PhD student in New Testament at Durham University in the UK. Ordained clergyman. Husband. I have a love for all things alt-rock, Pixar, football (American style), hockey, poetry, and good, short literature. On Twitter @toddhbrew
Excursions & Arrivals
The sign at the corner of the property
at the foot of the driveway—”No
eighteen wheelers allowed in the church
parking lot”—may be exactly the confirmation
I needed that I am currently passing
by a Baptist church a little to the south
of Chattanooga. Was it a recurring problem
that led to its posting? Did the congregation
rebel or reach the proverbial tipping point?
Even so, I’d like to think they would make
an exception, that every once in a great
while they might wave the driver toward them
with his truckload of passengers battered
bruiseful by all of the loveless difficulties
that make up so very much of this life,
not pallets of freight they’d come to expect
but many blemished ones hungry to the point
of being famished, urgent for the Son
rising with his big paper-carrier’s bag
of good news and promises or even simple
reassurances like, You are not going
to perish now, or You are mightily
welcomed here, even though you’re fully
known here, and so on. Against hope, I hope
sometimes that those Baptists are smiling
as they direct the eighteen-wheeler’s driver
forward, forward with the bird’s-wing flutters
of their sweet, inviting hands, as if saying
Pull yourself on in here now, buddy.
You take up as many spaces as you need,
while already his long trailer is being
unlatched and its metal door rolled up
so as to let that Tennessee light pour in,
clarifying its darkened conveyances,
especially brightened on Sunday morning
as I imagine it now, while driving slowly
on Spring Creek Road south of Chattanooga.
If you haven’t yet found it, I highly recommend the new UK site The Philosopher’s Mail. It’s a news site, much like the tabloid-heave Daily Mail, but it’s written entirely by philosophers. Think celebrity gossip and pop culture news with a reflective and entertaining twist, with stories like: “Love shortage drives Shia LaBeouf nuts” or “Larry Page, Google CEO, tortures us with his jeans“. Brilliant, but funny stuff right?
Today’s article, “200mph Ferrari California launched. Buyers not greedy show offs, just vulnerable fragile big infants in need of affection” struck me as particularly Mockingbird worthy.
We know, because we hear it so…
Many pastors, especially of the mainline and Catholic varieties, are required as part of their training to do a brief internship at a hospital serving as a chaplain to the sick and dying. Oh how I wish I had read the recent blog post by Catherine Woodiwess and the accompanying op-ed by David Brooks that appeared today in The NY Times before I stumbled through my own hospital rotation a few years back! It would have saved me (and more importantly the patients I visited) a good deal of unnecessary grief.
Woodiwess offers a few bullet-point reflections on her own trauma…
In keeping with our year-end tradition, here is a list of the top Mockingbird theology books of 2013 – and I must say it’s been quite the year! For fun, I’ve categorized them according to the most fitting high school stereotypes.
The Jocks (Books by Superstar Scholars)
Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme by Stephen Westerholm – A great introduction to the recent debate on the doctrine of Justification (specifically the New Perspective on Paul). Westerholm looks at several prominent figures in the field (Stendahl, Dunn, Wright, Campbell) and provides a stirring defense of a “Lutheran” Paul.
Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the…
It’s that time of year again! The time when you break out those old classic Christmas movies and watch them by the fireside while drinking hot cocoa and basking in the nostalgia of the season. And there’s perhaps no more quintessential Christmas movie than Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a must see.
Before seeing it recently (on the big screen, no less), I had always remembered it as a movie that gives you that warm assurance that life is worth living. George is a man at the end of his rope when he’s given a divine vision of…
Here, in the final installment of “Mandelstam”, we end roughly where we began, with the poem echoed by Christian Wiman in his outstanding book “My Bright Abyss”. Wiman was my gateway into Mandelstam and his translation has proved to be both thoughtful and moving. This poem also serves as a excellent summary of Mandelstam and his quest to find light amid the darkness.
“Rough Draft” (1937)
Provisionally, then, and secretive,
I speak a truth whose time is not:
It lives in love and the pain of love,
In sweat, and the sky’s playful vacancy.
A whisper, then, a purgatorial prayer,
A testament of one man,…
Openness or emptiness, I’m sick of it
Infinity forced down the gullet:
Eat your god, child, and love it!
To be blinded would be a mercy here.
Better to live alluvial,
Better to live layered downward,
To me a man of sand, of hollows, shallows,
To cling to the sleeves of water
And to let them go–
An eon’s tune, an instant’s.
I might have rained the rapids back.
I might have learned to hear
In any random rotting log
A tree release its rings year by slow year.
Spiderlight, sticky expectant dread:
I turn and turn, only more entangled
We need bread, and we need plain air,
But we need, too, some distant unbreathable peak,
Some eye-annihilating glare…
If the ache is nameless, how do I ask for ease?
If the I itself is exile, can the soul survive
Such private ice?
Old touchstone, to touch a stone, but in all that I have known,
Never, not once, such clear
Dreamweeping distillations of atmosphere…
We need poetry to wake the dark we are,
To find us and bind us beyond us
To an age of wakefulness
In the one day’s unentangling sun,
Our breathing easy, ancient, like the pulse and peace
of iambs counting down to silence.
Shut up: to be alone is to be alive,
To be alive to be a man -
Even hazied, even queasied by this madsmash hinterland,
Lost and locked in the sky’s asylum eye.
This is my prayer to the air
To which I turn and turn expecting news or ease,
Nerves minnowing from shadowhands
Toward shadowlands inside of me. This is my prayer
To be of an under a human-scale sky,
To suffer a human-scale why, to leave
This blunt sun, these eternal furrows,
For the one country that comes when I close my eyes.
There is, I know, a science of separation
In night’s disheveled elegies, stifled laments,
The clockwork oxen jaws, the tense anticipation
As the city’s vigil nears its sun and end.
I honor the natural ritual of the rooster’s cry,
The moment when, red-eyed from weeping, sleepless
Once again, someone hoists the journey’s burden,
And to weep and to sing become the same quicksilver verb.
But who can prophesy in the word good-bye
The abyss of loss into which we fall;
Or what, when the dawn fires burn in the Acropolis,
The rooster’s rusty clamor means for us;
Or why, when some new life floods the cut sky,
And the barn-warm oxen slowly…
“Night Piece” 
Come love let us sit together
In the cramped kitchen breathing kerosene.
There’s fuel enough to forget the weather,
The knife is ours and the bread is clean.
Come love let us play the game
Of what to take and when to run,
Of come with me and come what may
And holding hands to hold off the sun.
“Mandelstam Lane” (1935)
What the hell sort of street is this?
Twist and twist
And it all comes out the same:
More kinked than the kinks in a madman’s brain.
Well, a ruler he was not.
I’ll say, and his morals hardly lily.
And that’s why this street,
Or rut, really,
Or pit pickaxed to the tune of Goddamn!—
Goes by the name of Mandelstam.
There is an overwhelming tenor of self-disgust which pervades this poem, an outrage and frustration over one’s current estate. Try as one may to change our status (a ruler he was not) or even our morality (hardly lily), everything ends up just as it was before, without any hope of restoration. Even more, the street itself which bears our name devolves from street, to rut, and finally a pit dug in godless immorality. The very mention of our name is synonymous with infamy.
The not-so-subtle -suggestions have been beckoning it for some time. With Wiman’s translation as a guide, this is the beginning of a descent into the “soul-demanding” work of Osip Mandelstam, an early 20th century Russian poet.
When light, failing,
Through stained glass,
The long grass
At the feet of Christ,
I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross
To sip the infinite
An air of thriving
Like a lone cypress
To some airless
So where are we now? Part one examined the broad issue of the historical Jesus and Paul, noting their differences and the ways those have been exploited to create present antithesis. Part two looked at three different attempts to overcome this divide between Jesus and Paul, with Johannes Weiss, Ernst Käsemann, and N.T. Wright broadly serving as representatives of different approaches to the historical Jesus and his relation to Paul. Each of these attempts is admirable, but flawed in their results or approach. So now I ask: Is there a different way to construe the relationship between Jesus and Paul?…