We clearly have poor white neighborhoods which suffer from many of the same problems we find in poor communities of color. For whites living in poverty, there is no escape from the concentration of crime, broken families, poor schools, and drugs that are so often a problem in poor neighborhoods. But if whites can gain some economic resources, they can move from those neighborhoods and project their family from much of the deleterious effects of those neighborhoods. But residential segregation makes it harder for people of color to remove themselves form such neighborhoods since people of color tend to make less money than whites. Thus, to stay in neighborhoods of color is to stay much closer to the negative elements of poverty, even if that family of color has moved from poverty to middle class status.
It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm. Nothing poisons truth so quickly as an assurance that one has found it. “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” (Wendell Berry)
-Christian Wiman, quoted from Alan Jacobs
I have never read a reflection on the notion of “calling” that speaks so deeply to how I think about my own path. It’s not that I fear for (lack of) money anymore in those vocations to which I feel called — it’s that I’m resistant to the idea that I belong in those professions, and that I won’t somehow “lose myself” in them.
Preserve your love for reading at all costs. Nobody ends up in a literature program unless they love to read, and nobody loves to read in the soulless industrial manner I am about to describe. Read stuff that has nothing to do with your program. Take time with the assigned texts you enjoy, and do the bare minimum for the assigned texts you hate. Do not internalize the script that this makes you less of a student; it makes you more of one. You’re here to learn, and learning is most sustainable when fueled by excitement, not obligation.
–Catherine Addington, on staying sane through and getting what’s important from graduate work.
It would be valuable to have at our disposal some figures equipped for the task of mediation — people who understand the impulses from which these troubling movements arise, who may themselves belong in some sense to the communities driving these movements but are also part of the liberal social order. They should be intellectuals who speak the language of other intellectuals, including the most purely secular, but they should also be fluent in the concepts and practices of faith. Their task would be that of the interpreter, the bridger of cultural gaps; of the mediator, maybe even the reconciler.
Half a century ago, such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now. It would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared, where they went, and whether — should such a thing be thought desirable — they might return.
—Alan Jacobs, “The Watchmen”
OK, my little system is AT LEAST, EVEN IF. I provide definitions for religious concepts in the form of axioms in a manner that is compatible with naturalism (falsifiable and provable). Even in the sciences, we must admit we don’t have a complete understanding of most concepts, so AT LEAST could be applied to natural concepts too (the Universe, gravity, etc.)
Basically, this is a ground floor which doubt can dip no further. It allows us to always feel intellectually honest about pursuing God, religious ritual, fellowship and even Jesus himself.
God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace and empathy for others and is warranted.
Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.
The Bible is AT LEAST a set of writings where a people group describes their experience with and understanding of God over thousands of years. EVN IF that is a comprehensive definition of God, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.
Jesus is AT LEAST the idea of a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings; he was very likely a real person. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.
“Post-structuralism extends this nihilistic direction of structuralism, but deconstruction, like Foucault’s archeological or genealogical method, arises more directly from the failed promise of structuralism. In the hands of some practitioners, structuralism became another form of foundationalism that claimed to discover the ground of language and culture, and post-structuralists have come to doubt the scientific pretensions of structuralism.”
Creating exemptions for the Sermon on the Mount and explaining when and where Jesus’s teaching does not apply is fine (in theory, I suppose); but at some point you have to decide what Jesus DID mean with his kingdom imperatives on nonviolence and enemy love. Which is to say, we eventually have to ask ourselves what DID Jesus intend and when DO we need to turn the other cheek? If our default response to this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is to craft exemptions, we might give the impression that we really don’t believe in Jesus’s ideas of nonviolent resistance to enemy love AT ALL.
It is the bitter irony of history that the common people, who are devoid of power and are the prospective victims of its abuse, are the first to become the ally of him who accumulates power. Power is spectacular, while its end, the moral law, is inconspicuous.
The resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as a spiritual development in the church. Nor should it be too quickly handled as an oddity in the history of God or as an isolated act of God’s power. Rather, it is the ultimate act of prophetic energizing in which a new history is initiated. It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order.
The crucifixion of Jesus is not to be understood simply in good liberal fashion as the sacrifice of a noble man, nor should we too quickly assign a cultic, priestly theory of atonement to the event. Rather, we might see in the crucifixion of Jesus the ultimate act of prophetic criticism in which Jesus announces the end of a world of death (the same announcement as that of Jeremiah) and takes that death into his own person. Therefore we say that the ultimate criticism is that God himself embraces the death that his people must die.