Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 12

“Although it is true that I got through the years with Anne in part because of my boundless energy and stubbornness, I would not have survived if I had not had friends praying for me.  I ‘knew’ God was with me because I knew I had friends all over the world praying for us.  Prayer did not mean that I thought everything would work out for the best.  Prayer meant that God was with us.  Prayer meant that Anne did not die alone.  Prayer means that none of us will die alone” (281–282).

“Humility is a virtue that rides on the back of a life made possible by having been given good work to do” (284).

“As I shared this manuscript with friends along the way, someone asked me what I had learned in the process of writing Hannah’s Child.  I am tempted to say that I have learned how fortunate I am to have had such good friends, but that would be stating the obvious.  I might also reply that I now realize how lucky I have been, but that would be killing time in the hope of discovering something to say.  There are other possibilities.  But in fact what I have learned is quite simple – I am a Christian.  How interesting” (284).

Throughout Hannah's Child, Hauerwas gives an account of his life shaped by the story in 1 Samuel of Hannah praying for a child and promising to dedicate that child, Samuel, to God.  Hauerwas had a similar experience, as his mother told him when he was a child that she had too prayed for a child and promised to dedicate the child to God.  While Hauerwas did not always think of his life through that lens, he says that in the process of writing it came to him.  Having the story of his life shaped theologically has similarites to Augustine's Confessions, however, Hauerwas does not reference Confessions anywhere within Hannah's Child.

Throughout the book, Hauerwas shares the numerous friends and congregations who shaped his life and helped him discover "I am a Christian."  While the book is about Hauerwas, it is also about how God shaped and used him to do theology for the church.  The book also made me think of the friends, teachers, classmates, and congregations that have shaped me as a Christian.  So, while the book tells the story of his life, Hauerwas also teaches his readers throughout the book.  As Lauren Winner says in her review on the back of the book, "I love this book because I love its author.  But Hannah's Child is about more than the making of someone called 'Stanley Hauerwas.'  It is about how one makes and sustains families, how God and the church make and sustain Christians."  I highly recommend Hauerwas' memoir (to those not overly offended by occasional cussing).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top 50 Blogs by Divinity Students?

I don't know how it's possible (since my blogging habits are quite irregular), but my blog, Battle Against the Bewitchment of Intelligence @ for my facebook readers, was named one of the "Top 50 Blogs by Divinity Students" by The Divining Blog (  I only have 1 follower, so maybe this will help increase my readership, even though I doubt the list is legit.  I have no clue how they found my blog considering my low readership.

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 11

“We not only go to church, but I try to be a church theologian.  I am not interested in what I believe.  I am not even sure what I believe.  I am much more interested in what the church believes” (254). 

“I do not trust prayer to spontaneity.  Most ‘spontaneous prayers’ turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous.  Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, ‘Lord, we just ask you . . .’  Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much.  I pray that God will save us from that ‘just’” (255).

I greatly appreciate Hauerwas' emphasis on being a "church theologian."  As religion and theology are increasingly associated with university departments, theology has (unfortunately) been seen as a discipline disassociated from the church (especially in traditions like my own in which there is a distrust of "theology").  The contemporary church needs figures like Hauerwas whose theology stems from the context of the church.

 Part of that emphasis upon a church context means an emphasis upon the theological content in prayer.  In my own tradition, prayer is generally extemporaneous and their is a skepticism of reading prayers because it is seen as ritualistic or insincere.  I, however, find greater value in prayers of the church found in documents like the Book of Common Prayer, in which believers have, over the centuries, thought deeply about what content should be in various prayers, refining them when necessary.  I hope, in my own teaching and ministry, to help members of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, to better understand the value in reading prayers, rather than leaving prayer up to spontaneity.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 10

“I am not by nature nonviolent. It is not a natural stance. But one slow step at a time I tried to learn not to live a life determined by what I was against. Peace is a deeper reality than violence. That is an ontological claim with profound moral implications. But it takes some getting used to” (231).

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11 had forever changed the world.  Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11 was a decisive event.  That was exactly the problem.  For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in a.d. 33.  Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11 had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus” (264).

“I argued that the Christian understanding of the cross required the church to be a counter-community capable of challenging the presumption that ‘we are at war.’  The ‘we’ in ‘we are at war’ could not be the Christian ‘we’” (266).

“The worship of Jesus is the central act that makes Christians Christian.  It is that center that connects everything together.  My work is about such connections.  I have tried to show that how we live together in marriage, how and why we have children, how we learn to be friends, and how we care for the mentally disabled are the ways a people must live if we are to be an alternative to war.  To find alternatives to war will take time.  The effort to abolish war presumes that we have all the time we need to persuade others that war can be abolished.  War is impatience.  Christians believe that through the cross and resurrection we have been given the time to be patient in a world of impatience” (274).

In these various quotations, Hauerwas makes a few important points.  First, the center of the Christian faith is Christ and the church's worship.  Christian nonviolence should stem from the church's worship.  Second, Christian nonviolence is counter-cultural.  It is foolish to the world, but the wisdom of God.  Third, Christians should remember that they are not Americans (or Canadians, Brits, Koreans, etc.) first, they are Christians first, and their allegiances are first to God and the church.  Fourth, Christians must have patience in their practice of nonviolence.  Their nonviolent resistance will not always produce immediate results.  Instead, it witnesses to an alternate way of life.  As Mother Theresa said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 9

“Barth understood that the work of the theologian is word work, or, as John Howard Yoder would have it, that the task of theology is ‘working with words in the light of faith.’  The difficulty of the task is manifest by the misleading grammar of Yoder’s observation, that is, one can draw from his description the conclusion that words do not constitute ‘the light of faith.’  In fact, faith is nothing more than the words we use to speak of God.  And yet the God to whom and about whom we speak defies the words we use.  Such defiance seems odd, because the God about whom we speak is, we believe, found decisively in Jesus of Nazareth, the very Word of God.  Still, it seems that the nearer God draws to us, the more we discover that we know not what we say when we say ‘God.’  I suspect that this is why one of the most difficult challenges of prayer is learning how to address God.
“For Christians, learning to address God is complicated because we do not begin by addressing ‘God’ but rather ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit.’  ‘God’ is the name we use to indicate the love that constitutes the relation of Jesus and his Father through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we know what it means to say ‘God’ only because Jesus taught us to pray to the Father.  Disputes between those who believe in God and those who do not often turn on the assumption by both parties that they know what they mean when they say ‘God.’  This seems unlikely, since Christians believe that we learn to use the word ‘God’ only through worship and prayer to the One we address as Father, Son, and Spirit.  Such a God is identified by a story that takes time, often a lifetime, to learn.
“Theology is the ongoing and never ending attempt to learn this story and to locate the contexts that make speech about God work.  How theology can at once be about God and about the complexities of human life is never easily rendered.  Some theologians in modernity have tried to split the differences between speech about God and the complexities of human life, with the result that their theology is more about ‘us’ than about God.  When this happens, it is not at all clear that you need the word ‘God’ at all.  If my work has seemed to be ‘in your face,’ I think it has been so because I have tried o show that ‘God’ is a necessary word” (235–236).

As a fan of Wittgenstein, I found this section helpful (see Brad Kallenberg's Ethics as Grammar for the influence of Wittgenstein upon Hauerwas).  Christians, as they grow in the faith must grow and learn over time the language and grammar of faith.  How to speak of God, and also worship, pray, and live in light of the story of God.  While theology does stem from the context of the church, it should be centered upon God and it is a never ending process.  Theology is not a subject that anyone ever finishes learning about, but it is, as Hauerwas notes, something that takes a lifetime.  It is "faith seeking understanding," or as Dr Blowers often says, it is "faith seeking understanding, seeking faith seeking understanding . . . ."

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 8

“When Christianity is assumed to be an ‘answer’ that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be.

“Such ‘answers’ cannot help but turn Christianity into an explanation. For me, learning to be a Christian has meant learning to live without answers. Indeed, to learn to live in this way is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers. That is to put the matter too simply, but at least such a claim might suggest why I find being a Christian makes life so damned interesting” (207).

The more I've studied theology, the less answers I feel like I have. Instead, I have more questions. This for me, as for Hauerwas, makes "being a Christian . . . so damned interesting." We don't always have answers. We don't know why people go through times of suffering and knowing why is not the point. Instead, we are to live our lives in faith knowing that we serve a God who is faithful.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 7

“I think this is an apt description of my work, but I also think that the ‘wholly different Christianity’ I represent is in deep continuity with Christianity past and present that is found in the everyday lives of Christian people. You do not get to make Christianity up, and I have no desire to be original. If I represent a wholly different Christianity, I do so only because I have found a way to help us recognize as Christians what extraordinary things we say when we worship God” (135).

“What many people usually find hard to understand, or at least what strikes them as unusual, is how I combine what I hope is a profound commitment to fundamental Christian convictions with a socially radical ethic. At bottom, the convictions involve the claim that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. If he is not fully both, then we Christians are clearly idolaters. A socially radical ethic follows from this theological conviction because our worship of Jesus is itself a politics through which a world is created that would not exist if Jesus were not raised from the dead. Basic to such politics is the refusal of a violence that many assume is a ‘given’ for any responsible account of the world” (136).

“I have come to think that the challenge confronting Christians is not that we do not believe what we say, though that can be a problem, but that what we say we believe does not seem to make any difference for either the church or the world” (159).

I find the desire of some to dichotomize orthodoxy and a commitment to social action extremely problematic. This split that occurred within protestantism at the turn of the twentieth century as the fundamentalist/modernist controversy was in full swing between evangelism and social gospel is completely bunk and has harmed the church and her mission. That's one of the reasons I find Hauerwas' work so appealing. He takes the radical implications of the gospel seriously without dropping an emphasis on Christian orthodoxy and the church as worshiping community. We need to also make sure that what we say we believe makes a difference in our lives, rather than acting as though what we say on Sunday mornings has absolutely nothing to do with our lives the rest of the week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 6

“Too many people, I fear, become ‘ethicists’ because they do not like theology. I have always been a strong supporter of the Society of Christian Ethics, but the very existence of such a society can be a temptation to separate theology from ethics. I suspect that one of the reasons some of my colleagues in ethics find me hard to take is due to my unrelenting claim that God matters. Not just any God, moreover, but the God that has shown up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (115).

“Stanley Fish reports that when he teaches Milton there comes a moment when an undergraduate expresses admiration for Milton’s poetry, giving Stanley the opportunity to observe, ‘Milton does not want your admiration. He wants your soul.’ Yoder did not want my soul, but he made it clear that Jesus did. This was not going to be easy” (117).

“Yoder forced me to recognize that nonviolence is not a recommendation, an ideal, that Jesus suggested we might try to live up to. Rather, nonviolence is constitutive of God’s refusal to redeem coercively. The crucifixion is ‘the politics of Jesus’” (118).

Another aspect I appreciate in Hauerwas' work, which is also present in the work of Karl Barth, is the refusal to compartmentalize theology and ethics. For Christians, all theology has ethical implications and all ethics stems from the God's revelation in Jesus Christ. Christians should not just give intellectual assent, only acknowledging that God exists or that Jesus is Lord. Christians should instead understand that faith involves loyalty to God, which also means that Christians are called to obey, even when that obedience involves principles, such as nonviolence, which the world calls foolishness.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 5

“One of the most valuable things I gained from Mr. Holmer was an understanding of intellectual work as investigation. It is so tempting to think you need to have a ‘position’ if you are to be a ‘thinker.’ Positions are also useful if you are to make it as an academic. Theology in modernity, moreover, has been position driven. Thus you are a Tillichian, a Bultmannian, a liberal, a conservative, a Barthian (if you can ever understand what that might entail), a process theologian, and so on. That many theologians think they need to have a position is, I suspect, the result of the loss of ecclesial identities. But reading Wittgenstein with Mr. Holmer helped me see that positions far too easily get in the way of thought.

“I realize that it may seem quite odd for me to speak of not having a ‘position,’ given the fact that many of my theological and ethical colleagues would characterize me as someone with a strong position. This characterization is not entirely unfair; nonetheless, it is wrong. It is true that I am a pacifist, but that does not mean my pacifism is a ‘position.’ Positions too easily tempt us to think we Christians need a theory. I am not a pacifist because of a theory. I am a pacifist because John Howard Yoder convinced me that nonviolence and Christianity are inseparable” (60).

“‘Positions’ can give the impression that our task is to present something ‘new.’ I believe that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth we live in a new age, but that is why theologians do not have a position. Rather, our task is to help the church know what it has been given” (134).

I find Hauerwas' comments about positions particularly helpful, because the further along I go in my studies, the less positions I have. I have learned from diverse figures, from Irenaeus to Thomas Merton and Augustine to Karl Barth. I appreciate their differences and strengths. While I find myself agreeing with people associated within different theological circles and denominational backgrounds, I hope I can find a way to defy those limitations and make room for thought.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 4

This is probably my favorite section of the book so far:

“The presumption of many scholars at the time was that the task of theology was to make the language of faith amenable to standards set by the world. This could be done by subtraction: ‘Of course you do not have to believe X or Y’; or by translation, ‘When we say X or Y we really mean . . .’ I was simply not interested in that project. From my perspective, if the language was not true, then you ought to give it up. I thought the crucial question was not whether Christianity could be made amenable to the world, but could the world be made amenable to what Christians believe? I had not come to the study of theology to play around.

“I am not sure why I thought like this, but I suspect it had something to do with being a bricklayer. I simply did not believe in ‘cutting corners.’ I was attracted to Barth because he never cut any of the corners. He never tried to ‘explain.’ Rather, he tried to show how the language works by showing how the language works. There is a ‘no bullshit’ quality to Barth’s thought that appealed to a bricklayer from Texas and that seemed to me the kind of straightforwardness Christian claims require.

“Listening to Hartt, I had come to appreciate the complexity of the simple beliefs we have as Christians. Reading Barth with Hartt had forced me to realize that a claim such as ‘Jesus is Lord’ requires constant variations to be said rightly. Every volume of his Church Dogmatics is an exercise to show the connections necessary to say one thing well. From Barth’s perspective, therefore, the task of theology can never come to an end. Paul Tillich had to finish his Systematic Theology. Barth could not finish Church Dogmatics, because if he had finished he would have had to start over” (59).

I appreciate the ways in which Hauerwas critiques certain forms of accomodationism. Hauerwas also, effectively I might add, shows that theology is not a task that a person ever finishes. It is an ongoing process of "faith seeking understanding."