Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Semi-Seminary: Politics, Activism, and the Kingdom of God (Audios)

Part I. “The Spectrum of Political Theology”
Matthew Brake

Part II. “He Will Speak Peace to His People: Bonhoeffer, Peace, and Responsible Action”
Muoki Musau

Part III. “Engaging Politics: A Neo-Anabaptist Perspective”
Earl Zimmerman

Part IV. “Unglamorous Activism”
Austin McNair

Part V. “A Conservative's View of Faith and Politics in America”
Scooter Schaefer

Part VI. “Where does neighbor-love fit into public policy? Some insights from Adam Smith”
Robert Thomas

Part VII. “The Resurrection of the Warrior God: Theological Existence Today
Jack Holloway

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The 10 Best Books I Read This Year

I set out to read 30 books this year and it looks like I will have read 52 by the time the year ends. Here are my 10 favorites. I have to apologize as most of the books on this list deal with Karl Barth. As I am primarily studying Barth for my MDiv, I spend the most time reading his books and reading about him.

10. Night Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things by Dale Allison

If you know me, you know I struggle with fear of death. This was an edifying book to read for me. Allison has clearly struggled with the issue a lot as well, and offers here some valuable insights that shouldn't be overlooked. (Also, I have a review coming out for this book in the Wesleyan Theological Journal!)

9. Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

I started reading Batman graphic novels this year. I read about a dozen of them. I can't decide which is my favorite, but this one was the most thought-provoking. It's such a gritty, disturbing, and compelling portrait of Batman and the Joker, and provides endless opportunities for critical analysis. I even wrote an And Philosophy article about it.

8. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts by Eberhard Busch

This is not only a great biography, but it's one of the best introductions to Barth that I've read. You really get to know Barth and his thought through this book. He led an exciting life, full of controversy and conflict, but also full of beauty. There is never a dull moment, and it paints a very full picture of Barth.

7. Against Ethics by John Caputo

Caputo never ceases to impress me with his striking way with words. He really knows how to write. He is also one of the most compelling thinkers with whom I am familiar, and one of the best theologians alive today. This is clearly one of his best works.

6. The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology by Gary Dorrien

I read this book in a week, which is odd for me because I usually read several books at once and take my time with them. I couldn't put this one down. It's a fantastic introduction to the story of Barth, his theology, and the conflicts that paved the way of his life. It's also a thrilling read.

5. Church Dogmatics, II.1, The Doctrine of God by Karl Barth

The highlighted pages in my copy of this book tell it all. It is clear to me that I will be working with this text for years to come. It is exhausting to get through, but it's worth it. You truly see his brilliance here. He was undoubtedly one of history's greatest theologians.

4. War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin by Carlos M.N. Eire

I am so glad I read this before taking my Luther and Calvin classes. It's such a great introduction to the reformers and reformation theology. Eire outlines well how the issue of worship was central to the reformation program, and his telling of the history is endlessly interesting. This is in no wise a boring read. It's funny, intriguing, informative, and well-told--a great history book.

3. Barth, Derrida, and the Language of Theology by Graham Ward

This is my favorite text of secondary literature on Barth that I've read so far. It convincingly demonstrates how postmodern Barth was, and how his theology was a sophisticated critique of metaphysics. More people need to read this, especially those critics of Barth who characterize his theology as revelatory positivism, and those philosophers who disregard Barth as fideistic or his God as far too radically transcendent.

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

What can I say that hasn't already been said? It's a masterpiece.

1. The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth

For this one as well, what can I say? It was described in its time as "a bomb on the playground of theologians." The bomb explodes with the same power today.

Friday, December 9, 2016

"What Will become of the Child?" My Advent Sermon on Luke 1:57-66


At St. Lydia's we are in the middle of Advent.

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” In this season, we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the birth of God into the world.

It is a time to reflect on what it means to inhabit an in-between space, the already-not-yet, wherein we celebrate the Incarnation, but also wait with eager expectation for Christ’s return.

Scripture reading (Luke 1:57-66):
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.


When we open our Bibles to the Gospel of Luke, we know what we are going to find—the story of Jesus. As soon as we start reading, we anticipate the arrival of the Messiah. We know how the story ends.

But Zachariah and Elizabeth are far from that story. The thought that the Messiah is coming has probably not even entered their minds yet. They are living in the day-to-day realities of Jewish life in the shadow of Rome, in the days of King Herod.

This was only about 30-40 years after Rome had taken control of Judea. It is likely that Zechariah and Elizabeth were alive during Judea’s independence, and for the fall to Rome. The collective memory of an independent Judean kingdom would have been quite fresh, and the people of Judea would have still been mourning…and dreading.

Life had become a wilderness, an ocean of barren, uninhabitable land, where few things grow, where praiseworthy things like rain and the color green are scarce.

It was a seemingly hopeless setting.

So what did the people think when these strange events in the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth began to occur?

Zechariah comes out of the temple speechless. They don’t know that he had been met by an angel and a prophecy. They only encounter his silence.

He remains silent for 9 months. In that time, Elizabeth, despite everything, becomes pregnant. After the child is born, at his circumcision, when they defy tradition and name him John, Zechariah recovers his voice.

What are the people to make of all this?

Dinner tables throughout Judea were filled with speculation.

What will become of the child?

There is no announcement of hope. Not yet. There is only hope-filled longing.


But just as unexpected events can hint at hope, there can also be events which rather crush and devastate.

My sister had two miscarriages.

Both pregnancies were met with excitement and wonder.

I’m sure we all know how exciting a pregnancy can be.

There is so much hope and so much joy surrounding the thought of the coming child.

What is this child going to be like? What joy and wonder will this child bring?

For with every birth, we celebrate newness. New life. New possibility.

But these two pregnancies were short-lived. And both were devastating.
Hopes were crushed, and the road up ahead darkened.

A similar feeling, I think, was felt by many of us when Donald Trump was elected president.
It seemed like everywhere I went that week, there was a collective sinking of spirit.
Dread ruled the day.

Now we are living in the reality of that event, and many of us are nervous about what the future holds.
It is filled with uncertainty, and even danger.

We don’t know what is coming.
Nothing guarantees that things will turn out well, that what is coming will not be a disaster.

The mother might miscarry. The child might not be born.

And so we fear.

What will become of the child?

This is the predicament of every believer: How do we have faith when the future is uncertain and dangerous, and when the present promises coming disaster?

How do we have faith amid the wilderness, where we can see for miles all around us, but nothing green, and no clouds.

As we contemplate the coming of Jesus, Christians long for that coming.
In this time that remains, we feel deeply the absence of the coming one, and are haunted by his memory.

There is no announcement of hope. Only hope-filled longing.


But then there is John.
The text says he is a voice calling from the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

“Let every heart prepare him room,” as we sing during Christmastime.

Along these lines, Paul in II Corinthians 8 speaks of readiness, diligence, and expectation.

He incites the Corinthians to develop a “readiness of the will,” or as one commentator puts it, a “willingness to be willing.”

Readiness is a predisposition toward an event, wherein we pre-decide how to respond.
In this case, it is a predisposition toward the coming kingdom of God, toward justice, toward abundant life,
When rulers will be brought down from their thrones, and the lowly will be lifted up,
When the hungry will be nourished, and the rich will be denied,
When the enslaved will be freed, and their oppressors punished,
When those who mourn will be comforted, and those in luxury will know want.
For wherever these things occur, there the kingdom has come.

We ready ourselves for the kingdom by remaining dedicated to its possibility, by living in the promise, and remaining loyal to it, not letting our responsibility waver, so that when it comes, we intuitively respond as God would have us respond.

We see this in Elizabeth.

In old age, she has to bring a child into the world, into that world, the world of subjection to Rome…the wilderness.

But from the text we have no reason to believe that she was anything but faithful to God.
We see this throughout chapter one, where, despite not being visited by an angel, she seems to understand what is going on better than anyone.

How does she know to call the child John?

There is no indication that Zechariah imparted to her what happened in the temple, and we should hesitate to reach beyond the text and assume that Zechariah wrote it down for her earlier.

Without any such indication, it seems likely that we are to assume her choice was inspired.

Elizabeth had faith. She had that willingness to be willing. She was predisposed to the coming of God in such a way that she lived her life actively anticipating it.

And so when God came, she responded as was needed.

This is how faith functions for Luther. It is a disposition, a state of being which organically entails a manner of living.

The way of faith is the way of loving and hoping in the things of God so that they are reflected in our being in the world.

Elizabeth embodied this faith, and that is what it means to prepare the way of the Lord, where hope-filled longing becomes embodied hope.


What will become of the child?

We do not know.

The mother might miscarry. The child might not be born.

It could be a disaster.

We are like the people gathered around Zachariah outside the temple, like the neighbors witnessing the naming of John.

We ourselves have not been given direct divine communication. We did not see or hear the angel. We were not told to name the child John.

We have only the testimony of strange events, and the strange testimony of Christ’s coming, of a promise of new life, of a New Creation,
of the kingdom of God.

But we also have the example of those like Elizabeth. She also did not have direct divine communication. She also did not hear or see the angel.

But she lived in the promise, ready and willing,

preparing the way of the Lord.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The 60 Best Songs of 2016

60. "Let Me Be Me" by Nite-Funk

59. "Two Hearts" by Von Voigt

58. "Do It, Try It" by M83

57. "
Stranger Things" by Kyle Dixon

56. "Landcruisin'" by A. K. Paul

55. "Radio Silence" by James Blake

54. "untitled 06 | 06.30.2014" by Kendrick Lamar

53. "2100 (feat. BOOTS)" by Run the Jewels

52. "Formation" by Beyonce

51. "Give Violence a Chance" by G.L.O.S.S.

50. "No Problem" by Chance the Rapper

49. "Silicon Tare" by Com Truise

48. "Beyond the Door" by Khemmis

47. "Crack Baby" by Mitski

46. "Whiteout" by Warpaint

45. "TV Queen" by Wild Nothing

44. "Anxiety" by Preoccupations

43. "Solar Chamber" by Lycus

42. "Hypnotisoitu viharukous" by Oranssi Pazuzu

41. "Second Son of R." by Oathbreaker

40. "Just Am" by Deakin

39. "It Means I Love You" by Jessy Lanza

38. "Something Helpful" by Anna Meredith

37. "Phoenicia Wireless" by Kassem Mosse

36. "Despair Is a Siren" by SubRosa

35. "Treaty" by Leonard Cohen

34. "Contain" by Ian William Craig

33. "Golden Chords" by Deakin

32. "Conceptual Romance" by Jenny Hval

31. "Colours" by The Avalanches

30. "All Night" by Beyonce

29. "Ultralight Beam" by Kanye West

28. "Three Sides of Nazareth" by Nicolas Jaar

27. "The Dead Are Dumb" by Nothing

26. "it's different for girls" by of Montreal

25. "Warning Call" by CHVRCHES

24. "Earnest Kelly" by Youandewan

23. "FloriDada" by Animal Collective

22. "Be Free" by Weyes Blood

21. "Ivy" by Frank Ocean

20. "Underwater" by Porches

19. "Real Friends" by Kanye West

18. "
Summer Friends" by Chance the Rapper

17. "
Steady On My Mind" by Parquet Courts

16. "
Fill in the Blank" by Car Seat Headrest

15. "
Transfiguration" by Inter Arma

14. "
Castrati Stack" by Tim Hecker

13. "
Lazarus" by David Bowie

12. "You Want it Darker" by Leonard Cohen

11. "Best to You" by Blood Orange

10. "The Governor" by Nicolas Jaar

9. "Dowager" by Anna Meredith

8. "Augustine" by Blood Orange

7. "I Talk BB" by Jessy Lanza

6. "Crying in Public" by Chairlift

5. "Daydreaming" by Radiohead

4. "True Love Waits" by Radiohead

3. "33 'God'" by Bon Iver

2. "Obsidian Counterpoint" by Tim Hecker

1. "Female Vampire" by Jenny Hval

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The 50 Best Albums of 2016

Honorable Mention:
Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.
Helado Negro: Private Energy
Roman Flugel: All the Right Noises
James Blake: The Colour in Anything
Neurosis: Fires within Fires
Kanye West: Life of Pablo
Preoccupations: Preoccupations
Com Truise: Silicon Tare
Lucy Dacus: No Burden

50. Beyoncé: Lemonade


48. Venetian Snares: Traditional Synthezier Music

47. Sepalcure: Folding Time

49. Masayoshi Fujita, Jan Jelinek: Schaum

46. Russian Circles: Guidance

45. Aluk Todolo: Voix

43. Panopticon: Revisions of the Past

42. Lycus: Chasms

41. Lush: Blind Spot

40. Wild Nothing: Life of Pause

39. Kyle Dixon: Stranger Things OST

38. Cliff Martinez: The Neon Demon OST


36. Brian Eno: The Ship

35. SubRosa: For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

34. M83: Junk

33. Anna Meredith: Varmints

32. The Avalanches: Wildflower

31. The Field: The Follower

30. Kassem Mosse: Disclosure

29. Mitski: Puberty 2

28. Warpaint: Heads Up

27. Weyes Blood: Front Row Seat to Earth

26. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial

25. The Orb: COW / Chill Out, World!

24. Youandewen: There Is No Right Time

23. Chairlift: Moth

22. Sumac: What One Becomes

21. G.L.O.S.S.: Trans Day of Revenge

20. Ian William Craig: Centres

19. DIIV: Is the Is Are

18. Porches: Pool

17. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book

16. Oranssi Pazuzu: Varahtelija

15. Khemmis: Hunted

14. Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker

13. Krallice: Hyperion

12. Nothing: Tired of Tomorrow

11. Jessy Lanza: Oh No

10. Oathbreaker: Rheia

9. Deakin: Sleep Cycle

8. Davie Bowie: Blackstar

7. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound

6. Inter Arma: Paradise Gallows

5. Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch

4. Bon Iver: 22, A Million

3. Nicolas Jaar: Sirens

2. Tim Hecker: Love Streams

1. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool