Ethics and More

For my readers in the Dallas area, here’s an invitation to take a seminary-level fundamental moral theology course this fall. The course is Nashotah House’s MT501, Ethics and Moral Theology. You could take it for credit or audit. We’ll look at basic questions that arise when theology meets ethics, reading books by Daniel Westberg, Servais Pinckaers, and Oliver O’Donovan, with supplementary work in the Scriptures, the early church, Ellen Charry, and Flannery O’Connor.
    The class will meet on most Mondays, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Sept. 16 through Dec. 16, at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas. It is not an online class: part of its appeal is getting together with other students and a professor to have the irreplaceable give-and-take of in-person conversation.
    Registration is through Nashotah House as a visiting student ( I can send a direct link—and of course would be glad to answer questions.
    On the web. My sermon on “Fear not”—the first words of God to Abram in Genesis 15, and the first words of Jesus to his followers at Luke 12:32—is here: ... If it’s good news that the Father want to give us the kingdom, what is there to be afraid of?

    What Theologians Read. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet is (it turns out) a serious exploration of sin—original and actual. She makes the pattern of sin clear. People always have freedom to choose differently, and re-shape the pattern of things. So (although the novel never uses these words) original sin never takes away individual choice. I am not persuaded that time travel is analogous to travel through space, despite her beautiful suggestions that such could be so. To go back to 1865, say, is simply impossible, whereas going back to Oklahoma isn’t, notwithstanding that every place we go back to is different than it used to be. (I may write more about this later.)
    I have just devoured The Blink of an Eye by Rikke Schmidt Kjaergaard (yes, she’s Danish). It’s a memoir of a sudden, nearly catastrophic infection that put the author in a coma and nearly killed her. She was “locked in” and able, when she first started to emerge from her coma, only to control her eyes, to blink. It reminds me of the amazing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby wrote his memoir by blinking, with the patient assistance of his therapist. He never recovered further, however, whereas Kjaergaard did. She has certain fragilities; her body bears the marks of her illness in her hands (she lost most of her fingers). But, as her young son says at the end, she has “the most beautiful hands in the world.” That is surely true.
    I will probably write more about this book also. Personally, it brought to mind my own experience as the husband of one who was in a hospital and not responsive; there is a lot of wisdom and encouragement here for people in such positions. Yet it seems to me a very “European” book (Bauby’s is European in this sense also): it is a book in which Christianity never appears. There is no God, no presence with us, no hope of resurrection. There is lots of wisdom, but no divine dimension to things. It’s not as if God is argued against; he just isn’t there.
    I thought: the author has had an experience like that which came over Job. And her end is like Job’s also, in that it is a resumption, in an entirely new register, of human community, and a recognition that all we have together is more important than anything else—the reordering of our priorities to communion above all. But unlike Job, no God question, no God questioning. And that strikes me as a lamentable emptiness.
    What Theologians Eat. In an email recently I mentioned being at the Teahouse on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, where I had a “paleo eggs Benedict”: slices of grilled eggplant, topped with brisket, topped with poached eggs, covered with a red-chile-infused sauce. I’m Texan enough to be excited whenever I see brisket, and I thought: If this be paleoism, sign me up!
    Well—lots of Santa Fe lovers in Dallas asked me about it, but one person said: I’ve been there and I ate that and it was truly good. She also recommends the coffees and teas, which alas I did not have time to enjoy.
    I remember being at an ethics conference where the meals were all vegetarian by default. Dessert at the banquet was a thick slab of so-called New York cheesecake. A little cheesecake goes a long way with me. I saw some people getting a luscious chocolaty thing, and asked about it. “That’s for the vegans,” I was told. I wonder: could I be a paleotarian and a vegan at the same time? Or maybe paleo for the main course, vegan for dessert?

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."