Some of you may know that I am at work on a book, which means I’ve committed the ultimate sin against my dissertation, which is writing another dissertation apart from my dissertation. But this book is genuinely haunting me and I often feel I need to complete it before I can go on. I don’t know that it will be anything particularly special, but it’s been on my mind for years and I’ve begun working on it once again, which is a good all by itself.
The book is a series of loosely connected essays primarily on my thoughts concerning suffering, mourning, and evil. I have a philosophy of religion and theology academic background, so many of the essays cite various scholars and include engagement with philosophy and theology, but I wouldn’t call it a scholarly book. I actually think of it as more devotional, than anything else, something the Twilight Zone Deseret Book might stock in a parallel dimension, spiritual heart-writing that I like to read. The stuff that moves me and grounds me spiritually breaks my heart and devastates me a bit; it connects me to other fellow-sufferers who have tried to honestly confront the heavy-laden, grief-stricken world we live in. This book tries to be like those books, however pathetically. Kofford Books will publish it sometime next year.
I’ve published the table of contents in a couple other places, but I’ll post summaries here. Over half the chapters are being re-developed and expanded out of blog posts I’ve written. Two of those became published articles, which I’ll also expand. All in all, then, the first draft of a manuscript is about 40% to 50% complete.
Intro: Crises of Faith, Crises of Love
Original blog post here. The intro will include a summary of each chapter and an explanation for the purpose of the volume. The core of this chapter, though, will be be a re-worked version of this essay, which makes distinctions among crises of value and knowledge and crises of faith, and argues for the religious significance of crisis. I’m beginning to revise this essay for submission to the Faith and Knowledge conference in February 2015.
Deaths and (Re)births
This personal essay began a couple of years ago as a series of blog posts about the births of my first two children, twins, and the experiences of my wife and I during the first 2 years of their lives. It was then published in Dialogue, Winter 2012 and was the recipient of the 2012 Eugene England Memorial Best Personal Essay award. I tried to chronicle the unrelenting brutality of those experiences and some of the things I learned during that time. I’m not going to revise much for this essay. It will mainly appear as it did in Dialogue.
Theologizing in the Presence of Burning Children: From Theodicy to Lament
This was first given as a presentation for the 2011 Sunstone Symposium at Weber State University and then published in Sunstone Magazine. I’d long been fascinated at the awfulness of Alma 14 in the Book of Mormon, by which I mean the explanation given in that chapter for why God would allow innocent women and children to suffer horribly and die. (I actually first presented my thoughts on this at a student symposium at Claremont Graduate University in 2007). I give a close reading of the chapter and conclude that Alma trades his theodicy (justification for God’s allowance of great suffering) for lament, thereby destroying his own previous justifications in favor of the lament of the soulcry in the face of suffering. I’m re-working this chapter right now to include some interesting parallels I see with Alma 14 and the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, which reinforces the annihilation of the theodicy in favor of the soulcry.
Beauty and Unbearableness
This first appeared a couple years ago as a short meditation inspired by purchasing Charlotte’s Web for one of my daughters and reading the supremely impressive foreword by Kate DiCamillo. Here I try to describe the incredible juxtaposition between the beauty and joy that we are sometimes privileged to experience in the world and the unbearableness of suffering and degradation in that same world. How is it possible that these could co-exist? That in some sense we could not appreciate one without the other is a superficial insight. I think both the beauty and terror of the world are tightly interwoven in conscious experience.
The Enduring Fragility of Love
This book talks (probably too much) about love; it’s a major theme in several of the essays. However, this essay is the one that I outline my “philosophy of love” in the most detail. I draw on philosophers Alain Badiou, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Luc Marion, and Slavoj Zizek to try and expound what a humanist-religious understanding of love (agape and erotic) might look like. Original post here, though this is one of the essays that will most dramatically change from its original conception. In this case, I’m taking sections from a handful of essays I wrote for philosophy of religion seminars at Claremont Graduate University on the topic of philosophy and love.
Acts of Mourning: On Being a Witness of Death and Resurrection
Original post here. This essay is my take on the acts of mourning and comforting within families and community. In my view, mourning is the act of learning how to sit in vigil in or near the tomb of another living person as a witness of her death and in hopeful preparation for her resurrection. Mourning is the mourning of death, or it is not mourning. While one may mourn the physical death of another, those that are called to mourn with that person mourn the death of the one in mourning. In a profound way, that person has died as well, and mourning is, in part, the meaningful honoring of that death and the patient waiting of a resurrection, both in this life and the next. In other words, we can die while we live and we can live after we die; resurrection is a meaningful concept with regard to the living as well as the dead. The notion of the vigil–of staying awake when one should be sleeping in order to watch and to pray–is vital to understand the act of mourning. Mourning is therefore the funerary art of the witnessing of another’s death and the hopeful awaiting of their resurrection, bodily and spiritually, in this life and in the next.
Being Someone to Sit With
Original post here. This essay is something like Part 2 of the previous essay; instead of writing from the standpoint of one who is mourning with another, I try to evoke the experience of one who must allow others to mourn with them, of being the one in the tomb, struggling between re-birth and death.
The Astonishment of Redemption
Original post here. This chapter describes one of the supreme joys of being a human being, which is to have one’s preconceptions concerning others completely destroyed. We probably can’t help negatively judging others and pronouncing sentence in some fashion, yet every now and then they surprise us with a thoughtful act, or a kind word, or admitting that they think differently about this or that than you previously thought. These are humbling experiences, but humbling in the best possible way. Sometimes the bonds of love between two people who cannot seem to love one another no matter how they try are only forged in the unexpected event that is the complete undoing of another’s judgments.
Love, Oneness, Solitude
Original post here. Drawing on Rilke, Gibran, and Barthes, this essay speaks of the crucial necessity of solitude in the enduring oneness of love between two people. Oneness does not mean having the same preferences or desires or goals; rather, oneness is mutality, that each is willing to protect the solitude of the other, the capacity for the self of the other to grow, become, flourish, to revel in his or her creative freedom. Love is then the trust that each will willingly shelter the self of the other, in whatever ways it will manifest itself in the world, and protect it not only from external threat, but internal desire to mold that self into what we want it to become, rather than encourage it to seek out its own possibilities.
Word of Abandonment: The Cross and the Vineyard
This chapter focuses on Christ’s soulcry from the cross, what has come to be called in Christianity, the Word of Abandonment: “My God, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?” Some of the original impetus for this is this post. I discuss the centrality of this part of the crucifixion narrative, what it could mean for how we understand evil and suffering, and how it intersects with the work of the vineyard. The vineyard is the primary theological geography of this volume, the central locale for both humans and the divine, a cosmic, earthy place where gods dig and plant and prune and dung and despair and exult with their fellow laborers. The vineyard is all there is, all the work, and all the kingdoms, and all the glories. The Cross is planted firmly and irrevocably in the Vineyard, the two most enduring and evocative symbols of the divine.
We Must Make Him Live Again
A meditation on the resurrection of Christ. Original here. I draw a little on both Wittgenstein and Simone Weil in arguing that there is more than one way in which Christ resurrects. If Christ’s resurrection is no more than the re-animation of his singular biological body, engendering our own re-animations, then in an important sense both he and we are dead right now. Christ lives again and again as we enact his body in the world through healing, blessing, comforting, restoring. To the extent that we do not do this, he is crucified afresh.
Consider the Theologian
This was originally a review-tribute to Adam Miller’s excellent collection of essays in Mormonism, Rube Goldberg Machines. It was presented by a friend as part of a panel at the 2012 Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology conference. Original here. For this collection, I’m revising it a bit to more broadly consider the problematic but often irresistible role of the theologian in a religious tradition, and how the theologian can sometimes bless, sometimes curse, and sometimes be irrelevant in the tradition in which she finds herself, and how, ultimately, theology is a siren that only some find themselves drawn to.
Arrayed in Silence I Gave Him Nothing: An Encounter with the Almighty God
This is an imaginative piece of creative fiction wherein the protagonist of the story finds himself face to face with God after death. First presented at the 2013 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, then published in Sunstone Magazine here. It’s a meditation on evil and omnipotence/omniscience, and what God’s knowledge might mean for how we understand our experiences. I’m revising a few sections, but it will more or less remain intact as it currently is.
Time and Suffering
I’m not sure yet if there will be a chapter with this title. This comes from some scattered notes on this topic regarding the importance of temporality in the meaning of suffering. I’ll probably try to expand it, see how far I get. Parts of it might make their way into other chapters. If I don’t include it, I will publish it elsewhere at some point, because the concept intrigues me.
Midnight in the Vineyard with the Weeping God
This final chapter will detail my own approach to the formal version of the problem of evil–If God is all powerful, knowing, and loving, how can there be so much evil? I’ll discuss some conventional responses from the philosophy of religion, and then outline my own response. I also take up the powerful image of the weeping God in Mormonism (and some other theologies) and try to flesh it out in ways that are finally satisfying to me. In other words, while Eugene England and Terryl Givens and some others have taken this up, I don’t think they have explored this concept very fully. This chapter will be my own attempt to do that. Original post here.
I have a handful of poems that I hope will make it into the volume, probably about 4 in all that I think could be publishable here. No titles yet. We’ll see how that goes.
Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I hope to have Galen Dara Smith do the art for the volume. The two images above are her work for the two articles they are adjacent to. I feel like her art is the visual equivalent of my writing (and probably others’ as well). A simply brilliant artist.
So here goes something.