Baker Academic

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Book or Four

I realized a few days ago that in 2017 and 2018 I've published 4 books. This, of course, is too many. Therefore it is highly likely that a couple of these books will not be good. I am sorry to say that I am too close to the problem to see it clearly. The best course of action is for you to buy all four and determine for yourself which of these books were not worth reading. I have just finished a rough draft of number five (due out in November) so you will have to wait until then to determine how bad that one is. The worst part of all of this is that I've neglected this blog too often as a result.

This week I plan to pick up the pace a bit by writing about my writing.

Sacred Dissonance was cowritten with Larry Behrendt and published with Hendrickson. It is the book that took the longest and required the most of me in terms of emotion, new research, and personal reflection. Rather than recap the book, here is an email I wrote Larry yesterday.

Larry, it's been a minute since we discussed Xty/Judaism stuff. I had an experience this morning that I thought I'd share.

So for our birthdays (which are only days apart), Sarah and I bought each other a year-long Sunday subscription to the Times. When I had this idea I imagined myself sitting down with coffee and the paper on the front porch. That's exactly what I did this morning. I read a couple articles on the front page, looked at the best-seller list, and opened to the sports page. I can't tell you how much nostalgic joy I got from the tactile experience. So much of my youth was spent underlining stats and circling boxscores. There were no boxscores today. That was sort of jarring. But the AL and NL league leaders were there just as I remembered them. 20 years ago I might have written out several permutations of a trade to land Nick Markakis so I could flip him for some other player that always has a strong second half. Having the paper in my hands brought back the feeling of all of those wasted hours. With one key difference. The "leaders" section for batters begins with a category called "batting." This, of course, refers to batting average, a stat that I view with different eyes. For pitchers, the top categories is called "pitching." This is essentially a wins-losses stat. Not only do I look at this stat differently, I no longer care about it. It's interesting but it's not telling. Even so, I enjoy the experience of revisiting those old, outmoded categories. They are meaningful touchstones. They are part of the entire experience of holding a newspaper in my hands and wasting time with baseball. But nostalgia is almost always tinged with lament. I've changed. Baseball has changed. The world has changed.
This is not the place to reproduce the entire text or Larry's reply. The gist of this exchange was my sense that I experience the sacred far less now than I once did. Whether it is my relationship to the Church or baseball, I am simply in a different place than I once was. I have different categories by which I process the world. While I don't regret the path I've taken, I do miss crossing the border from mundane to sacred. This isn't a loss of faith or devotion. I still enjoy baseball (except when it sucks) and I still love my church (except when I don't). But my new categories incline me less to sacramental experience.

I think that my pursuit of Jewish-Christian dialogue was a decision to chase the sacred. In writing this book I wanted to understand what Larry finds sacred in Judaism and Jewishness. And I wanted to see my own tradition anew through his eyes. But the process of our dialogue has become sacred on another level. My pursuit of the sacred (because it's always something of social construct; see e.g. baseball) required some community of devotion. For me, people who are hanging out at the borders of Christianity are best equipped to help me process my own experience. Somewhere along the way, the process of dialogue itself became sacred to me. But, as the title of the book suggests, it is not a process that requires harmony of belief, praxis, or symmetry. It is an altogether different experience of the sacred.

-anthony







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