Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Guthrie's 2 Corinthians

Another short book review for NetGalley: George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Baker Academic, 2015).

It's difficult to summarize a commentary as detailed as this in only a few words, so I will focus here on just a few short passages in this fine book from Guthrie. 

First, on Paul's use of triumphal imagery (a word-picture that draws from the Roman Empire's victory parades): Guthrie makes a strong argument that "Paul actually distinguishes himself and his ministry from those who 'are being destroyed,' who are spiritually aligned with death, a point that speaks quite loudly against the interpretation that he sees himself as represented by the captives in the triumphal procession." I'm not entirely convinced, as I think the "captives" interpretation agrees with Paul's theology of suffering in 2 Cor (and throughout his letters, for that matter) in ways that remain underappreciated in the church; but Guthrie's argument may yet change my mind as I continue to reflect on it.

Second, concerning Paul's statement that "as long as we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord" (2 Cor 5:6): I appreciate Guthrie's sensitive treatment of Paul's theology here. He skilfully unpacks what Paul is (and is not) saying by using words like endēmeō ("to be at home"/"in a familiar place") and its opposite, ekdēmeō (to be away, in an unfamiliar place; the alien-ness of this term could have used more elaboration): "So long as Paul is 'at home' in his mortal body, he is 'away from' the presence of the Lord. This does not mean that Paul doubts the presence of Christ, through the Spirit, in the believer's life prior to death or at the parousia [the return of Christ]," but rather that our relationship with Christ "will change both spatially and qualitatively at death and will be consummated at the resurrection from the dead." As I've been wrestling with this passage in Paul, personally and theologically, off and on for the past few months, I deeply appreciate Guthrie's thoughtful engagement with what Paul means by absence and presence. 

Third, one of Guthrie's introductory statements proves helpful throughout the reading of the commentary as a whole: "one approach to grasping the book's reason for being is to analyze the relational network reflected in its pages." This is put simply enough, but Guthrie unfolds this statement into the relationships between (1) Paul and his God, (2) Paul and the Corinthians (in keeping with the ministry and sphere of influence God assigned to him: 2 Cor 10:13-14, as Guthrie notes), and (3) Paul and his opponents at Corinth (including, of course, attendant disagreements about what true apostleship looks like). As he begins to chart the ways in which these relationships intertwine and inform one another, and the ramifications of each, we begin to suspect what the rest of the commentary goes on to prove: Guthrie is offering us a reading of 2 Corinthians that will keep us prayerfully reflecting -- and faithfully responding! -- for quite some time. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath

Another short book review for NetGalley: Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (Study Edition; Paraclete, 2015).

I've only read snippets of Lauren Winner's work before, so I was happy to read this new Study Edition -- some 50 pages longer than the 2003 edition, thanks to more endnotes, multiple sidebars, and reflection/discussion questions. In the introduction to this edition, Winner points out that although "study" itself could have been added on as a twelfth chapter, instead it "threads" throughout as a further invitation, echoing the book's new subtitle. It's a little difficult to tell from the advance proof, but I think this idea will work well, as it offers (there's that invitation again!) greater depth and opportunities to study, without overwhelming those who wish to read more sparingly. Winner even acknowledges this, noting that she herself, her students, and her colleagues don't necessarily ruminate on the texts that they purportedly "study," but race through and even "cannibalize" their readings. She doesn't condemn that practice, but wisely offers, again, the chance to read more deeply here.

Other than the sidebars and so on, the text of the book stands much as it did in the earlier edition. Winner guides us through eleven spiritual disciplines, each informed both by her Jewish upbringing and her conversion to Christianity: sabbath, "fitting food" (kosher), mourning, hospitality, prayer, body (i.e., embodied-ness), fasting, aging, candle-lighting, wedding, and doorposts (the making or setting-apart of Christian space, drawing from the traditions of Deuteronomy 6). Winner's decision to leave her original text largely unchanged gives her readers a bittersweet window to her past -- we know that her mother will die, and that the marriage she is about to begin will end -- but that adds a rich, honest poignancy to her earlier words. And the words she adds in sidebars bring additional warmth to her invitation, and occasionally some humor, too: having noted that sabbath-keeping entails rest from the act of creating, she asks us, "What do you make" of the weekly reiteration of this ritual? With this and other pointed but hospitable questions (many of which have both individual and communal applications), Winner shows us the best of what a "study" edition can be. I highly recommend this book as a welcome reminder that the rich heritage of spiritual disciplines is an integral resource for our practice of them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Flash Fiction Wednesday: When Foxes Have No Holes

I'd already made plans for today when I saw East Coast Ink magazine's promotion of Flash Fiction Wednesday; so while I didn't have time to write a new story (600 words max., apparently), I'll post this one that qualifies, which I wrote pretty recently, as part of a much larger story cycle. The only disclaimer I'll add is that the use of meter is very deliberate: to convey a dog-like dissatisfaction with being enclosed, the narrator's voice slips in and out of (usually trochaic) meter -- and not just in the parts that are set in verse. 

“When Foxes Have No Holes”

            Bark! Bark, my kits!
            Bark across the empty space until it carries sound.
            Bark as if keen ears could hear your echoes coming home.
            Bark: the Farmers weren’t the ones who drove us from our dens, yet they fend us off and Fence us out into the dark.
            Bark! The Fence! It keeps us prowling, searching out ways In.
            Can’t you all remember how and when we met the Fence? Come! We’ll catch the tale in our paws so it can’t (yip!) escape. It begins:
            First Outfoxes saw the Fence
            (sitting there, all innocence!),
            Metal balls, misthrown and lost;
            Outside noses caught their scents:
            Lonely, shiny outcasts.
            Nosed and pawed, the balls bit back
            (in an unprovoked attack)
            There, Outfoxes learned, beware:
            Pouncing Fenceposts in the Black
            Punish those who trespass.
            And the sentries spied, we found,
            Those who sought out routes around
            Digging under, jumping o’er,
            Foxes tasted vacuum, drowned
            In the airless reaches.
            Then would all the Fenceposts speak
            In that whistling, rasping squeak
            Painful to Outfoxes’ ears,
            Squawking while we cowered, meek
            Animals, mere creatures.
            Stay, they whined. You can’t come in. There’s no controlling you. You’re uncivilized. You’re wild. You’re robbers. Now go home!
            Go home, kits? How could they?
            Driven from their planet-den by Vermin long ago, now the Fence had locked them out; they never could return. Days when kits could chase and play and loll in warm sunlight, growing into sandy-whiskered gentlemen: all gone. Even days of sauntering and hunting 'cross the stars, catching prey as chickens in their interstellar coops – never caring what it was or who it was we ate – all gone now, too, my kits!
            Soon they found that Fenceposts, like Outfoxes, like to move: discontent, unjust, their border migrates as they go. Piece by piece expanding, yip! so gradually it grew, spreading civilized space, shrinking ours; for we could sense larger predators out lurking, out beyond the stars’ firelight.
            Would the Fenceposts listen, when we whined of this?
            No, the biting toys squeaked, still you can’t come in, you dogs, good barbarians! (Bark!) Noble scavengers! Protect our border that we share. Guard our space. You’ll keep it safe from darker animals.
            What to do, my kits? What Fencepost knows nobility? Are we noble, living witless, carefree lives? And weren’t we more helpless than so many creatures, worrying bones of helplessness? But when we gnawed the problem down – so the caught tale tells – we saw what we must do to let our barks be free, be heard!
            Settle down! Now settle down! What taming irony: minding what the Farmers and their Fenceposts asked of us, settling down against the Fence, nomads no longer. Leashed our caboodles, panting ships, together, save for scouts sent to roam the Fence in search of holes or gaps, where Outfoxes might slip through. We bark! in savage protest, bark! Not so noble, but defiant: outside, barking in.
            So bark! bark! for our remembered home.
            Bark again! at those who Fence us out.
            Pant! with gnawing hunger for the day
            (Yip!) when hole is found, or hole is made,
            When Outfoxes find ways In,
            Lollop, hunt, and feast again.

            Bark, bark, my kits!