Category Archives: Reflections

This House is Becoming Anxious

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The audience at the “Justification by faith (in Christ) alone” debate. About 75 people in attendance.

[Correction: today (25 Feb 2009), I spoke with Professor Richard Bell and he kindly let me know that I mis-paraphrased him below.  He was not speaking of anxiety-riddled Catholics in Germany, but Protestants he met.  My deepest apologies for this mischaracterization/misquote.  I have adjusted the paraphrase below to reflect the actual substance of what Professor Bell said.  Part of Bell’s larger point here is to deeply call into question the notion that this is a “Catholic vs Protestant” issue.  I agree, myself being a Protestant Nazarene, Adrian Pabst of the debate described below being Anglican, and we ourselves are still in opposition to the “justification by faith (in Christ) alone” doctrine. — that being said, I do not think the substance of my comments regarding Kierkegaard actually changes any with this ammendation, especially in light of Alex’s helpful comment which displays the flipside of ‘bad’ anxiety of wondering if we have had ‘enough’ faith.]

Last week I attended a debate here at the University of Nottingham entitled “This house believes that justification is by faith (in Christ) alone.”  The sides of the debate represented two people for it (Richard Bell and Martin Street) and two against it (Aaron Riches and Adrian Pabst).  Clearly, the side for the debate represents the usual ‘protestant’ side of the debate, while the side against the measure represents, loosely, the broader c/Catholic/traditional side.

The debate itself was rather interesting, very exciting, and I learned a lot, but I just want to briefly respond to a remark made by Richard Bell in his closing arguments.  Bell presented a case that went something like the following: 

“I have visited Germany and I encountered German Protestants there who were constantly full of anxiety over whether or not they were ‘doing enough’ to ensure their salvation.  They were constantly frought over this issue, but let me present to you that the doctrine of ‘justification by faith in christ alone’ will assuage their angst, because then they will realize that entry into the kingdom of God does not depend upon works, but faith.”

Something like that.  Essentially, the message assumes that 1) those who reject justification by faith in christ “alone”* therefore must fall into a duality of necessarily believing in “works alone” and 2) “justification by faith in Christ alone” aleviates the existential angst caused by this flight into works.

On point #1, clearly, faith is an integral part of the picture, as well as grace and love, but “faith alone” cannot be just a univocal proposition that we are to assent to as believers as a part of the life of faith.  On the night that Christ was betrayed, Jesus did not give his disciples a doctrine, but gave them his body in a Eucharistic practice of partaking his his broken body and spilt blood.  Yes, faith is an integral part of this practice (and they would have had to have some faith initially to drop their nets and follow Jesus), but there is a fuller, richer picture to what salvation and being ‘justified’ means. (This was the general summary of the “opposing” side to the debate, but there are a few more particulars here and there.)

But more importantly for this post, I want to deeply call into question Bell’s account that propositional assent by faith just makes all our worries go away.  There are a few reasons for this, and I hope to employ some more nuanced Lutherans in the debate.

First, the broad point is that we are never promised the easy, non-anxious life as Christians.  The sermans about ‘assurance’ which tend to get a lot of play are really not about the assurance of our salvation as far as I can tell, especially since where it shows up in the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to talk about a more nuanced kind of assurance in light of being “diligent” in the faith so as not to become sluggish (as one example).

Second, and this was my initial thought in response to Bell at the time: doesn’t Kierkegaard/Johannes de Silentio–a Lutheran–talk about Abraham, who is the father of faith, as an incredibly anxious dude?  In fact, Silentio says, “What is omitted from Abraham’s story is the anxiety […]” (28, Hong translation).  Abraham’s anxiety comes from living at that moment in the paradox where the ethical “ought” is suspended by the religious; the contradiction between the murder and the sacrifice is what makes Abraham what he is–anxious, distressed.

Moreover, it is Philippians 2:12Open Link in New Window which says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” from whence Silentio derives his title.   The life of faith is inherently distressful.  Interestingly, Silentio begins his discussion saying, “only the one who was in anxiety finds rest” (27).  As my friend Alex reminds me, the truth is that we’ve never “done enough” anyway, and we can just get over that fact and realise that that is our condition so we must be diligent and not sluggish on the way to becoming a Christian.

Finally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer–also a Lutheran–is well known for his writings against “cheap grace” in The Cost of Discipleship.  If I may, the way that Bell assumed that his formulation of the justification doctrine so easily provided a solution for the problem seemed incredibly close to something very much like cheap grace.  Bonhoeffer contrasted the notion of “costly grace” against cheap grace, reminding us that the shape of grace is a cruciform one (Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus’ emphasis on John 12:32Open Link in New Window when Christ said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” also works well here considering his point is that the “lifting up from the earth” is Jesus Christ being lifted up to the cross).  The way of the cross is costly; the path is a hard one.  Any kind of attempt to make the Christian life “easier” should, I think, be suspect; in Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus terms, we shouldn’t try and slacken the paradox such that the Christian faith is as easy as putting on one’s socks!

Now, as a very serious disclaimer, I would distance myself with such any notions which aim to let the cart push the horse such that we strive toward anxiety, or that we need to make the Christian life hard, as much as I side with Kierkegaard that the Christian life needs to be ‘made’ difficult again.  This would be ridiculous.  My claim, rather, is that this is just what the Christian life is.  The works of mercy, for instance, are not ‘difficult’, rather, they are a gift, in similar way in which love is both a command and a gift.**

Futher even briefer thoughts:

  • Something not brought up in the debate is the “Pistos Christou” issue, about which Richard Hays wrote a book.  I borrowed it once from my pastor in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to read it at all.  I’m assuming there’s some relevance of this to the debate.  Faith in Christ, or Faith of Christ, what are the implications, blah blah.
  • I haven’t read any Martin Luther at all beyond his stuff on the bondage of the will (which I thought was rubbish).  So, I haven’t read Luther on this issue at all.  That being said, it seemed like there were some slight caricatures of Luther being made in the debate, but I would still side against the general position which Bell and Street represented.
  • I am becoming more and more convinced that the Joint Declaration means not much beyond the fact that finally the the late 20th century were Lutherans and Catholics able to sit down together and attempt to work something out without beating each other up.  Clearly, the issue is still very much extremely divided and real differences persist.  I will need to re-read the document and also the relevant critical literature of it in its wake at some point, but I’ve spent enough time writing this post today.
  • I’m not sure what ‘work’ simply asserting “faith is a work” does.  I don’t disagree per se with this, it’s just that saying this from the univocal standpoint of “justification by faith (in Christ) alone” seems to still discount the narrative of Scripture which introduces some sort of distinction or larger picture than the “faith vs. works” dichotomy (or its flattening) allows.
  • I’ve never really cared about this issue that much because it seemed really boring.
  • I didn’t give nearly as much blog ink to the issue of grace that Aaron and Adrian raised, but I will leave it here.


* “alone” is in quotes because it was an insertion by Martin Luther.  It appears nowhere in the Greek of Romans 3:22Open Link in New Window (I think that is the verse).  Plus, a place where “alone” does appear is exactly where it refutes the doctrine: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24Open Link in New Window, emphasis mine).

** On this see Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, p. 169.

A LOST theory in the wake of “This Place is Death”

In the wake of the most recent episode of LOST entitled “This Place is Death” (Season 5, episode 5), an idea occurred to me while listening to the recap of the show on the most recent Jay & Jack LOST Podcast.  Because all of what follows assumes that the reader has seen all the episodes up to this point and would thus contain SPOILERS for those who have not caught up, I will place the bulk of the post below the fold.

Get the whole story »

Brief Thoughts on Irony

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It is often said by the British that Americans do not understand irony. I think this is true depending upon which swath of Americans are being referred to, but by no means is it true in my circles of friends on the West coast. If I remember correctly, though, the place I heard this generalisation uttered was referring more to American pop culture: whereas American pop culture is more defined by glitz, glorification of celebrity, explosions and violence on television on movies, British pop culture, from what I can tell thus far, seems to be more defined by–yes–irony, wittiness (or attempts thereof), and sly humour.

Having now lived in England for a short period of about six months, I’m not so sure if irony is as ‘essential’ to the culture (if there can be such a thing) as just the fact of societal indirectness. When it comes to humour, this is great. But when it comes to relationships it seems like at its worst, such indirectness can quickly become passive aggressive writ large. Although, perhaps Americans are just too direct, too aggressive.

Now, on one level, as long as it moves beyond it’s stylistic embodiments in culture, irony is perfectly fine. Heck, I even wrote an MA thesis partly on irony (“Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: Theological and Philosophical Stances of Hegel and Kierkegaard”). Søren Kierkegaard, in more ways than one, was an ironic figure, and even extoled the virtues (so to speak) of indirectness and indirect communication. In so many ways, especially within his context of Christendom, Kierkegaard’s approach seems to me the right one — and are we not in the same context?

Yet, I am not always so sure about this. Because of it’s tendencies toward sarcasm (of the biting kind), and because real relationships don’t really seem to work very well if one person thinks they can really be a gadfly, I am reminded of when Jesus said that we should let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” (Matthew 5:37Open Link in New Window; James 5:12Open Link in New Window). Quintilian’s definition of irony is that the “phenomenon is different from the essence”; in other words, that when one speaks, they do not mean what they say. This is the famous definition of Socratic irony.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this yet… I went to sleep last night thinking of this for some reason. Clearly, I am not going to make some banal claim such that “see, Socrates isn’t Christian” or other obviously anachronistic idiocies. Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus is correct when he talks about the indirect communication of the God-man in Practice in Christianity, which is something quite different from one’s communication. It’s like the indirectness of the God-man was more an existential one of stance or ‘comportment’. But then, I am reminded that Jesus Christ is the Father’s communication as the Word, so then I get confused again. I’m just thinking aloud.

Holiday Visit & Travel

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Wrong-side-of-the-road driving, but  everybody does it so it’s okay.

On Christmas day, Tiana and I drove to Manchester to pick up Tiana’s Mum who was to visit for just under two weeks.  We had to rent a car on Christmas Eve because no forms of public transportation are running on Christmas day.  So, we picked up a car complete with GPS, which was rather helpful.  “Go straight through the roundabout, second exit.”  “Turn left, then right.”  “Turn left, then, left.”  “Turn around.”  “Turn around as soon as possible.”  Oh wait — that’s what happens when you start going in the wrong direction for too long.

Driving on the left (some say wrong) side of the road wasn’t too hard, but it definitely took some getting used to.  Roundabouts were easy enough, but turning right in intersections seemed counter intuitive because of having to pull into the left lane.  Keeping oneself positioned right-of-centre was a little difficult at first (especially since in the States you are left-of-center in the road), but I got the hang of it…after going over a few curbs.  We rented a car a second time toward the end of the trip and I forgot to tell the rental place to get an automatic so I had to end up driving a manual.  Ultimately, I did just fine, it’s just that on the first night when taking it home on New Years Eve during rush hour, I stalled it about six or seven times.  At least I didn’t put it in reverse going 70 mph, like I did once with my old car (Hi, Rusty!).  All in all I probably put in somewhere between 400-500 miles of driving doing two trips back and forth to Manchester, and one trip to Warwick Castle & Stratford-upon-Avon and back.

Here is us at Warwick Castle: (Haley Smith came too! she took the pic)

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We were scouting locations for In Reverent Fear’s next music video. They love castles, armor, mountains, and all things epic.

Now that I’ve rambled on long enough about driving, we did do some pretty cool stuff, like visiting Warwick Castle on New Year’s Day (see above), which was totally magnificent.  I’m not sure I’ve been to a castle that was still in one piece, more or less (ehem, Nottingham Castle!).  We could have probably spent all day there, but we saw most of what we came to see I think.  Henry VIII owned it at one time but I don’t think he lived there.  Did you know he wore a codpiece?  Dumb!

After Warwick Castle, we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Anne Hathaway’s cottage.  I have some pics of the outside, but they wouldn’t let me take any of the inside for the usual vague “insurance concerns” reasons.  You know, the usual Jedi mind trick of “these are not the droids you’re looking for” can turn tourists into mush.

We had other fantastic times together, walking around Nottingham visiting shoppes, showing Tiana’s mum to decent pub food, visiting Sherwood Forest (the Major Oak lives up to its name), and even did a little exploring in the basement of our building where we discovered a bunch of old photography developing equipment.  There was a box of rejected photos, some of which I kept so that I can write horror stories about their contents later (don’t worry, nothing ‘bad’).

We rang in the New Year by watching a live BBC video feed on our laptop (which occurred the night before the Warwick Castle visit)

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Tiana, our kitty Andi, myself, and some dude on the BBC rockin’ out to the New Year

One of the high points from the trip was when we went to this posh place here in Nottingham called ‘The Walk’.  My friend Alex pointed it out to me once, indicating that it was an example that there is still some class left in Nottingham.  He was quite right.

It was really nice to have Tiana’s mom visit.  It was good to have a lot of things to do during our first Christmas away from home.  I miss my own family quite a bit.  We did a little bit of Skyping on Christmas day which was nice, but it’s not the same.  Over the last year or so, I’ve grown rather fond of visiting my hometown of Merced.  For reasons I won’t go into, the only reason I have wanted to go home since I moved to San Diego in 1998 was to visit family — and that’s absolutely it.  I had no friends in Merced by the time I left for college, so aside from visiting family, there was nothing else for me to do there, so going home was always bittersweet.  It seems like it finally took about ten years for me to look forward to visiting the actual town–perhaps because I was about to move to the UK for three years.  Or more importantly, because my brother and sister-in-law have an extremely adorable daughter that I love so much.  I guess one way to inject life into a situation is to actually, um, give birth to it!

Pictures of all of the above will most likely be forthcoming in a soon-to-be-made Flickr gallery.  In the meantime, visit Tiana’s  blog where she’ll have a much more picture-laden post with her own set of highlights from the past two weeks. [Update: Here’s Tiana’s blog post.]

Neal Stephenson’s Writing Buffer

From an interview with Neal Stephenson:

James Mustich: You write with a fountain pen.

Neal Stephenson: Yes.

JM: Have you always done that?

NS: No. I started that with the Baroque Cycle. Cryptonomicon was the last thing I wrote with a word processor. What I was noticing was that I’ve become such a fast typist that I could slam out great big blocks of text quite rapidly — anything that came into my head, it would just dribble out of my fingers onto the screen. That includes bad stuff as well as good stuff. Once it’s out there on the screen, of course, you can edit it and you can fix the bad stuff, but it’s far better not to ever write down the bad stuff at all. With the fountain pen, which is a slower output device, the material stays in the buffer of your head for a longer period. So during that amount of time, you can fix it, you can make it better, you can even decide not to write it down at all — you can think better of writing it. Editing, strangely enough, is quicker and easier with a pen. Because drawing a line through a word is just faster than any sequence of grabbing your mouse and highlighting the word and hitting the eject key. That act of editing leaves behind a visible trace of the word that you decided to change, and sometimes that’s useful; you may want to go back and change your mind about that. Finally, I find that writing with a pen is a physically healthier activity. There’s actually more range of movement involved with it than there is sitting with your fingers on the keys for hours at a time. So I just physically felt better when I was using the pen rather than typing.

Now this is completely staggering. Stephenson’s work is ridiculously voluminous. I’ve only read Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (and because of that novel alone, I put Stephenson amongst my favorite fiction authors). After this he released roughly 3,000 pages of his Baroque Cycle and then this latest offering is around 800 pages.  Also, I know, for instance, that John Milbank writes out everything by hand as well, and his output is pretty considerable as well.

Even though I always carry my moleskine with me while I am reading to take notes and copy pertinent quotations, due to my carpal tunnel, I cannot write for extended periods of time before my wrist begins hurting (maybe I need to re-learn how to hold my wrist, I dunno?).  So, somewhat ironically, it seems like I am tied to the device that messed me up in the first place.

Technicalities aside, what do you think?  Does anybody else write everything out longhand for reasons similar to Stephenson?


Bonus bit:

JM: In the Gresham talk, you discuss how the gatekeepers of the bestseller list remake the list to reflect what their idea of a proper book is.

NS: [LAUGHS] Well, I’m going to have to start moderating that, since Anathem is about to be #1 on the New York Times List.

JM: Congratulations.

NS: Thanks. Quite a shock for a book about Husserl’s Metaphysics [sic].

Srsly?

[Note: this post was entirely typed out on a computer.]

Mr. C.

Here is an article my mom sent me about my highschool band and jazz instructor, Mr. Christensen.  We all called him “Mr. C.” though.  He was finally given the Merced County Teacher of the Year award this past year.  He was by far among my top high school teachers, and definitely the one I got to know the best, having been in marching, concert, and jazz band for all four years of high school.

Mr. C. was totally an inspiration to me.  He worked us hard in the band room and on the streets and field as well–the first two years of high school we also did field show performances with him and that was probably the hardest I ever had to work in a band, both physically, mentally, and endurance-wise (due to his own time commitments we only did street marching the last couple years of high school, ’96-7, ’97-8).  We all took Mr. C. seriously because he was no joke, especially when it came to jazz.  He still practiced his trumpet every day, and was an accomplished professional jazz musician himself.  So when he told us that we needed to practice every day, we knew he wasn’t full of it.

Something I fondly remember is that Mr. C. made jazz mix tapes for us. Everybody had CD players then in the mid-’90’s, but CD burners didn’t exist yet, and so everybody still had tape players as well.  He made mix tapes of different jazz artists and we would sign up for different ones and check them out for a week and then pass them around to the others in the jazz band until we had exhausted his supply.

Most people know that I was a computer science major in my undergrad, but I actually started out as a music major for my first year of college, mainly under Mr. C.’s influence and inspiration.  I even skipped two semester of music theory because of passing an AP Music Theory test, which Mr. C. had clearly helped prepare me for by never ceasing to teach us scales and chord progressions in jazz band.  [I went through some weird stuff at the end of highschool and I became increasingly reserved, finally discovering that the ‘perform’ part of my music performance degree became nerve-racking and uninteresting, sadly, perhaps.  Hence the change to computer science.]

If I were still in San Diego, I would definitely go up to the Pasadena Rose Parade to see Mr. C.’s Cardinal Regime band play in it on New Year’s day (I hope my sister goes!).  My dad performed in the Rose Parade when he was in high school, so it would definitely be fun for all of us to go, if that were possible.

I’ve gone back to see Mr. C. a few times when my younger brother and sister have been in his band as well, and I’ve consistently been impressed with how he is both able to attract and refine talent in his bands to produce an amazing blend of sound.  Mr. C. clearly deserves his award, and I hope he teaches and continues to inspire for many years to come.

One month

As of two days ago, Tiana and I have now been in Nottingham for one month.  It both feels like we’ve been here for a while yet, almost no time at all.  Depending upon the day, some days zip by while others take a bit longer.  Tiana is still on the hunt for a job.  I begin my orientation for the start of the term next week.

One nice thing about the food over here is that just about nothing has hydrogentated corn syrup, which is usually the #1 or #2 ingredient on most foods in the states.  Real sugar, FTW.

We’ve been trying to walk as much as we can to save on tram and bus fares.  I walked to campus again yesterday (about 3 miles each way) and it was a good walk.  My pants [ehem! that means something different in the UK, Eric!] trousers are starting to get a little looser, but at this stage I could just be dreaming it.  While on campus, I had a good lunch meeting with my adviser who gave me a run-down of what to expect for the coming months regarding my experience, and I’ve already got some more good book suggestions to start me out in my studies.

A few days back I tried to get at least a little gaming in before my studies ramp up full-bore and I beat that most awesome game called Portal (found in the Orange Box, trailer here).  It’s such a rad first-person puzzle game.  It’s almost a year old now but it shouldn’t be missed.

I’m looking forward to my studies beginning next week, although technically next week is mainly orientations and meetings with the department.  I’ve ‘staked’ out a spot in the research room in our new department building called the Highfield House.  Not everybody uses the room on a daily basis but I am going to try and get as much work done there as I can–at least to start out.

Here we go.

Grandeur of Reason round-up

Some excellent reports and reflections:

Reflections and a report on the Grandeur of Reason conference

Grandeur of ReasonLast Thursday was the last day of the four-day Grandeur of Reason conference.  [Immediately after returning from the conference my wife and I took a bus down to London to visit a very good friend and I’ll have a separate post on that with pictures later…all of which is why I am only now blogging this.]  I attended with many of the University of Nottingham crew along with a total of over 250 attendees–180 of whom also presented papers.  It was a very, very full conference, and I was definitely put to work.  Unfortunately, there were some papers I was not able to attend that I really wanted to see, but that is what happens in a large conference such as this I suppose.  I’ll attempt to go over some anecdotal highlights of the trip for myself.  I’m looking forward to other blog reports from other perspectives!

I met the rest of the students from the University of Nottingham, including Andrew Thomas (lives in Norway) and Chris Hackett who is now studying at the University of Virginia, not to mention Philip Gorski and Thomas Lynch who is finishing up his MA.

Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Tyson whose PhD adviser wrote a bookback in 1994 which is basically very similar to my own proposed research thesis.  Thing is, I didn’t know about this similarity until a few months after I had already been accepted to the University of Nottingham. I had seen a footnote that Paul gave to his adviser’s book in the recently-released Belief and Metaphysics volume (see p. 412).  Paul had some very encouraging words to say regarding that, and he was a great conversation partner.  I hope to talk to him more and read more of his work.

I had this conversation with Paul on the way to St. Peter’s cathedral on the Sunday before the conference started.  I don’t think I quite realized where we were going because within 90 minutes of arriving in Rome I was standing in front of an amazing sight:

We didn’t have a chance to walk around inside the cathedral because we had to head off to a late lunch and head back to the conference hotel to finish up putting together the packets of information for each delegate.

When the panels started the next morning at 9:00am, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the papers at this conference were top-notch.  Rarely did I hear a paper that disappointed, and most also invited good discussion. The first plenary on Monday evening consisted of a session arranged by Conor of three of his former professors: James Williams, Cyril O’Regan, and Graham Ward.  Of the three, I was really only familiar with the topic of Graham’s paper on ‘Hegel and  the Messianic’ considering my MA thesis was half on Hegel.  I want to be sure and follow up with him about as I am curious to see where his paper was intending to go–he was not able to finish the full implications of the direction of his thought due to time restraints.

The next morning I heard a very interesting panel which consisted of a paper entitled ‘If’ by Darrell Lackey (the only other former resident of central California in addition to myself at the conference); a paper on ‘A NonMisologist Platonism’ and the director Pasolini by Jones Irwin; and a paper by Cornelius Simut on the thought of Edward Schillebeeckx.  It was a surprisingl good panel.  Darrell had never presented a paper at a conference like this before and I would say he performed rather well, and his pastoral perspective was especially welcome.  Jones Irwin’s paper was extremely intriguing regarding the work of Pasolini, and moreover, it was a surprisingly hospitable paper in regards to the conference topic (Tony Baker–the chair of that panel–and I were talking afterwards and definitely wanted to find out more about Pasolini).  Cornelius Simut’s paper on Schillebeeckx was, for me, a helpful and bizarre introduction to the thought of Schillebeeckx.  It was helpful because Simut’s paper was focused on little-known interviews with Schillebeeckx and it was bizarre primarily because of what Schillebeeckx actually believes.  I’m probably the last to know this, but basically, Simut made the comment a couple of times that he was suprised that Hans Kung got censored (or whatever the official word is) but that Schillebeeckx did not, especially considering that Kung is far less radical than Schillebeeckx.

After lunch I was to present a paper with probably a few too many “and”‘s in the title: “The Grandeur and Disenchantment of Reason: Universalism and Irony in Hegel and Kierkegaard.”  The other students in the panel in which I was a part during the Tuesday afternoon student session were of high quality and the question and answer sessions after each were well-informed and lively.  I would have liked to have attended the other Nottingham student papers, but they were all scheduled during the same time slot. After my paper people asked me how it went and all I could really say was, “people tell me it went well.”  I got good questions and people complimented my paper but I honestly still feel like I can’t produce a real opinion on my performance just yet.  So I think it went okay!?

Later that evening was the second plenary with François Laruelle, Michele Lenoci, and Dustin McWherter.  Quentin Meillassoux was actually supposed to be presenting on that panel as well but just a few days before the conference–and after the programmes were printed–his father-in-law passed away and so he could not attend.  I confess a nearly complete ignorance with the thought of these thinkers, so I will just post one picture for now of Laruelle (more later, probably in a post here).

The next morning began with a visit to the Vatican.  Here is Graham Ward (back of his head), John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas standing in line:

We were standing in line to see Pope Benedict XVI give an address.  And here he is:

I forget how large the audience was here, but I think it was something slightly below 10,000 people.  Groups from around the world were introduced (“pilgrims from Nigeria…”, etc.), greeting Benedict with songs, flag-waving, cheers, and even brief musical numbers.  And, despite the silly outfits of the Swiss guards (see above), it was a celebratory occasion: the catholicity in the room was apparent.  The pope spoke in maybe 6 different languages, greeting different peoples and giving a brief homily of sorts.  Afterwards, Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank personally greeted the pope and gave him a painting painted by Conor Cunningham’s sister, Sara Cunningham-Bell.

The remainder of Wednesday and Thursday consisted of non-stop panels.  The first one after the Vatican visit was a plenary session with Oliver O’Donovan, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Milbank (chair: Graham Ward).  As was to be expected, it was a varied and lively session:

As well as a session with Daniel M. Bell, Stephen Long, and Michael Budde (chair: Hauerwas…and apologies for the bad white balance on this one):

Thursday was jam-packed with sessions including a session on the three recently-released books in the INTERVENTIONS series of books published by Eerdmans.  The volumes on Naturalism, Žižek, and Heidegger were represented by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz (pictured far left), Marcus Pound (pictured 3rd from left), and Sean McGrath (pictured far right), respectively, with Pete Candler and Conor Cunningham (pictured 4th and 5th from left) both chairing the session as well as representing themselves as the editors of the series:

The final plenary session was with Giorgio Agamben who spoke on the topics of his recent research on oikonomia and glory in Il Regno e la Gloria (helpful chapter-by-chapter notes can be found here on this work still not translated into English):

I’m still pretty tired from the conference, and there was a frickin’ ton of papers, so much of the sessions are a bit of a blur.  But, despite all the lack of sleep, and despite the fact that it would have been better if all of the attendees could have stayed in one place instead of scattered throughout different hotels/seminaries–I would say it was overall a good conference.  It was especially nice to see friends that I do not see very often such as Craig Keen and many of his former students, as well as the friends I have continued to stay in touch with since Granada in 2006 and the AAR in San Diego last year.  It was also a pleasure to finally meet both the Archbishop of Granada whom I had not met when we were in Granada back then, as well as Dave Belcher–whose paper was quite beautiful (and who I somehow missed meeting at a conference that my pastor organized back in January 2007).

Every night we were up late till 3 or 4am and up again by 9am for the sessions, so while I am sleeping until term starts for me on the 22nd of this month, I look forward to hearing reflections from others who have blogs or who would care to add anything in the comments section below (and unfortunately I just read that Ben Myers got sick, so I am not sure how much of the conference he was able to attend).

As a final note, we plan on posting more pictures (in full resolution), videos of the plenaries + Q&A sessions for each, etc. online sometime soon, so stay tuned here or here for that.

Nottingham, England

We’re in Nottingham!  It’s now Sunday and Tiana and I have been here since Tuesday the 19th.  Tiana has already blogged a bit about our adventures here and here.  We’ve had no real hiccups since we’ve arrived.  The only real potential snafu was that we almost missed our flight to Manchester in the O’Hare Chicago airport…but, we made it with minutes to spare.  When we arrived at our apartment that we secured a couple months ago, the place was completely bare when it was supposed to be fully furnished.  Oops!  Said one of the letting agency’s employees, “Right! So we’ll be getting your furniture to you today!” Within a couple hours, though, our beds and couches were delivered, and the next day the rest of our stuff (tables, etc.) showed up as well.  The boxes of books and other stuff we’ve shipped to ourselves have also mostly arrived.

Anthony Paul Smith has been incredibly helpful showing us around the area and helping us move in.  The first evening we were here we met Mike Burns, Jeff & Meghan Biebighauser and all of us had dinner at Sir John’s pub just a short walk away.  Yesterday we had help from Jeff & Meghan in getting to IKEA which was about a 25-minute bus ride away.  At the moment, Tiana & I are waiting for the IKEA delivery people to show up to deliver all of the stuff we got (desk, bookshelf, etc).

Backing up a bit, the second day I was here, I decided to walk to campus.  It’s a 3 mile trek, and I got lost in the first 20 minutes, but I’m glad I decided to make the hike because it really helped in figuring out the lay of the land around here.  We’ve also been quickly figuring out the tram and bus systems which are quite efficient (if only San Diego could take better cues from just about any other city with public transportation).

The University of Nottingham campus is astonishingly gorgeous.  Well, most of it anyway.  My first entrance into the campus was through the part of campus with the engineering buildings which were quite boring, but everywhere else I’ve been on campus is stunning, especially the area surrounding the Trent Building and Highfield House.  The Trent Building is where the Department of Theology and Religious Studies is currently situated and the Highfield House is where our department will be moving to in a few weeks.  Here is the Trent Building:

And here is the Highfield House:

The area surrounding the Highfield House is like a garden of sorts.  It at least feels that way–it is quite serene.  Currently the English/Lit department is in this house and they will soon be moving out so that we can move in.

We’ve been having to figure out other things like getting a bank account (still in process) and trying to decipher how the heating in our apartment works.  Speaking of our apartment, I’ve posted a gallery on Flickr which includes some in-progress shots of our apartment.  Also, I took some scenery shots and posted them in a separate gallery:

  • First couple days in Nottingham: arriving, apartment, and University of Nottingham – Gallery || Slideshow
  • Nottingham Scenery: landscapes and buildings – Gallery || Slideshow

Once our stuff from IKEA arrives and we put it all together with the infamous allen wrenches, I’ll take some new pictures.  There’s also some other stuff that I think I was meaning to say, but my mind is a jumble of stress at the moment with having to get things ready for next week’s Rome conference in order as well as write a paper for it.  So, hopefully I’ll remember that stuff as it comes to me. Oh, and classes don’t start until 22 September so we have a bit of time before I have anything to report academically.  I’m sure there will still be plenty to do!

For a concluding picture for this post, this is where we live now, on the second floor:

One week to go

In a week from today, Tiana and I are taking off on a plane for Nottingham.  Bum deal for me today, though: I came down with some flu-like symptoms.  I went into work a bit late as I wasn’t feeling well, hoping I would recover by the time I got there, but then by 10am I started getting feverish and nauseous.  Lame.  So I went home and just laid on the couch and tried to take it easy until my fever broke.

Well, I think it did so now we’ve been spending the evening going through our stuff yet again.  Sorting, sorting, sorting.  I went through my books again and pulled out a huge pile that I really don’t need to take.  Anything directly related to my dissertation topic, though, is going…which is hard, though, because I guess I can justify a pretty wide net of stuff at this point.

While I was shivering with the chills today, I re-watched Once.  It’s such a gorgeous and wonderful movie.  Okay, that was random, but it’s what I did.  And then began sorting.  We’re also bringing over things like MacGyver seasons 1 & 2, LOST seasons 1 & 3, Goonies, and The Jerk DVDs just in case we need to unwind.

I’m still not feeling so hot so I should probably go to bed.

End of a Vehicular Era

Thank you, Grandma, for selling me your 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera back in 2001.  It served me well for the past seven years.  Today, I had to have it towed as the transmission recently died, and it would cost far more than the car is currently worth to repair or replace it.  So, with Tiana and I moving to England for three years soon, I had to say “good-bye” today and sold it to a pick-n-pull for parts.

Good bye, Ol’ Blue.  You took me to many Santana’s for a veggie burrito and you also drove me to my wedding.  You even stayed in one piece when I put you in reverse at 70mph on the 805 freeway.  May you rest in pieces in other people’s cars as parts from here on out.

Peace & Grace,

Eric

List-making anxiety and cleaning house

My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in computer science.*  I’ve been a programmer for the last seven years and have been programming full-time for the last 6 years.  I just finished my M.A. in Religion (concentration: Theology) in May and in 14 13 days, my wife and I will be flying out to Nottingham as I will soon be starting a 3-year Ph.D. research programme at the University of Nottingham.  Because of the constantly changing gears between the two disciplines, and because I am only now getting into full-time theology & philosophy studies, I often feel like I am playing catch-up: there are still some essential theology texts I have yet to read, and I have never taken a Greek class — things I would have done if I were a theology/philosophy undergrad.  I don’t have regrets, but this is what I have to deal with now.

Since the latter part of highschool, I’ve been making to-do lists to keep track of homework assignments.  Nothing out of the ordinary at all.  Now in the age of electronic Post-It Notes™, I’ve been using NetVibes to make multiple lists of tasks: Fiction books I want to read, tasks for CoTP projects, an often-returned-to packing list for traveling, movies I want to watch, a general to-do list (“move to Nottingham”), and lastly, a list of theology and philosophy books to read.  That last list is a bit lengthy at the moment, but of course, this list extends into my Amazon wishlists in no particular order.  Actually, it is a bit overwhelming, of course, as any serious student probably experiences a mass rabbit hole effect where after reading scores of scholarly books every year, there are now an exponential amount of books to add to one’s relading list based on chasing footnotes and bibliographic references.  Blogs and the wonderful Librarything do not help, either.

But back to that other item** on the list, “moving to Nottingham”: in the last couple months, Tiana and I have put in many hours sorting through our stuff, figuring out what to sell, what to give away to friends, what to give to thrift stores, what to put in storage, what to take with us, etc.  We moved into our friend Stef’s house a couple months before we are going to make the bigger move in an attempt to front-load some of our stress and big moving decisions to the beginning of summer instead of having to figure out all of this stuff in the month of August.  So, after getting all of this mainly done, we are living out of boxes of all of our “essential” stuff.  The thing is, I’ve gone through my clothes again and at least a third of it I put in bags to send to the thrift store.  And actually, even some of what is left isn’t even appealing to me any more.  Rinse, repeat, and apply to other things like our DVDs and other things that we don’t actually need.***

What’s interesting (maybe “blessing” is a better word here) is that I honestly can’t say that I miss any of this stuff.  In fact, it’s quite liberating.  It’s a pain in the ass to have to keep track of so much stuff and worry about it when the reality is that I’ve forgotten about most of it anyway.

The most difficult things to sort are my books.  As my good friend Rusty reminds me from time to time, our books are now our “tools of the trade” like a craftsman and his/her own, uh, tools.  Moreover, we often write in them, scribble our notes all over them, re-read them and re-read our notes to see what new things jump out at us in our expanding hermeneutical horizons and such.  Couple this with a bad habit that I (and many other people) have where I’ll buy books knowing I’ll need to read it soon as a part of my core research or because it is basically part of the accepted canon of quintessential theology or philosophy.  (I’ve been much better about this in the last year having written an M.A. thesis now and honed my interlibrary-loan skills quite well.)

This is where my lists come back in to the picture.  In short, they’re pretty overwhelming at times because I know I have a decent amount of catch up to do (I haven’t even mentioned academic journals yet!), and there is a lot of satisfaction in crossing out a book on a list that I know I have read closely and slowly… which only opens more avenues of further reading.  And so on.

There’s a lot of issues here, really, and it’s a bit of a tangled web.  On the one hand, this is what I do now.  On the other, is there–should there be–a limit to this where I’m now basically just consuming information?  For one, I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at taking a day of rest.  Because I’ve had to juggle working full-time and getting an M.A. for the past two and a half years, I’ve had to make the most of every available chunk of time; I’m always usually doing something productive because of the many hats I wear.  On the flip side of this, though, I have been learning the skills of saying “no, thanks” to friends who ask me to work on projects–even paying projects.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, but it began from the idea that I experienced great joy when I actually deleted a book off my list of books to read.  It occurred to me that I didn’t have to read it at all, or any time soon.  I just thought that it would be good to read it to make my breadth of reading more “complete”, but really, that’s not even interesting and probably not a good use of my time unless I am writing a dissertation on that topic where being a completist suddenly becomes a good thing.  Then, I deleted another item off the list that wasn’t super important.

Clearly, the tools of a craftsperson are not just there to be consumed and put on the rack for display, but are meant to be used and in my case, the varied writings participate in various traditions that are supposed to call me out of my life of slumber.  I’m not sure when I’ll feel like I don’t have to play catch up anymore.  Plus, there’s that whole Socratic thing of figuring out that the more I learn, the less I actually know at all.


* Which is kind of weird because it would make more sense to have a B.S. in computer science, which the school now offers in their catalog, but didn’t offer back in 2002.

** Haha, I’m not that anal and micro-managing.  This is just an example for effect.

***   One of my New Testament professors in the MA program at PLNU recently told me that when we come back from the 3 years of PhD work we will have changed and we will most likely find that much of the stuff we have put in storage–aside from kitchen utensils–won’t be worth keeping anymore.

The Skinny: Of moving

We have been taking it easy lately, and it is time to ramp up all of our moving plans this weekend.  The latest is that Tiana and I took all of last week and this past Monday off to visit our family and friends in central and northern California.  It was wonderfully relaxing and good to see our family during the week in Merced and Concord, and then over the weekend we spent time with friends at our second annual “sweet summer shindig.”  My wife Tiana has posted pictures of the highlights of the trip on her blog, and the full four galleries of pictures can be found here:

Visiting: Merced - the Lee's

Visiting: Merced – the Lee’s

Visiting: Concord - the Reinhardt's

Visiting: Concord – the Reinhardt’s

Sweet Summer Shingdig in Santa Rosa, CA

Sweet Summer Shingdig in Santa Rosa, CA

One last day in Concord

One last day in Concord

Oh, and did I mention?  Tiana just started blogging!  Her sister Shalina designed it for her.  Rad, eh?

Meanwhile, a bunch of things have gotten in order for our plans to move to Nottingham.  Cue the bulleted list:

  • Secured an apartment in Nottingham
  • Moved all of our stuff that we are keeping in storage to my parents’ garage
  • Got our UK visas in the mail a couple of weeks ago
  • Fly out August 18th and arrive the morning of the 19th

This weekend we are going to get some of our stuff more securely boxed up and ready for shipping.  Although, tonight’s agenda includes going to see Eddie Izzard in downtown San Diego at Spreckels.  I’ve been a huge fan of his since my friend Dave-O introduced me to his Dress to Kill performance.  And then tomorrow is Tiana’s birthday!

Lots going on.  More to come.

Reflections on LOST Season 4

Now that LOST season 4 is over, here are some of my collected thoughts on the entirety of the latest season, and especially on the finale episodes.  As this will all be very spoiler-y, I will place the rest of this post below the fold.

Get the whole story »

Big Update: Thesis and News

Last Friday, I passed my MA thesis defense! My thesis title is “Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: Philosophical and Theological Stances of Hegel and Kierkegaard.” For Geoff and Myles who asked, there it is.

John Wright was my adviser, and my two readers were Dr. Rob Thompson and Chris Simpson (my ‘external’ reader at LCCS). The defense went rather well, and it was oddly a lot of fun. My committee asked some great critical questions, and they tell me I handled them well. Turns out they are passing the thesis “with distinction,” which I’m extremely humbled about, as apparently I didn’t think this was even an option.

I know many have already asked to read the thesis, but I may have forgotten a few names. If you’re still interested, please leave me a comment below and I’ll e-mail it your direction (just put your e-mail address in the e-mail box, no need to put it in the comment itself–I’ll see it). The thesis is around 110 pages double-spaced, ~41,000 words. I’d love to hear your thoughts, further questions and criticism.

The evening after the defense, we had a small, casual graduation reception. The purpose of this particular reception was to allow our parents to meet the professors in the department. I introduced my parents to all the professors and it was a really pleasant time, enjoying finger foods and the like. As time was getting short with my parents needing to help my sister Jenna move out of her dorm, we had just enough time to introduce my parents to one remaining prof, Dr. Rob Thompson — one of my thesis readers. With apologies to Dr. Rob Thompson, Hegel, Schelling, and most of all my parents, the conversation ended with something that very much sounded like this:

My Dad: I have to commute a total of 3 hours every work day. It really puts a strain on my back. Of course Janet here only —

My Mom (Janet): Yeah, I only have to commute about 6 miles to work!

Dr. Thompson: When I was in Nampa, Idaho [at NNU] I would get annoyed if it took me longer than 5 minutes to get to work.

Me: Wow, yeah, it takes me 25-30 minutes to get to work in the mornings.

Dr. Thompson: The delays were almost always caused by a cow in the road. There’s another cow in the road this time–it was always a cow.

Dad: That happens a lot where we live too, and it gets incredibly dangerous. Not too long ago a whole heard of Blank Angus got out and were on the road — and you couldn’t see them!

Me: Whoa! That’s like the “black ice” of cows!

Them: [laughter]

Me again: Even better, it’s like “the night in which all cows are black!!!”

Them: [crickets]

Graduation the day after the defense was really cool. Apparently, graduating makes people forget awful philosophy jokes. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really think much about graduation until I was actually there. I was so focused on just getting the thesis done, and then trying to not focus on much at all in the week and a half of relaxation before the defense, that I kind of forgot that graduation is a big deal. That, and the PLNU campus turns into a crazy zoo. They have split the graduation up in to one graduate graduation and two undergraduate graduations, so it smooths things over a bit regarding the zoo factor. I must admit that it was nice to feel young at graduation: most of the people were slightly older than me, if not twice my age who were graduating. Aside from a friend of mine who is 65 years old in the MA theology program (and he has the energy and heart of a 20-year-old!), most of the students in our program are about 3 years younger than me, at least.

After graduation, Tiana threw a graduation party for me at our good friend Ester’s house. It was a totally awesome time of relaxation and conversation with good friends and family. In addition to my parents and sister, Tiana’s mom, sister Shalina, brother Stephen, and sister-in-law Shannon where all there as well. I was really thankful for being surrounded with good, loving people.

Okay, now rewind a couple days to Thursday morning, the day before my thesis defense. It was already a roller coaster of a week. I wake up, check my e-mail and decide to check out this page (I’d been hitting the refresh button on it all week). My name is printed on that page on the bottom, which means… It’s official: I GOT THE OVERSEAS RESEARCH SCHOLARSHIP!!! This means that the funding for my PhD tuition is basically paid in full! (technically it’s for a year of funding but it ‘renews’ each year upon ‘satisfactory progress’ or something like that). I was pretty emotional and immediately called Tiana who was still on her way to work to let her know the good news. She was super happy and relieved — we were not planning on taking out more loans on top of the undergraduate loans that we are still paying off. And then I called John Wright, who was also incredibly stoked. So, the next day I went into my thesis defense with the semester-long weight of worrying about the ORS lifted off my shoulders.

Tiana and I decided to wait until our parents arrived in San Diego before telling them. Now that they know and are super excited for us, they are all incredibly eager to visit us in Robin Hood country. So now, what remains is trying to figure out all the details on how exactly we can get over there so that they have somebody to visit. We’ve already received some extremely helpful tips from a couple of students already in the program (thanks Anthony and Aaron!). And, Tiana also found this incredible resource which, although that guy attends Durham University, should still apply pretty well to the UK in general.

By September 22, I will begin my PhD studies in theology at the University of Nottingham to study under Conor Cunningham. We hope to move to Nottingham a month ahead of that time to find a place to live and do some job hunting for Tiana. There will not be any employment restrictions placed upon on her from my student visa–the only restrictions will be on me. I will most likely continue doing work for The Centre of Theology and Philosophy, and perhaps some assorted side projects for some extra scratch, but my full-time computer programmer days are coming to an end. There’s a bunch of other details of the move to work out, of course, but this post has gone on long enough, and I’m sure we’ll figure those things out in due time.

Thanks to everybody for all the encouragement and conversations along the way. Special thanks to my wife Tiana for her encouragement, laughter, for reminding me what is really important, and most of all her love. She’s a keeper.

I honestly have no idea how we ended up in this position to be able to move to Nottingham for PhD work, but we are really very thankful for everything.

[Cross-posted to tianaanderic.com]

Standardized Tests: Start ’em young!

Piggy-backing somewhat off of Dave’s earlier post here, my friend Brian Lewis-Beevers sent the following link to me:

Local Heroes: Seattle Teacher Suspended for Refusing to Give Standardized Test

Carl Chew, a 6th grade science teacher at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in the Seattle School District, last week defied federal, state, and district regulations that require teachers to administer the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to students.

“I have let my administration know that I will no longer give the WASL to my students. I have done this because of the personal moral and ethical conviction that the WASL is harmful to students, teachers, schools, and families,” wrote Chew in an email to national supporters.

School District response to Mr. Chew’s refusal was immediate. After administrative attempts to dissuade his act of civil disobedience had failed, at the start of school on the first day of WASL testing, April 15, Mr. Chew was escorted from the school by the building principal and a district supervisor. Mr. Chew was told to report to the district Science Materials Center where he was put to work preparing student science kits while district administration and attorneys consulted on an appropriate penalty for what was labeled, “gross insubordination.”

Read the rest here.  Chew gives a helpful list of reasons why that particular standardized test is erroneous.

Yes, my motivation for posting this stems from personal experience.  Mainly, I just don’t do well on standardized test.  I don’t flunk them, but, I do have an inability to do better on them the second time around.  It’s really disconcerting… they mess with my mind, to put it lightly.  I took the SAT twice in high school, and did about 100 points worse the second time around; I recently had a similar experience with the GRE, doing significantly worse the second time around.  But, I get pretty good grades in school, I think.  In high school, I was taught to write essays, not fill in bubbles.

I am aware that not everybody can even be in a financial position to take these tests a first time, let alone a second time.  My concern in posting this isn’t so much on college and graduate school entrance exams, but that around this country, most states start administering standardized tests like this when they are quite young, causing children around the nation to have warped views of their own ability to learn and perform in academic settings.  Kudos to Mr. Chew!

Where is my mind?

Well, obviously, I wasn’t able to make it to the theological symposium on the Analogia Entis.  In being buried underneath thesis work, I kind of forgot about it, which is probably for the best.  It’s starting today and goes to Sunday.  Anyway, aside from Joel Garver, did anybody else go?  I’d love to hear a report.

For those that actually hop over to my blog to read (and not just RSS), I’ve updated a few things.  I had to tweak the current theme to put the ‘pages’ back into the header (about me, papers, thesis reading books, etc.).  I also added a few feeds in the sidebar: one to my dorky Facebook status updates, and one to my Tumblr blog of things I’ve been reading/watching lately.

Music-wise, I’ve been dipping back into my CD collection and listening to things that I haven’t listened to in quite some time to help keep me stimulated during the writing process:

  • Squarepusher – Big Loada
  • Alice in Chains – Unplugged (probably one of my favorite albums of all time, actually.  where were you?!)
  • VNV Nation – Matter + Form (hands-down my favorite VNVN album but for some reason it fell out of my usual rotation.)
  • Mayfairgrin – Equine Noir: The Ambient Selections (probably my favorite moody ambient album ever.  you can hop over to my last.fm page and see how many times I’ve listened to this gem in the past few years.)
  • 30 Seconds to Mars – A Beautiful Lie (now, I understand why a lot of people don’t like this band as it is one of the quintessential emo rock bands, but I absolutely love this album and really think Jared Leto’s voice is awesome.  I usually play this on repeat after 11pm when things start to drag for me during paper writing.)
  • Nirvana – Nevermind and In Utero (just classic 90’s fun)
  • Apoptygma Berzerk – Welcome to Earth and Harmonizer (still not a fan of their stuff post-Harmonizer though… )

Of all the April Fool’s gags I saw online, this one was probably my favorite: World of Warcraft: Molten Core.

I recently got new glasses.  The last time I got a pair of  corrective lenses was my freshman year of highschool.  I had contacts for a while after that and used them for a while but got lazy.  I can now see road signs!

Minimal update: I fixed a grip of typos in this post… I was up till 4am last night so I am a bit out of it.

After Advent: Catching Up

eoy-tiana-tree2.jpgAdvent has passed, and my last semester of MA coursework is behind me. At the end of last year, Tiana won “Employee of the Year” at the San Diego diocese of Catholic Charities and I have been published in a collected volume in the Veritas series. Tiana and I celebrated our first marriage anniversary in May and we just spent our second Christmas together as a married couple!

Tiana and I spent some quality time in our respective homes in Concord and Merced, California during out holiday break. In Concord, we mostly stayed at Tiana’s mom’s house, where we were very welcome. It was extremely awesome to really just chill and hang out after a stressful semester. We caught a few movies at home and in the theatre (P.S. I Love you, The Nativity Story, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ratatouille, About Schmidt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Inland Empire), we did some shopping, and I even worked on some crafty stuff. Tiana did some clothes shopping in her sister’s closet and I found some great book buys at Half-Priced Books in Concord: I scored steals on a hardback edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and Kierkegaard’s For Self-Examination/Judge For Yourselves.

Highlights, of course, were seeing family and friends. Our niece Katie continues to get ridiculously cute. While our trip was broken up a bit, we did get to see and hangout with everybody, enjoying wonderful Ethiopian and Indian food (both of which have excellent veggie options). We attempted to not stuff ourselves too much but I don’t think we did very well with that goal.

In Merced, things slowed down a bit, but the times of rest and cuteness did not stop as we got to delight in the non-stop smiles of our 6-month-old niece Phaedra. So it was very cool that our nieces got to finally meet each other! Shalina (with mom and daughter in tow) drove down to Merced and graciously took some family pictures for us Lee’s. My dad had spinal surgery last month, so we generally took it easy with him and kicked back on my parents’ comfy sofa’s. It was nice to relax, watch some TV and movies and be with family in my hometown. We even managed to get in a game of 4-player Settlers! LaRae, probably unsurprisingly, won that time.

We visited my Grandma (87 and still goin’!) who is in a nursing home in Merced, and she seems to be doing pretty good. Her wits are about her, but she says there are a lot of crazy people who yell a lot in that place. She’s been recovering from a fall some months ago, and in the meantime, my parents have been remodeling parts of her house so that it is ready for her to move back into it. My Aunt Carol (my grandma’s firstborn) is moving in with her to keep her company. It’s a cool house with a huge backyard that I grew up playing in. We’re looking forward to her moving back in her home.

In the time since we returned to San Diego, Tiana and I finished watching the 3rd season of LOST on DVD (awesome!!!) and have generally been taking it easy before this last semester of MA work for me begins (which began last Monday on the 7th). Meanwhile, we’ve also seen Juno and Once, two highly recommended movies. We’ve been trying to cook more in our little apartment to save money, be creative, and stay healthy. I even found a cajun soup recipe–that I will probably post later on this very blog–that seems to have been a big hit both in our house and amongst friends who have tried it.

Since last Monday, I have been cranking on reading for my MA Thesis. I definitely have my work cut out for me, but it should be fun. (If anybody is interested, I’ve compiled a list of a bunch of the texts I’ll be reading or resourcing.) I’ll be all done by May! More news on that to come.

Economy vs. the Gift?

In Peter Leithart’s post “Gift and Economy,” after clarifying that in reality, the gift and economy are not actually opposed, he concludes with the following question: “If I am right about classical economic theory (and I might stand corrected), the question arises of why it should have developed this way.  Why would gift/gratitude/relationship be left out of economic consideration?  And, how would economic theory be different if it’s included?”

I am no economist, but my first inclination is to say that the reason that gift/gratitude/relationship is left out of economic consideration is because modern economics itself it predicated upon an economy of lack.  The gift is one of surplus, one that in divine terms as D.B. Hart puts it in regards to Anselm, one that “exceeds every debt.”  In the gift, there is always a ‘more’ that exceeds the violence of exchange, which is also why Milbank is right to argue for the gift before the contract in our society (see his essay “Liberality versus Liberalism”).  Economic theory, if it assumed an economy of abundance (jubilee economics), would be very much more distributive, I think!