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Sunday I preached a rousing sermon on the Gospel of Mark talking about Jesus' call to discipleship, and then the service ended with the hymn "I Love to Tell the Story," which reminded me of the good aspects of my childhood as a Baptist, and as the service concluded I felt the joy of loving Jesus and of having loved Jesus since I committed to follow him at the age of 5. Continue reading
A few weeks ago Michael and I got the rare chance to go to a movie. Rare, since we are parents of a young child. Rare because we don't usually use babysitting money for a movie, since we hopefully will be able to stream it sometime in the future. We went to see The Shape of Water. And in the various reviews I've read of the film, none have commented on what to me seemed to be the primary theme--toxic masculinity. Our current social moment is shaping how I interpret many things, so it clearly shaped watching this film (as... Continue reading
Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State by Ali H. Soufan My rating: 4 of 5 stars I learned a lot about al Qaeda and ISIS and the possible future for terrorism. View all my reviews Continue reading
Good News Mark 1:1-15 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational UCC 7 January 2018 Imagine it's the year 69 of the Common Era. The crucifixion of Jesus occurred almost forty years before. Christianity is still in its infancy—a small movement that has been spreading across the Near East and the Roman Empire. During those forty years conflict has increased in Judea as the people reacted to their Roman occupiers and the local elite who were allied with the Romans. Banditry has been on the rise. Revolutionary movements have increased. A decade before a prophetic figure appeared... Continue reading
Call of the Wild Mark 1:1-15 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational UCC 24 December 2017 Our language stigmatizes the wild. The California poet Gary Snyder points this out in his book The Practice of the Wild when he summarizes the Oxford English Dictionary's use of "wild": Of animals—not tame, undomesticated, unruly. Of land—uninhabited, uncultivated. Of individuals—unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. Of behavior—violent, destructive, cruel, unruly. The dictionary has defined the word wild by what it is not. But if we start from what wild is, according to Snyder, we get a different list. Of animals—free... Continue reading
The final chapter of David Brooks' The Road to Character is a rich and complex summary and an discussion of why and how our culture changed. He opens by contrasting Johnny Unitas with Joe Namath. Both grew up in the same area of western Pennyslvania and only a decade apart, but were fundamentally different people. Unitas said "I always figured being a little dull was part of being pro." Namath was anything but dull. Brooks explains that Unitas viewed football as a job that was not fundamentally different from a factory worker or plumber. Namath engaged in self-promotion. Reading this... Continue reading
He was wrong about so many things, but still so important to read and teach. I often tell my students that his most lasting impact were the questions he raised, rather than the answers he gave them. Here's a good essay critical of his influential notion of the self, arguing against an independent self and for a more relational view. An excerpt: So reality is not simply out there, waiting to be uncovered. ‘Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in... Continue reading
An essay discusses the continuing importance of Foucault's work on power. An excerpt: Herein lies the richness and the challenge of Foucault’s work. His is a philosophical approach to power characterised by innovative, painstaking, sometimes frustrating, and often dazzling attempts to politicise power itself. Rather than using philosophy to freeze power into a timeless essence, and then to use that essence to comprehend so much of power’s manifestations in the world, Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of... Continue reading
Gitanjali 35 Rabindranath Tagore, 1861 - 1941 Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action— Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Continue reading
This excellent new poem by Sherman Alexie examines the hatefulness of the Age of Trump. Continue reading
A piece in the Guardian discusses the weaknesses in the US Constitution revealed by Donald Trump's first year. An excerpt: But this year of Trump has also shown the extent to which the US has an unwritten constitution that – just like ours – relies on the self-restraint of the key political players, a self-restraint usually insisted upon by a free press. Yet when confronted with a leader unbound by any sense of shame – and shamelessness might just be Trump’s defining quality – America is left unexpectedly vulnerable. Continue reading
A Reordering of Power: A Sociopolitical Reading of Mark's Gospel by Herman C Waetjen My rating: 5 of 5 stars An excellent commentary on the Gospel of Mark with intriguing insights into the text. I will make much use of it this year in preaching the Gospel and in years to come. View all my reviews Continue reading
Sun, Sand and Single: An American Woman in Saudi Arabia, 1960-62 by Nancy a Gray My rating: 4 of 5 stars A fun, witty, and insightful glimpse of a lost world. It may only have been a half century ago when Nancy Gray lived in Arabia and visited throughout the Middle East, but the world she experienced--of Beirut as the "Paris of the Middle East" and pre-Revolutionary Iran--is no longer. She arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1960 to teach school for the Aramco oil company. Initially her exotic expectations are unfulfilled as she struggles to create social connections and find... Continue reading
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson My rating: 4 of 5 stars Delicious sentences and a compelling story of growing up female in the black upper middle class in the 20th century with all the tensions and paradoxes generated by that life. View all my reviews Continue reading
A Landscape Carl Dennis This painting of a barn and barnyard near sundown May be enough to suggest we don’t have to turn From the visible world to the invisible In order to grasp the truth of things. We don’t always have to distrust appearances. Not if we’re patient. Not if we’re willing To wait for the sun to reach the angle When whatever it touches, however retiring, Feels invited to step forward Into a moment that might seem to us Familiar if we gave ourselves more often To the task of witnessing. Now to witness A barn and barnyard... Continue reading
An interesting perspective on the Incarnation from R. R. Reno: It’s easy to step back and denounce the excesses of the Christmas season: the orgy of spending, too much food, too much drink, too many parties, and expensive ski vacations that bring aching credit card hangovers. Easy, but mistaken. I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward... Continue reading
I feel as if the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead continue to be confirmed. Here's an article on recent research in the minds of plants. Continue reading
A fun Kurt Vonnegut video in which he gives the shape of stories. I watched Rick Moody do something similar a few years ago at Yale. Also, check out a blog with infographics of Vonnegut's story shapes. And I've written an end of year church column on the books I've read. Continue reading
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien My rating: 1 of 5 stars O'Brien writes wonderful sentences ("The current, swift and dangerous, surges with a manic glee, chunks of wood and logs of ice borne along in its trail.") and wonderful paragraphs. She richly reveals her characters and the setting. But I didn't care for the story at all. And the structure which at first seemed to serve a point of revealing various points of view in the Irish village of Cloonoila became a jumbled mess of characters and settings as the plot developed and we moved to London and... Continue reading
Into the Wild Mark 1:4-6 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational UCC 10 December 2017 What's John doing out there in the wilderness? He's wearing crazy clothes, eating odd stuff, doing strange things, and all in a rather inhospitable environment. What's he doing? Everything about John is rich with symbolism. He's dressed like the prophet Elijah whose return was predicted as a forerunner for the coming of God. But he's not exactly like Elijah, because the ancient prophet wasn't a wilderness ascetic. In other ways, he is like Moses, leading the people into the wilderness for... Continue reading