Sunday, August 28, 2005


Hey all

Well, naive little me foolishly thought that my little-read blog (not to be confused with a little red blog) would be a harmless place to put Dawn's emails out for people to send her congrats. But Oh contraire, Pierre, not so. The evil spammers, may their tribe decrease, and may the gnats of a thousand camels start to *^(() in their ^%$&$#...grr...grr....anyway, so I locked up that post. No more comments there. And I un-linked her emails. And I'm putting this post up so there'll be another one on top, and so people can register their own grr--grr--gripes about automated predatory programs Agent Smith saggafritzzengrrgrr.....

Sorry loyal readers, but there'll now be a recognition deal ostensibly unreadable by automated programs that you'll have to go through as a checkpoint before your comments post up. Sorry. Grr.

Other than that I feel fine.

And pray for poor New Orleans. Wow, what a storm.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Yay, Dawn!

So Dawn got a new letter today. She is no longer merely the lowly Dawn Thames, R.N. She is now the robust and powerful Dawn Thames, R.N.C.--registered nurse clinician. This basically means she is board-certified (like doctors and lawyers sometimes are) in obstetric nursing (i.e., helping women have babies). Big congratulations (she hates taking tests and was very anxious about the three-hour exam). If you love Dawnie and want to send props her way, she's at 469 939 6436 and dawnth at baylorhealth dot edu and the same at sbcglobal period net.

I'm working on an article based on Kierkegaard's idea that if we had a duty to love (which he thinks, because of God's command, we Christians do) it would be a freeing thing. I'm hoping to show that agape love, as the welcoming love of strangers, as hospitality extended toward foreigners, as loving one's enemies, is just the thing not just needed but required for civil society to function. A basic form of it must be available by means of God's general grace to all. Otherwise, the commands and expectations of Scripture regarding civil society wouldn't make sense. Of course, the consequences of the absence of any even rudimentary acceptance or trust of the Other is currently seen in Iraq and Palestine: paranoia and slaughter in lieu of disagreement.

Jonathan is supposed to read the Shakespearean tragedies this year, and it seemed a good time for me to do so as well with him. I haven't read more than a couple in my life--my literary formal education was abysmal. On the other hand, we've always done Shakespeare in the Park in any city we lived in. So I'm not unfamiliar with them. And I love the raft of Shakespeare that came out of England in movie form in the nineties, with Kenneth Branagh leading the way, but also Ian McKellan's Richard III and the various Capulets and Montagues. Anyway, so far I've read Julius Caesar, very much about the cancerous nature of pride and conspiracies; MacBeth, about guilt as much as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is; Hamlet, with more stock phrases in the language gotten from it per scene than any other play I'm sure; and King Lear, the most unrelentingly icky and horrible narrative of how nastily people can treat each other, unrelieved by any humor, that I've encountered since years ago Dawn and I watched the creepy and depressing, if magnificently done, 1960s version of A Lion in Winter. After that, I decided to switch over to the comedies for a while, so I'm starting with The Tempest.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Thoughts in Solitude

Stuff on the brain this morning:

There is a lot to like in the world. Just like there are more good things to invest your life in, and more people worth the effort, than you will ever have time or emotional space for, so there are just a ton of things to like. I'm thinking of the start of "Amelie" as an example.

But I like Reed's Extra Ginger ginger beer, the new beef marinade we've been using with shishkebabs the last couple of weeks, the fact that every time Gandalf acts in a quasi-angelic way in Lord of the Rings the music is a boy soprano, and Dawn's new brown sweater and city trousers. In amidst my well-informed griping--about Karl Rove, about the fact that every imagination of the hearts of mortgage loan guys seems to be only evil always, about the absurd absence of a train to Denton and the even more absurd lack of a smooth rail connection to DFW airport--it's good and pleasant and blood pressure-controlling to say again, there is a lot to like. Parting thought along this line: there is a cantaloupe growing in one of the front yard flower gardens, because the compost we used was from our kitchen garbage of last year.

Also on the brain: what to do about the laudably disabling emphasis in academia in at least formally knowing what you are talking about when you write? On the one hand, every sort of loon and nutcase in the world seems to be able to publish--is this because they can just put everything in standard form bibliographically? Are editors that immunized against content of their own journals? Is it just footnoting Rawls correctly that makes you a political philosopher? Yet, those who think, as the old self-referentially critical comment goes, that they know everything are especially annoying to those of us who do. Yet that leaves me qualified to talk about...Habermas, and only with asterisks and footnotes everywhere, because I have three of his historical studies, one major work of theory, and four volumes of interviews, essays, and occasional pieces (wasn't it George Carlin who said those were nice to have around the office now and then?) yet to read, let alone the secondary literature, and I've got a bloody Ph. D. in the guy. So I feel like I know him, but don't think I can say so very loudly or confidently til I finish slogging through the 8 books and at least some of the secondary literature on him. On the other, for people who really don't know jack about him to talk about him grates on me. So I find the requirement of competency 'laudably disabling.' Yet I still have to find a way to write now, when I'm always going to be writing a least a bit beyond what I've really got control of.

And money. Dawn and I had a Come to Greenspan meeting with our checkbook two weeks ago. We had opened a second checking account for the explicit purpose of paying all bills out of the second account for a month so as to let our main account settle, so we could then arbitrarily reconcile it with our checkbook, which was too far out of synch to ever dream of balancing. Great. Done. So then one month later, new statement for main account comes--and I'm $50 irreducibly off again. Can't find any math errors, anything included or omitted. Yet $50 off. Just once I'd like to feel I'm not back at the Sleepy Time Inn in Durham, working the night shift and failing yet again to match the till count to the room receipts for the day. On the bright side, we and the kids watched "Office Space" the other day, Dawn made a wad of dough last paycheck, and God gave me Gerald Borchert years ago echoing in my mind ever since: "Money stuff always works out. Not always like you want and you often have no real idea how. But it always works out." And he didn't even qualify it by saying for Christians, although I don't know how those without more to rely on than the economy and themselves handle the pressure. Hats off to them, because I'd do terrible without being able to talk to and trust God about it. Of course, this sounds weird coming from a guy who lives in 2300 square feet on Swiss Avenue, maybe. And for sure, God works just as hard to make us content with the much we have now, as he did making us content with little (600 square feet on Belvar in the "Mockingbird Valley servants' quarters" in Louisville) before. We'll doubtless have little again. I think our yard sale tomorrow is a little act of faith in that regard...but I'd still like to be able to balance my checkbook to the penny just once :).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tired Puppies

Well, it's late, but I'm happy.

I go to Austin tomorrow to do some training for ECN.

Today and yesterday I finished Donald Davidson's Subjective Intersubjective Objective, Habermas's On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction and his Legitimation Crisis, and something else. I'm finally starting to read Shakespeare again. It's amazing how much "MacBeth" is like Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, but far more compact, of course. And I've just started Habermas's huge On the Pragmatics of Communication; I figure I may as well go ahead and finish reading his whole ouevre (sp?), since I got so far into it in the dissertation.

Dawn and I have been working on livable scheduling. It looks like between Sunday morning and Monday mornings I'll get a full Sabbath day each week, which is very healthy.

I speak this upcoming week at Lower Greenville. I really do miss the week-in, week-out discipline of speaking exegetically, but fitting into an occasional rotation is exactly the right thing to be doing right now.

Jonathan and Beth started school yesterday. Senior and sophomore years. Wow. How did Dawn and I ever make it this far? And they're so cool; may the gnats of a thousand camels come to mate in my armpits if I don't really pay attention to them both this year. If nothing else, I can now these days say that, at long last, I at least know Job One when I see it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Once a Week Whether I Need to or Not

So many bloggers, so few threads that go very far.

Well, I guess the key thing is that my England impressions keep firming up. The cross-denominational nature of the emerging beast is not, I think, any sort of protest, or any sort of reviving of bad old 50s ecumenism. I think it's robust, mission-field, living, breathing, hey, I just spotted somebody who's sort of kind of on the same side I'm on, so I'm going to stick with 'em kind of thing.
Oftentimes in Africa I'd see another white and pretty quickly find out that they were a jerk and not someone I'd ever want to be associated with--and yet, if I'm honest, there was almost always just an immediate, unsought-after flicker of instant trust and same-side-edness the second you came in contact. Walker Percy talks about how people who couldn't have stood each other in the past would immediately link arms against the vulgar excrescence that our culture has become--he talks about Robert E. Lee and another Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lee was an aristocrat from the plantations of tidewater Virginia. Forrest was a slave-trader from the river markets of Memphis, and in the culture of the time, Lee would have rated stratospherically higher than Forrest, whose profession made him a pariah (if a wealthy one) in polite society. Yet, says Percy, he knows what would happen if they, transplanted in time, were to run into each other at a used-car-salesmen convention on Bourbon Street: "Lee a gentleman, Forrest, not; but in that den of vipers, they would recognize each other instantly."
That's kind of how I see the emerging church stuff at its best. Nobody has any uniform on, and what organization or network they're related to isn't any failsafe guide; but you just know it, you just feel it in the gut: yeah, she's the real stuff, yeah, he's got hold of the monster alright.
The web is challenging in that regard, because without the physical presence of the person it can be hard to catch the vibe correctly. But even there you can usually tell the advertisers and the market-driven guys from the people doing something authentic.

I don't know. I'm so bistellar right now. I orbit the star of philosophy, which is the star of the future, and of a stable income that could give Dawn some relief. And I orbit its binary in my life, the star of postmodern mission stuff (PMS--our motto: "we're a little edgy"), which is the star of my recent past and of my major qualifications and competencies only for which any sane person would pay me. So I dunno. Today I did a zillion email all related to pomerging church--and I wrote a technical philosophical article, which I'm actually not upchucking upon rereading, about how a Christian (me) would rework and rephrase Jurgen Habermas's critique of John Rawls's political philosophy. Gripping stuff; I expect a call from Tom Clancy any time now.

In the meantime, Heather was in the hospital with Asa last night (now okay, I think), and Kelly's in the hospital tonight. Well. My issues pale in that light.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Back from England

Hey everyone

sorry I've been incommunicado. I was all set to be very in-contact in England, but nooo: my inline surge protector blew the first time I plugged it into an English socket. After that, with no time and no especially techie people there to help quickly, I just had an extra five-pound weight in my backpack to toughen me up. I was using other people's machines for email when I could, and I didn't want to hog them for blogging as well. next time, better.

great trip. for me personally it was great; I could vacation hard for a year in Britain and not tap out the places I wanted to go and stuff I want to see and experience. the wedding in Bath was great, but chaotic enough that I wasn't able to make it in to town to actually tour the Roman baths there that gave the town its name. I did get to go with my sister Katherine and her English husband Mark to Fountains Abbey, near Ripon north-northwest of Leeds. Chris McMains accused me of being out to "bag" World Heritage Sites (which I guess both Bath and Fountains are) the way climbers bag peaks.

the overall impression from the trip was to reinforce what I suspected going in: that Europe in general, Britain in particular, is further down the postmodernizing social shift than the US is. That may be welcome or terrifying news, depending on your assessment, I suppose. I think it's fine, especially as the second part of that observation is that the denominations, and in some cases the churches, in Britain are also well ahead of us in adapting to the new intellectual and cultural environment.

It may well be, of course, that the reason is not that they are especially foresighted compared with us, but merely that the culture they work in is more fully transitioned than ours is. Or maybe more importantly still, I think a large part of British Christian willingness to adapt to culture change is the glaring obviousness of their predicament. Unlike us, they cannnot pretend to have a triumphal, victorious, possessing attitude toward their society. The church is largely irrelevant there. It is tiny, and on the ropes in most places. But whether necessity is the mother of invention or not, extremity is sometimes the parent of honest assessment. Public relations drivel, hype, self-congratulatory praise are not only uncongenial to the post-war, post-Empire British cynicism, understatement, and self-deprecation, they are also laughably untenable when applied to the church in society. We still dream of a Christian takeover of the courts, the schools, the media, the government. The prospect is ludicrous in England. Desperate men take desperate measures, and at worst this means that there is a lot of grudging adaptation in England. But there is also much more enthusiastic adaptation, too.

Another factor I think plays in. It is that we can confuse cultural adaptation with pop culture fads and styles. I think England is slightly less gaga over consumerism than we are anyway, but with respect to emerging church stuff, I think there's a much grimmer recognition of how close the church is to utter disintegration, so adaptation is consciously about survival and identity and transformation, and much less about finding out what the cool kids are into this season.

None of this is to say that the English have a successful "model" for us to follow. They've only had modest success, in the first place, and I don't think models are useful in highly localized, relationship-driven, highly transient situations anyway.

but I do think that there are missiological patterns at work than we can, mutatis mutandis, apply in our circumstances.

more later soon.