31 January 2002

Hey, everybody! Allow me to introduce to you the newest member of the Garver family:

This is a photo at 9 weeks, 6 days. Now the little one is already past 12 weeks. We're very excited and will keep you posted.

23 January 2002

This week I've taken a look at The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader edited by Graham Ward (Blackwell, 1997). I've only looked at a few articles, but I am enjoying it very much.

Ward provides a very helpful introduction that situates the essays in the context of postmodern discourse, explaining what postmodernism is (in contrast with the "modern"), giving particular attention to the developments made by Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Saussure.

The book is divided into two parts: the first a collection of important essays by major figures in postmodernism (Levinas, Girard, Foucault, de Certeau, Derrida, Irigaray, etc.) and the second a collection of newer essays by rising figures (Lacoste, Milbank, Marion, Pickstock, etc.).

The essays in the first half are each preceded by an introduction from a current thinker that situates and explans the essay in a manner that, so far, is rather clear and useful.

Of the essays in the second half, I have only so far read two. The first is John Milbank's "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forty-two Responses to Unasked Questions." It is a remarkable essay if one is interested in the thought of Milbank. It provides what is essentially a very brief and surprisingly lucid set of assertions that outline some of the major points of his magisterial Theology and Social Theory. What's more, it goes on to address some further issues that he picks up in far greater detail in his The Word Made Strange. So, if you would like a nice precis of Milbank's perspective, this essay is a good place to start.

The second essay I've read is Jean-Luc Marion's "Metaphysics and Phenomenology: A Summary for Theologians." Marion is probably most well-known among English-speakers for his book God Without Being and the essay, in many respects, summarizes many of the most salient features of that book. The primary burden of Marion's thought is to attempt to re-think theology through the methods of phenomenology and thereby to set aside metaphysical and ontological approaches to God in this age when metaphysics has met its supposed death. This phenomenological re-thinking is necessary, Marion believes, in order to counter the common view that with the end of metaphysics so also comes the end of theology.

I will try to update you as I work my way through some of the other essays in The Postmodern God.

Though I've been out of my routine since finals in December, I do try to go jogging a few times a week in the park at the end of our street. And when I say "jogging," I mean trail-jogging up and down winding paths, across rocks, over fallen logs, through the woods, and down by the creek.

You see, though we live well within the city limits of Philadelphia, in an urban row-house, in the midst of an older ethnic neighborhood, the park at the end of our street is 4180 acres of wooded land that runs along both sides of the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River.
I usually go jogging with our dog, Dominicanus (who answers to "Nicky") and we have a grand time, especially when he gets to chase some portion of the vast quantities of deer.

Today the trails were a bit treacherous, though, covered with a couple of inches of slush and ice leftover from the weekend's snowstorm. It forced me to take care to place each footfall carefully, jamming my toes into loose snow, lest I go sliding into the mud, or worse, down a rock face or into the creek.

Jogging in snow is actually quite exhausting. I usually jog for about 40-45 minutes and then cool down with a 10-15 minute walk the rest of the way home. But today I felt like I had done my usual run after only 25 minutes or so, though I pressed on a bit longer anyway.

Still, it was well worth it. I had the woods more to myself than usual due, no doubt, to the conditions. That, however, meant more wildlife, greater opportunity to gaze at the stark branches of the barren trees, time to note the patterns of ice on the boulders and the way the brown dried summer growth poked up through the crusty snow. And the fresh crisp air kept me alert, even as it slightly burned my throat as I breathed it.

I can't imagine ever choosing to workout in some enclosed gym, moist with sweat and the odor of overheated people, manipulating strange machines of plastic and iron.

Nicky and I will stick with our park.

20 January 2002

Our kitty, Keats, can be so weird at times.

We love to watch his antics, observe how cute he is when he sleeps, hold him curled up on his back in our arms, and enjoy his affection. He likes to crawl into my lap here at the computer, reach up and put his little paws on my face and lick my chin. It's really quite endearing.

Recently, however, he's taken to following me to the shower and sitting in between the curtain and the clear liner the whole time i'm showering, seemingly fascinated by the whole process.

And then there's his growing interest in pee. No matter where he is in the house, as soon as he hears that toilet seat go up, he races to the bathroom. With me, he stands up on his hind legs, his paws on the edge of the bowl, watching with fixed wonderment.

Keats has also been unusually fiesty lately: racing around the house, lunging at my feet as I come down the stairs (usually at about the third step from the bottom), dragging Laurel's knee highs all over the house (ruining them in the process), and regularly leaping onto the dog's head, digging in his claws, and chewing on Nicky's upper lip. Luckily the dog is a really good sport.

Given his recent growth spurt, I suspect much of this hyper-activity is the effect of raging testosterone. If so, when he gets his balls lopped off in another few weeks, that should calm things down a bit.

19 January 2002

Okay. I've now gone back to good old-fashioned tables. Except for losing the background color in the boxes in some versions of IE (I can live with that for the time being), things seem to be working okay. Let me know if you run into any significant problems.

18 January 2002

I'm trying out a slightly revised template here. I've dropped the JavaScript and tried to clean up the CSS a bit, as well as reducing the number of posts currently shown. If this is still taking forever and a day to load, let me know.

John mentions a Reformed baptismal rite in his comments on another blog. For those wondering what it says, here it is. This is the old "Form Number 1" from the CRC Psalter Hymnal and resembles the rite used in many Continental Reformed churches (hopefully this isn't violating any copyright):

Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ:

The principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism are these three:

First: That we with our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, so that we cannot enter the kingdom of God, except we are born again. This, the dipping in or sprinkling with water teaches us, whereby the impurity of our souls is signified, that we may be admonished to loathe ourselves, humble ourselves before God, and seek for our purification and salvation apart from ourselves.

Second: Holy baptism witnesses and seals unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are baptized into the Name of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For when we are baptized into the Name of the Father, God the Father witnesses and seals unto us that He makes an eternal covenant of grace with us and adopts us for His children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing and avert all evil or turn it to our profit.

And when we are baptized into the Name of the Son, the Son seals unto us that He washes us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, so that we are freed from our sins and accounted righteous before God.

Likewise, when we are baptized into the Name of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit assures us by this holy sacrament that He will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, imparting to us that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.

Third: Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts, therefore are we by God, through baptism, admonished of and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a godly life. And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sins, we must not therefore despair of God's mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God.

And although our children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, since they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, and so again are received unto grace in Christ; as God speaks unto Abraham, the father of all believers, and therefore also to us and our children, saying: "I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee" (Gen. 17:7). This also Peter testifies with these words: "For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him" (Acts 2:39). Therefore God formerly commanded to circumcise them, which was a seal of the covenant and of the righteousness of faith; as also Christ embraced them, laid His hands upon them, and blessed them (Mark 10:16). Since, then, baptism has come in the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-13), the children should be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant; and as they grow up, the parents shall be bound to give them further instruction in these things.

That we, therefore, may administer this holy ordinance of God to His glory, to our comfort, and to the edification of the church, let us call upon His holy Name:

O almighty, eternal God, Thou who hast according to Thy severe judgment punished the unbelieving and unrepentant world with the flood, and hast according to Thy great mercy saved and protected believing Noah and his family; Thou who has drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea and led Thy people Israel through the midst of the sea upon dry ground -- by which baptism was signified -- we beseech Thee that Thou wilt be pleased of Thine infinite mercy, graciously to look upon these Thy children and incorporate them by Thy Holy Spirit into Thy Son, Jesus Christ, that they may be buried with Him through baptism into death and be raised with Him in newness of life; that they, daily following Him, may joyfully bear their cross, cleaving unto Him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love; that they, being comforted in Thee, may leave this life, which is nothing but a constant death, and at the last day may appear without terror before the judgment seat of Christ Thy Son, through Him, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one only God, lives and reigns forever. Amen.
Address to the Parents

Beloved in Christ the Lord, you have heard that baptism is an ordinance of God to seal unto us and our seed His covenant; therefore it must be used for that end, and not out of custom or superstition. That it may, then, be manifest that you are thus minded, you are to answer sincerely to these questions:

First: Do you acknowledge that our children, though conceived and born in sin and therefore subject to all manner of misery, yea, to condemnation itself, are sanctified in Christ, and therefore as members of His Church ought to be baptized?

Second: Do you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and the New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?

Third: Do you promise and intend to instruct these children, as soon as they are able to understand, in the aforesaid doctrine, and cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?

Answer: We do.

Then the minister of God's Word, in baptizing, shall say:

N_________, I baptize you into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise Thee that Thou has forgiven us and our children all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and so adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism. We beseech Thee also, through Him, Thy beloved Son, that Thou wilt always govern these children by Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness, and grow and increase in the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that they may acknowledge Thy fatherly goodness and mercy, which Thou hast shown to them and to us all, and live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King, and High Priest, Jesus Christ; and manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, the one only true God. Amen.
(text courtesy of john barach)

17 January 2002

An update on recent reading.

I finished the volume edited by Hemming last week (Radical Orthodoxy? A Catholic Enquiry). It's a mixed bag. John Milbank's article "The Programme of Radical Orthodoxy" is worth the price of the book for summarizing, in one brief essay, what these guys are all about, and (miracle of miracles) he does so in a manner that is reasonably lucid (well, at least for someone with a PhD in philosophy).

For those who aren't familiar with the Radical Orthodoxy project, it is the shared outlook of a number of mostly Anglo-Catholic thinkers (also including Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward) who attempt to articulate the Christian faith in the face of post-modernity. In doing so they try to rescue Christian distinctives from the assumptions of the "modern," which they see (I think rightly) as rooted in late medieval Scotism and nominalism. At the same time, they draw upon the pre-modern Christian traditions of Augustine, Aquinas, and others to both critique and appropriate the insights of ancient philosophy (Plato, Aristotle) and to project forward a Christian vision for today. They do this, in part, by tracing an alternative course from the pre- to the post-modern, one that proceeds through a series of "counter-modern" thinkers such as Cusa, Vico, Hamann, Herder, Jacobi, etc. Finally, building upon the important work of de Lubac and the nouvelle theologie they outline a program for theology that provides a thoroughly orthodox (in terms of Christology and Trinitarian theology) and genuinely post-modern alternative.

The Hemming volume is an attempt to dialogue with, critique, and appreciate the contributions of Radical Orthodoxy, but to do so from a Roman Catholic perspective. Hemming is an interesting fellow to edit (and contribute to) the volume since he is both (a bit uneasily) aligned with the Radical Orthodoxy folks and is a Catholic. Hemming's unease with the movement stems, in part, from its underdeveloped ecclesiology and distancing itself from the institution of the Catholic church. This is, of course, a legitimate objection from a Catholic perspective and one that raises important issues of ecclesiology for all Christians.

Other contributors to the volume include David Burrell of the University of Notre Dame who analyzes why the movement does not seem to be as well received in this side of the Atlantic. He suggests that its attempt to bring faith to bear on all aspects of intellectual endeavor does not sit well with Americans interested the autonomy of the university from sectarian concerns.

Fergus Kerr, a Dominican theologian, provides a response to Milbank that is both appreciative and probing. He spends the bulk of his remarks simply outlining what some of the various theological options are for Catholics, especially in response to Milbank's suggestion that pietistic Protestantism and Tridentine Catholicism are simply the flip sides of the same modernist error. While Kerr evidently is challenged by Milbank's reading of Aquinas, he also notes that it is likely to provoke opposition from various, otherwise opposed, schools of Thomistic thought within Catholicism.

Catherine Pickstock provides an engrossing (and bit infuriating) meditation on Thomas Aquinas's epistemology and metaphysics that is philosophically challenging, even if open to dispute as a matter of exegesis of Thomas. Indeed Hemming follows Pickstock with just such a dispute.

The final section of the book contains contributions by Graham Ward, Oliver Davies, and Lucy Gardner. The first two concern the relations between Radical Orthodoxy and cultural politics. Ward's thesis is that Christian faith itself, as faith, involves an economics, sociology, and politics of believing. But for Christianity this involved being part of a particular community, a new city, one that does not play the secular game, but seeks on its own terms to persuade by offering a better way.

Davies offers some thoughts on the role of language and dialogue in a manner that supplements and gently critiques some of Milbank's discussion of poesis and non-violent semiosis. Gardner's article, I must confess, is one that I could hardly follow at all, due I think to her manner of expression, but also, perhaps due to my nearing the end of volume and failing stamina.

Nonetheless, the concluding essay by James Hanvey, a Jesuit theologian, is a remarkably clear and helpful account of some of the main outlines of Radical Orthodoxy and some of the questions raised by it and about it.

Over all, this is a volume that I found helpful and thoughtful, but not one I would recommend to the average Christian or lay theologian. It presupposes more than a passing acquaintance not only with Radical Orthodoxy, but also with the history of philosophy and theology and the apparatus of post-modern discourse.

12 January 2002

One of my best friends in elementary school was a girl by the name Kelly Link--bright, sweet, articulate, highly imaginative, and extremely well read. In fact, I think I would have to attribute a good deal of what I am today to my friendship with her, particularly how her voraciousness towards books led me to share that same love of literature and to attempt to keep up with her latest literary finds. She could also spin interesting and fantastic tales that kept the mind of a second grader in suspense or made one recoil in fright.

Kelly moved away when we were still in the midst of elementary school and I saw her seldom again, though our parents continued to communicate some, particularly at Christmas, up to this day. I knew that she had gone to an Ivy League college as I had--Columbia in her case--and had done graduate studies. Beyond that, I had not really kept up with her pursuits.

But this Christmas the letter from her mom told not only of her marriage and the couple's Brooklyn address, but also that she had published a collection of short stories called Stranger Things Happen (Small Beer Press, 2001). The book also has a webpage.

Publishing a collection of stories is not so odd, but it turns out that it is a very unusual and quirky collection of supernatural, post-modern, feminist tales of the fantastic. Not only that, it has been getting great reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The Washington Post. It appears on the "best books of 2001" lists of the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, The Village Voice, and the Montreal Mirror. Neil Gaiman (who, I grant, can get at bit overly enthusiastic) writes, "Kelly Link is probably the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none. She puts one word after another and makes real magic with them-funny, moving, tender, brave and dangerous. She is unique, and should be declared a national treasure, and possibly surrounded at all times by a cordon of armed marines."

I'm impressed.

And now that my copy has arrived in the mail and I'm reading it, I really am very impressed. I won't even attempt to describe the tales Kelly tells. You'd have to read them for yourself to even begin to make sense of anything I'd say. And they certainly aren't going to be to everybody's taste, but so far, I'm hooked.

Earlier this week Laurel and I finished reading Langston Hughes' 1930 novel Not Without Laughter. We read the bulk of it while still on vacation, though actually Laurel did the reading aloud while I drove and listened. We both really enjoyed it.

The novel tells the story of an African-American child named James "Sandy" Rodgers who is growing up in the fictional town of Stanton, Kansas in the early 1900's, from the time he is a pre-teen through high school.

Sandy is being raised primarily by his grandmother whom everyone calls "Aunt Hager." She is an elderly Christian woman--of the revivalistic Baptist variety--and former slave who supports herself by taking in washing, all the time attempting to instill Christian virtue in young Sandy, to give him the hope of becoming a great man like Booker T. Washington. Aunt Hager also has three daughters.

Anjee, who is Sandy's mother, works as a cook and maid for a white family who are not terribly kind to her. She is also fiercely loyal and in love with Sandy's father, Jimboy, who is seldom on the scene, spending most of his time moving from job to job, living far away, and only occasionally writing a note home to his family.

Tempy has done well for herself in many ways, working faithfully for a white abolitionist who leaves some inheritance to Tempy. She uses her inhereitance prudently, marries well, becomes and Episcopalian and, in many ways, succeeds in the world by almost becoming more "white" than many white folks.

Harriet goes to high school, but drops out to join a carnival where she performs, eventually ending up, however, on the street, having to earn a living in an even less reputable way. In the end, however, she returns to performing as a talented blues singer and finds her way in the world.

The main narrative tension of the story arises in Sandy's own choices in light of the various paths represented by his family members as well as others in his school and town. Hughes seldom allows Sandy's journey to become a mere vehicle for his ideals, arising as they evidently do from the beliefs of W.E.B. DuBois and the trends of the Harlem Renaissance. Rather, he shows us the real conditions, dead ends, possibilities, mistakes, frustrations, and opportunities open to a black man in the early 20th century, allowing Sandy to face such a world and find the right path, embodying both the dangers and hopes that Hughes wants us to understand.

It is clear that Hughes is not convinced by visions of black advancement that come at the expense of abandoning African-American culture and its unique contributions to the American experiment. But it is also equally clear that, despite his sympathies with the conditions under which many blacks have had to live, he doesn't think there is an excuse for failing to take advantage of educational and other resources if they are available. And unlike some writers who chronicle black experience, Hughes never loses hope. Nor is he content only to portray how bleak and oppressive life can be (as Toni Morrison, for example, sometimes tends to do). He also wants to communicate the vitality, music, rhythms, and spirituality of the black community.

Hughes' Not Without Laughter makes a profitable addition to any reading list and would be especially effective, I think, as part of a high school curriculum.

10 January 2002

If you'd like to read our Christmas letter (a little late now), it's on the web as the on-line edition of the Garver Gazette 2001.

Also, if you've wondered what we look like, we have a bunch of pictures in a supplement. Be warned, however. Unless you have DSL or some other very fast connection, you'll have a wait patiently for the pictures to load. (All the photos, except for the ones in which she appears, were taken by Laurel.)

For Christmas I received a number of (mostly academic) books that I'm looking forward to reading (and a couple I've already finished). They include (in no particular order):
  • The Holy Preaching: The Sacramentality of the Word in the Liturgical Assembly, by Paul Janowiak (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

  • Radical Orthodoxy? A Catholic Enquiry, edited by Laurence Paul Hemming (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000)

  • The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader, edited by Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997)

  • Images of America: Manayunk, by Thom Nickels (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2001)

  • Nihilism Before Nietzsche, by Michael Allen Gillespie (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1995)

  • Ministry and Spirituality: Creative Ministry, The Wounded Healer, and Reaching Out (three books in one volume), by Henri J.M. Nouwen (New York: Continuum, 2000)
I'll keep you posted on any gems.

08 January 2002

Well, that was no fun.

I spent most of the day yesterday in bed with a nasty stomach virus. I'm better today, but still suffering the after-effects of having every ounce of food violently ejected from my body for the better part of a day. Cola syrup did help some and I've managed to eat a little today.

I had wanted to post a little about some recent reading, some restaurants, and some films, but I think I'll let that go until later this week.

06 January 2002

Gosh, it's been over 20 days since I've posted anything here! If anyone is still bothering to check for new posts, I suppose you'll be wondering where the heck I've been.

Well, mid-December was occupied with finishing out the fall semester, grading, and turning in grades. Between that and the holiday season, there was little time left for blogging. As I count it, we had about 9 meals in the week before Christmas that were either out at a restaurant or involved dinner guests at home. And this in addition to last minute shopping, preparing for a 12-day trip to visit my in-laws in Florida, and the actual holidays themselves. Thus, blogging was not a priority.

The trip to Florida wasn't bad. We drove from Philadelphia to Ft. Myers, Florida and back, setting out on Christmas afternoon, but made a number of stops both on the way and returning. On the way we stopped for a couple of nights each with Laurel's brother and his family in Fredericksburg, Virginia and in Savannah, Georgia to just relax and sightsee. Then we spent six days or so at the Shell Point retirement community with my in-laws, just outside of Ft. Myers very close to Sanibel. Two days were cold and rainy, but we did have some nice weather too--sun and in the 70s.

The return trip was a bit harrowing. We had foolishly planned on driving in one day from Florida to Wilson, North Carolina to stay with another of Laurel's brothers and his family there--in good weather it would have been about a 13-14 hour drive. Well, it had snowed and snow in the South is always a bad thing since the locals don't know how to drive in it and the highway departments lack the proper snow removal and highway treatment equipment. All was going well until we got to South Carolina when, just beyond an off-ramp for Santee, traffic came to a grinding halt due to a accident up the road a number of miles. It was already about 8:30pm, so we scrapped our plans to reach Wilson and exited I-95 by going the wrong way off and on-ramp. We found a nice hotel, but needed a snack very badly and found that everything was shut down: Denny's, Cracker Barrel, McDonald's, Burger King, even the Piggly Wiggly store. We did find a Huddle House, however ("Always Open!") and got a waffle.

The next day we set out for Wilson once again and were pleased to find the highways dry and clear. Or so we thought. We were cruising along at 70 mph when suddenly I saw that the bridge up ahead was covered in ice. Unlike many of drivers of the 30 or so vehicles we saw off the sides of the road later in the day, I know that slamming on the brakes on ice is not the ideal course of action. So I acted quickly, turned off the cruise control, loosened my grip on the steering wheel, and said a prayer (an especially earnest one given the tractor trailer right next to us). We ended up skidding across the bridge weaving in a stomach-knotting fashion but made it to the dry road on the otherside unharmed. After that everyone on the road slowed way down and the rest of the drive was a matter of peering ahead to keep an eye out for ice which was ample on every last bridge and in any place where roadside trees shadowed the road surface. Someone really needs to introduce South Carolina to the concept of putting salt on icy highways.

As I mentioned, we counted about 30 vehicles off the side of the road in the course of the rest of the drive to Wilson. This included a large camper flipped completely over on top of a car, a car and a light truck several feet off the ground nestled among the branches of the trees, and a tractor trailer turned completely around end to end with another one where it's trailer was split in two and had spilt tomatoes all over the road. Fortunately, none of the accident we saw seemed to involve any serious injuries. We did finally arrive safely in Wilson over five hours after setting out that morning on what would ordinarily have been a 2 and half hour drive--quite relieved and very tired. We returned home the next day.

Today we spent recovering, after a lovely morning eucharist with our house- and pet-sitter at her church. And here I am blogging again.