Web-log, March 27, 2017

Last Week

I mentioned that I sent off my paper last week. I am in process of writing the next chapter, but stalled a bit on some questions that I have about immortality. I have roughly ten pdfs open at the moment to be read and document. Add to this an extra trip to TEDS to hear Michael Allen speak, an eye exam, and taking a half day for my family, and last week wasn’t great for productivity.

I did send myself about twenty emails by text last week. I do this usually from the bathroom or from the church pew. For whatever reason the shower and the morning song time are fertile ground for ideas. I take in so many details that putting it together takes the mental tranquility required for creative leaps. Anyway, I have one pictured on the right. Here’s a rough idea of what I’m trying to say.

unnamedIf someone wants to argue that Calvin has a Platonic view of the soul they will run into a few difficulties. First, he explicitly says that Aristotle is the shrewdest when it comes to the powers of the soul. He seems to accord a great deal of respect to Aristotle while rejecting him. Second, he does not hold Plato’s tripartite view of the soul and explicitly rejects Augustine’s. He holds a simple two faculty view. His soul seems to be somewhat Platonic (immortality and dualist with regard to body/soul)  but mediated by a debate within a largely Aristotelian tradition that refined the faculties of intellect and will. Calvin is a humanist and biblical scholar who wants to avoid being pressed into more detail than he is comfortable with. 

The other very productive thing I did last week was writing my ETS paper. I meant to write the proposal, but I hit “flow,” so I went with it. Three hours and 3,500 words later, I had something I can work with. I’ll submit the proposal this week.

Set Up

I’m hunkered down at Starbucks on 50th Street today (pictured: due for an upgrade). There are better atmospheres for work, but this is a regular stomping grounds because it is about a 3 minute drive. It’s one of those mornings where the weight of what I have to accomplish pushes away traveling very far.

unnamed (1)The guy who looks like Bill Murray is here again today. He’s here about 75% of the mornings that I come here. He’s outside smoking at the moment, hence the two empty chairs pictured. I have formulated various theories to explain what he does here. He almost seems to be a well-to-do homeless man. He certainly is a recluse, preferring not to be spoken to. He sits, drinks his coffee, plays video games on his tablet, and sometimes scribbles notes on blank lined paper. Last week he dropped some, and when they came to rest by my feet tried to stoop to help him pick them up. He obviously did not want my help picking up his papers, scrambling to get them before I could. He remains a mystery.

The Plan

  1. Work on job stuff; try to find a job
  2. Clean up email
  3. Clear away PDFs
  4. Try to avoid thinking about getting my car inspected, selling my other van, filing taxes, etc.
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Web-log, March 21, 2017

The Week

Well, I finished the chapter and sent it off. In the chapter, I was attempting to weave medieval background into a description of Calvin’s psychology as described in The Institutes I.15.1-8. I had run into so many difficulties trying to figure out how to arrange the background and my analysis of Calvin that, in the end, it was easiest just to cut Calvin out of the chapter. Once I had made this decision, the chapter seemed to write itself. I was done in less than a day. It came to 41 pages (roughly 14,000 words without footnotes–it would have been over 20,000 together). Part of the conclusion is below:

“In sum, there are very clear and broad historical reasons that Calvin’s psychology does not reflect the five distinctives of Aquinas’s psychology. Since we need to read him as he is situated, we can avoid blaming him for not answering questions that were not being asked and ascribing too much consequence to his way of organizing his psychology. The theological disputes that occurred between Aquinas and Calvin produced a general psychological inheritance for him, a core of four tendencies according to which, as we will see, his psychology generally conforms: (1) a tendency to hold a more dualistic approach to the body soul relation, which attributes the lower faculties to the body—owing both to the arguments over the identity of the soul and its powers and over the immortality of the soul (body/soul dualism), (2) a tendency to see the will and its passions as the morally relevant faculty, along with a corresponding tendency to see the passions of sense appetite as mere bodily passions, natural and irrational (ascendency of the will in action and affective theory), (3) a tendency to curtail the importance of virtue for the ethical life in action theory (mitigating the telos of divine command, flourishing; (curtailing of virtue in action theory), and (4) a tendency to see continence, rather than virtue as the maximal ethical state for persons (continence as highest ethical state). I have already remarked that the additional contribution of the Reformers is a tendency to overlay God’s volitional determinism on human psychological determinism as a way of minimizing the importance of human virtue. In the next chapter, I will lay out Calvin’s psychology in light of these four tendencies.

IMG_4994I’ve already emailed the chapter to Matthew Levering and received a quick email back with a promise to take a look. I’m hoping to interact with him about it, since it is very much in his wheelhouse. Most of the books consulted for this chapter were requested from the gorgeous Feehan Memorial Library at the University of St. Mary of the Lake where Levering teaches.

The uptake here is that the next chapter is also coming along nicely, since I removed the Calvin stuff and dumped it all into a file. It already has 7,500 words, and yesterday was a very productive day writing, sharpening some ideas I had already put on paper. I hope to be done with a draft of this chapter within two weeks.

The Set Up

I am back at TEDS today, scanning books and doing some tasks for the Trinity Journal. I’m currently about 91% done with Dombey and Sons by Charles Dickens; this is the last of the Dickens novels for me. So, I will have to be careful not to get drawn into it and stay on task. I had broken my headphones last week, and so, since headphones are indispensable to this work, I am rocking a new set of Klipsch S4i earbuds. I am a big fan.

The Plan

  1. Scan two library books by Levering, which need to be returned to Feehan
  2. Complete Trinity Journal Tasks
  3. Catch up with a couple of friends if possible
  4. Read and take notes on “The Soul” in Paul Helm’s John Calvin’s Ideas

Trauma, Suffering, and the Community

On the Mere Orthodoxy blog Patrick Stefan has written an appreciative critique of an article recently written on trauma and Reformed evangelicalism by Paul Maxwell. I want to weigh in with a question for Patrick. But before I get to this, I need to give a quick fly over of the discussion.

First, Paul’s piece was a reflection on his experience within evangelicalism and particularly at Westminster (Philadelphia). Paul was connecting a general observation about the culture of Reformed evangelicalism—its divisiveness and in-group vs. out-group dynamics—with the tendency of the traumatized to re-create trauma. He writes, “abused boys can be attracted to militant contexts that recreate their own emotional abuse.”

Not only is this re-creation a recipe for perpetuating abuse, but it is also a pretty terrible context for working through trauma. He writes, “But currently, and I say this in spite of all the books that have been written for ‘survivors’ and ‘healing’ by evangelicals, there is no place for corporate or public healing of trauma in evangelicalism . . . I simply don’t believe there is space for a traumatized person to be their full selves in this community.”

Patrick Stefan builds on Paul’s article by telling his own very moving story of trauma. He suggests his narrative has two stories: “there’s the well-rehearsed one that demonstrates my theological acumen and ability to find truth, then there’s the back-story of a boy in an unsteady world looking for some semblance of certainty.” He gives his own account of Reformed evangelicalism highlighting the doctrine of the fall, the nature of trauma within this doctrine, and biblical examples of coming to terms with suffering.

While generally building on Paul’s article, he thinks “Maxwell has painted Reformed Evangelicalism with too broad a brush.” I wish Patrick had said more about this. Frankly, I am not sure he’s even talked about Paul’s most significant complaint, not about Reformed theology (Paul’s dissertation is on this), but the culture of the community.

It strikes me that Patrick has actually unwittingly contributed to Paul’s point by talking about the two narratives of his life. This leads to my question for Patrick: What kept you from telling your story to your church community? He says, “Behind the closed doors of my home I struggled with anger, hyper-vigilance, and sleeplessness, though I put on a good face in public.” This is precisely the point the Paul was making.

What struck me most about this piece—knowing Paul pretty well—is that it signaled a break with a sort of protective pretense. The fact is, this is remarkably courageous for a person in Paul’s position (Who wants to hire “damaged goods”?). The fact is our church communities do have informal in-groups and out-groups, those who are qualified for “leadership” and those who are not. There are the sufferers and the helpers. Emotional stability is a sign of spiritual maturity, and vice versa–circumstances notwithstanding.

I want to suggest that the reason that the community does so poor a job of supporting sufferers and the reason why Patrick was hesitant to show his suffering is precisely because we still tend to assume that negative emotion is a direct and simple manifestation of sin. Negative emotion, especially statements of anger, regularly disqualify people from being “in.” This creates a devastating catch-22 where people want to communicate strongly and risk rejection for doing so.

Many thanks to both Patrick and Paul for their vulnerability. I applaud them both for their courage. But perhaps, we could bring about a community where courage isn’t necessary for sharing suffering?

 

Web-log, March 13, 2017

Morning Reading

Micah 6:3-4

Screenshot 2017-03-12 21.18.29

My translation:

My people, what have I done to you?
And how have I wearied you? Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and from the house of bondage,
and I redeemed you and sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

Weekend

Our family has been caged (with a few excursions for each my wife and I, including Wheaton for me) for almost two weeks with the flu. So, it was really good this weekend finally to get out and have dinner with our care group. I also submitted another application to a good Christian school in Des Moines. There’s a good chance we move while I’m finishing this, but things are still very much up in the air. I need a job, and then the other dominoes will fall.

IMG_6198Set Up

Today I’m in the basement. I’ve got my Better Homes and Gardens “Fall into Autumn” candle burning and I’m trying to avoid thinking of how fast the snow is falling right now. Getting Bella to school was an hour-and-a-half task this morning between clearing the drive and sidewalks, shuffling cars (after finding them), and waiting for Molly to return to shuffle them again.

The Plan

  1. Clear of my desk, to do list, and emails
  2. Finish chapter 3 after Thursday’s melt down

 

Web-log, March 11, 2017

Yesterday

I spent the day driving (four hours), listening to presentations, and talking. Paul Maxwell compared Calvin and Voltaire’s determinism and approaches to theodicy. Kevin Emmert negotiated the “New Perspective on Calvin.” Kristen Mathson unpacked the concept of authority. And Ryan Fields critiqued Webster’s theological ecclesiology. All the talks I attended were excellent, even though Paul was interrupted by a dusty smoke detector–we had a freezing fire drill.

The Set Up

I’m back at Wheaton for a bit today, waiting to hear sparks fly on whether or not God can suffer. The real reason I came down was to hear Austin Freeman and Paul Hartog and to see the Marion Wade Center–I’ve never been. Photos below.

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Example of Lewis’s grandfather’s work:

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Lewis’s desk

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Tolkien’s desk

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My favorite book (I have the first American edition on the right):

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Web-log, March 10, 2017

Yesterday

Yesterday I fell into a dissertation black hole, was overwhelmed with despair and quit an hour early. There are these days. What is a dissertation black hole? Here’s my explanation.

At least in theology, if you write a dissertation, chances are you are a generalist. This has some very particular difficulties. One of them is the possibility of slipping into a dissertation black hole. A dissertation black hole is when you are drawn deeper and deeper into providing backing for a minor claim to the point where you find yourself buried in a pile of PDFs and books that cost you at least eight hours.

Yesterday it was this. I wanted to illustrate the ways philosophers and theologians denied the immortality of the soul in the late Renaissance. I had a few figures and “schools” picked out, and really was only trying to expand on what I already had written, an introduction of sorts. I had already written about Siger of Brabant, George of Trebizond, Cardinal Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, and Pietro Pompanazzi. However, a passing comment in an article I read yesterday mentioned the rise of “Alexanderism” in the 16th century, which is exactly relevant to my topic. I added “Alexanderism” to “Averroism,” and “Galenism” to be addressed by my paragraph today. The trouble is the relationship between Alexander and Averroes is incredibly complex and involves something like ten other theologians–particularly from the Italian Renaissance–between the early fifteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth. I read through roughly two hundred pages of crap about Alexanderism and Averroes before I realized that I wrote about fifteen words today, all of which will be deleted. I am no further than yesterday, and actually quite a bit more confused.

What have I gained? I now know that actually the reception of Aristotle was quite a bit more complicated than I supposed, and Alexanderism, which is probably not justly an “–ism”, has bearing on my project to a much greater degree than I had realized, culminating in a possibly pervasive influence on the radical Reformers through Jacopo Zabrella. Important, complex, and time consuming. My 14,000 word monster of a chapter threatens to become much bigger.

I could finish the 150 more pages to read, take notes, and write ten very well-crafted and nuanced sentences on the scope of controversy, and how it influenced not only Calvin’s psychology but the anabaptist psychology he attacked as well.

Or… I could write the three sentences I had originally intended, knowing full well I’m oversimplifying the situation, putting a few sources in the footnotes and move on. There are literally hundreds of these black holes to avoid. And what makes this worse is I also didn’t do very well blocking out that I don’t have any job prospects and received a discouraging email around quitting time.

I fell into a black hole.

The Set Up

Today I’m at Wheaton College for the Midwest Regional ETS.

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John Donne, “The Anatomy of the World”

John Donne laments that a sort of wisdom by which the world had “coherence” is dead, and only her ghost haunts his forever changed world. Donne lived during the great overturning of the Elizabethan world picture. That world and its wisdom are so dead now that we scarcely remember what they were (Lewis and Tillyard, e.g.).

So, why is it worth remembering? It is worth remembering that the past four hundred years have been a spasm of recovering a world that made sense, that the spasm is subsiding at a blinding speed. Science has brought us stunning technology, but not more wisdom. Donne would surely wail the louder for Western Civilization today. We are left with competing claims for power, a deep loneliness, and a groaning to be reconciled to ourselves, our world, and a God we cannot seem to reach.


She, of whom th’ancients seem’d to prophesy,
When they call’d virtues by the name of she;
She in whom virtue was so much refin’d,
That for alloy unto so pure a mind
She took the weaker sex; she that could drive
The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,
Out of her thoughts, and deeds, and purify
All, by a true religious alchemy,
She, she is dead; she’s dead: when thou knowest this,
Thou knowest how poor a trifling thing man is,
And learn’st thus much by our anatomy,
The heart being perish’d, no part can be free,
And that except thou feed (not banquet) on
The supernatural food, religion,

So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world’s condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund’red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ’d that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world’s sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum’d the East;
Whose having breath’d in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin’d from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she’s dead: when thou know’st this,
Thou know’st how lame a cripple this world is

John Donne, “An Anatomy of the World

Also, just for fun, my very poor attempt at reading with a 17th century (like) accent. I like to read poetry aloud to really experience it, and so I just hit record as I did so (purify and alchemy are all wrong I think).