Review of Exile as Forced Migrations by John Ahn

Exile as Forced Migration

A sub-thesis running throughout Prof. John Ahn’s Exile as Forced Migrations is the idea that social structures repeat; specifically for our purposes, that generational patterns of consciousness repeat throughout history, within radically different contexts. Ahn identifies two such contexts in the first chapter of his book: Hebrew Scriptural reaction to the Babylonian Exile, and the scholarship surrounding the Exile since the mid-19th century. In both settings, responses emerge from a first, second, and third generation, as well as a transitional, 1.5 generation. In the case of the Hebrew Bible, Ahn points to the 2 Kings account of the end of the Davidic covenant and the displacements of 597 and 587 BCE as the first generation response. This view of the Exile focuses on the people displaced (kings, rulers, skilled workers, etc), and sees the Exile as overwhelmingly negative. A second generation’s response is found in Jeremiah. Here displacements are described in stark figures, with no mention of class, presenting a less “caustic” or confrontational view (pg. 4). Jeremiah explains that this experience is part of God’s plan. Taking this one step further is Second Isaiah, who represents a third generation. This prophet emphasizes that the experience of exile is part of being made a “new creation,” and holds a constructive view of the situation.

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Review of The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Cover via FSG

The goal of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath is clear from the prologue: Heschel wishes to reestablish the Sabbath day as a celebration of holiness in time. In a civilization that cherishes production, tangible products carry utmost importance. The condition runs so deep, in fact, that Heschel describes our reality itself as being comprised of tangible objects: “Reality to us is thinghood, consisting of substances that occupy space” (pg 5). In opposition to this model, Heschel identifies what is first declared “holy” in the Genesis creation story. It is not a place, or an object, but the seventh day. It is this time that God sanctifies, and in the next ten chapters, Heschel makes a compelling argument for the return to observance of the Sabbath as holy time. This is not in opposition to labor or the civilized spaces of this world, but rather that which gives meaning to these other endeavors. Heschel argues that both are necessary, but one must always remember the priority: “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things” (pg 6).

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The US Men’s Clay Court Championship

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I’ve watched a lot of pro tennis. But up until this weekend, I (like most tennis fans) had never seen pro tennis in person. This weekend I attended the US Men’s Clay Court Championship at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas. What I saw changed how I think about the game, and gave me a fuller understanding of the pressures (physical and mental) these top athletes are under.

First, though, a little tennis history:

River Oaks has been the home of this tournament for 78 years. It’s an ATP 250 event, meaning it is at the lowest level of the “major league” of tennis. Despite the small size, it’s been host to some of the all-time great players. Emerson, Laver, Connors, Agassi, and Roddick have played here. Arthur Ashe broke the color barrier in 1974. Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer both played the tournament at the age of 17, Borg in 1974 and Federer in 1999. It is the only tournament in the US to be played on clay, a “slow playing” surface that enables long rallies and defense-centric matches. The 2012 draw included the two top ranked Americans (Mardy Fish and John Isner), as well as two other world top-twenty players (Feliciano Lopez and Juan Monaco).

My own tennis history is a little less distinguished. I’ve been following the men’s tour for about a year and a half, and was really turned on to the sport by David Foster Wallace. His tennis essays are some of the best sports writing you’ll ever read. (If you’re interested, you can read his tennis stuff here, here, and here.) After reading those pieces, I started watching tennis on TV, and quickly came to this conclusion: Tennis is the most beautiful, most perfect game ever devised. It makes abstract concepts like grace, control, and athleticism, concrete (or as Wallace would say, not only concrete, but televise-able). Seeing a tennis player hit a cross-court winner into the corner, 78 feet away, at 80mph, while on the run…that is pure beauty in motion.

But Wallace also said “the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love”…so when the opportunity came to see real, live tennis, I jumped at it. And what I saw gave me insight into how these players approach the game, insight I never would have gleaned from watching televised tennis.

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OK, Let’s Try This Again

I used to have a blog. I used to update that blog.

Then I stopped updating it.

Then I went back and re-read what I wrote and discovered most of it was cringingly awful.

So it’s time for a fresh start. I’m going to try to update this a little more often (read: at all), and to start off I re-posted some favorites from the old blog.

Let’s see how this goes.

My Evening at Lakewood Church

(Originally Posted 10/12/2009)

A few weeks ago I decided to put my money where my theological mouth was and attended a service at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, founded by “Pastor” Joel Osteen. For those not in the know, Lakewood is a church that preaches a version of what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.” This “theology,” boiled down, posits that material possessions are blessings from God, and are to be cherished and held on to.

From the abundance of sarcastic quotation marks in that last paragraph, you can probably guess that I don’t subsrcibe to this particular philosophy. In short, I think it is dangerous and insidious. It is, at best, only the half truth; at worst, it is the exact opposite of the gospel. Let me explain:

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David Foster Wallace-Kenyon College Address 2005

(Originally Posted 9/12/2010)

I wanted to write a little about David Foster Wallace. Sunday was the 2nd anniversary of his death, and that had me thinking about the man and his work. After about five false starts on this blog post, I realize my feelings aren’t quite fully formed enough for a coherent, proper entry. So instead, I figured I would just post some of his own words, in the hopes that you may be able to see why I love his work and miss him very much. Here, then, is a full transcript of a commencement address DFW gave in 2005. I think it is a very good first step into his style, themes, and mannerisms.

DFW

Greetings, Thanks, and Congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish.

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Left Behind?

December 2, 2004
Matthew 24:36-44
Dr. John Lyden
Left Behind?

Ask any of my students in History of Christianity this term, and they will tell you, I love heresy. Let me clarify that: I don’t mean that I love heresies themselves, but I love to talk about heresy. And heaven help the student that doesn’t know the difference between Ebionitism and Arianism or Monophysitism and Docetism, come test time. I suppose it’s that I think it’s important to know what views the church rejected, in order to know what Christian doctrine really teaches. Certainly, one could argue that its not very politically correct to be labeling views as heresies today, in that we are to be non-judgmental and tolerant and accepting of all views, whatever they may be…but I would argue that we still need standards for the truth, and there will always be a relevance in the notion of heresy, in the necessity to judge certain things as in contradiction with Christian faith, due to their incoherence with the essential Christian message as rendered in the Bible and as interpreted in Church tradition. Certainly, we can argue about what is heretical, and I don’t promote persecuting heretics, but we can’t entirely dismiss the concept as an antique from the past.

With this in mind, I would like to attack a new heresy that is gaining many converts these days, and you might be surprised that this can be viewed as a heresy: it’s the belief in the rapture, a belief at the very center of the Left Behind books, which have sold millions of copies and which have greatly influenced the views of Christians and non-Christians alike, about the nature of the last judgment and the events leading up to it. In this view, which might seem to be supported by passages such as the Gospel reading for this week, God will remove the faithful from the horrible events that precede the second coming by “rapturing” them out of the world, and they will simply disappear, as the bumper sticker puts it: “in case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” (or unwomaned, presumably, in some cases.) In the Left Behind books, all the events narrated take place after this rapture, so that those left behind need to decide whose side they are on, Christ’s, or the Anti-Christ. This culminates in the most recent book in a final battle in which Christ himself appears and destroys the wicked who oppose him in particularly spectacular ways.

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