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Archive for March, 2008

All This Politics Talk

Has made me want to go pick up my Rushdoony again.

Happy to be the contrarian,

Steven W.

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This will be the last thing I post here about Obama lest we get a reputation for endorsing particular candidates (for the record, I don’t endorse anyone for political office). Given the theological and theo-political implications of these issues, however, I thought we might take in the continuing discussion as it transpired in the public square today. For my part this was among the more profound speeches by any politician in my lifetime. As someone who resides in one of the more racially polarized cities in the country (and after years of ministry in the cities of Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago) his words ring especially true to my own experience.

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Although it is custom to not observe feast days that happen to fall within Holy Week, at least one bishop in Ireland has agreed to retain the observance today. I think the rationale is that apart from the mission of Patrick many of us (our family included) might not even know to observe Holy Week.

Could I have come to Ireland without thought of God, merely in my own interest? Who was it made me come? For here “I am a prisoner of the Spirit” so that I may not see any of my family. Can it be out of the kindness of my heart that I carry out such a labor of mercy on a people who once captured me when they wrecked my father’s house and carried off his servants? For by descent I was a freeman, born of a decurion father; yet I have sold this nobility of mine, I am not ashamed, nor do I regret that it might have meant some advantage to others. In short, I am a slave in Christ to this faraway people for the indescribable glory of “everlasting life which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Acts 20.22 Rom. 6.-23

– Bishop Saint Patrick of Ireland, Epistola to the Soldiers of Coroticus, 3.10.

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With over a month till the next presidential primary in the state of Pennsylvania it is certainly a season of boredom in the media and our friends who earn their money filling column space and selling commercial advertising can certainly be forgiven for leaping on the hint of controversy to buttress lagging interest in events of the day. That being said, I have become increasingly distressed by what can only be described as a feeding frenzy surrounding the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

As a fairly conservative priest of the Anglican Mission to the Americas, I have no particular affinity with the theological commitments of Rev. Wright or with the United Church of Christ of which Trinity Church is a part, but I do have considerable regard for the prophetic role of clerical ministry and for the right of clergy to speak in a way that is independent of political control and the constraints of popular opinion. (more…)

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I am very interested in and am presently composing a paper on the topic of our contemporary praying of the Psalter and the imprecatory psalms in particular. Part of this has required my mining through various treatments of the imprecations among commentators with an eye toward their examination in light of Girardian construals of Christian theology.

Among the more provocative treatments to have come across my path in recent weeks has been that of S. Mark Heim in his recent work Saved from Sacrifice. Heim approaches the laments generally as the voice of “paranoia” expressed by the victim of sacrificial scapegoating:

Alongside the fierce expressions of anger there is a regular refrain we might regard as a kind of paranoia. It runs to the following effect. I am surrounded by a crowd of people who plot against me. I am accused unjustly. I am alone with no one to support me. Those who oppress me think they are serving God. I am persecuted and about to die. …This plea for deliverance seeks relief from an oddly specific kind of evil: conspiracy of a whole community or crowd against a weak and abandoned one, the crushing of an arbitrarily chosen person on a false pretext, leaving no record. In other words, this is what the sacrificial scapegoating looks like from the side of the victim.[1]

Of course, this got me thinking about the unfortunate NRSV translation of ha-ish in Psalm 1:1 as plural (“those”). No doubt this is an instance of the editorial preference for gender neutral language, but the shift from the singular to the plural destroys the “one against many” power dynamic intended by the psalm itself. Now if (and I realize that I developing a galloping midrash here), canon-critical authors are correct in their insistence that Psalms 1 & 2 comprise a “preface” to the entire corpus, summoning Israel to Torah obedience and/or loyalty to the Davidic monarchy[2], it would seem that we are intended to read the imprecations in a more collective light as reflecting the voice of Israel or her royal figurehead. This would not entirely negate approaches to the imprecations as the expression of individualized psychology (who doesn’t relate to them at one time or another?), but it does frontload the messianic and qua-Israel intention of the community that collected the psalms into a single corpus.

Thus Bonhoeffer’s argument that Christ is the implied singer of the whole Psalter may not be so-illicit an imposition of latter Christian mitigation of the text. Rather, while being distinctive in its identification of Jesus with Messiah and with the faithful of Israel, the messianic and qua-Israel sense of the psalms would seem to have some actual exegetical warrant (or at least editorial precedent).


[1] Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 82.

[2] Walter Brueggemann’s treatment comes to mind here among others. He suggests—rather stridently, I might add—that the communities placement of Psalm 1 at the beginning of the Psalter “intends that all the Psalms should be read through the prism of torah obedience.” “Bounded By Obedience and Praise: The Psalms as Canon” JSOT 50 (1991): 64. Cf. Jesper Høgenhaven, “The Opening of the Psalter: A Study in Jewish Theology” SJOT 15[2] (2001): 169-180. Høgenhaven is more insistent that Psalms 1 and 2 are a single composition, but formal similarities are there in either case.

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I make a point to regularly disagree with Keith Olbermann on any number of issues. I also am frequently dismayed by his occasional lapses into personal invective and special pleading. That being said, this commentary represents truth-telling at its finest. Whether one shares his ideological commitments or not, the fact that he eschews the fawning election year tendency to conceal and obscure is to be celebrated. One of the surest litmus tests of truth in public discourse is the instance of its being spoken against partisan self-interest.

I imagine that this is what Jeremiah might have sounded like at court in the face of false prophets prognosticating sweetness and light.

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As a Protestant standing in the tradition of the magisterial Reformation, I take it as axiomatic that sola Scriptura is properly defined as “Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith.” This stands in contradistinction to solo Scriptura, which says “Scripture is the only rule of faith.” Now this means that sola Scriptura implies that there are other rules of faith, albeit, fallible ones. Here we would place such things as our Confessions of Faith, our catechisms, and the ministerial decrees of Councils.

But if sola Scriptura means that there are other rules of faith, albeit fallible ones, to what exactly does the word “faith” refer? We speak of “the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3), and by this we surely mean such Scriptural teachings as creation, the Fall, the nature of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures, justification by faith, the Last Judgment, the recreation of the heavens and the earth, and so on. This much all catholic-orthodox Christians of whatever affiliation agree.

(more…)

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