Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Author: Charlie (page 1 of 12)

Marathon Competition Results

Congratulations to Bradley Burroughs for coming the closest to my marathon finishing time without going over. Bradley guessed 3 hours and 20 minutes, and my official time was 3 hours, 24 minutes and 5 seconds. Congratulations also to Chris Smith (3:18) and Lisa Deam (3:05) for coming in 2nd and 3rd. James Stock, our marketing director, is going to award copies of Barry Harvey’s excellent new book, Taking Hold of the Real: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Profound Worldliness of Christianity, to the top three entries, and as overall winner, Bradley will also receive a free copy of the e-book.

It was a gorgeous day to run, and I was very happy with the results. My goal was 3:25 or faster,  as I was trying to achieve the Boston qualifying standard for 45 year olds (I’m not yet 45, but the Boston standards are based on the age you’ll be on the day of the marathon you’re trying to qualify for, in my case Boston 2017). I learned this week that, despite the fact that I went under the standard, I probably didn’t run fast enough to actually get into the race. So many people want to run Boston every year that they accept the fastest runners in each age group until the race fills up. For 2016’s registration (just completed in September), you had to run 2 minutes and 28 seconds faster than your age-group qualifying standard to have your registration accepted! So I guess I have a new goal . . . 3:22!

Here’s my favorite pic of the day, taken by my wife as she raced around Portland with my sons to cheer me on (Elijah is pictured, getting ready to give me a high five somewhere in NW Portland):

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Thanks to you all for participating!

Marathon Showcase Showdown—Guess Time, Win Book!

On Sunday, October 4th, at 7:00am Pacific, I’ll attempt to complete my seventh marathon. It’s the first marathon I’ve run in seven years, and I’m excited about running around Portland, especially up and over the historic St. John’s bridge (though I might reconsider my enthusiasm for the bridge when I’m climbing it around 17 miles in).

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As the date gets nearer, I’ve been thinking more and more about all of the training, the race details, what to eat, what not to eat, etc. My watch reminds me every day how close I am to the event.

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When not running, I’ve been very busy lately in my capacity as an editor finalizing work on books for the Evangelical Theological Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society of Biblical Literature. One of the books I’ve really enjoyed proofreading is Barry Harvey’s forthcoming Taking Hold of the Real: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Profound Worldliness of Christianity (Cascade Books).

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Barry’s book is not only a major contribution to Bonhoeffer studies, but also a significant contribution to the conversation about what it means to live as faithful Christians in a “world come of age.”

Since I’ve had my marathon and Barry’s book on my mind a lot lately, I thought I’d combine them into something fun and promotional with my blog post today.

Wipf and Stock will give a free copy of Barry’s book to the person who comes the closest to guessing my marathon finishing time in hours and minutes. (Barry has given his thumbs up to the idea: “What do they say in Hollywood? There’s no such thing as bad publicity? There is probably is, but your idea sounds good to me. Go for it!”).

Details: Place your entry in a comment on this blog post; one entry per person. Price is Right rules in effect, meaning you have to guess a time faster than or equal to my finishing time in order to win. So if I break the world record and run a 2 hour marathon, tough luck if you guessed 2:01 (though thanks for the vote of confidence!). The only exception will be if I DNF (“did not finish”), in which case whoever picks the slowest time wins! All entries must be submitted before 7am Pacific Sunday morning.

Our marketing director, James Stock, suggested we award a number of prizes, but I will let him determine what they are. Perhaps we’ll give away multiple copies, or perhaps copies of other exciting forthcoming titles, to runners up.

The Posters of the 18th Avenue Peace House

For over a month now, our family has been living in the 18th Avenue Peace House in Northeast Portland. It’s an amazing place with an impressive history of Christian community and activism, about which I hope to write more in the future.

Our boys have enjoyed exploring this big old home in “Historic Irvington,” a close-in neighborhood in Northeast Portland. Among the things they like most about the Peace House is the collection of peace posters hanging all over the place. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find should you come by for a visit:

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Running Season, Leaving Eugene

Two weeks from yesterday, my family will load up a truck and move to Portland. I’ve been thinking more and more about the things I’ll miss in Eugene. There’s not a big restaurant scene in Eugene like there is in Portland, but we have some favorites. And there is quite a local brewery scene in Eugene that we’ll miss, as well as a beer bar, The Bier Stein, that rivals anything Portland has to offer.

Of course, it’s the people and relationships we’ll truly miss the most. The good folk at Wesley United Methodist Church, where Erin has served for almost nine years, the last five as senior minister, have become family to our family, and when we first told our six-year-old Rowan that we were moving to Portland, he said, “That’s fine, but it’s going to be a longer drive to church!” Our church family is what Rowan knows life to be all about, and changing that is going to take some getting used to.

I’m also going to  miss my colleagues at Wipf and Stock in Eugene. To say that we have a relaxed office in Eugene is a rather preposterous understatement. Our bosses have always done their best to be supportive friends first, and “managers” second or third or forth. I know that I personally have enjoyed a great deal of flexibility that has contributed significantly to the wonderful quality of life that my whole family has enjoyed in Eugene. The camaraderie and support of the folks in Eugene is not easy to leave behind. I’m grateful that there are also some wonderful folk up in Portland that I’ll get to work alongside as I continue in my role as editor for Wipf and Stock. What they lack in numbers up in Portland they make up for in humor and kindness (I’m talking about you Mike and Hilda Munk, and Adam McInturf).

Among the places I’ll miss the most in Eugene is Hayward Field at the University of Oregon—home track of legendary coaches (Bill Bowman), runners (Steve Prefontaine), and meets (the PreClassic) alike. Erin and I went to our ninth consecutive PreClassic last Saturday, and it was hard to avoid the thought that we might find it difficult to continue attending that event every year. The longer I’ve been in Eugene, the more I have become a track and field fan. Eugenians know their track and field, and the local knowledge of the professional sport has become infectious over time. Truth be told, my main use of Twitter is to keep up with track and field events by way of folks who live tweet events I can’t otherwise follow.

It’s been particularly fun to follow track and field the last couple of years, as my nephews on the other side of the country, Jaxson and Josh Hoey of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, have started to come into their own as high school runners. Just last week Jaxson, a junior, won the state 1600m race for AAA schools in Pennsylvania, and his brother Josh, a freshman (!!!), came in 7th in the same race. As I’ve followed them from afar, I have learned more about up-and-coming high schoolers, and so I knew I was seeing something special a few years ago when I got to see Mary Cain run the 800m at the PreClassic. This year, I had the good fortune to see Matthew Maton become the 6th American high-schooler to run a sub-4 mile at the Twilight meet at Hayward, and then Erin and I watched Alexa Efraimson of Camas, Washington,  break the American high school and junior record for the 1500m last Saturday at the PreClassic.

Watching all of these elite athletes run incredible races is sort of a strange companion to my own return to decent running shape. I’m running as well now as I have in almost a decade, and I’m now officially signed up for the Portland Marathon in October. I’m going to take another shot at running a Boston Qualifying time, which for me will be 3 hours, 25 minutes. That’s basically how fast I ran my first marathon—but that was almost 15 years ago! I first started running seriously as an adult in Durham, North Carolina, and then I logged tons of miles in the small town of Southern Pines, about an hour and a half south of Durham. Both were great communities to run in, but neither can hold a candle to Eugene as a running community. We have almost 20 miles of paved trails along the Willamette River, and multiple bark dust trails, regularly maintained and sometimes “sponsored” by professional running companies, on account of all the professional runners that live and train here. We have “Pre’s Trail”, and our local marathon finishes at Hayward Field. I’m going to miss running in Eugene as much as anything else.

On the theme of running and leaving, I’ll change gears and leave you with my favorite thing that The Onion has ever done. There might be something in here for me to think about more seriously, but I’ve got to get out the door for a run! Cheers!

Christian Decline as Return to (Marginal) Strength

Three stories/posts making the rounds yesterday came together for me, oddly enough as you’ll see, as a picture of hope for the future of Christianity in America.

I.

The first was not a single story but rather a whole series of news articles and blog posts about the new Pew survey on “American’s Changing Religious Landscape.” One of the key findings of the study is that the percentage of Christians is declining in America. Released but three days ago, there’s no shortage of commentary on what the survey results mean. Though the survey results are fresh, the decline is nothing new, nor is the tendency to respond to the trend line as bad news. Back in November, Michael Lipka of the Pew Research Center reported that approximately two thirds of American Protestants and Catholics view “religion’s waning influence” as “a bad thing.” Even 30% of the “unaffiliated” considered the development “a bad thing.”

II.

Jason Byassee, a good friend from graduate school, lured me into reading a lovely post at the Ekklesia Project lectionary blog by declaring on Facebook about its author: “I nominate Kyle Childress for best preacher and storyteller on the planet.” Childress, pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, reflects in “Two Christianities” about the difficulty of interpreting the high priestly prayer of John 17:6–19—the centerpiece of which reads, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one”—in the midst of his local context in which some well-meaning Christian folk arm themselves for a zombie apocalypse, and others think their Governor wise for summoning the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the “Jade Helm” military training exercises out of fear that Obama really might be planning to invade the state and intern folk in empty Wal Marts. Childress hardly feels at one with these Christians, nor with the Christians who recently gathered for the National Day of Prayer in a local park to sing “God Bless America” and denounce various trends that they see at the root of a declining America. Childress pointed out that the National Day of Prayer gatherings are typically all-white audiences entirely distinct from the folk who turned out for the Martin Luther King Day celebration just a few months prior.

III.

I hope readers will follow the link to Childress’ post to see where he goes from there, but it was the racialization of Christian disunity noticed by Childress that I was reminded of later when reading a post at the Duke Divinity School blog by one of my teachers, Willie James Jennings. In “Overcoming Racial Faith,” Jennings summons us to go beyond the false platitudes about racial conflict as an occasional flare up against a more serene and racially reconciled backdrop, to embrace a more painful truth about American life: “racial animus is a constituting reality of our social body.” Importantly, Jennings wants us to understand how the racial animus that is a constituting reality of our American social body is linked to the distinctive history of Christian faith—specifically, to what he calls “gentile forgetfulness.” His account is elegant and powerful and worth quoting at some length:

Christian faith grew from spoiled soil, from a way of reading Scripture and understanding ourselves as followers of Jesus that was distorted almost from the beginning. This first aspect of racial faith emerged from forgetting that we were Gentiles. Christian belief in God begins with the astounding claim that we have met God in a Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth, a vagabond rabbi who came not to us but to his own people, Israel. The “us” in that sentence is Gentiles, those not of Israel, those not Jewish. And by Jewish I mean (generally speaking) all those inside the history of Israel, who would identify themselves, theologically or ethnically, inside that history.

We Gentiles were outsiders to Israel. We were at the margins. So our engagement with Jesus was engagement from the margins, not from the center of power or privilege. In fact, anyone in Israel who connected themselves to Jesus moved to the margins. They became what theologian Shawn Copeland calls “a thinking margin.” Thinking from the margin is thinking from the site where one can see the operations of power and oppression and spy out the possibilities of freedom. To be a thinking margin means that one always claims the identity of one who others didn’t imagine would be included and one who never forgets the feeling of being the outsider who was included by grace.

Somewhere, probably in many places and many times, Gentile Christians got tired of remembering that they were a thinking margin that had been included in Israel’s promise. They decided—we decided—that those who followed Jesus were the only people of God and that Jewish people, Israel in the flesh, were no longer the people of God. We also decided that we should look at the world as though we were at the center of it and not at the margins with a Jew named Jesus. We forgot we were Gentiles, the real heathens. A Christian world was turned upside down and remade in our image.

Jennings goes on to discuss “The Principality of Whiteness” as another key ingredient to the racial animus that plagues us, and I encourage readers to work through the entire piece. But I’ve quoted enough to suggest why I think it’s not just a parlor trick to claim that Christian decline might actually be good news for Christians in America. It might be just the healing balm needed by power-hungry heathen who have forgotten that the very source of their salvation comes from a marginal Jewish rabbi whose power was made perfect in weakness. As Kyle Childress is experiencing in Nacogdoches, Texas, and I suspect a good many Christians are experiencing elsewhere in America, many efforts by Christian churches “to reclaim the center” of American life and culture are being revealed more and more to be bizarre and paranoid and, I fear, violent betrayals of the gospel that doesn’t belong there—at “the center of power or privilege.” Dare we hope that by rediscovering and embracing our proper location on the margins, Christians in America might at long last confront and overcome the stubborn, constituting reality of racial animus that Jennings helps us to name?

Resisting the Subtle Temptation of Freedom of Religion on Good Friday—Stanley Hauerwas

I suspect I’m like many readers of the Running Heads blog in that I have read, here and there, a rather remarkable amount of commentary about religion, law, and Indiana over the past week. The social-media vituperation has been outmatched only by the sheer quantity of words produced all over the place—fortunately, at least a few of the words have been measured and helpful beacons amidst a raging sea of left- and right-wing hysteria. “Conservatives want Jim Crow for gay people!” “Liberals hate the Church and will not stop until orthodox Christians are routed from American life!”

Instead of trying to add a meaningful drop to this ocean of commentary, I thought I’d simply quote the closing three paragraphs of an essay first published by Stanley Hauerwas in the late 1980s. I find them resonant, and stubbornly relevant, for many reasons, not least of which is Hauerwas’s decision to relate the question of American “freedom of religion” to the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, it’s Good Friday and debates about religious freedom are obviously still with us in America in the year 2015.

This essay, first published in Soundings, became chapter 3, “The Politics of Freedom: Why Freedom of Religion is a Subtle Temptation,” in After Christendom: How the Church is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991). From pages 91–92:

“Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So are you a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?'” [John 18:33–38]

Of course this text has been used to justify apolitical accounts of Jesus’ ministry as well as the church—Jesus and the church deal with spiritual matters that do not have a direct effect on politics. Few well informed interpreters of the New Testament, however, would make that claim today. Jesus’ ministry from first to last was political. His death was political. For Jesus died the death meant for Israel so that it might be possible for us to live faithful to God’s way of dealing with the world—that is, through truth and not coercion.

Jesus’ disavowal of the kingship of this world does not mean that he is not king. Rather his dialogue with Pilate reveals that he is not the kind of king that Pilates are capable of recognizing. For Pilates are people who have disavowed truth, and in particular, a truth that comes in the form of a suffering servant. Even less likely is such a truth relevant to politics as Pilate understands the political. The fact that we are allegedly a democracy that respects freedom of religion has not changed that assumption. Rather the illusion has been created that we live in a non coercive society because it is one where “the people” rule. If the church challenged that assumption, then I think we would find that our society might well think us mad. In particular, I suspect Christians would find our society less than willing to acknowledge the church’s freedom once the church makes clear that her freedom comes from faithfulness to God and as a result can never be given or taken away by a state.

Inhabit 2015: Faithful Practice in the New Commons

I made a reservation yesterday for a hotel room in downtown Seattle for Inhabit 2015—a conference co-sponsored by the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and The Parish Collective dedicated to exploring “Faithful Practice in the New Commons.” Erin and I have wanted to attend Inhabit since it first started five years ago, but the stars never seemed to align. I’m currently working on some developmental editing with an author active in the Inhabit movement, and so I’m delighted finally to be able to get up to Seattle and learn more about efforts to re-orient Christian communities towards local neighborhood development and empowerment. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the website about the conference:

Each year hundreds of practitioners, pastors, social entrepreneurs, church planters, community leaders, environmentalists, denominational executives, publishers, professors, urban planners, and artists from all over the globe come together to connect, collaborate and celebrate the good work being done in thousands of neighbourhoods and parishes. They share a common vision for seeing the transformation of the church through their participation in their neighborhood. They are educated yet grounded in practice, committed to interdisciplinary work, and invested in the flourishing of the Kingdom of God.

As we anticipate Inhabit in its 5th year, we’ll convene a diverse cross-section of pioneering leaders who come to meet new friends, learn from one another, and are sent back reinvigorated to join in God’s dream of reconciliation and renewal for the very particular place they call home. With a dynamic mix of participatory environments, insights from seasoned leaders, and rich storytelling, the Inhabit Conference is a uniquely creative event year after year.

Shoot me an email if you’re planning on being at Inhabit 2015! I’d love to hear about the work you’re doing that has led you to Seattle.

An Excerpt from “Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church” by Stan Goff

It’s been a season of theologically informed memoirs in my work as an editor. Last week, I posted an excerpt from Charles H. Featherstone’s important new book, The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death. This week, I offer two excerpts from the equally important new work of Stan Goff: Borderline: Reflections on War, Sex, and Church“Stan Goff is a remarkable human being,” enthuses Stanley Hauerwas, “so we should not be surprised at this equally remarkable book. Drawing on feminist theory, Goff helps us see war as an expression of a perverse masculinity. His philosophical and theological insights throughout this book are stunning. Borderline is a must-read for anyone concerned with war and its effect on our lives.”
Goff’s book is a big one, but don’t let that scare you away. We American Christians desperately need to make whatever time is necessary to grapple with every page of this searching work of theological and cultural criticism. The first passage is taken from chapter 30, “Bombs, Babies, and ‘Burbs,” pages 366–69; the second comes from chapter 31, “The Herd,” pages 376–77 and 383–85.

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30

Bombs, Babies, and ’Burbs

Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.

—Robert Oppenheimer,
upon witnessing the first atomic bomb test

Progress is our most important product.

—General Electric tag line, 1954,
delivered on television by Ronald Reagan

. . . .

After World War II, the leaders of the nation, civic and political, wanted to leave the war behind and begin the process of consolidating the power they had inherited in the wake of European destruction and the unraveling of European empires. American men themselves were keen to settle back down, get jobs, and raise families. Their collective masculinity had been proven abroad in combat, and their political masculinity was proven by the bomb. The nation required a new mythic narrative, now that “democracy had triumphed over dictatorship” and military action would become a sideline (in Korea?) while the nation’s efforts were directed toward the postwar surge in capital accumulation driven by technological innovation and consumer demand. Not only the nation, but the re-establishment of a hegemonic masculinity required a revised mythic narrative. One cultural manifestation of this shift was the renewed popularity of the Western. Richard Slotkin writes,

In the midst of this ideological turmoil, the Western and its informing mythology offered a language and a set of conceptual structures rich in devices for defining the differences between competing races, classes, cultures, social orders, and moral codes. It incorporated these definitions in pseudo-historical narratives which suggested that human [male] heroism could shape the course of future events. Moreover, the preoccupation with violence that characterizes the Western and the Myth of the Frontier made its formulations particularly useful during a period of continual conflict between the claims of democratic procedure and Cold War policies that required the use of armed force. [Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998) 350].

As we will see, this contradiction between “democratic” and conformist Father Knows Best masculinity and the Western hero cum secret warrior masculinity was being resolved by making these two forms complementary, with the former supportive of the latter, but supportive in a passive and vicarious way. The good suburban husband and father would virtuously consume and work, and his participation in the bloodletting of the warrior would be as a spectator. The cowboy-hero became the symbol for political masculinity.

In the two elections in which George W. Bush ran for president, we saw this transfer of cowboy-hero symbolism to the individual candidate/officeholder; it was politically effective even though Bush himself was born in 1946 to a wealthy Eastern patrician family and was a frat boy and cheerleader at Yale University. Simulation and symbol trumped reality.

In 1947, Hollywood produced fourteen Westerns; the following year the number jumped to thirty-one. In 1952, it produced forty Westerns, and in 1956 a total of forty-six. After 1956, there was a dip in production caused by competition in the genre from television. From 1955 to 1970, Westerns were consistently among the highest-rated television series, pulling on average about a third of all viewers [ibid., 347–48].

The interplay between film, fiction, television, popular norms, and power is complex. Cultural productions do not generate a certain politics, nor does a certain political practice play a direct causative role in the production of cultural myths and archetypes. Politics and public discourse about it create clusters of public concern—these are the things that are “important.” Yet if those public concerns have no connection with the real, material concerns of most people’s lives, they are likely to be ignored. Pre-existing patterns within culture interact with these concerns, and there is a dialectical give-and-take between “art” and “reality.” Art itself, when it is a commodity, has to take into account its salability, its likelihood of being accepted. Does it connect to popular concerns or the way people live their lives in a particular period, even if that connection is controversial? Controversy can be salable! Symbols that are not recognizable, however, will not provoke a response; and there are already numerous mythic landscapes with which a particular “public” may be familiar.

Art has a special ability to create emotional resonance that is not the case with many forms of “rational” public discourse. That’s why art is always part of any social change movement; it can mobilize emotions as well as new conversations. In combination, art, power, and mass communication have established a form of power unthinkable to local despots and transient emperors of the past, a means for rendering the governed incapable of imagining anything except how they are governed. In a nation of hundreds of millions of people, a largely conformist population is a prerequisite to effective bureaucratic administration combined with autonomy of the state to exercise its military and security apparatuses.

An analytics of government . . . views practices of government in their complex and variable relations to the different ways in which “truth” is produced in social, cultural, and political practices. On the one hand, we govern others and ourselves according to what we take to be true about who we are, what aspects of our existence should be worked upon, how, with what means, and to what ends. We thus govern others and ourselves according to various truths about our existence and nature as human beings. On the other hand, the ways in which we govern and conduct ourselves give rise to different ways of producing truth. [Mitchell Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London: Sage, 2010) 27].

Just as Carol Cohn, after speaking technostrategic for a time, found that “the more conversations I participated in using this language, the less frightened I was of nuclear war,” the power of mass media, if it uses the same idiom as power, can establish the actuality of that power as given, as common sense.

The postwar Western movie had several archetypical storylines, which Slotkin has named and described: the town-tamer, the cavalry and the Indians, the revised outlaw, the gunfighter, the High Noon showdown, and the good man with a gun. The Western genre gave each of these narratives a wide “mythic space” in which to tell these differing stories [Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation, 351]. Cold War Westerns all had some defining borderline, whether it was a river, a fort’s palisade, a street, a fence, or the (fragile) boundary between civilization and wilderness, or savagery. A hero or protagonist had to cross those borderlines and by transgressing them “reveal the meaning of the frontier line” as he entered the dark side to protect the good side. Sometimes, after we were schooled in the psychoanalytic wolf-man, as the protagonist dealt with the “darkness” across the border, he also dealt with the darkness within himself. It is always a he. In the Western, the audience was to understand the boundary that separates their past from the viewing present, and therein they understood this to be a tale of progress. Last but certainly not least, there was a resolution, a “regeneration” accomplished by male violence [ibid., 352].

. . . .

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31

The Herd

Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’”

—1 Samuel 18:25

We are the unwilling, sent by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful.

—Helmet graffiti, Vietnam

“It don’t mean nuthin.”

I learned that phrase in Vietnam. We said it when someone was killed. We said it when the mail didn’t come out on the resupply bird. We said it when we got busted. We said it when we were shriveled up with four days of ceaseless rain. We said it when we watched the ARVNs beating the shit out of a prisoner. We said it when we got jungle rot. We said it while the house burned after we set the roof thatch on fire. We said it when we smoked opium in a whorehouse. We said it if we killed a child. We said it when we were just tired and it was a long way to our DEROS date.

“Fuck it. Don’t mean nuthin’.”

Postmodern philosophy in the boonies.

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I entered the army with a head full of Ayn Rand’s smug, circular logic and a flaccid, indolent, adolescent body. I had rationalized the army and internalized the culture’s masculine ideal . . . minus football. I never liked football. I enlisted intent on becoming a Green Beret.

In basic training, I was summarily reduced to a slobbering, faint-hearted fool by a plague of sadistic drill sergeants. How I recoiled from the reality of hard work when my skinny limbs and tar-speckled lungs encountered real, deep-down fatigue! Within one day, I wanted nothing more than to retreat to my hometown, where I could fritter away the hours bargaining with girls for sex, drinking beer, and trying to one-up my acquaintances in debates on topics about which none of us knew a damn thing. With time, however, my body hardened, my bluster returned, I became accustomed to being named Dickhead (we were all named Dickhead), and I came to recognize the ever clean, ever starched drill sergeants as the embodiment of power. Stockholm at Fort Leonard Wood.

We sang “Yellow Bird” when we marched:

A yellow bird

With a yellow bill

Was perched upon

My windowsill.

I lured him in

With bits of bread

And then I smashed

His fucking head.

. . . two, three, four, hut, two, three, four . . .

 

.  .  .  .

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With the progression of hours and days [in Vietnam], as is the case with young men, the discussions became more emboldened. Each retelling was another blow to my shattered innocence. A booby trap had killed JoJo last month. As repayment, it was okay to kill an old woman hoeing a vegetable patch. To “kill a dink for JoJo.” This was Vietnam, my truest and most tangible introduction to the possibilities of human action.

I was in the company of my peers. I needed their acceptance. They looked like me. They liked the same music. We got high together. We became misty-eyed with each other over letters from home. Many claimed that after the army they wanted to become hippies (for the drugs, music, and allegedly easy women). In the extremity of our circumstance, in my platoon, the lines between black and white were erased and replaced by the line between GIs and “gooks.” It was a brotherhood of youth, engaged voluntarily or not in a race war. I think that’s what Hawk was thinking—the one black man with the kill patrol—not long after the kill, when he gave me that long, sad look. He would become a heroin addict after that. I don’t know if he ever really came home. Sometimes, I’m not sure I did, or can . . . or should be allowed to.

The first time I tossed a burning heat tab onto the thatched roof of a barn, it was like pledging a fraternity. I was accepted more thoroughly than I ever had been in my life—accepted into a fraternity that was untouchable by anything but death. You don’t just set the building on fire. You giggle when the weeping, wailing family tries to put it out. Then you have become crazy enough to be safe. Mimesis.

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Months later, I was a relative old-timer. We’d left our “pacification” installations after Christmas and gone back “on swing,” patrolling through the mountains, bedding down in shallow scrapes or between rocks wherever we found ourselves at the end of the day, unprotected from the weather. I was accustomed now to the steep, slippery trails that we hacked out a yard at a time with machetes. My M60 machine gun was no more bother than carrying a briefcase. I had a human skull mounted on top of my rucksack, tied on with an embroidered headband through two bullet holes in the occipital area (a gunship had killed him, or her, from above). The mandible was secured to the cranium with medical adhesive tape that had turned gray. My ear was pierced. I’d done it with a pencil, a sewing needle and a bar of soap at a whorehouse in Lodu Beach. My boots were scuffed down to a tan, the second pair. I looked crazy, walked crazy, was high any time I had anything to get high with. I didn’t even use the tablets to treat my water anymore. Drank it straight from the streams. I could sleep in a mud hole. I could put one foot in front of the other indefinitely. I was angry all the time, even when I smiled and laughed, even when I lay in the frame of the rucksack, letting the wind blow the sweat off of me, smoking and talking about what I might want to do when I got back to “the world.” I fantasized about killing officers.

On swing, we stayed in the “free fire” zones for the most part—areas where we were cleared to kill any human being that wasn’t wearing our OG-107 fatigue uniforms. We’d stay out for forty-five to sixty days in between three- to five-day stand-downs, rest periods inside fixed installations. We walked up. We walked down. Days in, days out. Sun or rain. During the monsoon season, it was rain or harder rain. We would see no one but ourselves, unless it was to shoot them, or call in Napalm or Phugas or artillery to kill them from afar. Walking, left toe then right toe, chipping mindlessly forward into the crushed vegetation. “Humping the boonies.”

Only rarely did we venture near a road or a ville, and this was when we’d stop some enterprising Vietnamese to secure more drugs. We bought pot by the sandbag full; pure heroin the size of a sugar cube for five bucks. And Obisetol, an over-the-counter speed to help us stay awake. They recognized us, the guys who had drugs for sale, and we recognized them. The rest, they were just more dinks.

One day, we were beside a road. A young Vietnamese man pedaled past me with a bicycle that had two saddle baskets full of sugarcane. He smiled at me as he approached.

“Keep movin’, you fuckin’ gook.” That was me. I said that.

He stopped. I leapt to my feet at his impertinence.

He seemed utterly unafraid, just sad. He spoke English.

“This my home,” he told me. “I am Vietnamese. You and me, why can’t we be friend?”

He was very direct. My intimidation did not work at all, and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t shoot him right there on the road . . . and honestly I didn’t want to. His question was simple, and I had no answer. He snapped off a length of sugarcane and handed it to me. Reluctantly, I took it. I was trying to maintain my hateful look, but it was hard. I’d spent months cultivating it. Now I felt foolish because he was not afraid. Then he rode away. I’d never eaten sugarcane before, never known that explosion of liquid, melonlike sweetness. A guy from Puerto Rico showed me how to peel it using a bayonet.

For the rest of the day, I fought hard to stop the hole the man on the bike had driven into my dam with his simple act of courage and hospitality. That night the dam ruptured in the darkness. I cried quietly through a whole guard shift, wanting more than anything just to go home.

I was suddenly stunned at how effortless my transformation had become.

I know plenty about racism.

Looking back—I can’t be sure—but one day, in the spring of 1971, I may have met Jesus on a bicycle.

An Excerpt from “The Love that Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death,” by Charles H. Featherstone

It’s only a couple of months into the new publishing year, but I’ve already had the privilege of working on a number fascinating new Cascade titles. Today, with permission of the author, Charles H. Featherstone, I’m sharing an excerpt from Chapter 13 of Featherstone’s extraordinary memoir, The Love that Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Fear.

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I blogged about how I discovered Charles’s journey through childhood abuse to becoming Muslim to Christian conversion here, and about Rod Dreher’s reaction to the book that he was instrumental in bringing to us here. Dreher describes the work as “an American spiritual classic and offers this thought about the contemporary relevance of Charles’s journey: “It strikes me that a true story about how religion channeled anger, and how it delivered someone from that anger, has special meaning in this moment.” For more on Charles’s life and work, check out his active website

13

That Beautiful Tuesday

The morning of September 11, 2001, began as most mornings did: the radio went off at 6 a.m., and I lounged in bed, somewhere between consciousness and sleep, until about 6:30.

I love lying in bed in the mornings listening to the radio in that in-between state. Because I love that in-between state, not quite asleep but not quite awake. My wife hates it. She hates getting up in the mornings, and she always grumbles when the radio goes off and she’s forced to wake up. What typically woke me in the morning was the BBC World Service on the shortwave. But that summer, the BBC had finally abandoned its last English-language service to North America, and the Caribbean signal I could occasionally leech off of was only really good for about fifteen minutes.

Especially this close to the World Trade Center. The twin towers were murder on shortwave reception, scrambling frequencies and showering much of the shortwave spectrum with noise.

So, I’d learned to settle with National Public Radio. I wasn’t happy about that—I missed World Service—but it’s what there was.

I showered, made coffee and had breakfast. I thought about getting Jennifer out of bed. After all, a group of us from BridgeNews were planning an outing to A Salt & Battery Fish and Chips in Greenwich Village for lunch. But she looked so sweet sleeping there, and she always got so cranky when I woke her up.

So I let her sleep. It would have been nice to have coffee and breakfast together at American Express, or at one of the many cafes in the World Financial Center, but it wasn’t necessary.

I put on a pair of khaki shorts, a striped blue T-shirt, and my sandals, and grabbed my backpack. I had a few books in there, as well as my shortwave radio. Since I’d been at San Francisco State, I almost always took a shortwave radio with me everywhere I went.

“Little one,” I said, using my favorite nickname for Jennifer. “Remember we have a lunch outing today. So, go ahead and come over whenever you want. Just lie in bed for now.”

“Okay,” she mumbled drowsily.

I took the elevator down from our 26th floor apartment—we were still in the Bridge corporate flat in Jersey City—and walked out the front door. It was beautiful that morning, and the sun was just beginning to inch above the skyline of lower Manhattan. The sky was clear blue, a blue I remembered from winter mornings in Southern California.

PATH train or ferry this morning? Oh, it was too beautiful to take the train under the Hudson. This morning was clearly a ferry morning. I walked the short walk, about five minutes, from our apartment to the ferry slip, handed in my ticket, and got on the next boat across the Hudson.

The blue of the sky, the brightness of the sun, all struck me intensely. I stood on the bow of the ferry, pressed myself up against the railing, and felt the spray of the river on my toes and ankles. And the warm breeze in my hair. Trying to take it all in.

“The world is so beautiful today,” I thought. “What an amazing, strange and wonderful life I’ve had.”

I looked at the Manhattan skyline. The rising sun had come up behind the South Tower. The World Trade Center did something that morning I’d only ever seen mountains do before—the shadow it cast was visible in the air. I looked up and saw that shadow cut through sky above me. Like that shadow was actually a thing you could touch, something you could grasp and hold in your hands.

Sunrise over Lower Manhattan was almost always spectacular, especially on cloudless mornings like this one. And sunset, especially as the setting sun was reflected in pinks, oranges, yellows and reds in all the steel, glass, polished granite, and burnished aluminum of Lower Manhattan, was very nearly always a thing to behold.

I inhaled. And exhaled. I thought of the fact that Jennifer and I would soon have to leave.

“Remember this sight always,” I thought. “It will not be with you much longer.”

The ferry docked. I walked past the New York Mercantile Exchange, into the Winter Garden, up an escalator, swiped my ID badge, and took an elevator to the 28th floor of Three World Financial Center. The last week of Bridge. I went to work early, out of habit. Because my one and only story was an early morning story. And, well, just because.

I walked through the maze of cubicles, saying hello as I went. Deborah Kinirons was there. Deb was young, only a couple of years out of college, a graduate of one of the SUNY schools, and she’d been hired as our frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) correspondent. I’d worked with her on a Brazil orange production story once when I was in Washington. FCOJ is where Bridge tended to start commodity reporters who were brand new, and it’s where the New York Board of Trade also tended to start traders. It’s a fairly simple and stable market, not prone to wild fluctuations.

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The key to Three World Financial Center. Note that I’m not wearing a T-shirt in this photo.

My heart would often skip a beat when I looked at Deb. She’d smile and, for a brief moment, I’d see Lauren. When she spoke, though, it was all Long Island.

And Scott Reeves was there too. Scott was a hard-bitten old-timer, a reporter from the days of Underwood typewriters and ever-present Scotch bottles. He’d started his career with the Associated Press in Mississippi, then graduated to covering California government for The Sacramento Bee in the 1970s and 1980s. He’d become somewhat notorious after showing up drunk to a press conference—and asking questions—of then-Governor Jerry Brown. He gave up drinking completely not long after.

Scott was opinionated, irascible, and absolutely wonderful to be around. He covered initial public offerings for BridgeNews and had a stuffed cloth doll of Hillary Clinton he kept at his desk. So he could stick pins in her.

He was that kind of conservative.

I sat down at my cubicle and turned on my computer. I made a note of the things I needed to do this week before Bridge was done. Mostly, I needed to grab copies of all my stories off my computer before I left so that I’d have samples of my work. I’d kept some, but I didn’t have a full archive. And I wanted one.

I browsed my e-mail. Nothing new there. I went to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website and opened the template for the power plant story, preparing to do my one and only thing for the day.

That’s when we heard it.

It’s a hard noise to describe, a kind of muffled, oscillating whoosh. It went in and out, going from silent to loud, like very slow helicopter blades or something. And it got louder. Whooosh! Whoosh! WHOOSH!

Then there was a very loud grinding sound.

Heads popped up from behind cubicle barriers.

“What the hell was that?” somebody asked.

I turned around to the side of the building that faced the World Trade Center, where the noise had clearly come from. Suddenly, burning debris fell just outside our office windows: giant chunks of steel, huge twisted pieces of metal. They weren’t identifiable as anything.

Between the noise and the shape of some of the debris, I thought at first a helicopter had hit the North Tower. Several reporters who sat at window desks and had seen the whole thing happen were at a loss for words to describe it.

The best view was in our corner conference room, which overlooked the intersection of West and Vesey streets and had a full view of the World Trade Center. I wandered over to the conference room and saw a giant hole on the north face of One World Trade Center. Whatever had hit the building, it had gone clear though.

I looked down. On the ground, thirty floors below us, shards of glass and bits of metal sparkled in the early morning sun. The city began to fill with the sound of sirens.

What about Jennifer? She might have gotten out of bed, might be on a PATH train or somewhere under the World Trade Center. I grabbed my cell phone and punched her speed dial number.

Nothing. The phone was dead.

Then I remembered: that antenna on the top of the north tower. That’s not just TV and radio for much of New York. It’s also cell phone service. My phone didn’t work.

Which meant Jennifer’s likely wouldn’t either. And I didn’t remember the land line number at the corporate apartment.

So, I had no way of getting ahold of Jennifer. For some reason, though, I wasn’t worried. I don’t know why.

It was not even six in the morning in California, but I called my mother.

“Hello?” she said sleepily. I had woken her up.

“Mom, you probably haven’t seen this yet, but something has happened here in New York. We think an airplane has crashed into the one of the World Trade Center towers. I just wanted to let you know I’m okay.”

“Mmmph, okay,” she said, still not entirely awake.

Scott and Deborah joined me in the conference room. We stared up at the giant hole in the building, sixty floors above us. It belched fire, smoke, and great billows of paper.

“Well, they finally did it,” Scott said. As much as I liked and admired Scott, he had a dismal opinion of Islam and Muslims. We would spar on this subject occasionally, and while I was never entirely sure how far I could take the sparring, he always seemed to enjoy it.

It didn’t seem to lower his opinion of me.

“I hope not,” I said. And I did hope that.

In fact, for those twenty minutes we gawked at that hole, I hoped and prayed fervently that this was just an accident.

“Attention!” The rarely used PA system crackled to life. “This is American Express management. A plane appears to have crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. There is no cause for alarm, and there is no need to evacuate the building. We ask all employees to remain calm, and we will keep everyone updated on the situation. Thank you.”

Ambulances and fire trucks gathered on the ground below. They were everywhere, red lights flashing in the cool shadows of Lower Manhattan’s deep canyons.

We gawked. We stared. We talked. We tried to make sense of it all. And then we heard it: a roar that came out of nowhere, the roar of a second plane. There it was, a United Airlines jetliner in blue and gray, not far above us. The plane banked, and I could see the sunlight stream through its windows and glint off its shiny metal skin.

The roar got fiercer, as if in that very last moment the pilot was gunning the engines. And then the plane simply disappeared, vanished in fire and smoke as it crashed into and through the southwest corner of the South Tower. Tongues of fire blew through the building.

And that sound. I will never forget that sound—that horrific snap of metal, that shattering of glass. I felt it as much as I heard it.

I turned around. There was a look of stunned horror on Deb’s face. There was no mistaking what we’d just seen.

No one waited for American Express to give the evacuation order. Everyone who, just a moment before, had been gawking at the great big hole in the North Tower moved en masse to the center of the building. To leave as fast as we could. I went to my desk, grabbed my backpack, and made my way to the elevators.

“Don’t take the elevators!” yelled the same Bridge editor who’d told me not to be envious of the new hires at American Express. “We’re in the next tallest building, and if there’s another plane coming, we’re the most likely target! Take the stairs! Everyone take the stairs!”

Another plane. That possibility had to be taken seriously.

The stairway was crammed with people but everyone was moving quickly. I want to say that people helped those who couldn’t move fast, and I think there was some of that. But it was really everyone for themselves
that morning.

And so I ran down twenty-eight flights of stairs. As fast as I possibly could. It was surprisingly easy, and I don’t remember having to stop or even getting winded.

On the third floor, I knew an alternate way to get to the entrance, one far less crowded that went through American Express’s cafeteria. So I took it.

Once I’d left the building, I found myself on the corner of Vesey and West streets. It was chaos. A panicked FDNY captain was directing everyone to go west, to the retaining wall along the Hudson River, and then walk north. I had to get to a ferry, to get to New Jersey, to Jennifer.

As I walked quickly toward the ferry slip, I noticed that the FDNY had set up an ad-hoc triage and treatment station in the space between Three and Four World Financial Center. I saw a man sitting, propped up against the granite wall, covered in blood and holding a bandage or towel or something to his head. He was dressed in what looked like a white chef’s shirt and black slacks or jeans. There wasn’t much blood on the cloth he was holding, and I looked at the way the blood covered his shirt.

The blood covering him was not his own.

I walked past the New York Mercantile Exchange. There was a huge crowd there at the ferry slip, and New York Waterway, the company that runs the ferry service, hadn’t quite figured out how to respond to the situation and was still taking tickets from anyone wanting out of Manhattan.

I looked up. Both towers belched fire and smoke. And heaved billows of paper into the wind, paper that fluttered off to Wall Street and across the East River to Brooklyn. The sun, which earlier had shone so brightly in that clear blue sky, turned a sickly gray-orange behind the smoke.

The fire in both buildings was steady.

The gathered crowd murmured and gasped. And then someone would either slip and fall or throw themselves out of one of the buildings. And the crowd would cry out in unison, “No! Don’t! Stop!” A pathetic and powerless plea made as bodies tumbled end over end to the ground.

I watched six people die that way.

At some point, I remembered I had a radio with me. I got it out and fiddled with the dial. The New York CBS affiliate had its broadcasting tower on the Empire State Building, so it was one of the few radio stations still transmitting that morning.

People gathered around me.

“What’s happening?” someone asked.

The Pentagon had just been hit by a jetliner, and another plane, believed to be headed either for the White House or the Capitol, was somewhere over Pennsylvania. The FAA had just grounded all air traffic, but two more jetliners were unaccounted for.

And there were reports a bomb had gone off in front of the State Department building in Washington.

“This is the end of the world,” someone said.

It felt like that.

I knew I had to get out of southern Manhattan. Because those towers were going to come down, and when they did, they would respect neither power nor position. By this time, New York Waterway had given up on taking tickets and had started moving its entire ferry fleet to the little slip in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

But it took a bit. So I stood there, looking up at the burning buildings, the drifting paper, the falling bodies.

And then, as had happened twice before in my life, there were words in my head. Words I knew were not mine. My love is all that matters.

But this time there was no electric shock. Nothing turned blue. No breathlessness, no halted prayers. Just these words, gently inhabiting me, words given to me—spoken but not spoken—in the midst of death, terror, and destruction. In the midst of the worst thing that I and everyone else standing there beneath the fire and smoke had ever experienced. My love is all that matters.

There was no time to think about this, to contemplate what this might mean. Not that morning, not in that moment. I finally got on a ferry, stood on the stern as it pulled out, watching a couple of NYMEX floor traders, one standing next to me and the other still on the ferry slip—each wore the same company’s coat—give each other hand signals as the ferry pulled out.

I stood on the stern of that ferry and wept.

The terrible thing was that the burning buildings in front of me, the hijacked airliners, all made sense to me. I understood this act, the anger behind it. There was a time in my life when I myself could have done it, been part of it, eagerly supported it. I could have learned how to fly a plane only to crash it. I never cared about virgins in the afterlife, but I was angry enough once to believe that this kind of act was a perfectly valid, legitimate way to make a political or even moral point.

To be honest, though, I suppose I would have found myself, at the very last moment, as the building loomed in front of me—when it was too late—saying, “Well, this was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.”

It was as if God had grasped me by the scruff of the neck and made me look. “Behold what you could have done. See what you once wanted. See what it means.”

I was living through someone else’s violent vengeance fantasy. I’d had so many of my own. And now I was being shown what that kind of vengeance led to. What it really meant to want to get even with the world. The pain, suffering, destruction and death that could bring.

Because whatever ideological and religious reasons Muhammad Atta, or Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, or even Osama bin Laden himself would give for this day, at bottom it was all about vengeance. About inflicting pain. About getting even.

When the ferry got to New Jersey, we all hurried off. The police were ordering everyone to move on. I walked home to the corporate apartment, took the elevator up, and found Jennifer watching a fuzzy television signal, a look of sorrow and fear on her face.

I held her. And wept. For how long I don’t remember.

“I don’t know why, but I didn’t worry about you. I just knew you were okay,” she told me.

There was a knock on the door. It was Frank, our next-door neighbor. Frank had been an engineer for Grumman in the 1960s, where he helped design the lunar lander. Currently, he worked for a venture capital firm. Frank had been working out in the gym in Six World Trade Center when everyone had been ordered to leave, and his wallet—with all his credit cards—was still there. Now it was under several stories of rubble.

“You need to see this. The South Tower has just collapsed.”

We looked at his television. He had cable, so his picture was clear.

Frank placed a call to his bank; we left him as he was wrangling with a representative. We went out to a little park that jutted into the Hudson River and sat together. The sight we beheld was strange. One lonely World Trade Tower stood there in the late morning sun, framed by haze, still belching fire, smoke and paper.

“It’s going to come down,” I told Jennifer. “Watch.”

We sat for a few minutes. And then the top five floors of the North Tower wobbled from side to side for a bit as weakened steel began to give way. And the top just came straight down, the antenna flopping about and falling as the collapse began, leaving a cluster of columns in the center—as if the building were being peeled—that themselves collapsed just after the rest of the building.

A man in a NYMEX trading jacket stood on the shore in front of us, shouting and waving his fist.

We sat there, Jennifer and I, watching the dust rise over southern Manhattan. The World Trade Center, which had loomed so large and seemed so permanent, like a pair of mountains, just hours before, now was gone. Flattened.

All that remained was smoldering rubble.

The Difference Christ Makes

In November of 2013, I had the privilege of attending a one-day retirement conference, organized around the theme “The Difference Christ Makes,” to celebrate and honor the life and work of Stanley Hauerwas. It was a full day—Eucharistic celebration in the morning followed by papers and responses throughout the day with a concluding and celebratory dinner in the evening. Stanley has a lot of friends, and it was a testimony to those friendships and to his influence just how many made the journey to Durham for the event.

I’m happy to report that the conference papers have now been published. Anyone who has learned from Stanley over the years will want to check these essays out, but others familiar with Stanley’s work, yet perhaps less enthusiastic about it, should get a hold of a copy as well. All of the contributions are excellent, but the highlight of the volume for me is Jonathan Tran’s essay on the challenge of remembering the late Anne Hauerwas, as well as Peter Dula’s response to Tran’s paper. It’s an exchange that demonstrates how interesting Stanley’s work is just to the extent that it has attracted such interesting students. On a day that could have been filled entirely with generous encomiums and hilarious Hauerwas memories (and there were plenty of both), Tran and Dula took a riskier path—interrogating the limits of any theological ethic in light of Stanley’s failed first marriage and how it was narrated in his memoir, Hannah’s Child—in a way that honored Stanley all the more deeply by doing real work in the field that Stanley was formally retiring from.

I hope you’ll check it out!

Click on the marketing flyer below and you’ll be taken to the book’s page on our website.

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