Travel Update

Dear Readers,

The reason that you are not receiving any extensive blog entries is that we are traveling in Egypt and Cyprus in the month of February. Yes, Egypt is safe for tourists and the ancient monuments, as well as new discoveries, are as fascinating as ever. Upon our return, when my brain has also arrived back, Bill w Sphinx edI will try to put some reflections up for your own response. Our own tour was under the auspices of Archaeological Paths, which did a fine job of guidance and logistics. I recommend them highly. Getting to meet Dr. Zahi Hawass was an added unusual experience. Just to prove we have been there, here’s a picture of me (on the right).

We are now in Cyprus for our second visit, in which I am concentrating on conversations with people who are very knowledgeable about the mine where my grandfather worked, about geology, archaeology, and the cultural history of Cyprus. Yes, Cyprus has been divided by a buffer zone for 40 years now but people of good will on both sides are still working toward a solution that would honor the cultural integrity of both Turkish and Greek speaking people as well as the necessary unity and integrity of the island. Many people are pitching in to assist us in finding the best way to put together our own family materials in a way that would be of interest to others here. The story continues to fascinate many as well as myself.

You’ll hear more from me in March!

Posted in Travel Journal | 2 Comments

Violence, Speech, and Religion

Like you, I have been trying to comprehend the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, of innocent shoppers in Paris, and of two thousand people in Nigeria—all at the hands of killers claiming to be driven by Islam and Allah. As we recoil in horror we also must seek to frame these horrific events in a way that enables us to move beyond shock and grief to action that might prevent future carnage and destruction.

Two threads of reflection have sewn together my own effort to frame our response. The first revolves around our understanding of free speech. The second around the way “religion” affects common life.

Freedom of speech, of the press, and of the people peaceably to assemble is enshrined in our First Amendment to the US Constitution as well as in the customs, laws, and constitutions of many other countries. Along with that inalienable right, as so many are pointing out, goes the responsibility to use it in ways that do not inflame people to violence and unjust acts. But this formulation, it seems to me, is incomplete, for it always implies that the rules of the public square are set by those who claim to be offended by the speech of others. What is missing in our reflection is that these rights, like those of religion preceding them in the Amendment, are intrinsic to the creation and sustenance of a republic, of a public sphere which should be at the core of our common life and governance. We need to look at how these specific rights are part of a robust support for public life—not only its legal structure, not only government, but the myriad of associations, cultural customs, and means of communication that constitute the public realm. What threatens this public realm—this republic—is the erosion of these constituent elements or their very destruction.

In light of this public context, speech must be understood as a means for persuasion. And persuasion must rest on enough commonality of values, agreements, and testable claims that we can begin to resolve our disagreements without resort to violence. Yes, that means scientific consensus and the reasonable agreement of an educated populace. Each one of these claims is a commonplace in the democratic tradition, but they are under continual siege from those who would substitute the rule of fathers, kings, dictators, and religious absolutists. It is also under siege from those who would rely on religious pronouncement rather than scientific argument to deal with our continuing climate crisis. Beneath this republican setting for human community must exist an economy—an oikos, as I have said—that enables people to participate in the goods of public life. And here we find much of the source for the estranged and hopeless young men who are led and driven to such acts of carnage.

In short, as to thread number one, think not merely of the oral, written, or visual “speech,” but of the full public of which it is a part.

Second, concerning religion. We see a lot of discussion about whether a religion, such as Islam, and in particular the Qu’ran, incites people to violence or to peace building. We act as if it is the text and the beliefs it inspires that are the key to whether people are, rightfully or not, committing these atrocities. While texts are always important, and I am an exponent of our need to appreciate the beauty and compelling messages of peace in the Qu’ran, I think we need to look at how the religious community and organization shapes the lives and society of people who are fed by these scriptures. That is, I think it’s more a matter of ecclesiology than of dogma, more a matter of how we are organized religiously than of what we read. It is as much a matter of organization as of textual credence.

Christians have called this matter of religious organization “ecclesiology”—the theory of church organization and purpose. But every religious tradition has its ecclesiologies. From this perspective, it matters whether we are organized in a steep hierarchy or in a loose confederation of congregations. It matters whether religious authority is attributed only to males or whether it is open to women as well. It matters whether the men and women in its leadership are heterosexual, homosexual, married or celibate, for it is this that shapes the relationship of religion to family and of family public space. In the case of Islam, gender conflict is a massive source of strain in contemporary life. Of equal importance, as it has been for Christianity and Judaism, it matters how the religious institutions define their relationships to political power and the state. And at the heart of the struggle between Sunni and Shia, we find not merely economics and politics, but also differing theories of authority and succession of leadership. These are only three examples of “ecclesiological” differences that create enormous strains in whether or not a public life can emerge to process our disputes and dilemmas.

The horrendous and continuing acts of violence that claim our headlines and bylines have turned our attention on Islam. But we need to think of these factors of “public life” and “ecclesiology” as we ask how Muslims can counter them through religious authorities, how the local “ummah”—the community—can become a little public of true discourse before the One God, and how the transcendent One can be reflected in the equality of all believers at prayer and discourse. Indeed, these questions are at the heart of how we can reduce the violence that besets us and claim the vibrant and flourishing peace these great traditions call Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

For those of you who have followed my earlier writings, this is nothing new. It forms some of the most enduring threads in my own tapestry of thought and I invite you to take a look at it as well. Let me know how it looks from your angle.


Posted in Ethics, Public Life | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Sawdust and Soul

Over the past fifteen years I have carried on a lively conversation about woodworking with my good friend John de Gruchy—he in South Africa’s Western Cape, I in the mountains of western North Carolina. On our many trips back and forth we have had a chance to build some things together and to talk about how our Everett_DeGruchy.Sawdust.44633woodworking reflects and shapes our approach to life in both its practical and transcendent dimensions. And, as academic theologians, we have talked about how we have expressed our theological inquiries in wood and how woodworking has shaped our theology. In short, we have talked about the spirituality of woodworking.

With the gracious help of Wipf and Stock Publishers and our supportive editor Robin Parry, we have put together a glimpse into this conversation, with its stories and projects. It’s just appeared as Sawdust and Soul: A Conversation on Woodworking and Spirituality. While we can’t enable you to feel and smell the wood, we have put in a number of photographs to give you a sense of what we have been making as well as how we work. In addition, John’s wife Isobel has added some terrific line drawings to enhance the presentation.

Sawdust and Soul also introduces you to the wider conversation we have had with other woodworkers and with the wider woodworking community in our countries. Our topics range from the shaping of a sense of balance in our lives to dealing with loss, memory, and our sense of wonder as creatures in the midst of an amazing abundance of life and artful design. Whether you’re a tree-hugger, an all-thumbs reader, or an honest-to-goodness woodworker, we invite you into the conversation.

Bill and John enjoy their new Adirondack Chair

Bill and John enjoy their new Adirondack Chair

Sawdust and Soul is available now through your local bookstore or online at Wipf and Stock Publishers. Readers of this site get a 40% discount by entering “SAWDUST” in the coupon code box on checkout.

In a couple of weeks it will be online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. It will be available on Kindle by mid-January.

While it’s too late for Christmas (but maybe not an Orthodox Christmas!), you might think about it as a gift for the woodworker in your life. If you don’t have one, by all means reach out and find one! They’re handy for home repairs as well.


Posted in Arts, Ecology, Ethics, Poetry and Songs, Woodworking, Worship and Spirituality | Tagged | 1 Comment

Of Patriots and Matriots

For us Northern Hemisphere folks who follow the Greco-Latinate calendar, this is a time of endings and new beginnings, of passage into darkness and out into light, from the dying of the year and its rebirth. In church circles we’re trying to wrest Advent out of shopping, Christmas out of the solar cycles.  We’re hearing readings about apocalyptic hope and fear, the anticipation of a victorious Messiah, the trembling of anticipation of a world beyond the brutalities and tragedies of the ever-flowing news cycle. Yes, it’s a time of mothers and beloved babies, of tender mercies, and gracious new birth.

This Advent season finds me buried in preparations for our return visit to Cyprus, trying to draw together the pictures, documents, and whispers of the past that tie me to this island through my grandfather’s work there in the Skouriotissa mine in the 1920s. I say buried, for it was a work of shafts and tunnels, dark passageways, of ferocious heat, noxious gases, and, yes, fatal injury. Through internet and conversation I am linked to a growing circle of people whose lives have been touched by this mine, the oldest copper mine in the world, they say, still yielding copper, gold, and other minerals that support the technology we depend on for our way of life.

I am also aware through this work that the mine lies on the “buffer zone” that has separated the island’s Greek-speaking south from its Turkish speaking north for 40 years. Forty years of division and alienation reverberate in our Biblical memory. It is a time of wilderness and displacement, of two generations having the chance to leave bitter memory behind and embrace a new future. And I think of Germany, divided forty years before the Wall came down. I think of the sign in Nicosia at the crossing between South and North: “Nicosia: The last divided capital in Europe.” But forty years is not magic. Korea has been divided for over sixty years. It matters what we do with forty years. Something may still happen to change things. We need to wait and be watchful for opportunities—maybe the work of the least expected person in the land, maybe the work of God, of the earth itself.

The geologists say that Cyprus actually arose from two pieces of earth’s mantle, crushed together by Africa’s plate and Asia. If I am not mistaken, the fault line lies roughly where the buffer zone is now. It lies on the axis of earth’s pain. But earth has also healed itself at this suture of its past division. It is the unity of the island that finally presses us to struggle for its reunion and its healing.

The mine’s position on the buffer zone, only a mile or so wide, has meant that the reclamation of the land polluted by the earlier workings of the mine in my grandfather’s time cannot move forward. It is not merely a matter of economics but of political division. And the political division is caught in the vice of much larger tectonic forces of global politics. The healing of the earth, the healing of a people, and the healing of a polity are all bound up with one another.

And for me, it is also a healing of memory, of mining my own emergence as a human being. Because we generally bear the family name of our fathers, we often don’t realize that we are genetically and psychologically as much products of our mother’s family as our father’s. And so I didn’t internalize this memory of my other’s heritage, cut off not only by patriarchy but by my maternal grandfather’s death when I was four.

This patriarchal bias of memory leads me to yet another association around my Cyprus research, for our Latin word for father — pater — lies at the root of “patriot,” one who is devoted to his or her “fatherland.” This is a devotion tied to the work of the fathers in defending a land by force and self-sacrifice. It has its vicious side in military violence, but also its generous and caring side in devotion to the commonweal of a land and its people. But it is always limited by the bounds of our fathers’ world. In contrast, what if we spoke also of “matriots,” people who defend and nurture planet earth itself, its only boundary being its outer gravitational field? What if our memory was shaped by our ancestry as earthlings, our scope of feeling by the blue around us all, our hope by the life of earth itself?

And so the task of reconciliation, of healing, of finding a home on earth, would turn from the narrow defense of our patria to the expansive defense of earth, our mother. Maybe this is an Advent when we can take on the work of being matriots, drawing from the call of the earth to heal the divisions of our nations and ourselves. Maybe it is time to take the Madonna out of the stable and into the wider world whose rebirth we eagerly anticipate in these wintering days.

Posted in Ecology, On Writing, Personal Events, Public Life, Restorative Justice | Tagged , | 2 Comments