Archives for September 2013

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung – Part 1

We recently had the chance to talk with Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung about her Brazos book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College where she has taught ethics and the history of ancient and medieval philosophy for fifteen years. She specializes in research on the seven deadly sins and spiritual formation. Her books include Glittering Vices (Brazos Press, 2009), Aquinas’s Ethics (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), and a book on vainglory, forthcoming from Eerdmans in 2014. She has published other articles on virtue and vice in the Thomist, ACPQMedieval Philosophy and Theology, and Faith and Philosophy. She recently received the C. S. Lewis Book Prize from the University of St. Thomas Philosophy of Religion Project for Glittering Vices and the Character Project Book and Essay prize for her chapter on courage in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, edited by M. Austin and D. Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). She spent her recent sabbatical working hard on a book on the vice of sloth.

In today’s post, Rebecca talks about how to distinguish virtues and vices;  how vice is different than sin; how vices and virtues are related to character; and what we can learn from studying the vices today.

——————————————————————————————

How are virtues and vices distinguished? Is vice different than sin? How are vices and virtues related to character?

Virtues and vices are good and bad habits, the building blocks of our moral character. That means they are dispositional patterns of perceiving, thinking, feeling, and responding, rather than single acts. While “sin” can refer to a general condition (our sinful fallen condition), a bad habit, or a single evil act, “vice” is a more specific term, describing the cumulative “groove” our actions wear in us over time.

Virtue- and vice-talk also prompts us to probe the motives and ways of seeing the world lying behind our behavior, rather than just focusing on what others can see from the outside. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks us not just to avoid the outright actions of murder and adultery but to look inward to see how we are misshaped by wrath and lust. This is heart-level diagnostic work.

On this approach it’s not enough to ask, “Is this individual act wrong?” We also need to ask, “If I do this sort of thing regularly, what sort of person will I become?” The Christian project of becoming more faithful disciples means imitating Jesus’s character and patterning ours after his likeness (described, for example in Col. 3).

 

You’ve written that the discovery of vices in ourselves can be “not only illuminating but liberating.” What can we learn from studying the vices today?

Names help us notice and identify things. Sometimes we feel like we are struggling but can’t figure out why. Or we don’t realize how toxic something is until someone with more expertise or experience gives us a new lens for looking at ourselves or out world. To borrow a metaphor from John Cassian in the fourth century, studying the vices can be like getting a medical diagnosis. It can be a relief to know what’s wrong and what the roots of the disease are. Then, with the help of a wise physician, you’re better able to find the right medicine and the right regimens to help you regain your health.

For example, a new vice term like “vainglory” opens our eyes to the ways we are drawn into attention-seeking practices in life-distorting ways. Witness the recent rise in addictive social media and crazed celebrity culture. What needs and desires are we using these things to fill? Why are they such a dominant part of the fabric of our lives? How can we break free of excess here? The tradition can speak to these questions, and it gives us a name to point them out.The aim of this sort of self-examination and spiritual direction is ultimately positive and directed at your spiritual flourishing. We are asking, “How can I be well?” To answer that, we need to know what’s getting in the way, so we can replace unhealthy and damaging habits with healthy, life-giving ones.

The Weekly Hit List: September 27, 2013

Douglas Gresham: Asbury University

Devin Brown, author of A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis,appeared at Asbury University with Douglas Gresham (C. S. Lewis’s closest relative and consultant for all of the Narnia films).

Gresham signed copies of A Life Observed, for which he wrote the foreword.

“In a presentation both touching and humorous, Douglas Gresham and Dr. Devin Brown introduced a crowd at Asbury University on Monday evening to aspects of famed author C.S. Lewis most had never known before. . . . 

“‘He was an outgoing, social man,’ said Gresham. ‘You could always tell where Jack was by the roaring of laughter. If you really are a scholar you don’t have to try to look like one or act like one. Jack actually looked like a father.'”

Brown and Gresham also visited Danville Christian Academy.

 

Quick Hits:

On God’s Side by Jim Wallis was reviewed by Steve Baker MP.

On God’s Side was also reviewed by The Left Bank Cafe: Part 1. Part 2.

A Life Observed by Devin Brown was reviewed by pastor Peter Stevens.

In the Ruins of the Church by R. R. Reno was recommended by Matt Jenson of The Gospel Coalition.

 

Ebook Specials:

Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks by Jon M. Sweeney is only $2.99 (over 75% off) through September 28.

Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian by Heath White is only $3.99 (77% off) through September 30.

Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 16:19-31:

Luke BTCB

Perhaps too sick to move on his own, [Lazarus] has been reduced to begging near the ornate “entrance” (pylōn) to the rich man’s mansion. While there is perhaps a hidden mercy in the dogs licking his suppurating stores, the dog was considered in Jewish law an unclean animal, and the scene so powerfully sketched in two verses—of Lazarus, prostrate, licked by dogs, all the while yearning for crumbs from the sumptuous table of the rich man as if he were himself a dog—is one of palpable anguish. It seems a mercy, also, therefore, when he dies, and indeed that is precisely to the heart of Jesus’s exemplum.

The poor beggar is carried into “Abraham’s bosom” immediately; meanwhile, the rich man has also died and gone on a one-way ticket straight to Hades (16:22-23). Suddenly, the tables are turned. This is a story of complete reversal. The once comfortable man, now bereft of his fine garments and gourmet fare, is in torment more acute than the erstwhile sufferings of poor Lazarus. It is Lazarus who is now rich; the worldly rich man has been “sent empty away,” not into some oblivion but rather into an acute and tortured consciousness of the vastly better situation of the once-wretched man he had so studiously ignored—even though he lay in misery right on his doorstep and even though he had abundant means to alleviate his suffering

It is therefore not only his own immediate torment that anguishes the poor rich man; as is common in Jewish views of the afterlife (2 Esdras 7.85, 93; 2 Baruch 51.5-6), he is acutely conscious of the sublime happiness of the “blessed.” That point is amplified immediately by the phrase “Abraham’s bosom,” for in stunning contradiction of his doubtless expectation, the “true son of Abraham” turns out not to be himself but the poor beggar. Though he pretended not to notice Lazarus in life, now he can hardly notice anything else.

One significant theological point suggested in the parable is that not all “sons of Abraham” will have a blessed “life to come.” For some there will be no Sabbath rest (the Greek word for the rich man’s suffering is odynaomai, which implies not only pain but profound restlessness; it is at the root of Odysseus’s name and identity in Homer). This is the pained discomfort of one who is not, and in this case cannot be ever, “at home.”

For Lazarus, by contrast, now is the very first time, perhaps, that he has been at home; in his consciousness there is a profound sense of “comfort” (parakaleō), closure, and completion.

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Ebook Special for Postmodernism 101 by Heath White

Now through September 30, the ebook for Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian by Heath White is only $3.99—77% off! 

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

2006 Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine

“While not among the first titles to present a Christian perspective on postmodern thought, this is among the best. White . . . offers an astute and highly readable analysis that demystifies without oversimplifying. As he escorts readers through characteristic postmodern perspectives on authority, the self, language, morality and history, White undertakes ‘to address these concerns with postmodernism in a faithful and loving way rather than a smug or defensive or panic-stricken one.’ The resulting discussion is well balanced between appreciation and criticism. . . . Instead of engaging postmodernism as an opponent, White invites readers to consider how postmodernism might present ‘an opportunity to rethink both the presentation and the content of the good news about Christ.'”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Imagine a book about postmodernism that intelligently discusses its central ideas and relationship to Christianity–but never uses the words epistemology or hermeneutics. Heath White has provided exactly that in Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian.

In this brief and highly accessible introductory work, White paints the historical and philosophical background underlying postmodernism in understandable, but not oversimplified, language. He explores the differences between premodern, modern, and postmodern thought. He then describes what postmodernism means to our view of self, language, thought, the search for knowledge, and culture, ultimately encouraging Christians to face the postmodern world with hope and courage, not fear.

White’s down-to-earth approach invites Christians who otherwise might have avoided postmodern theorizing into this important dialogue, while also providing vital information for those already engaged in the conversation. His questions for further thought after each chapter and suggestions for further reading provide a journey for readers beyond the text.

Heath White (Ph.D., Georgetown University) is a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Excerpt from Cloister Talks

The following is an excerpt from the second chapter of Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks by Jon M. Sweeney.

Now through September 26, the ebook of Cloister Talks is available for only $2.99—over 75% off.

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

——————————————————

There is something reassuring about the thick stone walls of a monastery. The physical sturdiness of the place reinforces the ancient practices and teachings that you encounter inside. To sit in an abbey church and pray along with the brothers, or to listen to a chapter talk, is to do something Christians have done since the first hermits began to gather in communities outside the major city centers of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. A man in Alexandria, Jerusalem, or Antioch must have grown tired of his day job and responsibilities; he must have wondered how to deepen his spiritual life beyond sitting in church once a week. And so he rode. He rode a camel out to where the monks had set up their communities.

That’s what I do now: I ride my metaphorical camel to see the men in the monastery from time to time. These men live their lives in out-of-the-way places. You would never meet them unless you set out to find them—and I’ve been blessed by finding them. They live in stone houses at the end of long roads, and my camel journeys are always rewarding.

Monks prefer anonymity and live by it in subtle ways. When I once tried to draw a Trappist acquaintance out to talk, he replied he was a simple monk without desire for notice of any kind. He told me that, at seventy-some years old and suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, he would be dead soon, and he had instructed his brothers at the abbey to bury him as quietly as possible without any notice whatever. “Lay brothers tend to be very reserved and shun publicity. For thirteen years I lived somewhat as a hermit on the property. There is even a note in my personnel file requesting a simple Latin/English death notice rather than one with a picture and a ‘blurb,'” he wrote me in a letter. That was four years ago; he’s gone now.

On the other hand, I have met many monks who love to talk. You’d never know that some of them once lived by rules of silence in and around the abbey. Known for their faithfulness to the letter of the Rule of St. Benedict, Trappists were once religious about silence. St. Benedict wrote: “If we should sometimes for the sake of the virtue of silence refrain even from good conversation, we should all the more, for fear of the penalty of sin, refrain from evil words.” Up until the 1960s, silence was not so much the environment as it was the rule in a Cistercian abbey. Those rules vanished along with a bunch of others at the time of the Second Vatican Council.

Many monks are so full of life that conversation seems, at times, to burst out when they know that the person before them is anxious to listen. I’m all ears when I’m with them, and they know it.

Father Luke of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts is one of the most endearing monks I have known. He and I forged a strong bond over the years. He’s a short man with a lot of energy. In the hood of his cowl, his neck almost disappears, making him look cozy. Luke is always seeing the lighter side of the more serious rules in the monastery. About Trappist silence, he once told me the following story: “As a young monk, I was always messing around in the refectory, the infirmary, even sometimes, I’m sorry to admit, in church. We used to accuse each other of our sins, you know. It was a serious affair, or at least was always intended to be serious. I was often accused of making useless hand signs. I would actually cultivate this sin because it made the other men laugh. Not talking became an opportunity for lightheartedness. My favorite memory of frivolous signs was the one that I once made urgently to the priest who was celebrating at the altar, ‘There’s not enough wine!’ I signed to him during the Mass. I was kidding, of course—well, in retrospect, perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea!” And Luke let out a laugh.

Father Luke talks about his faults and past sins with a certain ease that I don’t often find in other people. Somewhere in one of his novels, Graham Greene says that murderers are probably the most loquacious of people. You could say that only great sinners have a lot to say about what they’ve done wrong, but I don’t think that’s quite it with monks. They talk a lot about their sins not because they have sinned more than the average person—I’ve found very few monks with excited pre-conversion stories—but rather because they know what sin is. Without the din of the world, they are more sensitive. With hourly prayers and liturgy, a monk’s life easily fits into God’s narrative. They feel sin, or experience it, more thoroughly, and then they experience God’s forgiveness more keenly too.

©2009 by Jon M. Sweeney. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Ebook Special for Cloister Talks by Jon M. Sweeney

Now through September 28, the ebook for Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks by Jon M. Sweeney is only $2.99—over 75% off! 

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

“Sweeney has written an account of his visits to a number of Cistercians and Benedictines, who gradually draw him closer to the experience of contemplation, to ‘be quiet, sit down, and listen.’. . . Reaching well beyond Catholic readership, this will be valuable to the thoughtful reader, Christian and non-Christian.”
—Graham Christian, Library Journal (starred review)

Come along as author Jon M. Sweeney sits in the warm October sun talking with Father Luke or enjoys a December afternoon in the monastery with Father Ambrose.

In Cloister Talks, Sweeney offers a rare glimpse into his decades-long friendships with monks and shares the wisdom and insight for everyday living he has gained along the way. The contemplative monasticism Sweeney practiced with these monks has been the greatest source of guidance in his journey of faith, and here he shares it with poignant honesty.

Sweeney’s conversations with monks engage various universal areas of life, including life, death, love, work, play, and spirituality. Readers will emerge with a deeper understanding of this ancient way of Christianity, a much needed antidote to the hurry of contemporary life.

Jon M. Sweeney is the author of several books, including the remarkably timely The Pope Who Quit. He is well-known for his ability to take complicated religious history and make it accessible and fascinating to non-scholars. He is the editor-in-chief of Paraclete Press and lives in Illinois with his family.

Free Ebook for Cloister Talks by Jon M. Sweeney

Today (September 22) only, the ebook for Cloister Talks: Learning from My Friends the Monks by Jon M. Sweeney is free from participating retailers. 

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

“Sweeney has written an account of his visits to a number of Cistercians and Benedictines, who gradually draw him closer to the experience of contemplation, to ‘be quiet, sit down, and listen.’. . . Reaching well beyond Catholic readership, this will be valuable to the thoughtful reader, Christian and non-Christian.”
—Graham Christian, Library Journal (starred review)

Come along as author Jon M. Sweeney sits in the warm October sun talking with Father Luke or enjoys a December afternoon in the monastery with Father Ambrose.

In Cloister Talks, Sweeney offers a rare glimpse into his decades-long friendships with monks and shares the wisdom and insight for everyday living he has gained along the way. The contemplative monasticism Sweeney practiced with these monks has been the greatest source of guidance in his journey of faith, and here he shares it with poignant honesty.

Sweeney’s conversations with monks engage various universal areas of life, including life, death, love, work, play, and spirituality. Readers will emerge with a deeper understanding of this ancient way of Christianity, a much needed antidote to the hurry of contemporary life.

Jon M. Sweeney is the author of several books, including the remarkably timely The Pope Who Quit. He is well-known for his ability to take complicated religious history and make it accessible and fascinating to non-scholars. He is the editor-in-chief of Paraclete Press and lives in Illinois with his family.

The Weekly Hit List: September 20, 2013

Two Brazos Press authors will be speaking at the 2014 January Series at Calvin College.

Kevin Schut, author of Of Games and God, will be speaking on January 13, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Nicole Baker Fulgham, author of Educating God’s Children, will be speaking on January 14, 2014.

 

Live streams of their presentations will be available live via the Calvin College web site.

 

 

Quick Hits:

Jim Wallis, author of On God’s Side, appeared on The Bill Press Show.

Educating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham was reviewed on PlayEatGrow.

Of Games and God by Kevin Schut was cited by JohnnyBGamer and Theology Gaming.

 

Ebook Specials:

Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith is only $3.99 (80% off) through September 26.

Ebook Special for Speaking of Dying by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith

Now through September 26, the ebook for Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith is only $3.99—80% off! 

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

Named One of the Top 10 Books of the Year for 2012, Academy of Parish Clergy

“Arguing that the church has ceded end-of-life care to the medical profession and neglected or forgotten available gospel resources, the authors, themselves theologians and preachers, offer a theological rationale and practical guidance for caring for the dying within congregational settings. . . . Individual or small-group reflection questions follow each chapter in this accessible resource for pastors and congregations.”
—Publishers Weekly

The church does not cope very well with dying. Instead of using its own resources to mount a positive end-of-life ministry for the terminally ill, it outsources care to secular models, providers, and services. A terminal diagnosis typically triggers denial of impending death and placing faith in the techniques and resources of modern medicine. If a cure is not forthcoming, the patient and his or her loved ones experience a sense of failure and bitter disappointment.

This book offers a critical analysis of the church’s failure to communicate constructively about dying, reminding the church of its considerable liturgical, scriptural, and pastoral resources when it ministers to the terminally ill. The authors, who have all been personally and professionally involved in end-of-life issues, suggest practical, theological bases for speaking about dying, communicating with those facing death, and preaching about dying. They explore how dying–in baptism–begins and informs the Christian’s life story. They also emphasize that the narrative of faith embraces dying, and they remind readers of scriptural and christological resources that can lead toward a “good dying.” In addition, they present current best practices from health professionals for communication among caregivers and those facing death.

Fred Craddock (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is a widely acclaimed preacher and author, selected by Newsweek as one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. He has written numerous books on preaching, several commentaries, and The Cherry Log Sermons. He lives in Cherry Log, Georgia.

Dale Goldsmith (PhD, University of Chicago) taught for several years at McPherson College and at the Baptist Seminary of Mexico. He is the author of New Testament Ethics and lives in Amarillo, Texas.

Joy V. Goldsmith (PhD, University of Oklahoma) is assistant professor of communication at the University of Memphis. Her books include Communication as Comfort and Dying with Comfort. She lives in Atoka, Tennessee.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 16:1-13:

Luke BTCB

This is a difficult story to understand, and not least because in it there seems to be praise for someone who actions are, to say the least, ethically murky. If, as seems possible, it followed in delivery close upon the heels of the forgiveness parables in Luke 15, then perhaps it is providing a perspective on worldly forgiveness for wrongdoing that has, in its own context, some rationale and plausibility, even if the “forgiveness” of the rich man falls far short of the divine standard suggested in the parable of the prodigal.

But there is more likely something more than that at issue. Here the offender is not a son but a kind of estate manager, and the sin appears less to be a matter of completely profligate abandon (although some of that is suggested) than of bad management, a lazy neglect of duty and responsibility by which the “steward” (oikonomos) had “wasted” the good of his master. Whatever the case, having been a bad steward, when called to give a full “account” (the term is logos, meaning in this context a “rational account”) prior to dismissal from his post, the manager proves to be an unjust as well as ineffective steward. . . .

The story describes a large estate with very substantial tenant debts, and the secretive reductions in debt represent a formidable loss of revenue for the owner. It may be that the amounts represent accrued interest on the outstanding debt (in which case usury of some sort may be a complicating factor). A critical point in the story is the owner’s response to the manner in which he has yet again been cheated, just as the unjust steward is headed out the door. Rather than being furious, as we would expect, he surprisingly commends the man for his “shrewdness,” a better and more precise translation of phronimos than “done wisely.” . . .

Prudential wisdom of this order is not, it seems to me, compelling as the principal lesson to be drawn. Once again, the Lord’s distinction (or comparison) is a key: “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (16:8 KJV). That is, worldly people use mammon pragmatically in a self-interested way, and given their materialistic preoccupations, that makes a certain prudential sense.

But “the children of light,” who have every reason by virtue of scriptural instruction to know that for them worldly profits are mere dross compared with “laying up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt,” have too often in practice a fundamental confusion of mind and method in their habits of life. One can too easily gain the whole world and lose one’s soul, as Jesus says elsewhere (Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:37).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.