Friday, August 31, 2012

A Bolt From My Imagination

- All right. Here it goes. You can do this. You've been training your whole life for these moments. Remember, the race is already in the bag, but you're running a different sort of game.

- Should I do a new pose or stick to the classic?

- Just go with the flow.

- What flow?

- Fine. Go with the classic. They love that one. Whatever you do, just make sure you look natural, at ease, in total control. You could even try talking to the woman at the starting block before the race begins.

- Really? Wouldn't that come across as a bit sleazy, or at least unprofessional? And what would I even say to her?

- I dunno. Just make it look like you're chatting her up. No one will hear what you say, so as long as you speak with a cheeky grin on your face the crowd will make up their own version of the conversation and you'll be a legend. I guarantee it. The men will wish they were you. The women will wish they were her.

- I could ask her is she enjoys her job...

- No! Too boring. You'll ruin the illusion with that sort of talk. Tell her you'll see her after the race, and that you'll be the one holding the gold medal. Yes, that'll do nicely.

- But I don't want to see her after the race.

- Don't worry about it. You won't have to see her. I've got your post-race plans all mapped out.

- Aw man. Do I have to?

- What do you mean "Do I have to?"!? This is all part of who you are. Once you've won the race, I think a few press-ups might be a nice touch. Now, can you do one-armed press-ups? Actually, no, strike that. We don't want this looking like the paralympics. A few orthodox press-ups will suffice.

- I'm not sure about this...

- Trust me. After the press-ups there'll be some staged photos. I've inquired about you showing the world who impressive you look fully naked, but that will have to wait. The usual pointing and flexing will have to do for now. After the media have their shots, however, I want you to take one of their cameras!

- Well, I do quite like photography. Maybe I can take some nice shots of the other runners.

- That's not exactly what I had in mind. I've arranged for a swimsuit model to be in the front row seats of the stadium. Your job is to find her, take her down to the track and start doing a photoshoot with her. I've asked the authorities if she can be semi-naked at the time, but apparently that can't happen.

- Semi-naked!? You do realise I've never seen a naked woman before?

- Relax. She'll have some clothes on. All you have to do is snap a few pictures with a confident, "I'll see you later" look on your face. Let the people create their own story about who she is, what you have and haven't seen, and what will happen later.

- So...what is going to happen later? I'm kinda tired and looking for an early night tonight.

- Yeah, that's not gonna happen. You remember the Swedish volleyball team that we bumped into yesterday?

- I do. A very pleasant group of young women I have to say. In fact -- and I know this sounds silly -- I had a little crush on the captain. We talked for a few minutes and she seemed really interesting and funny. I was actually thinking about contacting her before the Games are over. You know, see if she wants to go for a coffee or something. What do you think?

- Really? Well you can put this childish thoughts to one side for now, because I have something far better lined up. No thanks required, but you're going to be spending the night with not one, not two, but three of those volleyball babes! We did ask the captain to be one of those three, but unfortunatelyshe declined. Still, three Swedish bombshells in your room. The press will report it, the public will love it.

- But...wait...what? You're telling me I have to have a foursome!? No...just, no. That's not me. And I can't believe you asked the captain to join in. What must she think of me now. Oh god.

- Calm down, okay? You're overreacting. I'm sure she was flattered. Any woman would be. And if she wasn't then that's her problem. And of course you don't have to, you know, do anything. Just make sure you're seen entering the room with the girls. Imagination will do the rest.

- Can we play Settlers of Catan once we're inside and away from the cameras?

- I'm not sure they know that game.

- I could teach it to them.

- Sure. Whatever you want.

Apologetics Redefined

Quite simply, this is one of the best pieces of music I've ever heard, with the latest item on my "Things to do before I die" list being to hear a live performance of Gorecki's Third Symphony. Your move, RTE Concert Orchestra.

I said last night that Ben and Jerry's Karamel Sutra is the best argument we have for the existence of God. I was wrong. This is the best argument we have...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Does "Elliptically Resonate" Even Make Sense?

Perhaps I'm an old-fashioned romantic, perhaps I suffer from an acute case of sentimentality, but whatever the reason, I sometimes hear a piece of music and think "That would be a great song for someone to walk down (up?) the aisle to."

The latest is Hanan Townshend's instrumental version of "Welcome, Happy Morning", a hymn penned by St Venantius Fortunatus in the 6th Century and given music by the Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan in the 19th. I came across it in Malick's The Tree of Life, with its soft piano tones forming the background to Jack's discovery of a girl as desirable. These are wonderful scenes that capture the distance, awkwardness, and strangeness of young love as well as its wonder, and the music fits in perfectly. 

Indeed, I wonder if the unsung words of the hymn were not intended to elliptically resonate throughout the film, so near are they to the vision of the work.




“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, Heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!

Refrain

“Welcome, happy morning!”
Age to age shall say.

Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.

Refrain

Months in due succession, days of lengthening light,
Hours and passing moments praise Thee in their flight.
Brightness of the morning, sky and fields and sea,
Vanquisher of darkness, bring their praise to Thee.

Refrain

Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.

Refrain

Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy Word;
’Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!

Refrain

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!

Refrain

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Take that, Society of Biblical Literature!

If you're one of those people who've decided biblical scholardom is not the place for you, then Stanley Hauerwas's essay in the festschrift for New Testament scholar Richard Hays (who, I have it on extremely reliable information, used to be called "Chip" in college) makes for terrifically comforting reading. Here are some of the gems:

Hays at one time thought it crucial to maintain the distinction between "what it meant" and "what it means" to insure that the Scripture can judge the church. I do not know if he still thinks such a distinction is necessary, but from my perspective such a distinction only insures that members of the Society of Biblical Literature can judge the church.

The reader will note that I avoid using the language of "interpretation" because I think such language suggests that the text has "a meaning" which then must be interpreted. Such a view reproduces the habits of liberal Protestant theologians who assume the language of Scripture needs to be demythologised to meet the epistemic standards of modernity.

To try to isolate the "meaning" of a word from its use is to assume that language is one thing and what the language depicts is something quite other. As a result language and the world are understood to be externally related to one another in a manner that language users are positioned as spectators rather than performers. The presumption that a dualism exists between language and the world hides from us that "the world" is constituted by language and that there is no way to transcend language to speak about language.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Moral Formation

Theology isn't about saying something new, but about the way we put things today given what has been said yesterday. (Which is another way of saying what Barth said at the beginning of Church Dogmatics.)

Craig Hovey doesn't say anything new in this quote, but the way he puts it is as good as I've read.

...modern (secular, liberal) states morally form citizens who willingly submit to the state's formation on grounds that the state has legitimacy so long as it does not claim moral authority.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Revolution?

There is a little known story in one of the gospels where Jesus offered people -- sculptors, shepherds, farmers, leaders, authors, bloggers, speakers -- the chance to spend two days conversing and sand-surfing with him, all for the cost of 25 denarii. Spaces were limited, however, with only the first 12 people eligible to avail of this once-in-a-lifetime offer to sit at the feet of Jesus for what was, admittedly, a hefty sum. Still, as the Lord himself said in response to his critics, "This is the co$t of discipleship."

For those who don't know, Rob Bell used to be a pastor. Now, he is offering 90 people the chance to spend two days conversing and surfing with him. Why is Rob Bell doing this?

"Because sometimes we need to drop what we’re doing, step out of our routine, breathe in some fresh air, and be reminded that we signed up for a revolution."

Apparently the price of that fresh air is $500, with the Rob Bell foundation revolving to the tune of $90,000 for four days of pastoral work. This is an abomination of biblical proportions.

Farewell, Rob Bell.

Russian Orthodoxy: A Brief History

With Pussy Riot making Russian Orthodoxy topical, now is as good a time as any to post my essay chronicling some of the key moments in Orthodox history, from its birth up until right before the attempt at its life. That is roughly a millenium of history; needless to say, I have at times run roughshod over it, and doubtless there are more than a few "facts" relayed that are no such things. This was my first piece of historical work, and I was sort of making it up as I went along. (Making up how to do it; not making up the history. Well, maybe a little of that to.)

The conclusion is probably unwarranted given what I wrote before it, but from all the reading I did that didn't make the cut or that was shoehorned into a footnote I knew there was more to Orthodoxy than it being a handmaiden for the state (or the state being a handmaiden for it). My regret is that I didn't have the space, or perhaps the creativity and courage, to tell the more Christlike side of the Orthodox story. History is usually not written with that side in mind, so it would have taken more effort to find sources that describe the beauty and truth that the Orthodox faith and its saints infused into the lives of Russians. I didn't mention the holy fools, the sobornost, the iconostasis, Rublev, and a host of other people, events and things that make Russian Orthodox history far from monolithic. Perhaps some day I will.

Yet given the current controversy, what I wrote seems at least in some way explanatory and close to the truth of one side of Russian Orthodoxy. You can have a read here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GOh267Tal_PBpfH7f_ydfB965nTY2yMcpeeDJRtSuR8/edit

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Infinite Love

God does not react. God acts out of the infinity of his being, his every action a manifestation of what has been true from the beginning. This is another way of saying that God is impassible; and if David Bentley Hart is to be believed, it is another way of saying that God is love.

I was thinking about this in relation to redemption, which is often spoken of as a reaction. Specifically, God's reaction to our sin problem. Redemption through and in Christ is therefore God's response to our action. This is how I have always thought of things, and it's why I wasn't quite convinced when Kevin would say something outlandish like "We are redeemed before we are created." I had decent reasons for rejecting that statement, or so I thought, the most forceful being that it seemed to me to make our disobedience necessary to the story of reconciliation. Ivan Karamazov's refusal to accept that the suffering of a little girl could be justified by some greater good was my refusal, and still is. But it is precisely at this point that God being our redeemer before he is our creator shows itself to be good news, for it shows that our evil was not necessary to God being the giver of every good and perfect gift. Creation itself is an expression of the God who redeems, and in the immanent life of the Trinity, we are loved before we are. Indeed we have, all of us, been loved into being, therefore no sin, no suffering has been a necessary evocation of divine love. It was there in the beginning. As Hart says,

God does not have to change or suffer in order to love us or show us mercy -- he loved us when we were not, and by this very "mercy" created us -- and so, as love, he can overcome all suffering.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blue Like Jazz - A Re:view


Blue Like Jazz is one of the key books in the Emergent/Emerging/Emerged canon. I haven't read it, but it has been recommended to me by friends. I have, however, seen the recent film adaptation, and the verdict is...I didn't hate it. In fact it had plenty going for it - likeable characters, a decent portrayal of that new-world-of-college experience where you stumble upon friends and try new things, and -- if Portlandia is to be believed --  a fairly accurate depiction of the quirk-fest that is Portland, Oregon.


The story is that of Donald Miller, a southern baptist living in Texas who experiences the hypocrisy of Christians first-hand and decides to leave it all behind -- his home, his family and friends, his identity -- in order to create a new self in a strange place, filled with lesbians and atheists. Not much of those in southern baptist circles, I imagine. (For the record, Donald Miller does not transform himself into a lesbian atheist called Donna Ditchkins, but if there are any film makers reading this, I think I've spotted a gap in the market.)


There is also this girl -- of course there is -- and it is Miller's relationship with her vis-a-vis his relationship with God and the Church that forms the spine of the film. If the previous sentence made you sigh, rest assured, it's not quite what you fear. Of course the film has problems. As much as Southern Baptists might deserve it [I  once asked a lecturer in college what the difference was between the American Baptist Association and the Southern Baptist Convention, and his answer was "Thought"] they are probably justifiably angry at being portrayed solely as hypocritical, fundamentalist nutjobs. Which feeds into the second problem, namely, the lack of Miller the Southern Baptist. His new life in Portland would have been much more affecting and intriguing if we had seen more of his old life in Texas. Other than Don's hair becoming a little cooler, it wasn't quite clear what changes occurred in Reed College. Or should I say, the changes were assumed changes rather than manifest. For example, we assume Miller wasn't the kind of person who let a lesbian sleep beside him in his bed, but we don't fully know, therefore the moment loses force. Finally, there was a few too many "here's a random, funny incident from college that may or may not help with the telling of this story" moments for my liking.

Still, I came in a little sceptical, but came out wanting to read Blue Like Jazz. Since the book is almost always better than the film, then I may just have to dip into the Emergent/Emerging/Emerged canon once more. *sigh* (ps - Is that a closed canon?)

Church and Gaelic Games: A Hypothesis

I was thinking about the relationship between rural Ireland's faith in God/Catholic Church and rural Ireland's faith in Cumann L├║thchleas Gael. The church and the club are intertwined at several levels in the recent history of  Irish society, but I wonder how natural the marriage was between the two? I have heard various reasons for the decline in Irish religiosity in recent years. As much as I appreciate football and hurling and the people who love and play it (a small portion of whom are related to me), I'm tentatively going to put the Church/G.A.A. relations (coupled with the move of young people from countryside to city) on the stand for questioning.

My hyopthesis is: Anything that takes up as much time, intellect, emotion, work, and conversation as the G.A.A. has is bound to take its toll on the amount time, intellect, emotion, work, and conversation one has for God and his work. This isn't to portray God and hurling as inherently inimical. But it is to question the way things -- both in the church and in the club -- have been practised. D'Unbelievables capture this practice brilliantly in the following skit:


The decline, I suppose, comes when young people leave their parish and enter college life or work life in the city, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and love (or resentment!) for hurling or football but not much of either for their Catholicism. The parents' passion for Irish sport is faithfully handed down, but not their devotion to the parish church.

Is this another example of secularisation? The statistics might say so, but I'm not convinced. Yet truth be told, I don't know what I'm talking about. But I know there are readers who do (know what they're talking about), so if you could tell me why I'm way off the mark or point me to any relevant resources that'd be appreciated.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

OT as Tragedy

Terrence Fretheim articulates a certain cringing amongst OT scholars when their beloved testament is handled by preachers. Growing up in Pentecostal circles means I've heard my fair share of sermons ranging from rooted in to tangential to an OT text, so I have an inkling into what Fretheim is talking about.

Allow me a generalisation when I say that the problem (or at least one of them) as I see it is that the OT is usually read positively rather than tragically. If the story of Moses is the story of a hero, it is the story of a tragic hero who is refused entry into the Promised Land. Even the exodus from Egypt becomes an ironic tragedy as King Solomon becomes a sort of "neo-Pharaoh" and his kingdom an oppressive, indulgent empire. Exodus turns to exile, with God's people judged and scattered. There are voices of hope, but these are always spoken in the midst of crisis and despair, construing a time and world beyond that of the text. There is joyous liturgy, but as the prophets warn, the people's liturgical ecstasy was in stark contradiction to their on-the-ground injustice, and this would not go unpunished. The beautiful Psalms were sung with gusto, but God didn't want to hear them.

I'd like to think this isn't a (mis)reading by a biased Christian, though I am just that. Rather, the text itself -- if it's okay to still talk like that -- at least allows for (and perhaps even calls for) a tragic reading. As a biased Christian, it will come as no surprise that I think the NT should therefore be read as a comedy. Of course the comedy doesn't de-legitimise the tragedy, but neither does it giving direct meaning or purpose to all of it. The OT doesn't only point to Christ like a signpost would. He is also found as the text stares into the abyss of injustice and anguish. His absence creates, in retrospect, a Christ-haunted world crying out for newness, desperate for an end to the cycles of tragedy that seem to constitute and fate Israel's story.

Into this tragedy steps Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaims the comedy of the kingdom that he has enjoyed from the beginning with the Father and which is coming to earth as in heaven.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Waking Up

I have crises-of-pursuit with alarming regularity. The questions, What actually am I doing? and Am I able to do it? surface, but any potential answers to soothe my fears remain subterraneous. I dig down into the past, where one might expect to excavate some reasons for validation in the present and hope for the future. Yet in truth, this particular history is not as auspicious as I’d like it to be. 

I remember my brother interrogating questioning me about my fledgling interest in biblical studies around four years ago. “What do you want to be?” he asked, which was another way of posing the very Kelly question “How do you intend to earn a living out of this?” Though I worded it in a roundabout way, in my head things were quite clear: I wanted to be Dr Arden Autry, and to get paid for it. I used the word “authority” in my response, in the sense that I wanted to be an authority that people would naturally and uncoercively look to for wisdom and knowledge in the same way that I looked to Arden. I saw him as authoritative, a person whose words carried considerable weight. There was a gentle yet compelling power at work when he spoke (and when he speaks today). I wanted that power. The power to hold the attention of a room full of people. The power to teach. The power to be asked questions and to give good answers. And since, in my mind, knowledge was the source of this power, the acquisition of this powerful knowledge became my quest.

Of course authority, power, and knowledge are considered dangerous to postmodern sensibilities, and the one who wields them a threat to equality and justice and freedom. Was I therefore setting out to be a theological tyrant, lording my knowledge over ignorant subjects? With Arden as my type that wasn’t quite the case. Nevertheless, I didn’t know what made someone like Arden, well, Arden. I only saw the fruit. I didn’t see the planting, the watering, the pruning – the matrix in which his learning took place. Knowledge was not a sufficient condition for the kind of power I experienced in Emmaus Scripture School. If Arden had any authority to speak on the New Testament, it was because he knew its divine Author. Only in deep relatedness to God could his knowledge be given and received as grace; his authority be experienced as gentle persuasion. I began this journey seeking to know as much as Arden knew, not perceiving that the most determinative and powerful thing he knew was the Trinity. 

This is a modern malaise – seeking to be a theologian without seeking God. My almost clockwork-like crises are no doubt a symptom of this. If pain is God's megaphone, then such doubt is Barth's, serving as it does to wake us up to the proper subject of theology – God – and to its proper goal: worship. Academic theology is a spiritual vocation that requires spiritual practices which produce spiritual character. Indeed, the original academy was a sacred site dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, with the word then used to denote Plato's community of intellectuals which discussed and debated the Good. All this is by way of saying that academic theology is not inherently divorced from virtue or spirituality or whatever you want to call it. That is a dichotomy as false as it is modern. It is one that I have often followed but which I must finally reject. 

To ease my fears and secure my future I think that I need to read more Barth or Yoder or Augustine, or I need to write more learned essays and get better marks, or I need to subscribe to theology journals and build up a network of contacts within the guild. I may well need to do all those things, but what I really need to do is pray more. This is the example set by academics from Augustine to Autry.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Not Very Sporting of Chomsky

If you're looking for someone to put a wet blanket all over the Olympic flame, heeeeeeeere's Noam Chomsky!

...sports - that's another crucial example of the indoctrination system in my view. For one thing, because it offers people something to pay attention to that's of no importance. It keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might get an idea to do something about....I remember in high school...I suddenly asked myself at one point "Why do I care if my high-school team wins the football game? I don't know anybody on the team....Why am I cheering for my team? It doesn't make any sense." But the point is it does make sense. It's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements. In fact, it's training in irrational jingoism.

One suspects that he would find it deeply troubling that a winning boxer and a losing sailor are deemed more newsworthy, more important, than a defecting politician. One also suspects that he would be troubled by the fact that my 5 year-old nephew could tell you how many gold medals Steve Redgrave has won, or what event Ryan "Lofty" got his gold medal in, but try asking him about key moments in Irish history and you'll be greeted by an embarrassed silence. (Embarrassed because he doesn't like not knowing the answer to "hard questions".)

This raises a number of issues. 1) Is Chomsky just a bit of a kill joy who doesn't understand the nature and passion of sport and the necessarily irrational component of loyal love? (Aside: Was/Is Yhwh an irrational jingoist...in a good way?) 2) Have we been indoctrinated into thinking that sport matters, with our emotions, time, intellect and energy being poured into this rather trivial sphere of life while we remain largely numb, unintelligent and impotent as political animals and community members? 3) Given the capacity of children to learn and retain, are we short-changing them by educating them in the trivial and thus teaching them to love the inconsequential? (Does this explain why many churches send the children and youth out the door when the sermon is about to begin?)

This post has already gone places where I never intended it to go, but as we listen to news reports from the clay pigeon shooting arena it's worth considering if there is something more going on.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

To Assume or Not To Assume

Peter Berger makes an interesting point in his most recent post. He mentions the name Hans Grotius (a father of modern international law) who formulated international law etsi Deus non daretur—“as if God is not assumed”. Aside from being a law-talkin guy, he was a Protestant theologian with Arminian convictions who operated -- like most theologians [I'm looking at you, Death of God movement!] -- etsi Deus sic daretur - “as if God is assumed". Here's that interesting point I mentioned earlier:

An individual may be both a jurist and a theologian, with the capacity to operate in two discrete discourses.

That this is empirically true is obviously undeniable. But is it good? If someone like Yoder's analysis is right, then Berger's assertion is possible only after Constantine, when the Christian's Christian convictions could be left aside for the good of the state. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms and Jefferson's wall of separation would appear to continue this legacy in varying forms, with it being not only possible but necessary and right for Christians to be in the world as Christians in one sphere (the spiritual/private/sacred) and as practical atheists (or deists) in another (the temporal/public/secular).

Disciples of Yoder like Hauerwas and disciples of Hauerwas like Bell decry this possibility/necessity. Indeed, Hauerwas is a self-professed theocrat. He is a theocrat because, like the people of ancient Israel, he thinks that (in the words of Walter Brueggemann quoted below) "YHWH, the God of Israel, impinges upon every facet of the political". There is no discourse in life where a Christian can "not assume" God. Indeed Hauerwas's whole project has been a learning and a teaching how to speak Christian in every discourse and every discipline - the ethical, the political, the medical, the theological, the ecclesial, the biographical. The implications of this project are enormous, and I find it immensely onerous to imagine what Hauerwas's ideal church and state looks like - an explicitly pagan state and a faithful and persecuted minority church, perhaps? But whatever the implications, I am convinced that Hauerwas -- and Yoder before him -- are right. Does that make me a theocrat? Possibly, but for the moment all I can say is that while Berger's assertion is true, it is not good that it is true.

Crap and Grace: A Theological Reflection


Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon once wrote that having our nappies changed is our first experience of what grace looks like. I don’t remember that experience from the receiving end, but this afternoon I had my first taste – not literally, I’m relieved to report – of what it is to provide that special form of grace.

There was no actual nappy involved, however. My nephew Noah is at that transitional moment when he is (according to his parents, at least) too old for nappies, but not quite old enough to understand and utilise the adult alternative. To put it bluntly, he still poos in his pants, but these days there is no nappy there to pick up the pieces. I suppose it’s the old sink or swim pedagogy, except in this case sink (along with toilet) is the preferred outcome to swimming in one’s, well, you catch my drift. The method is sort of working on Noah, but only to the extent that he is visibly uncomfortable and embarrassed when the inevitable happens. The thinking, I suppose, is that eventually a sufficient dislike for those feelings will cause him to nip them in the bud and mount the toilet seat. Shame and discomfort – the great human motivators for change.



Anyway, I knew as soon as I came into the room where he was supposed to be sleeping that something was afoul. It may have been the sheepish expression on his face as he stood out of his cot and by the window. It may also have been the smell. I picked him up as carefully as I could – for my sake more than his -- and brought him downstairs to the bathroom for official confirmation. Sure enough, he was swimming. Since I had no prior experience of dealing with something like this before – well, I guess I had, but they had always been extremely personal experiences – all I could do was wing it. A splash of water here, a dab of tissue there, a sort of scraping effect somewhere else. “Remove all traces by any means necessary” was the general mandate, and I carried it out trying not to dwell too much on what it was I was actually doing. That “the other” takes a dump is one of those pieces of information that we erase when we encounter the other. Yet here was an other about whom that information was impossible to ignore: Noah, with soiled underpants, standing compliant and silent, trusting me to do what was necessary to redeem the situation. Is this what childlikeness looks like? Semi-naked, and allowing someone to clean your backside for you?


The majority of us move on from that posture, and we call that “maturity” or “development” or “growth” or “progress”. Rightfully so, perhaps, but damned if we won’t lose something in that process. Certainly not dignity or pride or independence, but something human and creaturely nevertheless - the sense of "being-from" that necessitates "being-for" (though "necessitates" might be too...economic a word). Now I’m not suggesting you and your friend wash each other’s posteriors in an attempt to regain your childlikeness or humanness or love, but surely John 13 is instructive in all of this. Here true deity and true humanity are on display in an act not a million miles away from the one just described. This is shocking not because God would stoop so low, but because it is a concrete revelation of the kind of God that the Father of Jesus is; it is shocking because it reveals to us the very grain of the universe, and it calls us to go with it that we might have the life that is really life.

If Hauerwas and Willimon are right; if changing a child’s nappy is an act of grace, then grace is nothing more or less than the gift given. In Noah’s case, I merely gave him the gift of a clean bum. I gave it to him because he was in my care and he needed it. And if someone as selfish as me is quite willing to give that, how much more is…