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.


1 comment:

  1. One quality that weaves its way through our conversations over the years is the sense of something past that is lost. You’ve described your sense of this in different ways since we met. In this post, you describe a less frequent experience of the sacred, but you also describe a relationship between a sense of the sacred and a community of devotion. Here, our experiences diverge. I simply don’t have an early memory of feeling a part of a community of devotion. True enough, I had a strong, early sense of my Jewishness, including a sense that I had a responsibility to this identity, but I also remember feeling that in my Jewishness I would zig when others zagged. There might be an asymmetry here between Judaism and Christianity; I knew that the stronger my Jewish identity, the more separated I’d be from the larger world. In other words, devotion and community weren’t necessarily compatible for me. Instead, Judaism offered things that were LIKE community, such as subculture and countermemory.

    The religious world of my youth was highly rational. God was someone-something no sensible person expected to experience. The sacred was a quality I might associate with ideas, like God is One, or perhaps in a terrible way with a place like a concentration camp, where evil had once reigned but had been driven off. But I grew up in the 60s, an age of iconoclasm. So for me, the sacred tended to present itself in surprising places, since we were busy debunking more predictable sacred objects. But so much of the Jewish story of my youth was that of un-safety. The story was, Jews were continuously persecuted, and everyone hated us. Meaning, one could feel safe, or Jewish, but feeling both at the same time was somehow inauthentic.

    So perhaps the world of my present isn’t so different from the world of my past. I see many searching for sacred space and not finding any. I see many others feeling uncomfortable in their communities of faith.

    I’ve struggled to describe the quality of the sacred I find in interfaith dialogue. It may be as simple as participating in a different community based around a different kind of devotion.