Odds and Evens

  As we start Lent, here are some links for your thoughtful reading, beginning with one of mine and getting better after that.

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    “Death and AI and Resurrection” takes off from a political ad in the 2022 election featuring a teenaged boy, who had been killed in a school shooting, asking the viewers to vote against gun violence on his behalf since he is unable to vote himself. The ad was made by the use of AI. I reference an essay in The New Atlantis that argued this is a moral-line-crossing done by AI, that the dead should be allowed to be dead. I wonder why, which leads me to some interesting thoughts by Herbert McCabe (and a link to a sermon of his, on BBC TV in the day), on how our anger at human death reflects our desire for the resurrection. It’s all too much, surely, for a mere thousand words, but I had fun writing it. https://humanlifereview.com/death-and-ai-and-resurrection/

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    “‘Lord’ Is an Indispensable Word” is by an Episcopal priest on the tendency to avoid the word “Lord” in our more recent prayers. Fr. Adam Linton writes: “To call Jesus Lord . . . doesn’t come naturally to any of us. That we should be able to call him Lord, with all that this is meant to mean, is itself God’s gift: a gracious, providential, and mysterious gift; given to us through the power of the Spirit. There’s a reason that the church’s earliest creed — and still its most fundamental creed — is precisely ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9).” I have noted the tendency to avoid this word in contemporary hymnody and some praise music; it is, I think, a tendency worth resisting. But more so, knowing we have the gift of calling upon our Lord is worth prayer and wonder during Lent. https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2024/02/01/lord-is-an-indispensable-word/

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    Canadian priest Dane Neufeld begins “Consecrated Reading” with a childhood memory of finding, early in the morning, his father in his recliner reading his Bible. He wonders what unintended message he sends his children if they find him reading his Bible—from his cellphone. They obviously won’t know that he is reading Scripture; the image they will have is no different from one of him catching news or scrolling ads. His essay interestingly teases out the good and the bad of technology. A sample: “Though it would be difficult to measure, it is not clear to me that the proliferation of Bible apps and online Bible platforms have increased or deepened scriptural knowledge among God’s people. The opposite actually seems true: we have become scattered, distracted and impatient readers of Scripture, at a time when a singularity of purpose is most needed.” I thought: maybe I should, at least for Lent, read the day’s Scriptures from a physical Bible. https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2024/01/31/consecrated-reading/

    Finally, I recommend a reading of “Uncle Tom or New Negro? A Black Episcopalian’s Reflections on Booker T. Washington.” The Rev. Dr. Brandt Montgomery starts with the basic disagreement between Washington and W. E. DuBois. Montgomery’s view is not simply dismissive of Washington as an accommodationist, but neither does he agree with him completely. He sees no reason DuBois and Washington (and their respective followers) could not have worked cooperatively, writing that if such had happened “The Black community could have seen much earlier how the struggle for full equality needs both the technically minded and the intellectual and how one’s pull toward the other does not determine if one is ‘Black enough.’” I first met Montgomery when he was the seminarian at Saint Thomas in New York City, and I continue to be impressed by his work. (And I would say this even if he didn’t give me a shout-out!) https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2024/02/06/uncle-tom-or-new-negro-a-black-episcopalians-reflections-on-booker-t-washington/

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    Out & About. Harold Fry receives a note from Queenie, the first he has heard from her in twenty years. She is dying. He manages to write a note in return: Thank you for your letter. I am very sorry. That’s all. How British, one thinks. He puts it in an envelope. He walks to the mailbox at the end of his street. But instead of mailing it, he keeps the letter and walks on to the next mailbox . . . and then to the next. With no other preparation and for reasons he himself cannot understand, he has set out to walk from his home in southwest England to her hospice in Scotland. We will discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a novel by Rachel Joyce, on March 10 at Good Books & Good Talk. Read it and come to our discussion at 5 p.m. that Sunday at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas.

    Lenten Programs. Two churches are having special programs based on my little book A Post-Covid Catechesis, and I will be at the first class of each next week. Tuesday, February 20, St. Stephen’s in Sherman, Tex., at 6 p.m., I’ll speak and have Q&A on God as Creator. Similarly on Wednesday, February 21, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, where the class will be at 7 p.m., preceded by Stations at 6 and light supper at 6:30. Everyone is welcome to either of these (and both will continue weekly, for five sessions). The point of the book and these classes is for us to grasp five basic Christian teachings that are important for our time.

 

 


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Walking Before God

 We have come to the end of the Abraham story in Genesis, having worked through it these past several weeks in Morning Prayer. Each time I read Genesis, I find new things I’ve never noticed before. 

    Robert Sacks (whose commentary, The Lion and the Ass, is simply amazing) showed me that in Genesis 17 there is something new. Most of the stories about Abraham have to do with his being educated by God in the ways of being a founder of the New Way. Abraham has to learn how to found a tradition, how to be a political leader, how to pass on a tradition to the next generation, and so on. Yet all that is not enough. Quite apart from his public role, he must be also, personally, a good character. This is what God calls for at the beginning of chapter 17: “Walk before me,” God says, “and be thou perfect.”

    This is a remarkable rearrangement of who stands where. I often think of God as being someone who has given me rules to follow or ideals I should seek after. Jesus says, for repeated instance, “Follow me.”

    But here it is the opposite. God wants to observe how Abraham himself walks. We’re speaking of strolling around, just ordinary walking: how does Abraham live his ordinary life? God wants Abraham to walk in his sight, to walk in his presence, and in that walking to be “perfect,” that is, to be a complete human being.

    What follows in chapter 17 is circumcision, but that is not my focus today (although it is interesting that to be complete requires a certain addition to what is given by nature). I’m pondering this notion of walking in God’s presence, walking before him (as opposed to following after him). Because for the first time last week I noticed these words on the mouth of Abraham’s servant, who has gone back to Abraham’s original homeland, back to the family of his left-behind brother, to get a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son. This servant, explaining his mission, quotes what Abraham said to him. “The LORD,before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father’s house” (Gen. 24:40).

    This is the only time Abraham states that his life is a walking before God. By saying so Abraham here unites the personal and the public in at least two ways. First is by the name he uses for God. When God appeared to Abraham in chapter 17 he called himself “the Almighty God,” which is generally a more universal term. “LORD,” which he uses when commissioning his servant in chapter 24, is the special Name of God summoning Abraham to his role as founder. Secondly and more substantively, the mission of Abraham’s servant is critical to the public role of Abraham, that he successfully pass it on what God has started in him to the next generation. It is on the mission to find Isaac a wife that Abraham tells his servant that he walks before God.

    In short, Abraham cannot complete his public role of founding a new people without being personally a righteous man whose daily walk is ever in God’s sight.

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    The short lesson for us is clear. We are fools to think our public and our private lives need not hang together (contemporary politics to the contrary notwithstanding). And the lesson was right there, waiting to be seen in Genesis 24.

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    Out & About. Thus Sunday, February 11, the last after Epiphany, I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas at the 9 and 11:15 a.m. Eucharists. 

    Later that same Sunday, namely at 5 p.m., the Good Books & Good Talk seminar will discuss The BFG by Roald Dahl. You are welcome to join us. We will meet at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, in the Great Hall as usual: the sidewalks have been poured and are now useable from the parking lot around the church entrance to the Great Hall.

    Lenten programs: I will be leading the first class on A Post-Covid Catechesis at St. Stephen’s Church in Sherman, Tex., on Tuesday, February 20. They are doing a five-session class on this little book; the first chapter is on the adventure that begins when we believe God is the creator of everything. Even things like the Covid virus? The class meets at 6 p.m.; everyone is welcome.

    And at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, I will be leading a similar five-session class, starting Wednesday, February 21, at 6 p.m. The schedule at the cathedral is Stations of the Cross at 6 p.m., lenten supper at 6:30, and my talk with Q&A at 7; all over by 8. So—Sherman or Dallas, you’re welcome at either!

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: