GETTING THE HANG OF RETIREMENT

Photo by Craig A. Phillips

I now have been retired for a little over nine months and I am still trying to get the hang of it. More than one of my retired friends has told me that it took them the better part of three years to get used to it. So I am just a beginner.

All kinds of resources exist for retirement planning but most of them, apart from an occasional nod to the familiar advice to follow your dreams, focus on its financial dimensions. That is due for the most part to the fact that no two people are alike and retirement means different things to different people. Some will quit work altogether and others will continue to work full or part-time in retirement, but perhaps in a different area from the work from which they retired. No matter the circumstances, retirement means change and change always comes with some loss in the hope of gain. 

The best advice I got on the first day or two of my retirement was from a woman who told me not to try to do all my errands on the same day. Save something, she said, to do tomorrow. I have taken that into account and no longer try to cram ten errands into the same day. I save something to do tomorrow.  

The other problem — and it really is a problem, although not an earth-shattering one — is that every day seems like a Saturday. I lived a life for forty plus years that focused on Sundays. Saturday for me was always a day for errands and by the evening,  a time to brace myself and prepare for the busyness of Sunday morning. So, I suppose it was more like most people’s Sundays before work resumed on Mondays. Now there are times when I can’t remember what day it is. While it’s a wonderful feeling, it can also be a bit disorienting.

When we retired, we moved far from where we had been living. More than one person has asked me why we moved north to cold New Hampshire instead of chasing the warmer southern climes. As with many people our age, we moved to be nearer to family. We wanted to move to a place that was new and familiar at the same time. Growing up, I spent my family vacations in New Hampshire. We also lived there and commuted into Cambridge when I was a Divinity Student. And when my father died in 1983, my mother moved to New Hampshire where she lived for many years. And so we retired in a part of the state unfamiliar to us but in many ways familiar to us as well. 

When we moved into a new town, we knew no one here. After a couple of months, I knew that I needed to make connections in the community and I wanted to be of service to it. So, I sought out and joined the local Rotary Club that meets every Wednesday for lunch. They have already put me to work on their many service and charity fund-raising projects. In a few months I have gotten to know people from towns all around and I feel more connected to the community.

At home, we are busy every day trying to repair and update a house that had suffered some neglect. We hired professionals to do some of the big jobs, but we are chipping away slowly at the smaller tasks. In February, we set up a portable heated greenhouse in our backyard, That allowed us to get a head start on our gardens this year. Now that spring is here, we have been busy every day working to reclaim and improve the plantings on our property which is over an acre in size. It’s a mix of lawns and garden beds, with ground vegetation and woodlands on its edges. We have planted fruit trees, fruit bushes, roses, shrubs, Japanese maples, fifteen garden beds, with dozens and dozens of plants and seedlings still needing a home.

In retirement we are not really doing anything that is completely new to us, but what we are doing we are doing in a different way and sometimes for different purposes. So, it’s an adventure yet to be continued. In three years, I’ll let you know if I’ve finally gotten the hang of it. 

CRITIQUE AND EDIFICATION

Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4: 11-13).

St. Paul describes the church as the body of Christ in which those within it are given gifts to use to build up that body so that every person is brought to Christian maturity. 

May 1, 2022, marks the 41st anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. When I graduated from seminary in 1979, I felt called to ordained pastoral ministry and to a ministry of teaching. I have not always found it easy to combine these mutual vocations. After graduation, I spent one year in clinical training as a hospital chaplain. Following that, I was placed in charge of two congregations in rural Oklahoma as a lay vicar. Five months later, and four days after our first child was born, I was ordained to the diaconate. During this time, I wrestled with the idea of a vocation that combined both ministry and teaching.   Six years later, after working in St. Louis for a couple of years, I decided to go back to graduate school to pursue a doctorate in theology and ethics at Duke University. Within a few months of my arrival in Durham, North Carolina, I began to serve as regular supply priest in rural congregations. Soon I was serving in part-time interim ministry, sometimes in more than one congregation at a time. My working life was divided between teaching at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill and work in interim parish ministry. I mention this because these experiences provided me with a perspective from which to see the church in a different light. 

The purpose of the church at its best is to build us up so that we become knitted together in the body of Christ. Its purpose, therefore, is to edify us, that is, to build us up, both personally and communally. Moving between these two environments in my career provided me with the insights I would like to share with you here. 

The purpose of the university at its best is to critique every idea or procedure and from that process to arrive at new understandings in every area of our lives, from the medicine we need to heal our bodies, to an understanding of our universe in all its complexity, to questions concerning the meaning of our lives.  

In the academic world a distinction is made between “criticism” and “critique.” Criticism points to minor errors and inconsistencies in the work under examination. Critique, on the other hand, seeks to find if and how the entire work under examination is inconsistent with its own principles, and whether as a result the work or project is flawed from the start. In graduate school, students are taught how to tear academic positions on any topic to shreds. They are taught, in other words, to critique everything they read or hear. Graduate education teaches students to categorize thought and quickly make suggestions as to the error, faults, and even the impossibility, or utter contradiction in the work under examination.  

I remember a particular graduate seminar I taught at Temple University in which we examined the work of the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu.  I was trying to make a point using an idea suggested by Bourdieu.  My students rushed in to condemn the way in which Bourdieu constructed his argument. I tried to defend the usefulness of his position despite its inherent weaknesses, but my students would not hear of it. When I reflected later in the day on the feeling and emotion behind their arguments, I realized that they were only doing what they were being taught to do. They were demonstrating to me that they could engage in a vigorous philosophical critique of their assigned readings.  

 This emphasis on critique is why university professors and other academics are often charged with being nihilists. If every position is equally flawed, then how can one ever endorse any position or idea? How then does one live her or his life? That is one of the dilemmas one faces in the university environment.

The life of the university thrives on critique, that is, on the process of challenging dominant assumptions and formulating in their place different and oftentimes unpopular ways of looking at things. This is an important task and I by no means want to belittle it. New ideas and approaches to more ancient problems, more often than not, are enriching and enlivening.  

In contrast to the university, the central task of the church is neither critique nor criticism, although that is how life within it often feels for lay and clergy alike. At its worst the church is a critical and unsupportive place. Because we all are imperfect people, it is not surprising that we often see the fault in others, before we see that same fault in ourselves.  Jesus recognized this when he asked his hearers, “why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” 

At its best, the task of the church is not to tear us down but to edify and to build us up. If we want the church to become a supportive place, we must pay attention to the ways in which we respond positively to the needs and desires of others.  If we ourselves want to be supported, we first must learn to become supportive of others. Together, and only together, can we grow “to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“RIPENED TO THE FALL”

Photo by Craig A. Phillips

“OCTOBER”

Robert Frost — 1874-1963

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

In mid-September, my wife and I moved to New Hampshire following my retirement as Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. We arrived shortly before the foliage began to change and the leaves began to fall.

As I watched the changing October foliage all around me, I was reminded of the poem “October” by Robert Frost. I thought of it for two reasons. First, the poem expresses a desire for the slowing of time to allow time for the appreciation of the present season and present moment. Winter in the poem is a metaphor for death and so the poet in the season when the days get shorter and shorter asks for the retarding of time and a delay in the onset of winter. This delay is also good for the grapes who will have more time to ripen on the vine before it is destroyed by frost.

The window behind our kitchen sink looks out to an old wooden fence on which grows a vine of Concord grapes. From that one vine, I have harvested 10 pounds of grapes. With the first five-pound harvest, we made delicious grape jelly. The second five-pound harvest now is in the freezer for later cooking and canning. At the second harvest, the vine was beginning to wither and brown. “For the grape’s sake,” I left them on the vine for as long as I could so that they would ripen as much as possible. At the end of October, the vine is now spent.

In the middle of the poem, the poet asks that October, “Enchant the land with amethyst.” In Greek amethyst means “not intoxicated.” The Greek myth describing the origin of the amethyst stone relates to the Greek god Dionysus (Roman, Bacchus), the god of wine and intoxication, who fell in love with the beautiful maiden Amethyst, who as her name suggests was “not intoxicated.” She rebuffed Dionysius driving him in his rage to seek to kill her. To protect Amethyst, the goddess, Artemis, changed the maiden into a clear quartz stone. As Dionysius lamented her new state, he spilled wine over her turning her into a beautiful purple stone. Grapes ripening on the vine are transformed in the fall from green berries into a wonderful purple, as rich as any amethyst.

Second, the poem speaks to me in my current situation. I have worked for over 40 years and now have decided to retire from full-time work. I don’t want to think that I am in the fall of my life with winter coming soon on its heels. I would like to think that I am in the spring of my life with new possibilities, new hopes, and new dreams to fulfill. Of course, I am not getting any younger, so I too long that the time be slowed and that in each of my remaining days I may be beguiled and filled with wonder at the beauty of life around me. Like grapes on the vine, I want to ripen and flourish before my time comes to an end. And on top of that, with its bright foliage, fall in New Hampshire is stunning — even enchanting.

From 1900 to 1911 Robert Frost lived on a Farm in Derry, New Hampshire in two-story, clapboard house on an eighteen-acre farm that had been built in 1884. Frost’s farm (now a State Park) is less than 20 miles from our new home in New Hampshire as the crow flies. Frost moved to England in 1912 only to return to the states at the end of 1914. The poem, “October” was first published in England in 1913 in the book, A Boy’s Will. I feel certain from reading it —but I don’t’ know for sure — that he must have written it while he was living in New Hampshire.

It is my hope that as you read this, in whatever time of life you find yourself, that you will take time to let your heart be beguiled by the beauty of the sunlight, the change of the seasons, and the beauty of creation all around you.

 

THE LOAF-KEEPER OF ALL CREATION

Photo by Craig A. Phillips

I have always been fascinated by the etymology of words. Perhaps this interest explains why I studied so many languages in school or perhaps this interest arose from my studies of these languages.

English is one of the many languages that comprise the Germanic language family within the larger Indo-European family of languages. The Germanic family includes modern German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic.

For a time, Britain was part of the Roman Empire and Latin was spoken there. In 122 A.D., the Emperor Hadrian began building a wall to mark the northernmost boundary of the Roman Britain and to serve to keep the “barbarians” out. Later, because of numerous raids by the Norse and other barbarian tribes across the Northern boundaries of the empire, the Celtic languages native to the place were changed or influenced by a variety of Germanic linguistic influences. After the Norman invasion in 1066 A.D., French was spoken by the nobility in England and English remained the “vulgar” tongue, the language of the common people.

Words contain in themselves not only a history of meaning but also a cultural history. Some words meant one thing in an earlier time and place and mean something entirely different today.

Several years ago I was asked to give a talk at a church gathering on the Lord’s Prayer. As I prepared my talk—and especially as I reflected on the meaning of the phrase “give us this day our daily bread”— I discovered the etymology of the English word “lord.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “lord” is derived from the Old English word hláford, once hláfweard, which means “loaf-ward,” that is the “keeper of the loaf.” A lord, then, is the bread-keeper for the family. He was the head of the household in relation to all who ate his bread.

The making of a loaf of bread does not happen overnight. First the wheat has to be grown, tended, harvested, and ground into flour. Then the flour has to be mixed with other ingredients and baked. Because most of us today buy our bread from a store, we forget how time consuming the making of bread from start to finish really is. In the ancient world bread was a valuable commodity. It needed, therefore, someone to protect it from anything that might harm, unlawfully take, or destroy it.

As everyone on a low carbohydrate diet today knows, bread is a source of sustained energy for the human body. Where there is enough bread, there is life.

In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God, who is “Lord” —the “loaf-keeper”—of all creation, to give us the “bread” we need each day to live. We do not ask the Lord for more than we need, but only for what we need to survive and flourish.

In God’s economy there is always enough bread for all. In human economies, there often is not abundance, but scarcity. There is scarcity because the resources of the planet are limited and God calls on us to shepherd them wisely, but we fail in that duty when some have more than they need for human flourishing while others have nothing. The stories of the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand in the gospels remind us of the abundance of God’s creation— a creation in which there is always enough bread to sustain life for all.

The Eucharist we celebrate and share together is a sign of the abundance of God’s creation and an invitation to all to eat and share in the abundance that God has given us. It is a sign of the economy of God by which the hungry and thirsty are invited into the Lord’s table. We see this in the gospel of John when Jesus tells the disciples that, “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. They said to him, Lord give us this bread always” (John 6:33-4).

When we ask God to give us our daily bread, we recognize that God is the “Lord,” the “keeper of the loaf.” In the Old English sense of the word, God  truly is the “Lord” of all creation.

 

“THE LORD LIKES BLUE CHEESE”

Photo by Michele Blackwell on Unsplash

Many people are committed to working for God in the church. As they go about the tasks at hand, they hope that they are doing what they call “God’s will.” In my experience, persons on Vestries and other committees of the church facing difficult decisions don’t often stop their meetings to ask aloud what “God’s will” might be for their church in the decision at hand. And so, they figure that if they just proceed as they normally would, God will bless all their endeavors done in God’s name with success.

If you find yourself having to make decisions like this, I would like you to ask yourself this question: are you doing “works for God” or are you doing “God’s work”? There is a difference. Works done for God may be performed merely out of self-interest. Doing God’s work means that you have taken the time to discern with your sisters and brothers in Christ exactly what “God’s work” might be at a particular time and in a particular situation.

Thomas Green, a Roman Catholic priest who served in the Philippines, illustrates the difference between God’s work and works done for God. He develops his ideas in two inter-connected books, When the Well Runs Dry and Darkness in the Marketplace.1 Citing the story of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke, Green observes that Martha was busy doing works for Jesus while Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet “listening to his teaching (Luke 10:38-42). While both of their labors were important, Martha, as Jesus reminded her, needed to stop her busy-ness and listen to the words of her Lord: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.”

Fr. Green remembers how, when friends travelled back to the United States for visits, they would often ask him if he would like them to bring anything back for him. He told them he would love some blue cheese, an item not easily found in the Philippines. Many of his friends who themselves did not like blue cheese would return with something “better” in place of the cheese he had requested. Fr. Green observes that he knew he had a true friend, that is, one who truly cared about him, when the friend who personally hated blue cheese nonetheless brought some back as a gift. Fr. Green concludes that God is like that. God often asks us for blue cheese but we feel the need to do something “better.” When we try to do something “better”, are we busy doing works for God or are we doing God’s work? Are we so “anxious and troubled about many things” that we do whatever we want, or are we doing what “is needful?, that is, what God may be asking us to do.

As you think about what God wants from us, take time to reflect on the difference between “God’s work” and “works for God.” Remember: “the Lord likes blue cheese!”

1Thomas H Green, S.J., When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1979); Darkness in the Marketplace: The Christian at Prayer in the World (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981).

A NEW PUBLICATION OF MINE

Martin Luther’s original grave marker in Jena, Germany. Photograph by Craig A. Phillips

This week my essay, “Freedom from the Law: From Luther to Agamben” was published in Ecumenical Perspectives Five Hundred Year after Luther’s Reformation. It was first presented at a conference of Ecclesiological Investigations international Research Network conference held in 2017 in Jena, Germany.

In the chapter, I examine how the Pauline concept of “freedom from the law” is interpreted by Italian philosopher and political theorist Giorgio Agamben and contrast his secular use of it with Martin Luther’s theological understanding of the same concept. I contrast the passive righteousness that Luther finds in Christian freedom with the freedom Agamben finds in law that has been made inoperative. For Luther and Agamben, I argue, the way to genuine freedom is accomplished not through action, but through inaction.

To date, I have published chapters in six separate books in the Palgrave Macmillan series, “Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue.” (The details of these publications can be found on the “Academic Publications” page of this blog.)

As I wrote in an earlier post, I don’t often write about my academic publications in this blogspace, but because these publications allow me to address both the academy and the church at the same time, they may be of interest to some of my readers.

Additional information about the book may be found at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-68360-3

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

“If we look to the bottom of the raging dissatisfaction that characterizes so many people today, chances are it all goes back to a dislike of self that has a way of poisoning everything else one perceives.”

John R. Claypool, The Preaching Event

The way we treat ourselves is the way we will treat others.  The counsel of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” both begin with a love for the self as a unique and wonderful creation of God.  We often miss the fact that we have to respect ourselves before we can respect others. In order to love our neighbors, following Jesus’ advice, we first have to drop the harsh and often hostile manner with which we treat ourselves.

The recognition that you will only be able to love your neighbor as you learn to love yourself is an important insight into the words of Jesus. The pattern you develop in dealing with the person you deal with most often, — yourself — becomes the pattern by which you will begin to relate to everyone else. If you don’t like yourself and are critical of yourself at every juncture, you begin to see others only in a critical way.

The hostile, critical, dissatisfied way we treat others becomes the way we perceive and begin to act toward others. One escape is to try to find heroes whom we imagine are not like us. They are super-humans without our flaws and imperfections. “If only we could be like so and so,” we say. And so, in our raging dissatisfaction with ourselves we try to become someone else, rather than learning to love the person we are.

The parables of Jesus are wonderfully good news for us if we could truly believe that what Jesus says is true. His parables tell of a God who accepts all of us as we are, without condition, in spite of who we are and where we have been. The doors to God’s acceptance are flung wide open. All are invited to enter, the poor, the marginalized, the unworthy—even you. Entrance is free and welcome to all who will enter. The parables tell of a God who is even willing to come out and search for the lost, the wayward, and the lonely. The doors to God’s acceptance of whom we are right now, in spite of our flaws, are open to all. 

Why do so few go in through these doors? Is it because, in our critical way of dealing with ourselves, we know ourselves to be unworthy, undeserving of that kind of love—the love we really need?  

What would happen if you believed these stories just for a minute and, foolish as it might seem, you went in? You might find that knowing you are loved and accepted will allow you to be a little easier on yourself. At the same time, you may become less critical of others and more willing to love them as you love yourself. 

2021 LIVING COMPASS LENTEN BOOKLET

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

This year I was honored to be asked to write the reflection for Palm Sunday (March 28, 2021) in this year’s  Living Compass booklet of daily Lenten reflections entitled Living Well Through Lent 2021: Listening with all your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind. (You will find my meditation on pages 59-60). Because the theme chosen for the reflections is listening, I wrote my reflection on Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week with that theme in mind.

The booklet is provided by Living Compass free of charge. If you would like to download an electronic version of the booklet, please go to the Living Compass website, Living Well Through Lent 2021 (8.5 x 11 PDF FILE)

I am posting this notice on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, so that if you wish to use this resource daily during Lent, you will be able to start using it right away.

Living Compass “provides tools and trainings to assist individuals, families, and congregations as they seek to live the life God calls them to in all areas of life —heart, soul, strength, and mind.” They use these four areas as “compass points to help guide and equip” persons for their health, wholeness, and wellness. (See pp 8-9).

I hope that this resource will help you with the observance of  a Holy Lent. 

 

A REFLECTION ON KATHERINE MAY’S WINTERING: THE POWER OF REST AND RETREAT IN DIFFICULT TIMES

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

For the past few weeks, I have been engrossed in the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.[1] I was attracted to the book by the title and ordered it right away. Not every title has that kind of immediate appeal. 

The book is an extended secular meditation on the fallow periods in life in which we can retreat, rest, and recover. May’s reflections are part memoir and part elegantly written investigation of the metaphorical concepts of “winter” and “wintering” that she invents to describe our way of dealing with our fears and anxieties. The book is deeply autobiographical. At the same time, it is written in such a way as to leave space for its readers to identify and reflect on their own experiences of “wintering.” That is the great strength of this book.

Reflecting on the falling leaves in October, May writes: “Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish, and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing bare bones. Given time they grow again.”[2]

“Wintering,” May explains, “is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you are cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. …Wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful….We like to imagine that it’s possible for life to be an eternal summer. ” Life is not like that. 

Reflecting on an illness that struck her, May states bluntly that “winter blanked me, blasted me open. In all that whiteness I saw the chance to make myself new again.”[3]  

The book, she tells us, is about “learning to recognize the process” of wintering, “engage with it mindfully, and even to cherish it.” We might never choose to winter, but, but once we understand our experiences in light of that concept, she maintains, we are more likely to be in the place in which we can choose how we do it.[4]

In November and December, I experienced a wintering of my own.  Who knew that a slight twist of my spine unloading the car would lead to two successive surgeries on my back in the same place where I already had a previous surgery? It seemed like nothing at the time, so much so that when my back began to hurt the following day, it took me three days to remember that I had twisted it earlier that week. 

This event began two months of excruciating pain down my right leg all the way to my toes. The cause turned out to be a herniated disc in much the same place that I had had back surgery three years ago. This led to an additional surgery. My surgery went well and a couple of weeks out things looked promising. But that was not to be. Three weeks after surgery, I found myself back in the hospital  for an additional week with an infection that required opening up one of the surgical sites and cleaning it out. Because no visitors were allowed, I spent the week alone in my room. Of course, it was a hospital, so I was never really alone, but due to the state of the COVID-19 pandemic I was allowed no visitors. My hospital stay was followed by three weeks of IV antibiotics and then a couple more weeks of oral antibiotics. 

Throughout this ordeal, I took things as they came, calmly and in stride, never finding myself to be upset about much of anything. I can’t say that it’s always been that way when I have faced adversities like this in the past. This time, however, I seemed to have the resources necessary to cope with my circumstances, when at other times in the past I did not. Working from home, a loving family, a supportive church community, not going out as much as I had before the pandemic, time to rest, and taking time to read at night before going to sleep, had given me resources I never knew I had until they were needed.

Rather than fleeing from the difficult times in our lives, May maintains, we need to learn to embrace them —“we must learn to invite the winter in”— so that we can learn from them and grow.  She writes: “Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements[5] sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.”[6]

After recovering from her own illness, which May interpreted in a metaphorical way as form of wintering, she writes, “ Winter is asking me to be more careful with my energies, and to rest a while until spring.”[7] That is advice I needed to hear. And it is advice, that you might want to take to heart. 

“At its base,” May concludes, the book “ is about noticing what’s going on and living it. That’s what the natural world does: it carries on surviving. Sometimes it flourishes…and sometimes it pares back to the very basics of existence in order to keep living…. It winters in cycles, again and again, forever and ever. For plants and animals, winter is part of the job. The same is true for humans.”[8]

We cannot move on from our metaphorical winter, without embracing it first. When we invite the winter in, we are not necessarily overtaken by it. Rather, we enter it so that one day spring will arrive for us, with all its possibilities for new life and growth.

[1] Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. (London: Penguin/Random House, 2020). The book was highlighted for the 2020 Wainwright Prize, sponsored by the National Trust in England, that celebrates the best in English Nature Writing.

[2] Wintering, 78.

[3] Wintering, 10

[4] Wintering, 12.

[5] American, “sidewalks.”

[6] Wintering, 13.

[7] Wintering, 84.

[8] Wintering, 269-70.


THREE RECENT PUBLICATIONS OF MINE

Three chapters of mine have recently been published in separate volumes of the Palgrave Macmillan series, “Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue.” The books in this series derive to a great extent from expanded conference presentations at meetings of the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network. Two of the three chapters published recently arose from conference presentations, and one was written especially in memory of a departed colleague, Gerard Mannion of Georgetown University. To date, I have published chapters in five separate books in this series, with one still forthcoming. (The details of the publications can be found on the “Academic Publications” page of this blog and in the links at the end of paragraphs below.)

I don’t often write about my academic publications in this blogspace, but because these publications allow me to address both the academy and the church at the same time, they may be of interest to some of my readers.

All three of these chapters employ the work of the Italian philosopher and political theorist, Giorgio Agamben, to engage specific theological topics and issues. While Agamben writes from outside the church, his writings often illuminate ideas and themes from the Christian archive, that might otherwise go unnoticed by those working from within a Christian perspective. In using resources from Agamben for my own purposes, and not necessarily in the way that he deploys them, I aim to craft new perspectives on Christian theological themes and issues.

The title of the chapter in Changing the Church, “To Live according to the Form of the Holy Gospel: St. Francis of Assisi’s Embodied Challenge to the Institutional Church,” is taken from the words St. Francis of Assisi used to describe his manner and form of life, that is, he sought solely to live according to the form of life described in the Holy Gospels (forma sancti Evangelii). The chapter explores what the contemporary church can learn from Francis of Assisi and the monastic traditions of the church so that by focusing less on itself as an institution, the church might offer concrete resources to help contemporary Christians find continuity between who they are and what they do. The second half of the chapter examines “The Way of Love,” promulgated by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, understood as practical ways of living out the gospel in the modern world. This contribution was part of a volume in memory of Georgetown Professor Gerard Mannion, a founder of the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, who died unexpectedly, in 2019. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-53425-7_29

My chapter in The Church and Migration: Global (In)Difference entitled, “The Refugee as Limit-Concept of the Modern Nation State,” contrasts the work of two of the most influential contemporary international voices on behalf of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, Giorgio Agamben and Pope Francis.  After an explanation of the the way that Agamben understands the refugee to be the “limit concept of the modern nation state,” I examine a few of Pope Francis’ statements and comments on the status of migrants and refugees in light of Agamben’s analysis of the refugee crisis and its integral connection to the nation-state. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-54226-9_11

Finally, my chapter in Stolen Churches, or Bridges to Orthodoxy, Volume 2 was first presented at a 2019 conference in Stuttgart as part of an ongoing dialogue between Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The chapter entitled, “Giorgio Agamben’s Stasis (Civil War): An Illuminating Paradigm for Ecumenical Dialogue?” examines how Agamben’s paradigm of stasis (civil war) might shed light on contemporary conflicts and engagements between Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-55458-3_3

I will make a similar announcement, when another chapter of mine is published in Ecumenical Perspectives Five Centuries after Luther’s Reformation later this year.