The Taser's Edge


Spring Break Report

I. Projects and Procrastination

I’m never all that good with breaks.  In terms I’ve used to voice the problem to many people many times, “Without enough to do, my brain starts to eat itself.”  There is also a different problem going on inside me, and it is my particular brand of procrastination.  The more I need to do something, the more I don’t want to do it.  What’s worse, when I am encouraged or reminded to do that something which I need to do, I become all the more stubborn that I won’t do it.  (I wanted to use ‘recalcitrant’ just then, but ‘stubborn’ is easier to use in a sentence.)  I’ve woken up every day this week and not wanted to get out of bed for fear of messing up the day.  And each night, I’ve not wanted to go to bed, because that late in the day I can let myself off the hook for wasting time.  I’m telling you because I know it’s unhealthy, by the way.

This week, the project was writing a sermon for tomorrow morning.  It is done.  (I’m thinking about posting it tomorrow.)  It was mostly done yesterday, and I even started it on Monday.  That is not to say, however, that it didn’t stress me out.  The other project which would have been great to finish would have been my Application for Holy Orders for the AMiA, and also all the kind official letters to official people in the UMC, telling them what they already know, that I have left them.

II. Reading and Reading

Other business.  As I look over several recent posts, it seems like so much of what I write is about books.  To make it official, you should know that Holly invented a quiz for us both to take: “What is your favorite thing to do?”  Her answer: laughing.  My answer: reading.  The real question is therefore not why I write so much about reading, but why she writes so little about laughing.

And this break, I have indeed read.  Almost all graphic novels, a Christian leadership book, and then Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  That book is so amazing.  I think I read it when I was too young.  Or I might have claimed to have read it in imitation of my idolized older brother.  The same thing happened with The Lord of the Rings; I know I read at least the first couple of those, but I don’t remember anything at all that wasn’t also covered in the movie.  Among other things in which I aped Zack: asking Jesus into my heart at the kitchen table two weeks after Zack had done the same; reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; claiming as a toddler that I had somehow had the exact same dream as he had had the night before, a claim which mysteriously only came up after he had described his own dream to Mom.  The weird thing is that I actually remembered having that dream for myself for a long time, and only later realized that it was probably impossible, and that I had most likely given myself a fake memory.

To return to reading, I am very disappointed in Duke and the Durham Downtown Library that neither has the full Wrinkle in Time series, but I was able to request A Wind in the Door from one of the branches.  I am disappointed in Duke alone for failing to carry the 2008 sequel (and second volume) to one of the best books of 2006, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, but Durham Library is vindicated on this count, and the book is in my sweaty-with-anticipation grasp.  If I haven’t yet told you to read it (yes, Wen, this is the one I told you to read) and you fancy yourself an interesting and interested person, you must read at least the first volume by M.T. Anderson.  I don’t really believe in the concept of an instant classic, but that first volume is one.  Synopsis of volume 1: The beginnings of the Revolutionary War as told by an African slave who doesn’t realize he is an African slave because he is raised by Enlightenment Christian philosopher/scientists as an experiment to see if an African can receive a classical education as well as a European.

And, again following the path of my older brother, Zack (as well as my own interest in David Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan, and speculative/science fiction, and I don’t even know if he’s read these particular books), I also checked out Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Frank Herbert’s Dune.  As you can see, I don’t read much in the way of stuff that’s not well-known, (or at least that’s not well-known in its own particular circle).  But I do try to read widely.  My recent philosophy of reading has tried to give up on lifetime reading plans.  As long as my reading setting is stuck on “Voracious,” and as long as I continue to follow my random interests, I think I’ll probably be fine.



Creating Christian Community and Naming the American Lie

This post is meant to be read after “Tasty, Tasty, Stanley-flavored Kool-Aid.”

Last night I traveled up to Roanoke, VA to visit Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican Mission in America congregation.  Actually, there are now three churches, the original Church of the Holy Spirit and two churches that it has planted in the surrounding area.

It was the first meeting of the new year for Anglican Missional Pastor, the clunkily named (hard to see that on a resume) program I’m doing to train to be a pastor within the AMiA.  It was a wonderful discussion about all kinds of stuff having to do with church planting and church leadership, encouraging rather than a bunch of technical stuff.  Eventually, one of the questions we asked was basically, “Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  There are many answers to that question: hope, community, belonging, to be known, to be accepted, to be understood, to love and be loved.

Stanley Hauerwas has a catchy slogan depicting his reading of the claims of modernity: “You should have no story but the story you chose when you had no story.”  Although his wording is facetious, it is also true.  Think of the promises of America: you can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else), your political beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your philosophical beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your religious beliefs are your own and you alone chose them, your mind is your own, your body is your own, your identity is your own.  Your personal story started with you, has been defined by you, and only those influences which you choose (bad influences being able to be ameliorated by counseling) will affect you.

If you think this is an overstatement, look at the promise of Barack Obama: grows up in poverty, the child of a Kenyan, raised by a single mother, becomes the first black president.  It is a lie to say that any child in America has the same potential.  I have only to talk to my wife and her fellow public school teachers about their students’ performance on End-of-Course testing (North Carolina’s way of doing their part for No Child Left Behind) and I know that it is a lie to say that, in America, any child has the potential to be president.  (I want it to be clear, however, that I do believe that every one of those children has the potential to do great things, but for most of them, their greatness will not be one chosen from among a stack of possibilities, but one highly determined by the circumstances of their lives, circumstances which were far beyond their control.)

Once again, I’m far afield.  This post is supposed to be connecting the post on postliberalism to my AMP day today.  Here’s the connection.  As I mentioned in this week’s Tuesday Reading Roundup, I have been reading Bryan Stone’s Evangelism After Christendom, which brings many of the ideas of postliberalism to bear on Christian evangelism.  One very strong part of postliberalism is a focus on narrative-formed communities.  Each community has its own story, and the members of that community are not discrete beings.  Rather their identities are dependent on one another (intersubjective) and upon the story and tradition of their community.  Communities are particular because they and their members are formed by particular stories and traditions.  One of these communities is the Church and its story is the Gospel.  Certainly this idea can be relativistic–many communities, none better than another–but Bryan Stone claims it doesn’t have to go that far necessarily (as does Alasdair MacIntyre, on whose work much of narrative theology is based).

“Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  People long for community, because although we are told that we can decide who we want to become, our identities are intertwined with each other.  This is not just a collective consciousness as a species (although I don’t necessarily have a problem saying that it may also be that), but it is more importantly about our collective identity as children of God.

Deep inside, we still know that we are connected to one another, that the divisions between us are wrong and somehow artificial (even though they go very deep), and that we are not separate islands unto ourselves.  No matter how loudly and often we are told that we can be whomever we choose to be, we know that our selves are not wholly determined by our choices or ourselves.  The Church has something to offer, because it is a place which (at its best and truest) affirms that voice within us and says to us, “Yes, you are connected to everyone else and also to something greater than you can voice or name, you are not alone, you were created to be loved and not to be abused.  Here is a community in which you are invited to experience and to have your identity be shaped by love, joy, peace, companionship (a word literally meaning ‘sharing bread’), and hope.”

Believe it or not, throughout history, there have always been some quarters of Christianity (a remnant, if you will) which actually work like that, and there are churches where it happens today.