Sunday, August 08, 2010

Train and Bus Time reading, Summer 2010

I have had opportunity over the past several weeks to “work in” a few books to the voluminous reading I have accomplished through the National Endowment program I have been involved with in Oxford. Thankfully time on the trains and buses allows for a bit of “leisure” for reading.

I will make only brief and quick comment on them here – for I know I will not have time as the new semester begins and I spend time with students – as well as a return trip to Duke and then some advocacy work in Washington D.C. in early September – followed by an active program of work with the Eupan Global Initiative in late September.

I read Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. A nice read.

One point I will take away. In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson narrates the life story of Reverend John Ames Boughton. As an aging and dying minister living on the Prairie, Reverend Bougton records his life's story for his son, to have as perspective on his life, since John is himself in his 60's and his son is not yet ten.

In numerous anecdotes and portions of his story, Reverend Boughton shares insight on how his son "ought" to live. Reverend Boughton offers his son to consider the following:

"Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in that ordinary sense. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it? . . . I do like Calvin's image, though, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us." (p. 124) Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead: A Novel. Picador: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2004

While this perspective on wisdom does not emerge from the text of the Bible, it nevertheless reflects an apt way for the believing community to begin to think about how we think about our role in the world – and in light of this, what it means to be the church. Understood in this way – not as something trite or playful – but as something intended for enjoyment – for God’s enjoyment – we discern a different shape for framing the practices of the church.

In his significant and influential text, Will Our Children Have Faith, Westerhoff outlined in the 1970’s how the church had wrongly adapted the framework of educational models and thereby, had begun to shape children not so much as persons of faith – but as persons who had a certain educational perspective on what to “think” about God and the church. In a different, but more recent text, James K.A. Smith in the first part of what promises to be a three-part trilogy, Desiring the Kingdom, has suggested similar constructions for discerning persons in light of cultural formation.

What Reverend Boughton touches on – that is addressed more decisively in full-text documents like those by Westerhoff and Smith is that the church does not simply educate the church to be the church. The Church should be forming selves to be the church – embodied lived out persons – not just “minds” – but actors who are designed to please God.

This, by the way, connects powerfully with the work by Samuel Wells that I read early this summer. I hope to connect some of these pieces in a larger whole in some writing I am doing elsewhere.


I read significant portions of David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence – this summer. The 2 part, almost 15000 page text did not lend itself well to leisure reading while on trains/buses (!) – but I did enjoy reading portions of it here and there. Even though I got through about half the actual text (in both volumes) – I will have to come back to it for further discernment in a more concentrated way - *if* I am able to at any point in the near future.

I was delighted to purchase, and read in full, on my kindle device, Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction, by A.C. Grayling. I have one colleague who talks about Wittgenstein on a regular basis – and another who derides the later work of Wittgenstein but welcomes the Tractatus. I believe the text I read by Grayling was highly accessible and gave me much better insight – both into Wittgenstein and into the work of my colleagues. I am no expert on philosophical works – but from my reading, I would recommend Graylings work to any neophyte – like me – wanting to know about Wittgenstein.

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