for the Church.

Perhaps a helpful comparison could be drawn to other disciplined community traditions, say, the hard sciences. Daniel Sarewitz has an article up on Slate that piqued my interest in this regard: Lab Politics: Most scientists in this country are Democrats. That's a problem. Here's the final paragraph:
...there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure science insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more "science literacy" as public confidence begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.
Similar dynamics are going on in the Church in America, which Hunter explores in-depth. How's this for a revision for comparison?
...leaders of the [Church in America] should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue [of partisan politics shaping the imaginations of Christians]. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure [religion] insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of [Jesus], we can expect calls for more ["Christian literacy"] as public confidence [in the Church] begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy.
Is the scientific community in America at risk of becoming marginalized in the imaginations of the broad public, as the Church has over the past century? Is this necessarily a bad thing? For the Church, the Anabaptist critique of Constantinianism says "No," this is actually an opportunity. Could it be an opportunity for the hard sciences to become more self-reflective about their Enlightenment philosophical sacred cows, thereby becoming less beholden to American-political discourse?

How might this interdisciplinary/interfaith discussion be carried out?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Radical Biblical and Cultural Interpretation and World-changing

From Harrisonburg, VA
Many of my friends at seminary and on Facebook are no doubt tired of me whining about the paper I'm posting here via Scribd (impressive service, btw). Taking shape in my head for over two months, it's finally done and I'll turn it in to my professor this afternoon. The paper is a review/synthesis and attempt at integration of two significant books which I read this fall, the latter of which I've recently mentioned here:
The primary presupposition for the paper is that it was written by a Christian (me) within and for the Church. Non-Christians might find some interesting material, especially the contemporary philosophical and sociological material, which challenge prevailing Western and American views and practices. Another presupposition that I point out in the paper is that I'm working primarily with the Church in America. Global concerns are important and named but are not the focus of the paper.  The paper can be most succinctly summarized by saying it deals with one working assumption that leads to two consequences explored in the paper.
  • Assumption (later unpacked): Christians operate with a limited understanding of culture
  • Consequence 1: Christians operate with a limited understanding of the biblical text
  • Consequence 2: Christians set off on quixotic engagements with culture
Finally, a note on how this is posted. An academic paper does not "copy and paste" well into the blog format. The nature of the two media are far too disparate. Academic papers have footnotes, blog posts have hyperlinks, and trying to shoe-horn one into the other is a nightmare. This is why I'm so impressed with my first use of Scribd as a publishing platform. It allows both to be true to themselves while offering the best of social media for papers and publications like this.

So read on after the break if you're ready for a big 20-page exploration of Christians and culture in America...

[Update, Jan. 11, 2011: Just uploaded an edited and revised version of the paper below, which was submitted for an upcoming symposium in February.]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Anabaptist Preaching

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Anabaptist Preaching first caught my eye when my friend, Brett, took preaching class last fall, the last time former EMS dean, Ervin Stutzman, taught it before his transition to executive director of the Mennonite Church USA. It was assigned reading at that time and so for a while it was laying around Brett's study carrel which is right next to mine. My church tradition, the Church of the Brethren, has historical Anabaptist roots but as I've recently observed, those qualities have mostly bled out of the denominational consciousness and expression. So I've been going through a process of happily reclaiming Anabaptism these past two years at seminary.  Given, then, my high interest with anything Anabaptist-related, the title to this book itself was enough to get it on my mental “to-read” list, filed away for later. When our new seminary dean, Michael King, was brought on this year I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was a co-editor of this book, as well as contributing the second chapter. So after a year's wait I've finally had a chance to read it and have put down a few quick thoughts in review...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Social Media Gospel

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Arianna Huffington has an interesting piece up over at her online namesake: Facebook, Twitter and the Search for Peace in the Middle East. In the article, she names a handful of examples from the Arab world where digital, networked technology and the social media that ride atop it, are creating new opportunities for social change (under the familiar banner, "Peace in the Middle East"). While she does name social media's and other technologies' roles in contributing to terrorism, the tenor of the piece of mostly optimistic, best summed up in the final two paragraphs:
And though, as we've seen, technology can be used to terrorize and divide, social media, by its nature, tilts toward bringing down barriers and connecting people. Which is what is starting to happen in the Middle East -- a powerful tool in the crucial battle for hearts and minds being waged between the terrorists and the moderates.

No longer is our best hope for change in the region the far-too-often failed process of our government pressuring their governments. If fundamental change happens, it's going to come from the bottom up -- with social media fueling the transformation.
Read on for a few questions I have about Huffington's assumptions about technology and social change...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A musical eschaton

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Nearly 15 years ago a handful of high school buddies with some modicum of musical talent came together and formed a band called “Honnold.” It's an odd word, “Honnold.” It's a German family name, as well as the name of the eponymous street in Monroe, Iowa, our hometown. Yes, I was in Honnold, which existed as a proper rock band for just two years before college scattered us across the country, far from each other and our childhood homes in small-town Iowa. As our lives have taken shape since then, Honnold has lived on in various ways, both musically and otherwise. The former drummer, Kyle, and I, with a few other friends along the way, have managed to record three albums, the most recent one in 2008. Especially for Kyle and I, the songwriting and recording bug has never stopped biting, so I suppose we'll continue to periodically come together and do that for years to come.

Writing lyrics has been my least favorite part of songwriting since day one. It's never the first thing that comes to me and it's often pushed to the absolute end of my creative process. I fancy myself a wordsmith but there's something about lyrics that I've never gotten the knack for. There are a few Honnold songs, though, whose lyrics seem to have hit the mark and continue to have particular poignancy vis-a-vis my spiritual journey. The purpose of this post is to explore the lyrics of one such song and let them be a bidirectional lens for reflection on aspects of my spiritual/religious formation. So let's begin at the end.

First, take a listen to the song in question:
Last Song by Honnold

Now read on for the extended reflection...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
My friend Matt, who handles music for chapel worship at EMS, sent me a last-minute request this morning to help out on a few songs. Happily agreeing, I walked into Martin Chapel 30 minutes before worship having never heard two of the three songs. The one song I'd like to share here is called "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," whose lyrics are attributed to an unknown 18th century New Englander (thx, Wikipedia; though my prof said 17th century). Anyway, the arrangement we used in worship, and the one used for the video below is by Elizabeth Poston, a 20th century British composer. The video below is a performance in the 90s by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. Check it out...

After the break you'll find the lyrics, which are as beautiful as the music, and theologically vivid and rich. Because of the echo in the recording, it is helpful to look at them. Give the song a few plays, both watching the video but also going over the lyrics as they're sung. Ethereal and moving...