Making Senses

A conversation with Charles Marsh, author of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (INTERVIEW)

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(Photos by Gudrun Senger)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Charles Marsh, Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, about his 25-year interest in Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his terrific recent book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here is our conversation:

You’ve been interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer for some time. What initially drew you to write a dissertation on his philosophical thought over 25 years ago?

He threw me a life-line when I was drowning in the theory-drenched academic culture of the 1980’s. I mean, his writing and legacy illuminated, when I really needed it, a pathway back to terra firma—to Jesus. 

In my graduate student years at Harvard and UVa, I tried with ever maddening ferocity to bridge what felt like an inseparable divide between intellectual life and compassionate service, theological inquiry and Christian mission. From September to May, I read Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Fichte, Feuerbach, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault; in the summers, I worked in inner-city Atlanta, in a neighborhood called Reynoldstown, in a community-building program for minority youth. For five summers there I ran a day camp called Body and Soul, combining basketball, Bible study and poetry, but my return to Cambridge or Charlottesville every Fall undid whatever fragile unity was achieved in the summer months. 

In fact, I came to Bonhoeffer late in my studies.  I’d heard his story in sermons, and read sections of Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison. I did not realize, until I included a section on his thought in my doctoral comps, that he’d struggled to break free of the same suffocating intellectual inheritance. His writings were a liberation; here was a young philosophical theologian shaped by familiar influences who experienced, as I had, the liberal Protestant tradition as an enervating weight, but in the lived realities of faith and in his own immersion in the “church of the outcasts of America” found the grace that turned him from the “phraseological to the real”.

The philosophical discourse of interiority grows grim and gray, and I knew I wanted to be outside, in the sunlight, where you can walk and move and grow and feel and love.  

What kept you interested in him over the years?image

So after I finished the dissertation—a lumbering 505 page thesis on Bonhoeffer’s critique of modern German philosophy—got it published, wrote some articles, did the things I needed to do for tenure and promotion, a few years into my teaching career, I was surprised to discover suddenly that my thoughts and dreams, and increasingly my journals and notebooks, were filled with memories of my southern evangelical childhood. I had plans to write a book on the doctrine of the Trinity, but now found it nearly impossible to concentrate on this great doctrine. Instead one morning—it was twenty ago this summer—I packed my Honda wagon and headed south with little more than a full tank of gas, a microcassette recorder and a credit card. I asked questions to anyone who would talk with me about why white Christians in the south during the civil rights years remained

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In memory of Oscar Romero (1917–1980)

A Future Not Our Own

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

— Heard and prayed at CCDA 2013 in New Orleans

Wow! Another milestone for art & social practice | participatory art:
artnet:

Golden Lion For Sehgal
Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has won the Golden Lion for best artist at this year’s Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious Contemporary Art event.
The art world equivalent of an Oscar, Sehgal received the award for his performance piece in which a few people hum and beatbox while moving on the floor. The jury praised Sehgal “for the excellence and innovation that his practice has brought opening the field of artistic disciplines.”
Discover more of his work at Marian Goodman Gallery. 

Wow! Another milestone for art & social practice | participatory art:

artnet:

Golden Lion For Sehgal

Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has won the Golden Lion for best artist at this year’s Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious Contemporary Art event.

The art world equivalent of an Oscar, Sehgal received the award for his performance piece in which a few people hum and beatbox while moving on the floor. The jury praised Sehgal “for the excellence and innovation that his practice has brought opening the field of artistic disciplines.”

Discover more of his work at Marian Goodman Gallery

Alain de Botton speaks on Love and draws a fascinating comparison.

Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. (Roy Ascott’s phrase.) That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre’s bricks or Andrew Serranos’s piss or Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ are art, because we say, ‘Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.’ … [W]hat makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you — so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art.

—Brian Eno (via jessiethatcher)

(via mosteverybody)

"Terrence Malick and the Art of the Voice-Over"

from the stores of insight available at Criterion Collection