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March 23, 2008

Easter--Stuntz

Every year, it staggers me. Mostly, I think it’s the improbability of the enterprise that knocks the wind out of me, leaves me utterly shattered. The notion that the God of the universe would submit Himself to all the ugliness and indignity and pain that this world can muster, and much worse besides – that He would, in doing so, turn death itself against itself. Add to that the breathtaking, terrible yet wonderful truth that He did all this for the likes of me, and countless more like me. How can it be so?

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May 31, 2008

Prophets and Non-Prophets--Skeel

An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday described a celebration of the work of the late rabbi and scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a famous book (“The Prophets”) about Biblical prophesy and was intensely involved in the Civil Rights Movement. According to the article, several of the speakers suggested that Barack Obama has prophetic qualities. I’m no expert on prophetic discourse, but it seems to me that the terms “prophet” and “prophetic” are almost always misused, often but not always by the evangelical left.

Oversimplifying radically, the Biblical prophets seem to me to have had three qualities. First, they called for a return to Godly behavior in their culture. “The prophet was an individual who said no to his society,” as Heschel put it, “condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.” Second, they put themselves at great risk in proclaiming this message. Third, they predicted (often with specific prophesies) the consequences of a failure to correct the sinful patterns of the present.

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June 6, 2008

Gifts and Bribes--Skeel

If you ever read the verses on bribes and gifts in the book of Proverbs, as I did for a Sunday school lesson last week, you will quickly run into apparent contradictions. “Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live,” instructs one verse (Prov. 15:27). But another that says “A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.” (Prov. 21:14). How can good bribes– or gifts, if you prefer– be distinguished from bad ones?

The easiest case is gifts simply to show respect or humility, as when the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:11-12). These, the Bible makes clear, are good and often admirable.

But with gifts that expect or hope for something in return, distinguishing the good from the bad seems much harder.

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June 20, 2008

Secular Universities and Evangelical Christians--Stuntz

Are secular university faculties prejudiced against evangelical Christians?

The folks at Volokh [link here] are having an interesting discussion about that question. The conversation was kicked off by a study that, I gather, shows that 53% of university faculty members view evangelicals negatively. Todd Zywicki says that figure suggests a measure of bigotry among those who teach in secular universities.

Having been a part of the secular university world for almost thirty years (counting my student days)—and having belonged to evangelical churches for more than twenty years—I’m quite sure that anti-Christian bigotry exists, and that its targets extend beyond evangelicals. But bigotry is not an on-off category; differences of degree matter. And while I have only my own experience to go on, my impression is that the amount and depth of hostility have declined sharply in the last couple of decades, and especially in the last several years.

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August 15, 2008

Where's the New "Mere Christianity?"--Skeel

Over 55 years since it was first published, C.S. Lewis's wonderful book Mere Christianity still seems to me the best introduction to, and most winsome account of, orthodox Christianity. I've found it surprising that after all these years, there still isn't a real replacement for it. I wrote a little op-ed about this that appeared this morning: here. I'd be interested to hear whether readers agree, and whether there's a book any of you thinks measures up to the Lewis classic.

August 16, 2008

More on Lewis's Uniqueness--Stuntz

Two comments on David’s interesting and wise column on the absence of contemporary C.S. Lewis equivalents:

I think the absence of Lewis-like figures in the university world is part of a larger change in academic culture. Used to be, the best professors at the best universities were expected to engage with the world outside universities. Lewis was hardly alone in this. His rough contemporary, British historian A.J.P. Taylor, was a major public figure even as he wrote first-rate historical scholarship. In mid-twentieth-century America, sociologist Daniel Bell, historian Arthur Schlesinger, and economist John Kenneth Galbraith are all famous examples of the same type. Today, economists still play this “public citizen” role, but few academics in other disciplines do. And most academic writing is now so technical and jargon-filled that no one outside the relevant discipline could bear reading it.

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August 21, 2008

A Few More Thoughts on Mere Christianity--Skeel

Thanks to everyone who has chimed in on the question of whether there's a true successor to Mere Christianity. The discussion has prompted many thoughts, but I'll mention three for now:

1) Several people (both in the comments and in emails) asked whether we really need a new Mere Christianity. In a sense, I think the answer is no. Like Augustine's Confessions, Mere Christianity is unique; perhaps we should simply be grateful for the gift. But I also like to think that each generation has a classic that has permanent value yet also speaks to that particular generation. I don't feel as though our generation's classic has emerged yet.

2) I especially appreciated all the suggested readings. A few I've read, but others I haven't and now plan to: Michael Green, Rav Zacharias, even D'Souza. Several are on my desk waiting to be read (Francis Collins, Phillip Yancy). I have read Pascal (with a friend) and loved a number of his pensees, but they struck me more as brilliant isolated insights than as a complete apologetics.

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August 22, 2008

Eastern Christians and Environmentalism--Skeel

Some of our earlier discussion on this blog about evangelicals and the environment prompted a email from my colleague Stephanos Bibas that may be of interest to those who are following this issue. The email argues that there is a connection between evangelicals' "uneasy relationship with environmentalism" and their relationship with the Republican party, and is informed throughout by Stephanos's Orthodox faith.

Rather than trying to restate his comments, no doubt much more poorly, I'll simply quote from his email:

"Christianity should naturally (excuse the pun) embrace environmentalism. The first few chapters of Genesis make it clear that while man is the crown of creation, he is also to be a steward of it, because all of creation bears God's imprint as His handiwork; as God created each thing, he saw that it was good. Francis of Assisi, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and many other holy men and women have been so attuned to creation that they befriended wild animals, reflecting their love for His creatures.

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December 9, 2008

Will There be Lawyers in Heaven?--Skeel

            A few weeks ago, I was struck by a line in Abraham Kuyper's "Lectures on Calvinism" (1898), one of the great (and accessible!) modern Protestant works on politics and law.   In a world without sin, Kuyper wrote, "every rule and ordinance and law would drop away, even as all control and assertion of the power of the magistrate would disappear."  Heaven, he suggests, is no place for law or lawyers.

 

            We lawyers come in for a lot of abuse, much of it justified, but I'm not so sure our work will disappear in heaven.  The conclusion that law and thus lawyers will be unnecessary seems to assume that in heaven we will be all seeing and all knowing, and all complexity will simply disappear.  I'm not sure where that assumption comes from; it doesn't seem especially consistent with the hints of heaven, with all its richness and diversity, that we get in the Bible.  The absence of sin doesn't necessarily mean the absence of complexity, and where there is complexity law and lawyers seem to have a role to play.

 

            I don't think it's entirely coincidental that the Holy Spirit is described in the Bible as an advocate and a counselor, both distinctively lawyerly roles.  The lawyers in heaven will be much better lawyers, but I suspect they will still be dispensing legal advice.

 

            I'd be curious as to whether others agree.

December 18, 2008

Rick Warren at the Obama Inauguration--Skeel

The New York Times noted in a small article this morning that President-elect Obama has invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, and called this an "olive branch" to evangelicals. Two thoughts on the choice.

First, as the article suggests, the pick confirms that Rick Warren is the new Billy Graham- the obvious choice for this kind of honor. The contrast between the Warren and Graham as leading public evangelicals is striking. With a couple of exceptions, Graham resolutely avoided social issues, whereas Warren has made them a centerpiece of his ministry. This is dramatic testimony, it seems to me, of the extent to which some of the emphases of evangelicalism are changing. In some respects, Warren has less in common with Graham than with the early twentieth century evangelicals (such as John R. Mott of the YMCA and Student Volunteer Movement) who treated social issues and evangelism as inextricably intertwined.

Warren's prominence does not necessarily mean, however- and this is the second point- that evangelicals will be an important part of the Obama era. Evangelical political influence may well have peaked. Evangelicals played surprisingly little role in the election- and not because Obama made significant inroads; although he won a higher percentage of young evangelical votes than John Kerry in 2004, the overall percentages were nearly the same, with McCain winning well over 70%.

I suspect the most noteworthy development in Protestant Christianity in an Obama era may be at least a temporary reversal of the decades of decline in mainline Protestantism in America. Although Obama hobnobs with a few prominent evangelicals, and his first memoir prominently featured a conversion story, his instincts seem much more in line with mainline Protestantism than with evangelicalism. The frequent comparisons to Lincoln and Roosevelt are fully consistent with this- and Obama also seems to me to have some similarities to the young Woodrow Wilson. In historical terms, Obama is a Progressive, not a Populist, and this may bode well for the mainline Protestant denominations that are the Progressives' principal religious heirs.

January 8, 2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus--Skeel

It is hard to imagine a world without Father Richard John Neuhaus– his dazzling intellect; the wide-ranging "The Public Square" columns he wrote each month in First Things; his love of ideas and of his Creator. But with his passing away this morning, we now must.

I only saw him once. Almost exactly a year ago, he came to the annual Christian law professors’ conference to participate in a debate with Bill on the legacy of the religious right. I was well aware that his bold defense of Christian participation in the public square in the 1980s was an important part of the inspiration that eventually led to gatherings and groups like ours. But I also had the impression that he did not always suffer fools gladly. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I needn’t have wondered. The "debate" with Bill turned out to be a brilliant conversation about some of the positive and negative legacies of the religious right. He was unfailingly gracious, and the panel was the highlight of a remarkable conference.

I’m grateful to have seen him in action.  He was one of a kind.

January 9, 2009

Neuhaus' Passing--Stuntz

David is right:  Father Neuhaus was indeed one of a kind, and also a deeply admirable man.  He was the happy warrior of the culture wars:  eager to mix it up with those with whom he disagreed, but always with respect.  There seems to have been no anger or spite in him—a rare thing among those engaged in hot-button cultural debates.

 

Neuhaus embodied one of the most important developments of our time, and also one of the most surprising:  the hold conservative Catholics have on the political and legal views of conservative Protestants.  Though he converted in middle age (he was a Lutheran minister when he became a public figure), Neuhaus was every inch a Catholic.  Yet his work—both in his books and in First Things, the magazine he ran—attracted a wide and attentive audience among Protestants.  I feel confident saying that Neuhaus was far more influential in evangelical Protestant circles than figures like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or James Dobson.

 

Great as his influence was, the trend was the work of more than this one man.  The most admired legal intellectual in evangelical circles is Antonin Scalia, a conservative Catholic.  Catholic academics have spawned large and sophisticated bodies of work on the role Christian faith does and should play in law, politics, and culture.  Of course, Protestant academics work in these areas too, and some of them—Mark Noll, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff come to mind—are every bit as smart and knowledgeable as their Catholic counterparts.  Just as Michael McConnell, longtime law professor and judge on the 10th Circuit, can match wits with anyone in wide world of legal thought.  But the Nolls and McConnells are few; their Catholic equivalents are many.  Much as Father Neuhaus will be missed, his death does not alter that state of affairs.

 

At one level, the Catholic influence in Protestant circles has been a source of great good:  there is more unity across denominational lines than perhaps at any time in American history.  But there is a downside.  Today’s American Protestants are optimistic about the potential for politics and law to move the culture in positive directions.  That has led to the too-casual embrace of Republican party orthodoxy by many believers.  (I say this as a registered Republican: I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution.)  Likewise, American Protestants of my generation have placed more weight on cultural symbols—crosses and crèches in public spaces, prayers at public school graduations and sporting events, the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance—than our predecessors in generations past.  Battles over those symbols have absorbed too much of Christians’ political attention, and a host of other problems too little.

 

Father Neuhaus was a large part of the reason for those intellectual tilts—his thought was shaped by a religious tradition that found the exercise of government power more comfortable and Christian symbols more important than most Protestant traditions would suggest.  Maybe Neuhaus and the tradition that shaped his legal and political views got these issues right.  If so, the increasingly blurred line between Catholicism and Protestantism we see today is an unmitigated blessing.  If not—well, suffice it say that some of us often find ourselves wishing that a more distinctively Protestant voice might emerge in the ongoing conversation about the role of Christian faith in American life.

 

February 8, 2009

Atheist Bus Ads--Skeel

My first impulse when I saw a picture of Richard Dawkins standing in front of a London bus emblazoned with an atheist ad--“ There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—was to chuckle. My second was to skim through the article to see if he really had endorsed these words, which are an atheist response to the ads run by a Christian group.

 
It seemed surprising that Dawkins would say there’s “probably” rather than certainly no God. I’ve never been a big fan of Pascal’s wager (the eternal consequences of God’s existence are so great that if there’s any chance He exists, the only rational response is to believe). But the ad certainly invites this response. It turns out this wasn’t the atheists’ first choice of words. “Probably” was included because the people who handle ads for the bus system concluded the ad would be misleading otherwise.
 
The second half of the ad struck me as equally puzzling. Not only does the invitation to “stop worrying and enjoy your life” strike an odd chord in these difficult times. But the suggestion that taking it easy is the benefit for rejecting faith underscores, by their omission, all the things materialism finds so difficult to explain—our sense of beauty, sacrificial love, the deep conviction that there is a moral order to the universe.
 
The ads are fun but a little more clever, I think, than they were intended to be.

February 9, 2009

Testimony--Stuntz

 My spouse and I are in the process of joining a Boston church; the church requires that would-be members give their testimony. Because my memory is lousy these days, I wrote mine out; it’s pasted below with a few minor edits. Some of this material, though not all of it, will be familiar to anyone who read this blog last spring. Here it is:

     I would have said I was a believer when I was a teenager, but I’m not sure that was really true. I now believe I became a Christian in my mid-20s—a few years after Ruth and I got married, while I was in law school and shortly afterward. Two things triggered my conversion. First, I started reading C.S. Lewis, and it blew me away. Before that, I never saw how unbelievably beautiful our faith is—like a love song that makes you weep every time you hear it. More than I believe in any set of abstract propositions, I believe in that love song. Abstract truth is often beyond our ability to grasp. (If you doubt that, spend some time trying to understand quantum mechanics.) But we were made to see beauty. Reading C.S. Lewis taught me that.

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March 8, 2009

Stanley Fish on Christianity and Bankruptcy--Skeel

A student emailed me this marvelous commentary by Stanley Fish, which I hadn’t seen. I’ll only add two brief thoughts, since Fish speaks for himself as always: 1) the two Christian discourses Fish discusses don’t strike me as necessarily at odds with one another—any more than faith and works are; and 2) the forgiveness offered by Christ, and the economic imagery so often used to describe it, was of course vividly foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the Jubilee (Leviticus 25), which had both practical and spiritual significance. 

March 9, 2009

Rome Baptist Church--Skeel

Few experiences remind me of the common bond that unites all Christians as vividly as attending a worship service in a different city or country when I’m traveling. When I’m in Rome—as I am for the next two and a half weeks—this usually means worshipping at Rome Baptist Church.

 It was a joy to make my way back yesterday morning to the church—which is tucked away in a lovely alcove off Via del Corso in the heart of tourist Rome—and to see the small sanctuary packed to overflowing. The congregation looks like a United Nations meeting. The church has many Filipinos, as does Rome generally. (Apparently Rome has been an attractive destination for Filipino emigrants in the past several decades because many Filipinos are Catholic and because the immigration standards have not been quite as strict, at least until recently, as in many countries.) One also hears African inflected English in the pews. And on any given week, there is also a large block of America college students, who are in Rome for a semester abroad or on a short term mission trip.
 
Something about the mixture of worshippers from many different countries always reminds me of Revelation 7, where John says that he “looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne … and crying out ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
 
Rome isn’t always heavenly, but it seems in these moments of worship to briefly take the shape of heaven.

March 23, 2009

Christianity and Secular Values--Skeel

Rome is full of reminders both of the layers of history and of the temptation to marry Christianity with pagan religions. Sitting by the fountain with Bernini’s Four River Gods fountain in Piazza Navona—a revelation both because of the light gleaming in the sheets of water and because it has so often been blocked by scaffolding in recent years—it was easy to understand the temptation to take the best from nonChristian traditions and combine them with our own.   A few blocks away, Michaelanglo’s Sistine Chapel paintings (which we saw with a few thousand of our closest friends on Friday) include both Biblical prophets and pagan ones. 

If combining Christian and classical traditions is one strategy for engaging the world, a second is to destroy the competitors when Christianity is in the ascendancy. This too was attempted in Rome. The famous statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline museum survived only because it was long thought to depict the Christian empire Constantine.
 
A better strategy, it seems to me, is to recognize that many pagan accomplishments are dim echoes of the Christian story, and to admire the beauty in them without either seeking to destroy them or to incorporate them. One version of this strategy can be seen in the sculpture of Peter that was placed by Christian leaders atop Trajan’s column by the Forum, and the cross that rises up from the Egyptian hieroglyph in the center of the Piazza del Popolo.
 
But even this seems to me to reflect a desire to dominate, to show that we are the worldly winners.
 
I was reminded of our true Biblical calling in the sermon at Rome Baptist Church yesterday. We are called, the pastor pointed out, to be a peculiar people—to be different from the world, even if that means being viewed as unkempt or uncool. Christians have played this role at times in Rome's history too—never more so than in the early centuries of the church when Christians stayed in Rome to minister to the sick and dying during epidemics, as nearly everyone else tried to flee the city. The church was a small minority then; it was frail, peculiar and strong

March 24, 2009

Depopulation--Stuntz

This article made me sad. The subject is the coming depopulation of much of the world. Here’s the key graph:

For the majority of the world's inhabitants who no longer live on farms or rely on home production, children are no longer an economic asset but an avoidable liability. At the same time, the spread of global media exposes people in even the remotest corners of the planet to glamorous lifestyles that are inconsistent with the sacrifices necessary to raise large families. In Brazil, birthrates dropped sequentially province by province as broadcast television became available.
 
I suspect another cause: depopulation happens when religious faith disappears. If the point of a couple’s life is to maximize their own comfort, having any children is hard to justify. Raising kids costs money and, even more, time. It saps both energy and confidence—I never knew what a total screw-up I am until Ruth and I had children. Often, it’s painful: there is nothing so agonizing as watching your child suffer. And children expose parents’ worst flaws, like a mirror that reflects only warts and unkempt hair. Why go through all of that—not once, but several times—if you don’t have to?
 
But if life’s goal is larger than maximizing my welfare, if my job is to leave the world better for my presence in it, having children is much the best means of reaching that goal. I have far more confidence in my kids’ ability to make their corner of the world better than in my own. Most parents I know would say the same. And the point extends beyond any utilitarian calculus. Those of us who believe in a good God who made human beings in His image also believe that we honor the family resemblance when we raise families. Christians believe God’s life and creativity could not be contained in a single divine Person. As the Father begot the Son, as the Son left the Spirit to guide believers, so should we do some begetting of our own.
 
Last but not least, raising kids is incomparably the greatest of life’s joys. Even in purely hedonic terms, I wouldn’t trade it for a lifetime of expensive vacations. The great irony of the contemporary West is that, in their ceaseless pursuit of pleasure, far too many citizens of the nations entrusted with Western civilization are missing the greatest pleasure of all. Civilization itself may be that error’s biggest casualty.
 

April 16, 2009

Veronese and John the Baptist--Skeel

With the possible exception of several Caravaggios, my favorite painting in Rome on my most recent visit was this painting (the reproduction here isn't great) of Saint John the Baptist by Veronese, in the Borghese Gallery. The planes of the painting—John’s body and arms, the trees in the background—are at slightly rakish angles, and the colors—reds, oranges, olives—seem pleasingly unexpected. 

The figure of Jesus in the lower left, just coming into view, must have been painted with John 3:22-26, especially verses 29-30, in mind. When asked what he thinks about his disciples flocking to Jesus, John the Baptist says: “The bride [i.e, God’s people] belongs to the bridegroom [i.e. Christ]. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and is now complete. He [Christ] must become greater, I must become less.”
 
This, in my view, is one of the greatest acts of humility in history. 
 
When I recently mentioned this painting, and the passage from the Gospel of John, to a dear friend who knows more about art than anyone I know (and, truth be told, likes the Veronese painting but doesn’t love it as much as I do), I commented that it’s hard to imagine a superstar of any sort in our own time saying, as John did: my turn is done; I’ll step aside now.
 
My friend responded that the verses reminded him, “on a more mundane scale,” of a conference on academic medicine he attended two years ago. One of the presenters was one of the leading figures in the field, “a senior man but still in his prime. Another was a rising star. The former, introducing the latter, made remarks very close to John’s. I was moved,” my friend recalled, “as was, visibly, the ‘rising star.’”

July 11, 2009

Calvin's 500th--Skeel

 Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. The anniversary didn’t make any newspaper that I saw, but there have been major celebrations in the church world, including a series of talks and sermons in Geneva that featured many evangelical luminaries. 

I’m no Calvin scholar myself. My greatest claim to Calvin devotion is also my most embarrassing: I brought Calvin’s Institutes of Religion on my honeymoon almost twenty-one years ago, and actually read some of it. 

One of the most surprising things about Calvin’s legacy is that he never set out to be innovative, at least in the contemporary understanding of that term. If innovation means inventing something that is entirely new, Calvin wasn’t truly innovative. It’s impossible to read Calvin without being struck by the extent to which Scripture was the starting point, and foundation, for all of his thought.  He brings his own perspective to bear, of course, but it is always Scripture he is expounding.
 
If Calvin was innovative, it seems to me he was innovative in a different sense: in his willingness to challenge conventional thinking. This didn’t mean inventing something entirely new, so much as looking at the timeless truths of Scripture with a fresh eye. 
 

July 28, 2009

Sam Harris on Francis Collins--Skeel

That Sam Harris, one of the leading “new atheists,” criticized the president’s nomination of Francis Collins, a professed Christian, to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health in this New York Times op-ed yesterday was hardly news. But I found the column interesting in several respects. 

First, the tone was much more subdued than in Harris’s usual tirades against religion. Perhaps the Times’ op-ed editors tamed Harris’s prose, but I suspect the reasonableness of the tone is a tribute to Collins’s stature as a scientist.  I wonder if the religion vs. science debate might be a little less heated if it were more often conducted by scientists, and we evangelicals were less eager to credit any claim that seems to score points against the scientific community.
 
Second, Harris complained that Collins may stifle research in neuroscience that seems to suggest “that minds are the products of brains, and brains are [simply] the products of evolution,” since this calls God into question. My initial reaction was (and is) that Collins seems very unlikely to interfere with valuable scientific work, regardless of where it might lead.
 
But I also think it’s important to cast a skeptical eye, if not on the work itself, at least on the claims made for this work. This isn’t my field, but my sense is that the claims made for the neuroscience findings we have thus far often go far beyond any reasonable interpretation of the science. Some scholars claim, for instance, that criminal laws should not focus on “desert” (that is, the badness of criminal behavior) because criminal behavior is simply a product of our brains. This is an area in which I suspect that Christian lawyer-scientists might make important contributions.
 
 

July 31, 2009

More on Calvin's 500th--Skeel

A few more thoughts on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, in this op-ed.

Although this obviously isn't a theologically oriented country, I've been surprised the anniversary hasn't gotten more attention in the general media.

August 5, 2009

Wedding Bands--Skeel

Vacationing at the beach this week, I noticed something I notice every year: although they have been happily married for many years, neither my brother-in-law nor my sister-in-law wears a wedding band.

I’ve always been strongly pro-wedding band. A wedding band says nothing about the quality of the marriage, of course; and for those who are not married but wish they were, it may be an unhappy reminder. But a wedding band signals a commitment both to one’s wife or husband and to the importance of marriage. In communities where a large majority of children are born and raised outside of wedlock, the statement seems especially important.
 
Yet professing Christians have not always favored wedding bands. Many English Puritans refused to wear them in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Wedding bands were not called for in the Bible, in this view; they were inappropriately ostentatious and possibly even idolatrous.
 
Let me venture a prediction: as an increasing number of American states legalize gay marriage, and the divide between religious and secular marriage grows, many professing Christians will rethink the significance of wedding bands. I suspect that the vast majority of us wear wedding bands in 2009, and that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law are part of a very small minority. In ten or twenty years, they could have much more company.

October 4, 2009

The Ardi Fossils--Skeel

I happened to be reading the transcript of the 1925 Scopes (“Monkey”) trial the other evening, then woke up to front page pictures of Ardi, who was described “a 4.4 million-year-old human forbear.” Scopes and Ardi prompted a swirl of competing thoughts and emotions, but two thoughts stood out.

The first is that a trial is the worst possible place to debate these issues. In a trial, the parties try to concede as little as possible, rather than acknowledging the strengths as well as weaknesses of the opposing position. Attacks on evolution tend to attack particular elements of evolutionary theory—pointing out limitations in the fossil record, for instance—and treat this as disproof of the theory as a whole. Evolutionists tend to point to difficult Biblical texts or bloodshed in the name of religion—and treat this as conclusive evidence that Christianity is not true. Linking a handful of problematic details and inviting a jury to draw a sweeping conclusion is a classic rhetorical strategy in trials.
 
Second is the issue of humility. In the Scopes trial, Darrow repeatedly referred to religious critics of evolution as “bigots and ignoramuses,” and was cheered on by the East Coast press. He wasn’t treated much better by William Jennings Bryan and the defenders of the anti-evolution law. This absence of humility has characterized the subsequent debate as well, and is reinforced by its judicial, point-counterpoint quality. (Think of a few of the best known books: Darwin on Trial; God is Not Great). Greater humility might mean more acknowledgment of the limitations of evolutionary theory by evolutionists, and more willingness by Christian critics to marvel at the mysteries reflected in the decoding of genome or the discovery of fossils like Ardi.
 
The stories about Ardi noted that her discoverer, Tim White, waited many years before finally going public, painstakingly piecing together a large number of fossils even as fellow scientists pushed him to announce his discoveries. I don’t know anything about Dr. White or his reasons, but I like to think he wasn’t interested in firing salvos into the science vs. religion debate as soon as he could. Instead, he wanted to be as careful as possible, and to pursue the best understanding of the significance of what he and his team had found, without paying attention to the battles playing out on the best seller lists.
 
 

October 6, 2009

Stuntz on Suffering

Bill had an article called "Three Gifts for Hard Times" in the August issue of Christianity Today, which I suspect will be of particular interest to those who have followed his posts on his cancer treatment.  I just noticed that the article is now available electronically here

December 17, 2009

Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer--Skeel

The flurry of comparisons between President Obama’s Nobel Peace Price speech and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Realist theology reminded me of a debate over whether Niebuhr is the author of the “Serenity Prayer,” which has long been attributed to him. Last year, Yale law librarian Fred Shapiro produced evidence that the prayer pre-dated 1943, when Niebuhr was said to have composed it. Several weeks ago, the New York Times reported that Duke University librarian Stephen Goranson has uncovered a 1937 Christian student newsletter that attributes the prayer to Niebuhr, thus strengthening the case for Niebuhr’s authorship.

For me, the differences between the earlier and now classic versions of the prayer are even more intriguing than the authorship debate itself. In the familiar, classic version, the supplicant prays: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
 
The 1937 version is a little different: “Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
 
To my ear, the 1937 version sounds a lot more like Niebuhr.  Niebuhr’s thought tended toward dichotomies and tensions. He argued that anxiety tempts us toward sin, but that it is not inherently sinful and is the fount of our creativity. The 1937 prayer, with its initial emphasis on courage and change, and request for serenity (a very un-Niebuhrian word and concept) only with respect to “what cannot be helped” seems Niebuhrian to me; the classic version, with its tone of placid acceptance, doesn’t.
 
Based on no evidence whatsoever, I would even speculate that Niebuhr’s earlier prayer (assuming he was indeed the originator) was shaped into its final form by others, not Niebuhr himself.  Is it appropriate to do this, to alter and reuse a prayer penned by someone else? I think it is. Like hymns, prayers are part of our communal worship. We may argue about whether the changes are appropriate—changes to increase gender neutrality, for instance, or to remove references that seem theologically dubious or specific to a different era. But this back and forth is part of participation in Christian community. 
 
This isn’t an argument against identifying the original author. I think we should recognize Niebuhr or whoever the author was, just as we recognize Charles Wesley or John Newton as the author of their hymns. But prayers and hymns are a gift to the Christian community, to be adapted and adjusted by the community as part of our life together.
 
 
 

January 18, 2010

Tithes and Offerings--Skeel

At the end of each year I wonder whether I and my family’s giving for the year fully reflects the Bible’s teachings. It isn’t so much the question of how much to give that I puzzle over. While the New Testament doesn’t specify the amount we should give, it strongly suggests we should give at least as much as the ten percent tithe (before-tax, not after-tax, income) called for in the Old Testament.

More puzzling for me is which giving should count. Our principal giving should be to our church, of course. But should we think of giving to other Christian organizations—say a crisis pregnancy center or a Christian magazine or a soup kitchen-- as part of our giving or not? I tend to finesse this a little by directing a substantial majority of my giving to the church, while also giving to these other Christian organizations. It seems to me that the work they are doing is also a crucial part of the church’s mission, even if the particular organization is not directly involved in worship. 

But perhaps I’m wrong about this. I can imagine that some might take the view that Biblical giving only includes giving to the church, since this is the center of worship. It seems to me that this narrower view has at least one surprising implication: if outside Biblical giving does not include giving for charities that operate outside of the church, this implies that the role of these charities is likely to be limited and that much of the funding for social services will need to come from elsewhere. The government is the most likely source. Those who hold to a narrow view of Biblical giving should therefore also favor a generous, government-funded social safety net. I wonder if most do.
 

January 24, 2010

God and Disasters--Skeel

James Wood had an interesting op-ed (here) in yesterday’s New York Times. Wood, as many readers may know, is a critic and novelist who was raised in an evangelical household but rejected the faith. He argues that that Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the earthquake in Haiti was a punishment suggests that “God is punitive and interventionist,” and that President Obama’s suggestion that “there but for the grace of God” we would have been the ones devastated makes God “as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent.”

Although Wood is being a little unfair both to Christianity and to President Obama, I do think he wisely points out the dangers of trying to identify God’s will in a disaster. Jesus himself warned about this.  Referring to eighteen people who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell, Jesus said “do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.” The real moral, Jesus said, is that we all need to repent. (Luke 13:4).

I think the President’s comments would have been entirely appropriate if he had just worded them a little differently.  The President emphasized “our common humanity,” and said that “we stand in solidarity with our neighbors to the south, knowing that but for the grace of God, there we go.”  If he had omitted the statement “but for the grace of God,” and emphasized that our common humanity is grounded in the fact that we are together made in God’s image, his words would have touched on the most important contribution Christianity offers in a terrible crisis: a reason to reach out in love.

February 21, 2010

Wheaton's New President--Skeel

Phil Ryken, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, the church of which I and my family are members, was just named the eighth president of Wheaton College.  The first excitement came even before the official announcement, when the website of Christianity Today magazine released the news yesterday before it was public.  Dr. Ryken informed the elders of our church yesterday morning, at roughly the same time as the faculty of Wheaton was informed of the choice in a confidential meeting.  The plan was to wait until after the move was announced to Tenth’s congregation this morning before making it public. A vibrant debate ensued on the CT website as to whether CT should have posted the news.  Although it would have been far better for Tenth’s congregation if the news had not been leaked, I side with those who think CT acted perfectly appropriately in posting it.  Only in rare circumstances—such as national security threats—should journalists withhold breaking news.  If there are villains in the story, it is the people who leaked the information, not the reporter who published it.

While Ryken’s departure will be very hard for the church, I think he is a superb choice to lead Wheaton, which is arguably the leading evangelical institution of higher education in this country.  He has strong academic values (and is the son of prominent Wheaton professor Leland Ryken), superb credentials, and is the most gifted administrator I have ever seen.  (Full disclosure: I am a friend and had the privilege of talking to the Wheaton search committee during the search).  Some of his views will be controversial, even within Wheaton’s evangelical community.  Tenth Church does not have women pastors,or instance, and Ryken is a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which has been very critical of New Perspective theologians such as N.T. Wright.  But Ryken has a remarkable capacity to listen to those who may disagree with him on particular issues, and Jesus is the focus of every sermon he preaches and everything he does.
 
I cannot imagine a better choice to lead Wheaton for the coming generation.
 

March 8, 2010

Church in Milan--Skeel

Yesterday I found myself in an Italian language service in Milan. The church—the Chiesa Cristiana, which doubles as Milan Bible Church in the afternoon-- was a thirty minute walk through nondescript neighborhoods (a reminder that Milan was heavily bombed during World War II) from my hotel. I ended up in the Italian language service because of the timing of the services—certainly not because of proficiency in Italian, which is still years away.

The church was downstairs in a little apartment complex with a small courtyard. A man stood by the door to let people in, which seemed a reminder of how small a minority evangelicals are in Italy. The room was painted a bright, deep yellow, with little posters of passages from John (e.g., “I am the life …”) on the walls.
 
The wonderfully lively service made me see contemporary worship songs projected on a screen in a new light. The general familiarity of praise songs, and the simplicity of the words, enabled me to join in the worship to an extent that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Even I understood lines like “Cantero del tuo amor/per sempre” (I will sing of your love always). It reminded me of the argument that the Catholic church has always made for paintings and other art in the church—that it made it possible for ordinary people to understand the richness of the Bible in an era when few could read.
 
 

March 12, 2010

Santa Maria delle Grazie--Skeel

As she described Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Milan church that houses da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” our tour guide said she so much preferred the name in Italian to its English translation—Saint Mary of Thanks—that she would stick with the Italian henceforth. “Grazie” does seem a prettier word than “thanks,” but I also wondered later if the connection in Italian between thanks (grazie) and grace (grazia; and graces is grazie) also figured in the preference. Grace and thanks are not the same thing, of course, but they are inextricably connected: our thanks are a response to God’s grace. Although I would locate the grace in the work of Christ, rather than Mary, I love the idea that a church “delle Grazie” might refer (if I’m not confused about the Italian) both to God’s manifold grace (or graces) in Christ, and to the thanks of his people, the body of Christ—as expressed generation after generation in the joyous worship in the church.

April 6, 2010

Implicit and Explicit Christian Scholarship--Skeel

In his characteristically wise contribution to the Stuntz conference, Mike Seidman posed the question of why so many of Bill’s influential criminal procedure articles make no references to the Bible or Christianity. Why, he asks, do they look so much like articles written by non-Christian scholars?

One possibility is that Bill hides his faith in order to make the articles more palatable to secular scholars. Seidman rejects this as completely inconsistent with Bill’s character, and he also rejects a second possible explanation, that Christianity does not really have anything to add. 
 
Seidman proposes a very different explanation: Christian humility. Because Scripture does not give a single, clear answer to many legal and political issues, better not to wield it as a weapon in the debates.
 
I think this is a subtle and persuasive insight. But I also think there may be two more explanations for the absence of explicit Christian reference in work by Bill and other Protestant legal scholars in the 1980s and 1990s. First, unlike for Catholic scholars, there weren’t a large number of role models—there weren’t lots of Protestant scholars integrating their faith into scholarship in criminal law or corporate law or other areas. There were some, but there certainly weren’t lots, and I can’t think of any in Bill’s field. Fortunately this is rapidly changing.
 
The second explanation is quite different. Top notch Christian scholarship isn’t always scholarship with explicitly Christian ideas. The author’s faith may be more a question of how the scholar chooses and explores the ideas, than of the particular position he or she ultimately takes. This is something Bill has written about, as has C.S. Lewis.
 

July 16, 2010

Veritas Riff--Skeel

I’m the elder statesmen—actually, old guy would be more accurate—in a really interesting initiative called Veritas Riff that is designed to train a group of young and mid-career Christian scholars to write and speak more publicly. 

This little column describes our initial meetings in Cambridge, MA last month. A great fringe benefit of the timing and location was having the chance to catch up over dinner with Bill, his wife Ruth and their son Andy. Bill was about to start the new chemo regimen, but there was a lot of laughter nonetheless, and of course an idea or two to borrow and turn into blog posts more interesting than anything I would come up with on my own.

August 24, 2010

Evangelizing on the Job--Skeel

In the same issue of the New York Times Magazine with the story about Jeff Arnett and emerging adulthood this Sunday, there was a remarkably offensive (for me at least) column by the “The Ethicist” Randy Cohen.  A reader had gotten an EKG done by a technician who’d said, among other things, “Only divine creation could have created such an organ” (the heart), and asked whether he or she should report this to the technician’s boss.

Cohen’s ultimate advice seemed reasonable to me: yes, the reader may (he said, should) report the conversation, but the boss’s response hopefully would not be more severe than “reminding the technician to be alert to the patient’s feelings.” But he stuck in several tasteless jibes at Christianity—a reference to “the biblical injunction to put to death those who work on the Sabbath” and a concluding jab about heart disease: “surely that, too, is God’s handiwork, or does he only get credit for the design successes?”  I wasn’t sure whether Cohen is ignorant about religion—and got his talking points from the new atheism books—or simply trying to be provocative, and doing so with precisely the kind of offensive manner he warns against with his advice.
 
I also found myself thinking about what the technician should do.  If she felt called to evangelize overtly as she performed her job, she might risk losing her job.  In my view that would be the price of her faith (as with Peter and the apostles in Acts 5, when they say that have no choice but to speak of Christ, even if compelled not to), rather than a reason to sue. But I suspect most of us would conclude that it’s appropriate to be discreet about when and how we share our faith, which may mean being a bit more subtle in the EKG room and saving the boldness for elsewhere.

October 5, 2010

Franzen's Freedom--Skeel

Just as the tsunami of attention for Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom began, I was looking for a topic for a Christian Legal Society talk at Penn Law School. As a result, I found myself, for almost the first time ever, reading a trendy book while it was still trendy.

The story centers on a couple named Walter and Patty Berglund, and their children Joey and Jessica. Walter is initially a lawyer at 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota, and later works for several environmental organizations. Patty is a former second team All-America basketball player at the University of Minnesota. The “freedom” in the title refers both to the Bush era promotion of free markets and political freedom, and to the characters’ efforts to find freedom from their relational commitments—Patty through a tryst with Richard Katz, a cool rock star who is Walter’s best friend from college; Joey by moving next door to live with his girlfriend and her despised Republican family. 

An aside: the reviews I’ve seen invariably mention Franzen’s explicit references to War and Peace. I assume that Walter’s name is intended to echo James Thurber’s Walter Mitty (another frustrated dreamer); and Walter’s young Bengalese love interest Lalitha calls Nabokov’s Lolita to mind in ways both obvious and subtle.
 
Christianity plays only a tiny role in Freedom, in the form of a somewhat caricatured evangelical character who comes in at the very end of the novel. (Judaism figures slightly more prominently, when Joey gets mixed up with a neo-con character). But Franzen’s repeated suggestion that freedom isn’t everything we might imagine it to be made me think of the Apostle Paul’s discourse on freedom in Romans 6. 
 
For Franzen’s characters, escape from a relationship invariably brings its own unfreedom, accompanied by its own unhappiness. The disillusionment usually involves sex, but my favorite illustration comes in a minor scene involving Walter’s visit with a brother who was dashing and disdainful of Walter in his youth, but has had three wives and is now nearly destitute. When the brother tells Walter that he stays out of his kids’ lives because he’s only capable of caring for himself, Walter says, “You’re a free man.”
 
Paul too teaches that the “freedom” we’re tempted to imagine is illusory. Those who reject the Gospel may be free from its strictures, he says, but they are slaves to sin. The Gospel offers us freedom from sin, but requires a commitment to Christ. The Bible offers a very different conclusion than Franzen’s characters, of course: while the wages of sin is death, Paul says at the end of Romans 6, “the free gift of Christ is eternal life.”
 
What can those of us who rejoice in “the free gift of Christ” learn from a novel like Freedom? The novel should prompt us to ask whether we’re living as if Christ is our real freedom, or whether we’re putting too much hope in political or relational freedom.
 
Borrowing from comments I’d heard at church several weeks earlier, I suggested two very practical steps the students might take to deepen their commitment to the freedom offered by Christ. The first is to think seriously about the importance of the Sabbath, and of taking time away from studies and work to be with God’s people. The second is to become involved in a local church, even if they are only here temporarily. Both are deeply countercultural, and often especially challenging for students.
 
Needless to say, the advice applies to me and to many of you, too.
 
 

January 6, 2011

Should You Buy a New Atheist Book?--Skeel

I’ve been thinking for some time about reading Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great. I’m on a trip to California at the moment, and now would be the perfect time to load it onto my new Kindle. (Actually, my wife’s new Christmas-present-from-me Kindle, but that’s a different story). My only hesitation is a hesitation about buying, and thus contributing to the success of, a book that attacks my faith. Should I? My tentative answer is that I wouldn’t pay money for a book that seems destructive of reasonable discussion of these issues, any more than I would pay money for pornography. I personally think Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are charlatans on these issues, and wouldn’t buy their atheism books. Hitchens, on the other hand, seems much more morally serious to me. I’ll probably be reading his book on the plane home.

January 15, 2011

Oxford--Skeel

I’m at the end of a very Oxford-y stay in Oxford for an insolvency conference—gray skies and drizzle, everyone whooshing by on Mary Poppins bicycles.

Thursday night I had a pint of ale with a friend in the Eagle and Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings used to set up shop a few decades ago. I brought C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory and Other Essays” with me, and finally ordered Christopher Hitchen’s “God is Not Great on my (I’m mean, Sharon’s) Kindle last night. It doesn’t seem at all surprising that Lewis, Hitchens and Richard Dawkins all have deep Oxford connections.
 
More on Hitchens soon. I’ve read the first chapter and so far still find Hitchens more morally serious than his fellow atheists, though locked in a worldview that I find hard to fully understand. One line in the first chapter that struck me: “I have probably sat up later, and longer, with religious friends than any other kind.” I believe him, and can easily imagine one or more of those conversations taking place at the Eagle and Child—a long narrow pub with the bar in the first section, then several more sections with tables and loud conversation.
 
I mentioned to Bill that I was re-reading “The Weight of Glory,” and he emailed back that it’s his favorite Lewis essay. This didn’t surprise me, as I remember Bill quoting in one of his essays a famous Lewis passage about our preoccupation with drink and sex and ambition, and neglect of the awesome promises of the Gospels, being like “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
 
It’s my very favorite Lewis writing too. I first heard about the essay in a sermon by James Montgomery Boice, a former pastor of our church. The first time I read it, it didn’t make a great impression. The second time I read it, I was absolutely bowled over.
 
I had long wondered what Paul meant by the “weight of glory.” It seemed counterintuitive that glory would have weight. But of course it does, as Lewis’s essay brilliantly brings out. I think of it as a little like first learning to ride a bike. At the lower gears, it’s easy to pedal but you don’t go fast. The high gears are impossible at first. But if you work up to them (the theologians would call this sanctification) you gradually can use higher or higher gears, which propel you faster and more powerfully than you ever imagined.

April 9, 2011

Bell's Hell--Skeel

I’ve just finished reading Love Wins, a book by Rob Bell that has stirred considerable controversy among evangelicals because of Bell’s suggestion (coyly framed more in questions than in direct statements) that hell doesn’t exist and everyone (possibly with a few rare exceptions) will be accepted by God. 

I read much of the book in a Borders in Augusta, Georgia (alas, several weeks before the Masters started), and the rest in a Borders outside of Philadelphia. The second Borders has a sign on the door saying “Rumors of our demise are exaggerated. Our landlord rocks.   We aren’t going anywhere.” I didn’t want to buy the book, so I tried to offer a little support for Borders by buying a few extras with my coffee—mostly cookies.
 
In my view, Bell rightly criticizes the suggestion that the rest of a person’s life is irrelevant so long as she asks Jesus for forgiveness, and the tendency to assume we can know a person’s eternal destiny (Gandhi, in this case).  But his story doesn’t seem quite true to Scripture.
 
Bell’s exegesis of the parable of the Prodigal Son nicely summarizes the perspective that runs through the book. According to Bell, the prodigal son had one story for his life—he had squandered his inheritance and didn’t deserve his father’s love; while the father had another story—that he would never stop loving the son and would welcome him back with open arms. Bell seems to suggest that that we should simply discard the first story and embrace the second, and that hell is the misery we experience if we refuse to accept God’s retelling of our story.
 
In my view, treating the two stories are unrelated misses an important dimension of the beauty of the salvation offered to us in Christ. The first story isn’t irrelevant. It’s true. We don’t deserve the Father’s love. But so is the second story, that the Father loves us nonetheless.
 
The same point can be made in another way, using the language of debt that Jesus so often used. Suppose I learn that a major debt of mine has been forgiven. If it turns out I didn’t really owe the debt (I was mistaken about the obligation, say, or I was defrauded into incurring it), this is nice news. But it’s nicer by far, almost too good to be true, if I truly owe the debt, but someone (perhaps the creditor himself) decides to pay it on my behalf. 
 
If our sins were “simply irrelevant,” as Bell says in the same chapter, the love the Father offers us would be sweet. But how much sweeter it is when we know both that our sins do matter, and that the price has been paid by Jesus.
 

May 21, 2011

The Cost of Camping--Skeel

The first thing to note about Harold Camping’s prediction that the world will end later today is that it is possible the world will indeed end today. When Scripture says no one knows the hour or the day, I take that to mean that no day is off limits. But it exceedingly unlikely that Camping’s half-baked calculations will accidentally correspond to the date the Lord has picked for his return.

It is hard to escape the suspicion that Camping’s conclusion that these are the end times—which he appears to fervently and honestly believe—is conveniently timed to correspond to his own advancing age. Few among us do not share the wish to be spared the mortal indignity of death.
 
My first reaction when I heard about Camping’s prediction several months ago was to worry about the potential damage to Christianity of such dubious prophesies being given its name. But those concerns seem unfounded. Even those who have little interest in Christianity or are hostile to the faith recognize that Camping’s views are heretical and far from the mainstream.
 
Perhaps today is more an opportunity than a danger for the rest of us. No doubt there are aspects of our own faith—both individually and as a body of believers—that reflect personal or cultural convenience, and are at odds with the actual teaching and example of Christ. While there’s never a bad day to reflect on these things, today seems an especially good one.

July 31, 2011

Jesus Loves Me and Day by Day--Skeel

Watching a local production of Godspell, the 1971 musical based loosely on the Gospel of Matthew, I found myself thinking of the similarities between “Jesus Loves Me,” the ubiquitous Sunday School and church song, and “Day by Day,” the most famous song from the musical. Both are simple, strongly rhymed, and centered on the singer’s relationship with Jesus.

I’ve always disliked “Jesus Loves Me.” My first memory of the song/hymn dates back to college, when an intellectual, progressive minister told us that Karl Barth, when asked to name the most profound theological insight he knew, said “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I couldn’t agree more with Barth that it all comes down to Jesus. But somehow he seemed to be slumming it. The song has always struck me as caught uncomfortably between the worlds of children and adults, much like the “children’s sermon” in a church.
 
“Day by Day” is even simpler, repeating the same lines: “Oh dear Lord/ three things I pray/To see thee more clearly/love thee more dearly/follow thee more nearly.” Yet I’ve always found it profoundly moving, and unavoidably worshipful.  Perhaps I’m betraying a little envy of those who came of age in the 1960s—Godspell has a distinctly 1960s flavor, at least to me—but “Day by Day” seems to get close to the heart of my faith.
 

February 26, 2012

Odds and Ends--2012

In case anyone might be interested, here are a few recent op-eds and articles:

Op-Eds:

A recent op-ed on the mortgage settlements is here.

An op-ed from the beginning of the contraception crisis (before the more recent "compromise" from the Obama administration) is here.

 

Articles

An essay on the implications for law of the writings of the theologian Stanley Hauerwas is here.

 

 

The Latest on Bill and his Work

Here is a lovely article in the Boston Globe about Bill's rush to finish The Collapse of American Criminal Justice in the final months of his life.

Adam Gopnik discusses Bill's book in some detail in the a New Yorker piece (here) from late last month (which I'd missed but a friend just forwarded).

I will post additional articles and reviews, including an essay of Bill's called "Law and Grace" that will be published in April, in this space as they appear.