Presented without comment.
“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
-Pope Benedict XVI
As you’ve no doubt heard, Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation, effective at the end of this month. This marks him as the first pope in modern times to step away from the See of St. Peter. Indeed, the first one to do so since the end of the great Western Schism in the 1400s. It is a historic moment for the Catholic Church and, as always at these times, an opportunity for it to define itself anew with its choice of leadership. A great deal of electronic ink will be spilled in the next few weeks over the potential candidates to replace Joseph Ratzinger. A return to an Italian Pope? An American? An African or Asian? What about someone young and in the prime of their life? A theological conservative or someone more progressive? The intrigue will be intense.
On this day, though, I simply want to reflect on the legacies of Benedict and his predecessor at the end of their respective tenures. For John Paul II, resignation was never an option. Literally growing old and dying before the world, he soldiered on in his post in some sense, I think, to identify with the sufferings of Christ and those of the world. I’ve heard it said that he wanted to show how a Christian dies…and that he did. I see Christ in that.
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23)
For Benedict XVI, the end of his tenure is much more about how a Christian lives. He leaves his position still in relative command of his faculties, but with the realization that he is beginning to walk down the end of life’s hallway. Rather than hamstring the Church by his decreasing capacity to lead it, he is making the honorable–and humble–decision to step aside. We all wonder whether we’ll be able to realize when we are too old to do our jobs. If we’ll be able to give up our freedom, release our stubborn independence, give up that drivers’s license, rely on someone else, or just step away. If we have that in us. Well, the most powerful religious figure in the world is giving it up because it is time. I see Christ in that.
In your relationships with one another,
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something
to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
As a part of the “Faculty, Faith, and Learning” course I am taking as a second-year faculty member, I was asked to comment on the following questions: “Assess previous courses you have taught at NU. What are examples of assignments that demonstrate learning informed by faith? What would you do to adjust the assignment in the future?”
Here are my thoughts:
When I think about assignments I have given that illustrate learning informed by faith, there are two in particular that immediately stand out.
The first is from my junior-level course entitled “Introduction to Youth and Family Ministry.” There, the final semester project is a “Personal Theology of Youth Ministry” that each student writes. Ostensibly meant to integrate the core of their personal convictions informed by experience, theological training, and the biblical text, this project has a practical portion as well. Students are asked to consider not only what a youth ministry should be about, but what such commitments mean in the way that a youth ministry will be operated.
Though the linkage of faith and learning can sometimes be rather close in the ministry world anyway, I believe this project brings together the two sides in the best traditions of practical theology. As I move forward, I think it will make sense to take a few sessions of the course to use as “workshop” days to help students think through the ideas upon which they will be writing. Further, I’m excited that, even now, I’m working to integrate this assignment in our senior-level capstone course in youth ministry, where the goal will be to revise this document and make it a foundational part of a ministry portfolio for use with potential church employers.
On the Church History side of things, I ask students to complete a series of short 2-page papers based on various primary sources readings (Luther, Calvin, etc.). Within, they are asked to briefly summarize the reading, offer some comment on its historical context, talk about what they find interesting, and ask one question for classroom discussion. The attempt here is to help students not only understand the reading, but to connect it in some way to their lives.
This attempt is not always successful, and I’m wondering if perhaps I need to clarify what I mean when I ask them to comment on what they find “interesting.” Perhaps a more focused question concerning how the principles contained in each document persist today or how they resonate with the students’ own faith perspective. The goal would be to take what seems “strange” or “old” in the history of Christianity and help students understand not only how fellow Christians could think or act in such ways, but how their faith is in some ways connected with ours. This kind of temporal ecumenism and dialogue can be very interesting and helpful, I think, for students’ learning, retention, and–possibly–transformation.
Together with my ministry class “Principles and Methods of Teaching” I am reading James Fowler’s book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. I had read a part of the book in a seminary course years ago, and was so impressed at that time that I assigned to rest of it for this course.
After reading the first five chapters, I am no less impressed with the work. Fowler begins by laying deep foundations for the discussion of the idea of faith (whatever that might be) and as he does he hits some vitally important points. He draws a sharp distinction, for instance between the concept of “belief” and “faith.” Belief, he says, has come to have a relatively technical meaning related to an acceptance of certain propositions, while faith connotes the much deeper sense of “setting one’s heart” after a thing. Belief, in others words, is a cold thing. Faith is always warm.
This largely tracks with my understanding of faith. It reminds me (as Fowler literally did) of Jesus telling us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (John 6:21). It calls to mind Luther’s understanding of faith not as fides (belief) but fiducia (trust). That we do not believe randomly into the thin air, but believe in Someone.
I think here of the classic sermon illustration (whether true or not) of the tightrope walker over Niagara Falls. He could do no wrong, it seemed. As the crowds gathered to watch he called to them asking if they believed he could cross over carrying a man on his back. “Yes!,” they cried. Well then, he asked, “Who will go with me?”
That second question? That’s the question of faith.
Is faith a blind leap? There are mysterious elements to faith, certainly. But faith is more than just grasping straws. It is a grasping on something real. A call to not just guess, but know. Faith is not just belief, or a set of beliefs. It is, as Fowler might say, the foundation for our being.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
As I continue my series on the amendments to the United States Constitution, I come today to the Fourth. As with the others, it deals with a basic American freedom that remains important today. Like the Third Amendment, it reminds us that the government should not and does not have complete power. No one person or collection of people (in this case the government) can walk over the person/rights/property of another without a darned good reason. Might, in other words, does not make right.
Issues of national security have in particular tested this principle in the past decade, and questions about its practical application remain. Let, like the other amendments, the fact that it exists provides for a necessary pause or period of reflection that is essential to the continuation of a free society.
Thinking a little deeper, though, I wonder if sometimes various partisans apply different levels of strenuousness to the amendments. For some , bearing arms (2nd) with little limitation is held as an inviolable axiom. So too the fact that the government has no right to control their property (3rd). Yet when it comes to “offensive” free speech or warrants for terror suspects, they might be a little more lenient. For others, it is easy to imagine an almost inversion of this: the supposed inviolability of 1st and 4th Amendments, with the 2nd being a bit more negotiable. And then there’s this: the sense that these amendments are always meant to work in our favor, but on occasion ought not to be applied to “others.”
Perhaps I’ve created some “straw men” here and ought not to have. (After even a little reflection, I do think I have.) Short-form blogs can, after all, favor the simplistic. But the question remains: are we willing to consider whether we apply different methods of interpretation or application to different portions of our nation’s Constitution…and, if so, why?
I can imagine that good reasons exist. Whether they do or not, let’s talk about this.
I had a good time last night as a judge for our student film festival. The event was a part of the school’s “Screaming Eagles Week,” a student spirit week featuring numerous competitions. Last night’s featured each dorm floor (and a collection of those off-campus) sharing a self-made music video according to a certain pop-culture theme (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.). Some of the videos were…better than others, but overall it was a lot of fun.
If our world of higher education does indeed change and the residential undergraduate experience begins to fade away, it is times like these I’ll miss. Inasmuch as college is about training, education, and cultivating a way of thinking, it’s also about all this too. The community of laughter, fellowship, and well, beautiful nonsense.
Below are two of the films. If I get more I’ll add them.
Another busy day today, I’m afraid. Committee work, teaching, grading, a faculty meeting, and all the other sorts of things that occupy a professor’s time. Plus: tonight I’ve been invited by some of the students to be a judge for the student Film Festival.
I assume the “films” will be on the order of short videos, and I of course have no real experience with the technical aspects of such undertaking, but I look forward to it. When time does allow, one of the exciting things about being a college professor is simply getting to know one’s students. They come in all kinds, surely…but if I didn’t like them, I would wonder why I got into this in the first place!
Depending on how it all transpires, I’ll report back tomorrow on the results of the cinematic experiences I’m about to undergo. Let me know if you have any pointers…
1. A site selling classy and artistically rendered prints based on 1960s Star Trek episodes. Did I buy any? I’ll never tell.
2. In addition to all the other bacon-flavored products out there, apparently there’s even bacon syrup. This would make for fascinating (and disgusting) soda!
3. No two snowflakes may look alike, but apparently they can be awfully similar! Take a look at this collection of strangers that look like twins. (P.S. I think they’re mostly French-Canadians, which may have something to do with it.)
4. Lastly, a recent study shows that 25% of Americans believe that God influences who wins at sports.
Until tomorrow, then, adieu!
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, only in time of a war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Our occasional series on constitutional amendments has now brought us to the Third. Much less controversial in our present day than either of the previous, its principles seem almost quaint by comparison. If memory serves, the law was passed in reaction to the “quartering” practices of the our nation’s former British overlords. It’s that simple.
Though not regularly discussed today, the Third Amendment like its two earlier counterparts helps codify the importance of personal boundaries and freedom inviolable by any authority. No longer could any government–especially the Americans’ brand new one–run roughshod over the personal property of United States citizens.
The Third Amendment restores a Lockean sense of “property” as one of our fundamental rights after it had been rhetorically elided by Thomas Jefferson in his peaean to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. We mostly take this right for granted in modern America, yet have this amendment and its freedom-based thinking to thank for it. Though like all amendments it has faced various levels of interpretation over time, this seems to to the basis for requiring search warrants and even standing on the porch with a shotgun yelling “get off my property!”
And, of course, there’s nothing more truly American than that.
There’s been some criticism of the BBC show Downton Abbey for being a bit of a soap opera. I agree in some ways, especially when contrived plots (the deus ex machina of both money troubles and solutions, a legal drama over a man being framed for murder, and an excessively drawn out romance) can sometimes fill up space. In sum, however, I feel that the central theme of the show remains sound: tradition versus “progress.” As a seriously acted and interesting reflection on living lives in a changing and ever-more-alien world, it both resonates with the American experience of the early 21st century and many individuals families in these uncertain times.
Further, even at its most dramatic the show can remain quite grounded in an realistic depiction of its characters and historical period. Consider, for instance, the recently jilting of Lady Edith at the altar. Though certainly played for emotion, the way we regular watchers have gotten to know her over the past 2 seasons made the her loss all the more weighty. Her emerging life as a “modern woman” fits well with the times, as does the awareness that so many young men her age were lost in the Great War.
And there there’s last night’s heartbreaking episode. Quite unexpectedly, the Grantham’s youngest daughter Sybil died following childbirth. The death scene was painful to watch, as all the family gathered helplessly as her young life convulsively ebbed before their very eyes. Such a death seems rather unlikely to us in our world of modern medicine, but in some parts of the world today and throughout the overwhelmingly majority of human history, birth and death often mingled together in similarly unfortunate–and sudden–ways. The way the family began to mourn following her passing was hard to watch…but it was authentically honest about the human emotions contained in such a loss. Most devastating was a scene when the aged Dowager Countess–normally witty and cantankerous–walked slowly down a hallway carrying the emotional weight of Sybil’s loss together with all those experienced over her long years.
It is moments–and times–like these that make Downton more than just a soap opera. At its best, it is a picture of human life in all its contingency…and for all the honesty about our complex and broken world that involves, I appreciate it.