Studies in Scotland

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized
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So I’ve really neglected blogging for some time and there are a few of y’all that read this for updates on my academic, literary, and personal development. I’m very grateful for the support of so many so I wanted to throw up one such update regarding my most recent life event (after, of course, my marriage to Laura Tardie in June).

While preparing to apply to doctoral programs last fall, I discovered I had another full year left of funding on my GI Bill. I was under the impression that my MTS from Duke effectively exhausted it, but most programs I was interested in were fully funded and I therefore would not have to pay tuition any way (many theology or religion PhD programs justify funding by basically enjoying copyright privileges on any research you conduct while in their employ). The discovery of 9 more months of funding coincided with numerous commentators suggesting that spending our first year of marriage in the first year of a PhD program was not a hot idea. So Laura and I ended up switching my applications and rethinking our first year. On a hunch, I began looking at UK schools and finally applied to two (St. Andrews in Scotland and Kings College, London) with a Duke ThM as a backup plan.

I was accepted and confirmed an offer at the University of St Andrews in their Master of Letters program in the Divinity School. Originally, I was confirmed under the Scripture and Theology track, but recently switched to the Systematic and Historical Theology track instead. So shortly after our wedding, we began planning our one year move to Scotland, including all the packing, storing, and stressing that would entail. It was a lot.

But last week, after an extended and very enjoyable move away from Durham, NC, we moved into our “flat” a few blocks from St Mary’s College, the name of the divinity program at St Andrews. Classes begin in about a week, and I am finalizing all the stress-inducing details around funding, accommodation and everything else. I look forward to taking the required Origins in Christian Theology under NT Wright as well as a slew of other intriguing classes by well-spoken of professors and lecturers.

Laura and I will be keeping a blog together to chronicle our adventures here across the pond, and you can find us at artsyfartsyoc.wordpress.com if you’re so inclined. I’ll be presenting a paper based on my MTS thesis at the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain’s annual conference next week at St Mary’s University College near London. I have some new writing projects, including some articles for a SAGE encyclopedia on sociology and war as well as a book tracing various manifestations of combat stress (like posttraumatic stress, shell shock, soldiers, heart, and others) across medical and theological history with academic publisher Wipf & Stock. Because of this workload, I’d like to think I will be focusing on my writing more effectively than I have been, but you’ll just have to watch this blog to see if that comes to fruition…

Thanks for reading.

Becoming Isaac(s)

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

When I first got engaged, I can say honestly I did not know that men do not normally wear engagement rings. This was before reading any scholarship on gender or taking the one women’s studies course I did as a graduate student. It was genuine ignorance. Or innocence maybe. It seemed odd – if women wore them to signify their preparation for marriage and departure from the dating pool, then why would men not also do similarly? It was only after those readings and that one course that I learned it was a vestige of ancient patriarchal instincts about women being property of which most societies in the modern era are highly critical. So when I got half-engaged last year on Labor Day (my then-fiancée proposed back to me on the seventh day after I proposed to her), I wore an engagement ring. It just seemed logical.

So when we were getting ready to enter marriage, we talked about what name she might take. The conversation didn’t last long before it was about the name we might take. It just seemed logical. And reciprocal.

The thought of giving up my family name(s) was not easy. None of the options seemed ideal. Hyphenating was out of the question, unless we wanted to be only double hyphenated couple we knew of (Mehl-Laituri-Tardie doesn’t really roll off the tongue either). We played around with a Scrabble-type last name, in which we discovered new names made up of the letters from our parents names (including her mom’s maiden name, of course), but we just were not touched by anything we came up with. At our first wedding shower, close friends proposed names for us, that we selected pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style, but we are not the type to have “#” in our name either, so that was out.

But something struck while our friends toasted us during that first shower. A few themes emerged of characteristics they saw in us collectively; of giddiness, youth, celebration, and laughter. In fact, I frequently tell Laura that, despite my vestigial combat stress from a 2004 deployment to Iraq, she reminds me who I once was and who I could be, a person who was goofy and vibrant, who smiled easily and often. It was something some of my seminary friends only saw in me when I was with her, because my experience at a student veteran at Duke was not the best (which I mention in the introduction to my first book, Reborn on the Fourth of July).

I went home that night and did some digging. Those words our friends uttered stuck in my mind like a warm caramel apple from the candy store, or salt in my eyebrows after an afternoon surf; joy, happiness, hope, laughter. These things I was and am with her…

In many sacraments, like ordination or confirmation, for example, Christians take a new name. It is to signify an evident yet mysterious change in the person. When priests become bishops or deacons in many denominations, they will add those titles to their name and take the name of a saint who has inspired them. Upon confirmation, I took the name Martin, from the fourth century bishop and soldier saint who modeled the lives Christian soldiers can aspire to by protecting life and serving the poor.

Women in the west have most often changed their names upon being wed, but in secular society it is not considered a sacrament. It is considered a change of ownership – in this case from their father to their husband. But in the church, people are not owned, they are one body of Christ in which there is no slave or master. We submit to “the least of these,” those who give up everything, be it sex, wealth, or prestige (all of which priests have historically done). We follow Jesus downward, to the lowest of the low. We give up in order to be taken up, we might say.

Of the three major patriarchs in the Christian Old Testament, Isaac is the most minor of the three figures. His father was called as Abram by to be “the father of many,” but nearly killed his youngest son in obedience to God, and becomes Abraham. His son, Jacob, would “wrestle with God” and become Israel, the father of the twelve tribes. It is only Isaac who never receives a name change operation in the text. Isaac is noteworthy for being the only patriarch to have only one sexual partner, his “faithful” wife Rebecca, though their relationship seems strained, as the incident toward the end of his life indicates – Rebecca conspires with their youngest to redirect the birthright against Isaac’s wishes.

Isaac seems the type of character the Bible wants us to notice. Like Abel and Seth before him, he is overshadowed by the greats by whom he is surrounded. Cain was highly regarded by Eve, but Seth “replaced” Abel, and was said to have been “made in the image and likeness of Adam” (who had been made similarly, but “of God”). The same cannot be said of Cain, whom commands the readers attention in Genesis 3-6. The authors point, however, seems to focus on the overlooked Abel…

Isaac, despite the difficulties he faced in life (stemming from the daddy issues certainly arising out of the whole Moriah affair), is called “laughter.” I aspire to be unassuming, like Abel and Isaac before me. But I also aspire to laugh. It is a new years resolution I made not so long ago with my mom, after a year in which laughter was hard to come by for me. It will no doubt be a pain to change my name (after returning home from a year abroad, more on that later), but as a guy, I don’t have much room to complain. More importantly, changing my name (in about a year from now) will shape me into a new person, or rather into a personhood shared with my partner. Though we are individuals, we will become a single entity as far as both church and world are concerned. I hope we become people worthy of the name by laughing frequently and being faithful to one another and to God.

Hopefully we will become Isaacs.

TATP frontI was honored to have been invited to read a manuscript by Benjamin John Peters, a former Marine and OIF combat veteran. His Through All The Plain is both moving and provocative, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a reviewer. Wipf & Stock, his publisher, gave him the freedom to be quite forthright about the reality of combat and everything after, and it made for a valuable resource to those invested in war, peace, theology, and community. I cannot recommend his book enough, for fellow Christian soldiers and veterans, or their loved ones. It is available from the publisher’s website or your local bookstore.

I endorsed it by saying the following;

Benjamin John Peters writes as a possessed man, overcome not by demons, but by the divine, for he displays a wonderful knack for ordering the chaos that is war. Weaving story with scholarship, this book illumines the dark place that our veterans visit and is therefore a precious gift for congregations, communities, and classrooms alike. Take and read this seemingly bitter tome; its words will prove as sweet as honey on your lips, I know it has mine.

After I received my copy in the mail, I was flattered to learn my endorsement landed at the top spot (which, quite honestly, I do not know if that is significant at all). Check it out

Through All the Plain rear

Thoughts on Marriage

Posted: June 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

as a calling, a vocation, it is quite unique. nobody is called to marriage as such, as though when one spouse dies, they hurry out and find another. no, marriage as a vocation seems to be to a particular person, til death do you part. the vocation ends there to that person, though it extends to the persons that union may have created.

the particularity of marriage is very different from the other vocations and offices in the church, like holy orders and others. many vocations are generic and pertain mostly to serving God. but the vocation to marriage is to serve another person, to be tied to them so that they may give you the capacity to make sense of your own life, in the same way that you need God to make sense of it. every morning you wake up and, whether you like it or not, they are there. as long as you both shall live, you provide for one another the grounding to make sense of this thing we call life that is done inescapably in communion with and dependence upon others.

because marriage is a vocation to a particular person, you discover the vocation as it unfolds before your eyes, like undressing in the bedroom that first night you make love(ingly). you cannot know you are called to marriage until the person to whom you are called stands before you and breaks into your life, whether you like it or not.

marriage is not ‘about the children,’ as some might say, it is about God and you and that person that you love God through. children may erupt from your union, but they are always accidents, for if we were responsible for their creation, then we would be able to predict like clockwork when, how, and what form they would take. Life is not in our power alone. pro-creativity requires not two people, but three (or perhaps five); two bodies and one trinity.

I appreciate that Stanley Hauerwas suggests that Christians never marry the right person, but in a way,we always marry the right person because any person is capable of teaching us love. the meaning of marriage is discovered in love, in that place that makes no sense until we cannot escape it, until we cannot escape god, for God is love. the vocationality of weddedness is peculiar, for love is often not what we are told, but what we know without asking.

the world tells us that love adorns itself in fine jewelry and dresses itself in cosmetic embellishment. but love comes to us in the cow pies and the straw bales. love finds us on the street between phone calls; it pushes shopping carts and begs our attention. love does not dress itself up nearly as often as it puts on a disguise. love and marriage cannot be pursued apart from particularities; we are not called to lives of marriage, but to beautifully broken creatures with short lifespans, who are no better than ourselves.

there is no ‘waiting for the right person,’ there is only listening for God. one may not be called to marriage, but everyone is called to be with others. for marriage must be a gift, as all vocations are. we must seek God instead of our desire to escape loneliness.

Morally Inconsistent

Posted: May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

I knew I would not keep a consistent posting schedule, so perhaps I should not be too hard on myself for keeping to my consistent inconsistency.

There’s been a creeping bug in my head about the increasing discussions about moral injury. Well, technically not a creeping bug if I wrote my masters thesis about it. More specifically, I am bugged by the way in which it is being talked about popularly.

Astute observers will notice that the Huffington and Washington Posts both wrote really captivating articles about moral injury, complete with pictures (I like pictures). But keen sleuths will also notice that for expertise on “moral” injury, they turned toward the mental health profession. Why not to moral philosophers and theologians, who have been writing about this stuff for at least 1600 years? To think of combat stress in terms of the mind is quite new, for it historically has been considered a condition of the heart.

Augustine, in responding to generals Boniface and Marcellinus, relied on his notion of animi dolori, what Catholic theologian Bill Portier translates as “heartfelt grief,” to settle the sorrows of the high ranking Christian soldiers. During the crusades, a horror sanguinis, a fear of blood, animated moral considerations of war and its effect on human beings engaged in its conduct. In the midst of the American Civil War, Union doctor Jacob Mendes Da Costa proposed that war somehow enlarged the four valves of the human heart, requiring it to beat harder. The metaphorical implications of this suggestion are profound.

But it is not a concern for historical cohesion that causes my hesitation to embrace a mental focus in contemporary settings. It is how such assumptions locate and dislocate the loci of responsibility. In fact, in this sense, associating combat stress with the mind is in alignment with prior discussions of the heart. When we speak of mental health, or the internal trappings of the human heart, we suppose that the center of agency and affect of war are contained within the individual soldier. We suggest that responsibility therefore does not seep out beyond their individual epidermal pores.

The soldier has a problem and must seek counseling and rehabilitation. Society is just fine, thank you very much.

Confining the discussion of combat stress and trauma to the individual fighter safely confines responsibility to those we want to think pull the triggers. When Ivan Lopez went on a rampage at Ft. Hood, a headline in USA Today safely reassured its readers he “had mental problems.” Phew! I though America had a violence problem.

Quick, let’s round up some mental health experts to discuss his issue.

The Myth Craft of Writing

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

It was about a year ago that my now fiancée used the word “writer” to describe me to someone she was introducing me to, and it felt rather awkward. Though I was two books in, and with a few more in my head, it never occurred to me that I was something that could be called a “writer.”

My skin still crawls a little when I think of it, but not because it is false, it just has never been a way that I’ve thought of myself. Naturally, I update this weblog too infrequently. I don’t write… right? Heck, I never took a typing class in my life, I just steadily hunted and pecked until I could do so at an alarming rate per minute. I’ve admittedly thought myself more poetic or prophetic than prosaic. The Englishman Robert Graves, another war-touched writer, once spoke of his craft as resulting “from an inspired, almost pathological, reversion to the original language… rather than from a conscientious study of its grammar and vocabulary.” (The White Goddess, 12. 1975 edition)

So while I steadfastly refuse to train myself, I should nonetheless practice. Even if the things in my head don’t always need to be said, writing them gives them form, writing makes ideas things to be explored, scrutinized, and refined. I will not, however, “blog” in the proper sense. I am more interested in committing to write what is in my head. Regularly. Irreverently. Forcing pen to paper, fingers to keyboard.

So, with that out of the way…

As someone who has studied with Stanley Hauerwas and fashions himself an adherent to virtue theory, I have found myself interested in mythology as a way of thinking about moral formation. Famous mythologist Joseph Campbell influenced George Lucas, who in turn influences us. Mythology is related to anthropology, but as Stanley has said, Campbell tries to do too much, he’s all over the place. But myths are not (even if in modern belief they are judged) “fanciful, absurd, unhistorical.” (13) Myths are somewhere between fact and fiction, between ineffable Truth and worldly reality. They tell us about our past without reducing it to a numbers game or a statistical analysis.

Virtue theorists like Stanley, Alisdair MacIntyre, and innumerable others will similarly lament the loss of virtue and advocate a return to the classic school of Greek philosophical fathers. A recovery of virtue challenges the modern “enlightened” assumptions that falsely reify the self as the locus of moral, social, political and other inquiries. Somewhere between deontologists (follow the rules) and consequentialists (greatest good for the greatest number), virtue ethicists declare that habits and practices make possible a good life in pursuit of excellence.

Graves, however, has a very interesting read of the classical Greek school of thought that virtuists value, founded by Socrates and carried by Plato and Aristotle. He suggests that myth preceded the classical school and that Socrates saw it as threatening his new religion of logic, that philosophy as a discipline made an uncompromising rejection of myth ‘as opinions of which no account can be given.’ (paraphrase, 10) The pursuit of philosophy represented what Graves calls “intellectual masturbation.” In other words, if philosophic schools began with an assumption that “an understanding of the language of myth is irrelevant to self-knowledge,” then it represented “the male intellect trying to make itself spiritually self-sufficient.” (11-12) Saint Augustine could have called it “navel gazing.” But he didn’t.

I am interested in this stuff through my critique of modern mass media, that it forms morally immature agents incapable of engaging decisively with the moral landscape of war. Campbell laments that there are no more rites of passage, that the modern world is bereft of ritual meaning. But he is wrong, for Lucas has provided the world with meaning through pixels and pictures. The epics we once as a species carried in our hearts and in our minds have been transferred to the screen. There is no such thing as a ritual-less society. I can’t remember who said it (though I suspect it was Stanley), but if we have no heroes as Christians, our culture will happily supply them. And it has. In classes I have taught, when asked about the etymology of their names, a simple majority of students cite their parents watching this television show or that and liking the character whose name they curiously inherited…

Warriors-to-be are gluttons for John Wayne and Blaster One. And folks like Stanley don’t know where to point for better guiding myths, more relevant and experienced guides in the moral density of war. They point away from war as best they can, as though its demise is not far off, or that we can cleanly extricate ourselves therefrom. We look to Augustine, himself no war veteran, and neglect Martin, Ignatius, Francis, and others. Hell, I discovered Graves by mistake through researching the Great War Poets (Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon).

If Graves is right about classical philosophy, then Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are not the answer to the “fact” driven, scientific enlightenment of three or four centuries ago, they were its precursors. If the pursuit of logic produced Athenian youth more inclined to intellectual masturbation than to civic engagement, one can see why Socrates had to be put to death for their corruption.

But that’s just what’s in my head tonight…

Holy Fuck.

Sacred and profane so near one another they kiss, they cannot be distinguished. Death and life, giver and taker, embraced in one. Holy Fuck! Holy. Fuck.

Holy

A word that means “set apart,” that means wonder and awe and beauty. Holiness is body seeking Spirit, seeking communion, seeking God.

Being, breathing, basking, beautiful.

Fuck

A word that means nothing, that means emptiness, sterility, that means stripped of meaning, stripped of clothes, stripped of beauty and spirit. Body totally and utterly alone beside body totally and utterly alone.

Cocks, cunts, sweating, suffocating.

Holy Fuck

The words escaped my lips on a summer day one decade ago, perched atop an observation post in the desert of Babylon. Binoculars dropping from my hand, I saw… I saw something I wasn’t supposed to see. The impact area was supposed to be clear, it was supposed to be desolate, empty, safe. But I saw a body. I saw a body, something, someone crawl out of that hut, crying in the middle of the wilderness. I looked anxiously around; had anyone seen what happened? Holy fuck, what have I done?

Holy Fuck

The words left Peter’s lips at the very moment the cock cried out and the stranger was silenced. He was right. Whatever or whoever he was, he was right. But he’s dead, he is hanging from a cross there on the hill, the hill of the skull where I did not follow him, with the cross I did not pick up and carry. He was supposed to be God, here, among us, to save us from those fucks that killed him! He’s dead! How wrong I am and how right he was… Has anyone else seen me?

Holy Fuck

The words crossed Jesus’ mind, losing strength, unable pull his naked chest high enough to breathe, rusty nails scraping against bare nerve sending shock waves of pain through his arms and into his stuttering heart. Suffocating, bleeding out, breaking down, he was utterly alone. Was his cousin right, he who lost faith at the last, his head upon the chopping block, just as Jesus was losing his breath and his hope and his Father? Does God see what they have done? Where, to hell, has God gone?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Holy Fuck.

The words escaped the soldier’s lips as the blood and water spattered his face and he withdrew his spear. As the earth shook and the wind blew, there he stood: startled, scared, alone. Motionless, breathless, shocked. His judgment clouded by the enveloping darkness overtaking the land, he began wondering if he had indeed just killed their God. The sacred criminal there, upon the cross, without deliverance: no help, no hope, no holiness in this moment for him, for either of them. There is only death. Only fucking death, and the spear in his hands. Has anyone else looked upon the body I have pierced?

Holy Fuck

Sacred profanity and profane sanctity: death in life, God and sin, terror amidst hope.

My God, my God, what have we done? Why have we forsaken you?