Hume: An Intellectual Biography

Hume: An Intellectual BiographyHume: An Intellectual Biography by James A. Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are significant stretches of this book overburdened with details, making it at times a dense read.

However, I did enjoy it. It's best gift is understanding Hume within his intellectual context. At two particular places this was most enjoyable. First in learning more about the philosophical influences upon him, such as Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Hutcheson, and others. Second was learning about the differing understandings of British history in the 18th century, in particular how those different understanding approached the concept of liberty. This was relevant to then understanding what approach Hume took in his own History.

The book had a grand conclusion, stating that Hume had achieved the dreams he set for himself as a young man. Would that more biographies could end that way.

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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomFrederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I expected to marvel at the story of Douglass, but I never quite expected how good a writer Blight would be. He has a beautiful way with structuring paragraphs and sentences.

And it is intellectually a delight. Really capturing Douglass as thinker, including as a theological one.

And I appreciate the approach to Douglass as a Founding Father of the refounding of the Republic during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

I'm not sure I've read an American biography as well written as this one. So besides Douglass's own works, this too surely will enter the canon of American literature.

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FragmentsFragments by KP Moon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Don't love me like a fire;
even the wildest flames can die.
Love me like the ocean;
endless and free from constraint."

I like that image, "Love me like the ocean." This debut book of poems from "Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas" contains some images the remind me of Ocean Vuong.

The poem "Itsy Bitsy" is about seeing a spider crawling on the wall and wondering where it comes from. When it starts there's both an innocent wonder and some sense of dread. The images are really strong--"Where could I go to/ to build a web for one?" And the poem ends with a shock.

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The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

The Collected Poems of Emily DickinsonThe Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"I live on dread; to those who know
The stimulus there is
In danger, other impetus
is numb and vital-less."

Back during the spring quarantines I read a lot of poetry and decided that it was finally time to tackle Emily Dickinson. 2020 seemed to be a good year for her sensibility.

But if American poetry is divided between fans of Whitman and fans of Dickinson, then I'm clearly in Walt's camp.

While there are obviously poems I liked and which were profound, her style just didn't excite, animate, or resonate with me like many other poets I read.

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The Way of Righteousness

The Way of Righteousness

Matthew 21:23-32

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

27 September 2020

            We continue our series exploring the lectionary texts from the Gospel of Matthew.  Today begins a series of moments of Jesus teaching in the Temple.  The setting is that week between his Triumphal Entry that we commemorate on Palm Sunday and his impending arrest and execution at the end of the week.  In those intervening days, the Gospel tells us that Jesus went daily to the Temple in Jerusalem and there debated the religious leaders.  And his words and actions lead to his arrest. 

            In today’s lesson the leaders confront Jesus with questions of authority.  He diverts the conversation by asking his own questions and then telling them a parable.  Hear, now, this ancient story:

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said,
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus said to them,
“I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
And they argued with one another,
“If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”
And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think?  A man had two sons; he went to the first and said,
‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
The son answered, ‘I will not’; but later changed his mind and went.
The father went to the second son and said the same;
and that son answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.

Which of the two did the will of his father?” [Jesus asked]
They said, “The first.”
Jesus said to them,
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

For the Word of God in scripture,

For the Word of God within us,

For the Word of God among us,

Thanks be to God.



            Today I want to begin my sermon with a benediction.  Of course, benedictions properly come at the close of a worship service.  They are words of blessings that send us forth for another week of ministry.  Here is today’s blessing:

The One who blesses you is the One from whom you came,

The One who met you on the road,

The One who has sustained you all the days of your life,

and the One to whom we all shall return,

Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

            Almost twenty years ago I heard that benediction almost every week.  Those were the words that the Rev. Dr. Raymond Vickrey used to close Sunday worship.  He’d speak from the back of the sanctuary.  He spoke calmly and assuredly, radiating joy and hope.

            Ray was the Senior Minister of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas for twenty-seven years, and it was my privilege and honor to work as his Associate Pastor for a couple of years in the early Aughts.  Ray died a little over a week ago, taken by that evil disease Alzheimer’s. 

            Ray grew up in a working class area of Houston, around oil refinery workers.  He attended Baylor University, where he excelled as an athlete and student, and had hoped to compete in the Olympics.  He was a student when Waco's downtown was destroyed by a powerful tornado.  He rushed downtown from the university and helped rescue people, pulling them from the rubble.  His early ministerial career was ended by a divorce, at a time when Southern Baptists still opposed divorce.  His own experience of exclusion helped to shape his approach to others in the decades to come.

Ray became the director of the alumni association at Baylor and in that role cemented relationships throughout the state.  Then, in the late seventies, he was called back to the church, pastoring a large singles ministry at FBC Richardson.  Then, in 1981, Royal Lane called him as pastor, where he served until 2008.

In the 1980's Southern Baptists would undergo a huge battle as the fundamentalists took over the denomination.  Ray was a voice of reason and moderation in those battles, standing on the right side of questions of biblical interpretation and the role of women in the church.  And so he was one of the leaders as new splinter groups of moderates and progressives formed in the 1990's. 

One of Ray's great gifts was his ability to form deep friendships.  His close friend the Rev. Kyle Childress published an article in the magazine The Christian Century in 2004 about Ray and their close group of friends.  They call themselves "The Neighborhood."  Six pastors who for years gathered twice a year for a week at a time to be friends and supporters of each other.  Try as I might, I've never been able to replicate this in my own ministry.  Even beyond this gang, it wasn't unusual for some friend of Ray’s to drive or fly to Dallas to spend time with Ray when they needed wisdom and advice.

On the big issues before the church of women’s roles and leadership and inclusion of LGBT persons, Ray worked gently, holding conversations, and encouraging people.  He used the example of an elephant—You don’t turn an elephant by tugging hard at a rope.  You turn an elephant by applying pressure, slowly, to its side.

            I learned many lessons from Ray, benefiting from his wisdom and years of experience so early in my own ministry. 

            The day he died, the image of Ray that kept playing in my head was of our last time together at the Bavarian Grill, a wonderful German restaurant in Plano that was our habitat while working together where we spent time almost every week eating, drinking, smoking cigars, planning worship, telling stories.  One on of my visits back to Dallas after moving here, I met up with Ray again at the Bavarian Grill and he wanted to hear all about this church and Omaha and our ministry here.  And he smiled his charming smile and laughed and his face radiated with light.  It is this image of him that played in my head on repeat the day he died.

The One who blesses you is the One from whom you came,

The One who met you on the road,

The One who has sustained you all the days of your life,

and the One to whom we all shall return,

Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

            The religious leaders wanted to know by what authority Jesus operated.  They wanted to know who he claimed to be.  But Jesus doesn’t answer directly.  Instead, he tries to get them to think about John the Baptist and where his authority came from.  The religious leaders perceive the question as a trap, according to the way Matthew tells the story.  But Jesus might just as easily have been trying to tease their imaginations to think outside the box.  Our hint that this might be the case is that he next tells a parable, and he almost always uses a parable to tease the imagination into considering other possibilities.

            And this one is no different.  There’s a rather straightforward reading, that, in the end, it is better to do the right thing.  Matthew even takes that straightforward reading in a radically inclusive direction—our human hierarchies will be overturned and those so often excluded will be included and those who think they are doing everything right will learn they have made a mistake. 

            Brandon Scott, scholar of the parables, invites us to consider how this parable would have been heard by the original audience, living in a patriarchal society shaped significantly by the concepts of honor and shame.  The first son has publicly shamed the father by disobeying him, but has privately honored him by doing the work anyway.  The second son has publicly honored the son by saying yes, but has privately shamed him by failing to do the work.  Neither has really done the will of the father.  When Jesus asks his listeners which is better, the truth is that neither is a very good option, given the social context. 

            Which teases the imagination into considering new possibilities.  Maybe the social system is wrong—the hierarchy, the patriarchy, the overwhelming role of honor and shame.  Maybe the way of righteousness is to get away from those completely.  Maybe that goes back to the earlier question about authority.  Does Jesus need an authority?  Does he refuse the question because that tries to frame his ministry in a way that is inauthentic to what he’s trying to do?

            Theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Attempts to answer the question as posed inevitably result in diverse forms of Christian heresy, for the attempt to establish grounds more determinative than Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for why we should believe in him results in idolatry.  If one needs a standard of truth to insure that Jesus is the Messiah, then one ought to worship that standard of truth, not Jesus.

Hauerwas writes that we only know Jesus by participating in the way of life that he models.  Jesus seems to be saying to the authorities—just try living this kind of life and see if it isn’t a better way of being human, of being faithful to God.

            Jesus’ way of righteousness is a rejection of our normal systems of authority.  My friend Tripp Fuller recently published a book on Christology (the academic study of Jesus) and in it he writes that we misunderstand the incarnation and God’s presence and work through Jesus if we understand that as divine intervention into the world.  Instead, Jesus models “divine fidelity, patience, and loving investment in the world.”  God doesn’t invade the world with great power to compel obedience.  God is present in the ordinary, suffering alongside us, encouraging and inspiring us in the work.  Jesus wants his listeners to rethink divine power and agency, to rethink authority, and to rethink what it means for us to be faithful.  What it means for us to follow the way of righteousness.

            We have been reminded this week, in the case of Breonna Taylor, that systems often fail to bring about the justice we desire.  I find cynicism tempting in a way I never have before.  Yet Jesus taught us long ago that human systems will often fail us, and that we must dare to imagine new possibilities.

            The Christian way is very difficult.  Patience, fidelity, love, friendship, service—these so often work slowly.  And we can’t judge their effectiveness by the normal human standards.  We have chosen this way of life because our participation in it has revealed to us that this is the better way of being human, of being faithful to God. 

            I point to my friend and mentor as an example of a life that followed the way of righteousness, working slowly and deliberately over many decades, gently teaching and pastoring so many.

            And so Jesus doesn’t appeal to an authority, but invites us into a new way of life.

The One who blesses you is the One from whom you came,

The One who met you on the road,

The One who has sustained you all the days of your life,

and the One to whom we all shall return,

Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Liberals & the Court

An interesting essay in the Atlantic discusses the end of liberal love for the Court, but first it explains why that love appeared in the mid-twentieth century:

Fundamentally, though, many liberals loved the Supreme Court for the same reason they loved the law: a vision of universal harmony and justice brought about by reason and persuasion, not the brute forces of political power. Victory in the political arena is always incomplete and uncertain, not to mention grubby. Politics appeals to our baser instincts of greed and fear and competition—which, of course, is why it is so powerful. By contrast, law—whether through “neutral principles” or “reasoned elaboration” or elaborate moral theories, to name a few of the core organizing ideas of 20th-century legal theory—holds out the promise of something objective, something True. To win in the court of the Constitution is to have one’s view enshrined as just, not only for today but with the promise of all time.

My Tribute to Ray Vickrey

Ray and Me
On Thursday evening I heard my cell phone ringing and when I picked it up and saw that Harry Wooten was calling, I just knew what he was going to tell me. It's not that Harry doesn't call regularly, but it was an odd time of day for such a call.  So I made sure to sit down and he soon told me that Ray had died that afternoon.  And I cried and spent the evening sending condolence messages and texting with other people who loved Ray.  And participating in that double grief we all experience in 2020--the loss of the person and the loss of what would be the fitting response to their death.  For in normal times, I'd already be in Dallas and there would be a mass gathering of progressive and moderate Baptists to honor a legend.  

I first met Ray Vickrey twenty years ago.  He was twenty years into his tenure as Senior Minister at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and I was freshly out of grad school, a new Associate Pastor in my first position at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The two churches were part of a larger group of Baptist churches in our region who had for many years been gathering together to do youth camp together because these churches were more moderate and progressive than many other Baptists around them.  The Southwest Baptist Youth Camping Association formed a tightly knit group of clergy who gathered through the year to plan and then for the week in the summer to host camp, and I was a new member of this fellowship.  But Ray was the senior figure of the group, treated almost with reverence.

Ray didn't attend all the planning meetings but when he showed up for the minister's meeting at camp, everything changed.  Other pastors, themselves highly opinionated people sometimes serving larger churches, quieted down and showed their respect to Ray.  But Ray didn't demand this treatment, in fact I'd come to learn how amused by it he was.  Ray himself was unassuming, never thrusting forward his own ideas, often remaining reserved, and only speaking on occasion, but when he did, everyone listened.  As a 27 year old I had no idea what to make of what I was seeing.  I sometimes found it funny while also finding it compelling, what was going on here?

In my memoir I introduce Ray this way, 

He had been a champion runner in college and retained the trimness and vigor of a much younger man. His bearing was both authoritative and charming; he smiled broadly. He was over six feet tall with bright white hair that was always perfectly combed. Distinguished is an overused word, but the word fit Ray.

Ray was a respected Baptist statesman. He had endured the Eighties-era fights in the Southern Baptist Convention and was a leader in the moderate and progressive camp. Other ministers treated him with deference and sometimes awe.

You can read about his athletic exploits here.  I remember him talking about how he should have gotten to the Olympics, but I fail to remember what prevented that.

So, over a couple of years I casually got to know Ray, but got to know Harry Wooten even better.  Harry was Ray's colleague, the Minister of Music at Royal Lane, and Harry and I hit it off rather quickly.  It helped my relationship with both men in that I was friends with Tim Youmans who has served with the two of them at Royal Lane when Tim was Youth Minister there.  I had befriended Tim when we both lived in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  Tim vouching for me, paved the way for my relationships with Harry and Ray.

Then, in 2002, when Royal Lane was looking for a new youth minister, I was surprised and honored when Harry called and said he and Ray wanted to hire me.  But I wasn't looking for a job and hadn't been in my current one very long.  I told him no.  And told him no again a second time later.  And then that autumn he called again.  They were struggling with finding the right candidate and he and Ray were convinced it was because I was that person.  Just come to Dallas for a weekend, let us show you around, then make up  your mind.  I finally agreed to that.  Before I left for the weekend I had decided I didn't want to move again so soon.  And I was particularly ready that if they put on some hard sale, I'd be able to easily say no.

But that's not what they did.  What they did was give me a foretaste of what was to come.  The three of us just hung out, eating and drinking and talking.  Sure, they showed me around the church and told me their visions for it, but there was no hard sale at all.  They did set up an interview with the committee, though they seriously downplayed that ahead of time.  We spent the afternoon drinking beers and then they brought me (a little tipsy I might add) to the interview and suddenly I was in a room with fifteen people!

Driving back home to Fayetteville, I knew they were right, that I was being called to Royal Lane.  And, so, a few months later after tearful goodbyes in Arkansas, I moved to Dallas, a town I'd always thought represented everything that was wrong with America.  And there everything in my life would change.

The first half of my memoir records in detail the affects of living in Dallas and how during that time I came out of the closet as a gay man, so no reason to go into all of that here.  

Serving at Royal Lane will always been one of the high points of my career.  There was a special alchemy between Ray, Harry, and I.  We were not simply effective colleagues, we were dear friends.  So much of our work was done while sitting at a table together enjoying fellowship, often with some visiting friend of Ray's.  Our favorite place was the Bavarian Grill, a great German beer hall surprisingly located in a Plano strip mall. When we were doing it up right, we’d arrive after the lunch rush for our own late lunch of trout, red cabbage, spinach, and pretzel rolls washed down by Warsteiner Dunkel. After lunch we’d smoke a cigar and then eventually order Black Forest cake and coffee for dessert. We’d usually leave about the time the dinner crowd was beginning to arrive. Sometimes we’d actually plan an entire season of worship during one of these outings. Other times it was just fellowship.

Ray grew up in a working class area of Houston.  He attended Baylor University, where he excelled as an athlete and student.  He was there when Waco's downtown was destroyed by a powerful tornado.  He rushed downtown from the university and helped rescue people, pulling them from the rubble.  His early ministerial career was ended by a divorce, at a time when Southern Baptist still opposed divorce.  He became the director of the alumni association at Baylor and in that role cemented relationships throughout the state (more on that in a moment).  Then, in the late seventies, he was called back to the church, pastoring a large singles ministry at FBC Richardson.  Then, in 1981, Royal Lane called him as pastor, where he served until 2008.

In the 1980's Southern Baptists would undergo a huge battle as the fundamentalists took over the denomination.  Ray was a voice of reason and moderation in those battles, but standing on the right side of questions of biblical interpretation and the role of women in the church.  And so he was one of the leaders as new splinter groups of moderates and progressives formed in the 1990's.  

When you attended a denominational meeting with Ray, you needed to be prepared for something.  When your group decided it was time to leave the convention hall to head to lunch or dinner, you had to decide that a least a half hour before you planned to eat, because it would take you at least that long to get out of the convention center.  The reason is that everyone wanted to talk to Ray.  I personally would find this irritating, which is why I'll never be that person.  But Ray handled it with grace.  Pastors were constantly coming up to him to talk.  More than once I'd hear some small town Texas pastor say, "Ray, I've been looking for you.  I really need to talk to you about something."  And then pull him aside.  Ray had spent decades at the university and in church work cultivating relationships, and he was a deeply and wide respected and admired man.

I was glad to know him more personally.  As funny and wise and more rebellious than the public role suggested.  

One of Ray's great gifts was his ability to form deep friendships.  His close friend the Rev. Kyle Childress published an article in The Christian Century in 2004 about Ray and their close group of friends.  They call themselves "The Neighborhood."  Six pastors who for years gathered twice a year for a week at a time to be friends and supporters of each other.  Try as I might, I've never been able to replicate this in my own relationships.

But even beyond this gang, it wasn't unusual for some friend of his to drive or fly to Dallas to spend time with Ray when they needed wisdom and advice, and Ray would bring that person along for drinks at the Bavarian Grill.

When the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was beginning to discuss and argue over what to do about gay people, Ray hosted conversations for people to talk.  He encouraged a more inclusive church, but never stepped out radically.  Royal Lane and slowly and quietly acquired gay members who were promoted into positions of leadership.  Years later, when the Baptist General Convention of Texas somehow finally figured this out, then they expelled the congregation.  

One of the most important things I can say about Ray Vickrey is that he didn't fire me.  I think I completely surprised him one day, when during staff meeting, completely out of the blue, I just said, "Ray, I'm gay."  He seemed at a rare loss for words at first.  It took him a couple of days to formulate a response.  This was the early Aughts in a Baptist church in Texas, when it would have been so easy and so typical for me to be done with ministry at that point.  But that didn't happen.  Now, if you've read my book, you know that the next few months were a struggle for me and for my colleagues.  This sure wasn't what Ray expected in the final years of his ministry, and I did things that didn't make it easy for him.  But we remained despite those difficult months, we remained friends.  He was present at my wedding to Michael in 2009 and was so very excited when I called to tell him about my call to Omaha.  It is safe to say that Ray is one reason I'm still in ministry 17 years after coming out.

Ray and I were so different in temperament.  He thought I was too open, that I shared too much, that I expressed my opinions too often.  He was more reserved, quiet in meetings, kept his personal thoughts for close friends.  I've always recognized that his temperament was the source of his power and the respect and admiration with which he was treated.  I've always been somewhat envious of it, while also know that I'm not that person, as much as I might want to be.  And so he remains a mentor and a model, but in some ways the ideal I can never achieve.

What a blessing for a young minister to work with Ray and to learn from him.  He was quite fair and balanced but brooked no nonsense.  If someone caused trouble in the church, Ray had no problem making sure that person knew they should leave and not let the door hit them on the way out.  That was an important lesson to learn.  So many other lessons run through my brain--how to cultivate relationships with congregants, to make short hospital visits, the proper concern a pastor should have for stewardship and finances, how to develop a staff that works effectively as a team, how to have fun while working, etc. 

Most importantly maybe was this set of lessons.  He often said that ministry was not a difficult job, and he was annoyed at those who viewed it that way.  He had grown up around oil refinery workers and knew that was a difficult job.  A minister should set clear boundaries and take lots of time for themselves and their family, which was more important than the job.  In fact, it was the pastor's job to model not overworking because too many congregants overworked in their professional lives, to the detriment of themselves and their families.  And no minister should not everything about their church.  If you knew were the scissors were kept in the fourth grade Sunday school classroom, you were headed for burnout.  I believe I have absorbed all of these lessons and also done my best to pass them along to my Associate minister.

Alzheimer's took Ray in the end.  It was a long, slow decline.  With hindsight, I was clearly there as it was beginning, though none of us knew it at the time.  It was a shame to see such a keen intellect who had cultivated relationships with so many people lose much of that in the final years.  On my most recent visits to Dallas I was encouraged not to visit, as he wouldn't know me, and I decided I didn't want that experience of my friend.

On Thursday after I got the call from Harry, I kept picturing my last visit with Ray, fittingly at the Bavarian Grill.  And I remember his charming smile and his big laugh and the light that radiated from him.

Chronicle in Stone

Chronicle in StoneChronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in an Albania city during the Second World War that repeatedly changes hands between Italians, Greeks, Communists, and the Germans. Told from the perspective of a young boy and based on Kadare's own childhood experiences. This is a wonderful tale full of rich characters and a vivid setting. The second of his novels I've read, both a delight.

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The Book of J

The Book of JThe Book of J by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read sections of this book over a few years as they were relevant to preparing a sermon or Bible study, and after recently using it a good deal while preaching a Genesis sermon series, I elected to read all the parts I hadn't yet.

The book is full of profound, curious, and provocative insights as Bloom develops his idea that the author of the oldest parts of the Torah must have been a woman of the royal court writing during the reign of Rehoboam. What distracts from reading the book in whole is how repetitive it is.

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"Who Made the Earth?"

The most splendid conversation with Sebastian just now.

He walked into my office and asked, "Who Made the Earth?"

"Let me finish this e-mail and then we'll talk."  Finish e-mail.  "Okay, what's your question again?"

"Who made the Earth?"

"God did."


So I go over and crouch down beside him.  "At the beginning of time there was an explosion [wide-eyed excitement] called the Big Bang.  And that created space and time which then began to expand forming the universe and inside [I'm using hand gestures here] there was stuff forming and that stuff came together and built bigger stuff and eventually there were stars and planets."

"Including the Earth?"


"So that's how!"  More wide-eyed excitement.

Then I asked, "Where did that question come from?  From your brain?"

"I've had that question a long time.  Since you got me I've had that question."

OOOO!  Cartesian innate ideas?

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I would have felt differently if I had read it a decade ago, but I just didn't care much for this book and am surprised at its reputation. None of these characters are attractive and strangely they almost all lack any depth. I can imagine short stories or novels of some weight and substance with these characters and plots, but that's absent in this book. For example, in chapter 11 art professor Ted spends time admiring a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice. But Egan narrates no depth or substance in this moment, despite it being rife for that.

The only chapter I found interesting was the final one which imagines an America in the 2020's too focused on unreality. That one has a prophetic bent to it and has turned out not to be too outrageous.

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Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology

Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive ChristologyDivine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology by Tripp Fuller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tripp has written a fine book. He's pulled together so many different theological threads and made sense of them.

The first chapter conscisely and straightforwardly summarizes some of the key themes of Process thought. The second chapter is the best summary of the current state of historical Jesus research I've read. Subsequent chapters review major developments in Christology and places differing voices in conversation with one another developing from them the major themes that a contemporary theology should have. And the conclusion draws it all together to present a fresh and inspiring picture of the Christ.

I know I'll find it helpful for teaching and preaching for years. Thank you Tripp.

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Remote Kindergarten: More Thoughts on Week Two

Field Club sign
Sebastian and I have gotten into a decent routine this week, and I've been able to get more work done while attending Kindergarten than I expected, but generally only stuff like answering e-mails, but nothing that requires too much creativity or focus.

Breaks are fun--light saber battles and tossing balls around.  

During bedtime this week we finished our first big boy book--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I had tried the book once before when he was younger, but it was too early.  He was really into listening to it this time as we've read it over a few weeks.  And it was a joy to watch his excitement responding to various plot points and particularly as we neared the end.  Which of course has a great old fashioned "The End."  Now he can't wait  to move on to Prince Caspian.  

Funny thing--I suggested maybe reading The Horse and His Boy next, but Sebastian said, " I think we should read them in the order that the author intended."  No argument here.

During non school times, he's been enjoying exploring his iPad some.  He's taken lots of pictures, really enjoys the drawing app, and yesterday, with new headphone provided by the district, was record himself talking.  "I don't want you to listen, Dadda.  It's really scary."

Last week he traded his toddler scooter for a razor that was in the church Thrift Shop.  He's taken to zooming back and forth to church with me on it and then riding around the church hallways.

I've been wondering this week what I most remember from Kindergarten:

  • The kids crying on the first day.
  • The kid who could snap his fingers, and I couldn't no matter how hard I tried.
  • Getting kissed by Kristy Holstein.
  • Having to sit in the corner a lot for talking too much.
  • Riding the bus.
  • Recess
  • PE class
  • Art class
  • the Science Fair

What do you remember from Kindergarten?

Remote Kindergarten: Week Two

So, last Friday, after I had already posted my thoughts for the day, we received an e-mail from Omaha Public Schools stating that parents had been listened to and that hours of online instruction for K-2 would be dramatically decreased.  Other changes included more breaks, a longer lunchtime, and that specials would be optional.  Some of these things our particular teacher had already been doing, but we had heard horror stories from other friends, including one couple whose son was online for seven hours the first day of Kindergarten!

For our class the new schedule went into effect on Tuesday.  The bulk of instruction is in the morning.  One downside has been that now we get one twenty minute break in the middle rather than a couple of smaller breaks, which I actually think is better.  The extra length to lunch isn't relevant for us, as his required time is over before lunch, but I am glad to not have to be rushing to get back on at 12:20, especially because we often moved from the house to my church office during the break.  Now we can have a more leisurely and relaxed lunch.

Specials have been moved to 3 p.m. and are now optional.  Of course it's not idea to label music and art as optional.  And 3 isn't the greatest time.  He doesn't have much focus at 3 even if it comes after a long break.  This week he hasn't tuned in much to the specials as I had scheduled most of my stuff in the afternoons and wasn't going to reschedule (the thing on Friday had already been rescheduled twice as OPS kept changing the school schedule).  

On Monday we tuned into "music" class but fifteen minutes in, when we still hadn't done any music, he wanted to log off, so we did.  For a kid who loves to sing, takes piano and dance, he was very much looking forward to and was quite disappointed by that experience.

I must give credit to the PE teacher for having done the best to adapt her subject to the online format.  And that seems ironic, as you can imagine she was the one teacher least likely to be using much tech in her normal classes.  He had a lot of fun with yesterday's class, but logged off after about forty minutes.  I'm not sure why they are sticking to a one hour format for these classes with the online delivery method.  Thirty minutes would be sufficient.

This week we've done more math and he's really excited about it.  He keeps wanting to work ahead though and the teacher has cautioned against that.  This made me reflect on my time, as a high school senior, serving on my school system's committee to research and implement outcome based education, which allowed students to move at their own pace with more individualized work.  Whatever became of that model?  

One thing that has been added to the schedule is one hour of one-on-one instruction a week, divided into two thirty minute slots.  I think this is a marvelous addition and look forward to that happening next week.

I've spent all week sitting beside him at the work table, and I think that's helped.  We do lots of the activities together, and I ask supplemental questions.  Sadly, I've got some of the songs stuck in my head already; one night, I awoke in the middle of the night, with one playing on repeat in my brain!

I continue to struggle with the teachers insisting that students sit quietly and listen with nothing in their hands.  I can get Sebastian to sit and listen and participate, but he needs to be drawing, painting, building something if there's not an activity going on at the time.  But he's been called out a few times, to my chagrin.  A friend who does online corporate training messaged me about how in that world they understand even adults need things to do to occupy their hands while engaging in online learning and how much more that is true for five year olds.  This friend sent me a lot of articles and research to read on the subject.  After doing all that reading, I finally messaged the teacher about it today.

I must say I struggle with the aspects of education that try to create conformity of behavior.  I struggled with that myself as an elementary student.  It's been nice to read a few of my friends saying the same about their educational experiences (including one in her nineties).  I don't want him to associate learning with someone's definition of proper behavior.  I understand the need for classroom management, but also know how vital play, movement, and creativity are to his brain at that age.  

One more comment.  Every day the class goes over its five rules.  The fifth rule is "Keep your dear teacher happy." I get what she means by that but I also find it really creepy. Almost Orwellian.  In particular the "dear" which associates too closely in my mind to "Dear Leader."

Sebastian did turn in his first homework (see above)!

The Dark Years?

The Dark Years?The Dark Years? by Jacob L Goodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first met Jacob Goodson more than twenty years ago when he was a brand new freshman just starting his pursuit of philosophy. He was eager to learn everything. Now he's an established professor with a few published books.

In this volume Goodson discusses some predictions that the philosopher Richard Rorty made in the 1990's about America in the 21st century. Rorty predicted that from 2014-2045 America would through dark years--gun violence and racial unrest would proliferate, a populist strongman would be elected in 2016, we'd experience a Second Great Depression, etc. According to Rorty this resulted from the failures of the academy to address the concerns of the poor, generating resentment that led to the rise of populism.

Of course, as these predictions have come true, attention has returned to Rorty's thoughts. Goodson's book discusses how we should understand and evaluate Rorty's predictions.

The second aspect of Rorty's 21st century predictions is that we would come out of the dark years with a new and renewed politics based on love. Through the dark years Americans, through reading novels and scripture, would develop sympathy that generate shame about the inequities of our system resulting in social solidarity. More of Goodson's book focuses on these predictions, finally centering on what kind of hope we might have that this outcome will materialize.

A worthy contribution to public philosophy and our attempt to better understand the moment we are living through.

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