fragments of an attempted writing.

spatiamentum, and other fragments, in slight payment of an old debt. Part II.

 There were maybe 6 or 7 employees at Loome's when I started.  Tom Loome was the owner.  I had never met a man like him, and haven't since, but more on him later.  Mary was made a consecrated virgin by the local RCC bishop shortly after I arrived.  Henry and Chris were decent chaps with families, they were the managers and the only bookbuyers there other than Tom when I arrived.  Danny was just a couple years older than me and was, more than any other person, the man who taught me to drink and smoke properly.  Chris, Henry, Danny and I would all become close friends.

A word on the business:  Tom Loome left teaching theology at Catholic institutions in the early 80s after having bought and sold enough books (barely) to start a bookstore.  He was not keen on academic Catholic theology in Catholic colleges in America in the early 80s, despite having written the book on Catholic modernism.  In the 70s and 80s Catholic institutions were throwing away old books left and right, and Tom began the habit of getting his hands on them (and all sorts of other religious ephemera).  He bought books, he   took books that were going to be thrown away, he even dumpster dived from time to time pulling gorgeous leather Leonine editions of the Summa out of the rubbish.  I don't mean to suggest that Tom only bought old Catholic books, his interests were ubiquarian, but because so many Catholic institutions were hell bent on ditching their intellectual patrimony during that time (often with newer librarians having no idea what they were throwing away or selling), Tom was able to rather quickly and easily amass the largest collection of Catholic secondhand and antiquarian books in North America.  By the time I came along in the '90s, his was the game in the continent.

But it wasn't just Catholic stuff.  When I first became of customer of Loome's I was there buying up Schleiermacher, and Feuerbach, and Bultmann, and Tillich, and Barth and such, of which they had more primary and secondary materials in all European languages than I had ever seen before, or even imagined possible in one place.  And it wasn't just theology.  There was shelf after shelf of books just by and about Kant.  I would bet at that time they carried, for example, at least 100 separate titles in various languages on Roman architecture, and another 100 on Armenian history, not Arminian, there would have been even more titles related to that, Armenian.

I knew that Loome's was special as a customer, but after I began working there I learned just how special.  That Christoph Schönborn turned to Tom when building the largest Catholic library in Vienna.  That the Vatican library, and Bodleian, and archivists at just about every major North American collection dealing with theology, or Christian history, or medieval studies, did regular business with Loome's.  In the book searching world just before the internet changed everything, scholars from all over the world would call asking for this or that hard to find text - many of them bearing names I knew from my own studies.   

As the only Protestant who worked there, it wasn't long before I was out of the mailing room and was given the obvious task of taking care of the biblical studies and Protestant Americana sections.  

The bibilical studies section started up in the balcony at the top of the staircase and went along the shelves on the wall as you went down the staircase, and then took up a rather incoherent arrangement of shelves below a portion of the large balcony.  The main area of "the church" (which is what we called the church turned bookshop), where perhaps 2/3rds of the store's books were located, wasn't heated, and this is in Minnesota.  So attending to books in that area for many hours a day meant coping with the cold.  This was done via appropriate attire, taking breaks in the warm area in the back of the store, and keeping a flask handy.

My wife has often commented about my uncanny knack for finding employment in places wherein drinking on the job is the norm.  Loome's was something of ChesterBelloc meets Mad Men, at least from a conviviality perspective.  On a typical day we would really get things going after my coworker Danny and I had finished our breakfast, which might be somewhere around 9:30/9:45 or so, even though work officially started at 9.  Then usually Danny or I would go to "downtown" Stillwater (four blocks down the hill) to get (more) coffee for everyone. We would work a little bit whilst drinking coffee, which was often enough fortified with spirits, and then, of course, we would need a smoke break.
Smoking was done in our little spot outside and to the back of the church, which was accessed via a door from the medieval studies section in the back of the store.  There was a small concrete bit of space there, and a statue of St. Joseph blessing us from a slightly raised tiny garden.  After the first smoke of the day we would work until lunch, which often enough involved beer.   After lunch we would work until 5, when the drinking really began.  But that was a typical day.  On a special occasion, which there seemed to be a lot of, Chris, one of the managers, would give me $40 and send me to the liquor store (when it opened at 10, or not long thereafter) to get a decent bottle of scotch or Irish or bourbon, and we'd milk that throughout the day.  In my first couple of years there every month or so all of this drinking would culminate into an evening trip to the venerable 
Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter, where we would drink German beer, in liter mugs, until finishing the night off with the shots of Jägermeister brought out on a wooden paddle by the always appropriately figured barmaid whose plump bosoms were pouring out of her dirndl's bodice.  I am quite sure that if I were to try to relive one of those days today that it would kill me.

The environment was very heady.  Academics and other intellectuals were often in the store, and discussions broke out frequently.  People in the "theology world" who came to the Twin Cities to give a lecture often ended up at Loome's, so you never knew when an N.T. Wright or a Stanley Hauerwas or a Richard John Neuhaus or
Rosemary Radford Ruether or a Fr. Ian Ker or a Charles Kannengiesser or a Russel Kirk (Kirk had died before I started at Loome's, but his visit to the shop was still often talked about when I was there) was going to walk into the store.  Further, Herr Loome made a point of bringing a lot of intellectuals into Stillwater to give talks, and he had his old European connections, so that brought more opportunities to meet and interact with prominent thinkers.  Tom had been the first Catholic layperson to be granted a doctorate from the Catholic faculty at Tübingen, and he lived in Germany and then in the UK for quite a few years.  Alexander Dru (translator of Kierkegaard, expert on Peguy, etc.), one of Europe's last great aristocratic non-professional wandering scholars, had been Tom's mentor.  Tom drove a very elderly Emil Brunner around during Brunner's last years. He took courses from Ratzinger.  Among Tom's closest friends were some of the children of G.E.M. Anscombe and Peter Geach; two of Geach's grandaughters from the UK worked at the store during the time I was there.  Plus the faculty from the Catholic Studies Department at St. Thomas would come over fairly frequently, as did faculty and students from every seminary and theology department in the upper midwest, of which there are many.  

So this gives a kid in his 20s a chance to ask Robert Louis Wilken why his buddy Jaroslav Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy and not Catholicism, and to ask frequent customer Avery Cardinal Dulles about a book recommendation, and to ask Robert Jensen about a passage in Barth that wasn't understood.   Or you could ask then bishop of La Crosse (WI) Raymond Burke which his favorite La Crosse brewery was.  

In addition, Herr Loome took me under his wing.  He started giving me his read copies of the TLS marking in red ink the essays that I ought to "give special attention."  I would ask him questions and often enough be given a pile of books with instructions of what order they should be read in and what I should be looking for from each.  For years this often involved discussions in the mornings about the previous night's reading assignments.  Theology certainly wasn't the only arena worked over.  Tom's area of academic specialty was Catholic modernism, but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of modernism across the boards.  He tutored me from Modigliani to Albin Moroder to Max Scheler to Montaigne.  On more popular fronts he loves Graham Greene and John LaCarre novels.  He would describe Handel's Chandros Anthems ("unequivocally the best psalm settings of the period") to me as if they somehow held the key to the meaning of life -- in that manner of fervent analysis via which Tom's mind operates when he loves something.  He was once so distressed (and embarrassed, I think, of the lack in one of his bookmen) that I did not know who Heinrich Biber was that he at first, upon learning of my ignorance, walked away from me, then came back and sent me to his house immediately with the task of sitting down to listen to his Biber vinyl recording of the Rosary Sonatas, shaking his head and muttering to himself as I departed on his order, "Bach gets all the glory."  

After a year or so of being there it became apparent that I was on the track of becoming a book buyer.  Loome's book buyers traveled around North America, and occasionally Europe, on week long book buying trips to a given locale - at my peak I would eventually travel one week out of every 6 to 8.  The job of the book buyer is, in essence, to know everything.  There are the business aspects of the trade, there is the requisite bibliographic knowledge, but then there is that gnosis which can only come from being one of those generalists-on-steroids who is interested in everything and has a passable knowledge of most areas of academic and scholarly inquiry.  One of the benefits of a job which requires knowing everything is that no one is much bothered, if, when tidying up a section of books, you spend a fair amount of time reading books in the stacks.  There were "hard" aspects to the job.  When we bought libraries and archival collections and the like we would have to unload semis with hundred of boxes of books that had to be carried and then gone through.  We underwent a move from our "downtown" Stillwater store which involved a hell of a lot of carrying boxes of books, but for the most part I was paid to read, to drink, to smoke, to be able to speak with intelligent customers who had very particular requests, and to buy books.  Not a bad gig.  On top of it I was paid well and had excellent benefits.  

All of this may sound like it was an academic theology love fest, but the reality was much more complex.  Being around academic theologians and students (particularly in joke programs like M.A.T.S. students) of academic theology wasn't really conducive to developing a love of academic theology or its professionals and aspirants.  Within a year or two of working at Loomes, I came to the point where I despised 99% of theology students, and the discipline as a whole.  Loome's had a "secular" bookstore down the hill in addition to the church, and I met any number of academics and students at both venues.  But there is something about theology students in bookstores which is reminiscent of a politician doing a stump speech - they feel the need to constantly remind you that they have something of value in their craniums.  I found that with no other discipline did the student feel the need to come up and tell you that they were getting a master's degree in x.  But theology students, 99% of them anyway, do this upon entering a bookstore.  Then they tell you who they studied with, whatever "big gun" their program had at the moment.  Of course I had taken phone calls from 4 guys of equal or greater scholarly caliber that morning, and 3 of the 4 were assholes, so I wasn't impressed.  Sometimes, when the moment was right and I couldn't take it anymore, the scenario would work out like this:
Customer (upon handing me books to purchase): I'm a theology grad student.  I study with Ben Witherington.

Owen (completely deadpan without a hint of mirth): Really?  Huh. I just spoke to Luke Timothy Johnson this morning and he was telling me that Witherington's christology is utter shit.

Of course that wasn't true, but there is a horror and offense that can be extracted from theology students that is unique among human persons.  And this is the other thing about theo grad students - most grad students are poor, but nobody is cheaper than theo grad students.  First of all, the books that they typically bought were crap, and if they picked out 4 or 5 books worth $35 they acted as if this was somehow the lifeblood of our store, apparently it didn't occur to them that we couldn't maintain the staff of 7 full-time employees with such purchases, and they never bothered to ask and learn that we made millions of dollars buying and selling serious collections.  Second, if I saw somebody drop a book when they thought no one was looking and then come and ask for a cheaper-than-marked price because it was scuffed up, I knew right then that they were a theology grad student.  Well, OK, I probably already knew because they had announced that when they walked in the door, but on the occasion that I had been out getting coffee when that customer entered the store I would have known they were theo grad students upon seeing that game.

I also had plenty of opportunity to see how completely full of shit most academics are, especially theologians.  All academics tend to be inclined to think that every moment is a moment for them to teach a stupid world some facts, but theology profs tend to be the worst.  For instance, on at least three occasions that I can remember I saw academics, with students or in one case a couple of disciples in tow, come up to our ChesterBelloc section and upon seeing copies of Belloc's Path to Rome exclaim "this is Belloc's conversion story."  It isn't.  It is a travelogue of sorts wherein Belloc describes a literal path to Rome - the one he walked on whilst traveling to Rome.  One of the scholars who made this pronouncement was among the most well known English Catholic academics (it wasn't Aidan Nichols).  The first couple of years at Loomes these occasions of pontificating about things given academics knew nothing about surprised me, but as time went on I developed my very accurate cynicism of the academy and its ubiquitous bullshittery.

We had one local priest, Fr. Kolb, who was a regular customer at Loomes, often spending hours in the shop each week, and often overhearing the intra-staff banter regarding customers.  Kolb had studied under Roland Bainton at Yale, and when that got brought up (not by him) in a conversation with several folks one time, I made a cynical coy "ahhh" remark and Kolb, probably picking up on our usual staff tendency to not really be impressed, retorted sharply - "No. No ahhh. He put his pants on one leg at a time just like you, and his shit stunk just as much as anyone else's."  I didn't ask him how he knew that.

There were all sorts of quirky customers.  One of my favorites, a fellow who spent most of his time in our philosophy and history of philosophy sections was a man who had been voted Minnesota teacher of the year at one point, having constructed the talented and gifted / advanced / whathaveyou classes at a St. Paul high school.  He was a Marxist (I never asked what stripe, and now I wish I had).  He quit teaching in order to homeschool his kids (his wife was a doctor, so this could be done) because, as he put it, the public schools there created pawns for corporations.  Once or twice his kids came with him, a boy and a girl in their early and mid teens, both could read academic German, both very personable and polite.  I remember feeling that it was refreshing to have some homeschooling customers that weren't, to borrow Chris' description, Leave it to Beaver Catholics (we had a small homeschooling section in the store and occasionally homeschooling families came in, and they usually fit the caricature quite well).  

I wrote before of my encounter with one polymath while working at Loome's, and I'll repeat that story here:

I don’t remember if I have told this story before (I offer this story as trivia, not as any proof of anything or as having any grand meaning), but shortly after my friend Mark died in the Fall of 2000, I met a colleague of his who walked into the bookstore I worked at in MN (and would soon leave). Mark had been a neuro-robotic engineer and the youngest tenured professor in the UK when he died of an aneurism. His friend who came to the store (not knowing me from Adam) had 3 doctorates – one in psychology, one in chemistry, and one in philosophy (and the guy was in his 40s). So I had noticed what he was picking up over the course of the day and eventually discerned that I was dealing with a fellow who was very bright. After he’d been there a couple of hours he comes up to me and asks about complications with regard to my birth (breech, post due date, etc.). Every birth related question he asked me about was answered in the affirmative. He said he guessed as much from the way I held a pen in my left hand whilst writing – apparently it’s an odd manner of holding a writing instrument typical of people who were born under the circumstances of complications I was. This man then proceeded to tell me about my life – my personality, many of my quirks and idiosyncrasies, details that simply astounded me. Apparently it has to do with people who would have been left brained becoming right brained because of certain complications in their mother’s pregnancy. The cross over creates very predictable personality and thinking traits. I’ve never in my life, before or since, been so perfectly pegged and described, and this was the first conversation I ever had with the man. He then, after asking if it was OK, proceeded to give me advice – the sorts of jobs I should go for, the sorts of things I should read. He ended by telling me that I needed to read Hegel and keep him close by my side – that Hegelian thought corresponded to how a brain like mine is wired.  

There were other unbelievably bright folks there, with astounding intellects.  The seminary librarian who speaks 11 languages and has the most comprehensive mental bibliography you've ever encountered.  The head of a Catholic university in the Philippines who writes theatre in the French Absurdist style in his spare time.  The portly Benedictine monk who was a quiet genius though you would never guess it when first encountering him.  The reserved philosopher who never says much in the store but always comes out and has a smoke with you, saying he can't pass up a Camel non-filter as this is what he smoked at P.I.M.S., and then telling you quirky stories about Gilson.

We (the staff) definitely had our favorites when it came to customers, and we could be quite, uhm, short, with the legion of other customers whom we for the most part tolerated.

But the reason I started this series of posts is because I learned recently that the old church which houses Loome Theological Booksellers is up for sale, and so I need to turn this remembrance in the direction of that building, and my relationship to it, and what she will always mean to me.

That will have to wait until next week.  In the meantime, my old friend and former colleague Henry has a new catalogue out, so buy some books from him this weekend.

- to be continued.


  1. Any chance you went to Bethany in Bloomington?

    1. What a weird, small world it would be if true. I grew up there and went to school there (the private school, not the mission school). Stumbled onto your blog via Arturo via Steven Wedgeworth a couple years ago. Never in a million years thought you would have gone there.

    2. I am sorry to hear of your traumatic childhood. We're you an MK? What were your parents doing there? I don't recognize your last name so I can't place you with a staff family.

      Yes, I am a BCOM survivor. Perhaps you will appreciate this bit: After working at Loome's a few years I went to BCOM with my friend and coworker Danny to pick up Grace, my wife's friend, who was going to go with us to The Dubliner (on University Ave.) just before those damn business majors from U of St. Thomas discovered it and ruined the place. Anyway, we arrive at BCOM and had to walk to the missionary housing where Grace was staying, and after my preface explaining the place to Danny and about a minute of walking on the campus, during which he seemed nervous, he looks at me in a distressed manner and asks "when do they bring out the Kool Aide?" It struck me that this was a natural response from a 'normal' person when encountering BCOM.

      I once led a minor student rebellion there, and I once venerated T.A. Hegre's grave. Long stories. All in all, it was an interesting place, and mixed. I had, largely via flukes looking back on it, a few extraordinarily good profs there during the years I was there (the class one year ahead of mine got the best profs in the history of BCOM, hands down). But then there was Dudek who had us, in freshman Into to NT class, sing the 12 apostles song. I shit you not.

      I was told of the place by a leader of the missions trip I took to Russia, a guy who was something of a moderate Evangelical. My liberal Evangelical parents only really got gung ho about it after we went to visit. What happened was that they assigned each visiting potential student to an upperclassman. My upperclassman (Mike Ellis, who is famous in BCOM lore of the early to mid 90s), was in the last class during a period where you could opt out of going on internship - so he was, in essense, a true junior at BCOM, and could take whatever classes he wanted. So the days I tailed him I was in three classes with Tom Correll (this liberal Evangelical who had taught before at Bethel, and Berkeley, and Brown, and was a top notch anthropologist/linguist), and one with the famous (at Bethany) Alec Brooks, who whatever one thinks of him was one hell of a lecturer (he left me with the perpetual opinion that only Scotsmen should be allowed to lecture on theology). I was enthralled. My parents met Correll and were impressed. But, because of that quirky exposure, I hadn't a damn clue what I was getting into.

      So my first class my freshman year was with Leroy Dugan, and in that first class he referred to Roman Catholicism as "the world's biggest cult" and also gave us the basic outline of how he thought the world was going to end soon, rapture, etc. I had grown up in a home where my American Baptist father had me reading Bonhoeffer and Barth in my mid teens. Let's just say BCOM and I weren't the best match. At the same time, were it not for BCOM I would have never met Tom Correll, the most important intellect in my life, I would have never ended up encountering Loome's and the people there who are so important to me, I would have never met my since age 19 best friend Dave, I would have never met my wife who gave the world the three cutest female children in existence. So all in all, no regrets.

    3. Wow, pretty wild that it is true. I left there around 87, so probably not much overlap. I still talk to Brooks occasionally (very occasionally). We went to church there as well as the school when we lived in Minnesota. Moved away and haven't been back. When I think of the theological influences there that I assumed were normal, I cringe: Watchman Nee, Finney, and Bloomfield on the end times. But that's because I'm Anglican and Reformed now, so I moved a lot, but in different directions from you obviously.
      Was Jack Hallman on staff when you were there? I always liked him. I don't know Correll at all.
      I can imagine the Kool Aide comment. When I try to explain to people the pooling of resources that the first generation did to establish the place, it is difficult. It does sound bizarre, although it seemed normal to me growing up because it is what I was used to.

    4. Just re-read and saw your questions. No, I was not an MK. We lived in Burnsville and drove in to attend church and school. I didn't live on campus. Most of my friends did though, so I spent endless hours there.

  2. I'd like to echo your comments on the *disliking* of theological students --- especially their feigned learnedness --- Lets be honest, most theology grad students I have met are (especially NOW) not well read and very narrow minded....

    1. Isn't that largely because it's built into the nature of academic theology that you can't actually evaluate any of the truth-claims someone is making? The whole thing is designed to be arguing about who has built the better castle in the sky. So, the ways that you can evaluate one theology student against another are very subjective, and so they usually boil down to ideological litmus tests....

      I guess the old hurdle for keeping out non-serious students was having skill at philology, which is more a test of raw brainpower, mild autism, or sheer dorkiness than really a test of the skills necessary to do theology. Even if, being a philologist myself, I totally don't take theological writers seriously if they don't know their language arcana.

      Having spent a ton of time around Yale Div and UTS students (and dating someone with an MAR from the former), it seems to me like there are two kinds of div students, at least at that level--- people who want to do a PhD but need to fill in some gaps (often in languages) and get better recs and lesbians in the midst of a midlife crisis...

    2. Samn, you crack me up. But yeah, it's true....

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Sam, you hit VDS on the head --Lots of emoting-- and most of it is lots of posturing and no real intellectual responsibility or serious formation. I seriously had to mention law of noncontradiction the other day because of HOW absolutely inane the convo got.

      There are a ton of Yale Div students here doing Phds -- I am sure you know some of them...

  3. I don't want to pull you too far off the intention of this post, but I am curious if you have any insight from your former coworkers as to whether the rather poor state of theology students is intrinsic to the field or whether or not it represents a decline in theological studies generally from some given point in time (my guess would be the mid-20th C., but I'm not sure). It seems to me that there was once an expectation that a genuine student of theology, i.e., one who was taking a theology degree for purposes other than fleshing out their knowledge for the purposes of becoming either a priest or preacher had to carry a great weight on their shoulders insofar as they should not only be familiar with the canonical theological readings of their given confession, but also those primary sources from contending points on the Christian landscape (which, I suppose, also includes philosophical texts as well which self-conscious come from beyond (and sometimes directly against) the confessional divides). Then, of course, there's all that nasty training in dead languages, Scripture, history, etc. which, again, strikes me as a very necessary part of theological studies in the "highest sense." Maybe such expectations were only ever made of a chosen few in some "golden past" and I wonder if there are any extant programs which would make them today.

    1. W/R/T this question, it is similarly the case for any humanistic discipline that assumes as given (and not even as its starting point) a broad familiarity with european (and even semitic) languages, literature, culture, etc., which two generations ago would have constituted the curriculum of one's grammar and secondary school. This is why, for all their faults, I don't think we'll ever see a class of modern scholars like those heralding from early 20th century German gymnasiums again. Sure, we know different stuff and all that; but people like Eric Auerbach, Ernst Robert Curtius, Leo Spitzer, are no longer possible to replicate given the structure of education (which, of course, reflects a larger shift in what society as a whole values and will fund). Was there a lot of problems with, say, the stodginess of classical scholarship built upon this foundation (or something close to it)? Sure there was-at least as early as the mid 19th century, in fact. (Just ask Nietzsche). Then again, while wary of falling into a kind of monumental view of the past, I do think one could make the case that such a foundation allowed for the creation of people that, for better or worse, we just don't see anymore.

    2. What Anon said and this - I'm not one of these 19th century German scholarship fetishists or as fundamentalist about philology as Samn!y is - I appreciate those avenues, but I also find them stifling when left to themselves, and I think the advent of critical theory and modern social theory to be fine things overall. Academic theology, it seems to me, is nothing more than the application of borrowed methodologies to religious texts, religious histories, etc. There is a reason that a mind like Samn!y's didn't end up in a theo department - he's too bright for that. Theology dept's that do philological work are going to do third rate philology. Theo dept's that do critical theory are going to do third rate critical theory. It's all rather embarrassing. It's an incredibly insular and navel gazing academic world - even by contemporary humanities standards, and when academic theologians do "interdisciplinary" work there and embrace whatever chosen trend that has been going on in academia for 30 years and is now somewhat dated, there is supposed to be this shazaam gravitas moment, apparently because some small circle of academic theologians is now engaged in whatever 20 or 30 year old theoretical or methodological construct is currently being embraced.

      As for the reasons why this is so - I think it simplistic to point just to secularization or even to the disarray of the humanities. I think part of it, in both Europe and America, was the awakening of persons of intellect to the politicization of theology and the parsings that followed. I think especially in America there is the history of divinity schools having been the only higher education game around for generations, and then the dominant education game for generations after that, and all of the ramifications that came into play when that model fell. The subordination of academic subjects to theology for generations somehow seemed to have invited the fury with which those emancipated disciplines would send theology as academic study to the side halls of irrelevancy. And there are other factors - the commodification of education. There are business reasons to have at least marginally operative humanities programs around. The relationship between business interests and academic theology is obviously going to be much more frustrated. Yet at the same time theology departments haven't seen themselves as bastions of real education offering protected refuges from commodified education models - instead they still operate as if kissing corporate ass and they are so often infected with that sort of intellectual disease which thinks that going after Pew-Templeton grant money a good thing.

    3. Same Anon here. (Actually it's Billy but I don't have the right sort of account to post any other way, it seems).

      The point about recentish theological scholarship being third-rate and two decades after the fact is spot on. I remember reading recently an early 199x commentary on John that advertised itself as "reader-response" (Fish's Surprised by Sin was published in 1967). If I write a French phenomenological commentary on John and publish it by 2025 I would probably be a cutting edge new testament scholar. (Of course Michel Henry's idiosyncratic reading of John was published long ago, but that can't really be called a commentary). And another thing. Why is it that biblical studies and or theological scholarship more generally has to advertise and defend their critical methodology in advance of actually performing the work? Nearly every post 1970s commentary I come across is prefaced with some kind of cartoonish and simplified account of the "critical methodology" that will actually be implemented in the following text. So, for example, a structuralist reading of John will contain seven or eight somewhat embarrassing pages rehashing levi-strauss, saussurre, etc., while a reader-response approach will give an embarrassingly simple story of new criticism, close reading, etc. But, come to think of it, theology as a scholarly discipline is not alone in this respect: law articles and scholarship (when they branch outside of narrow case commentary) do the same thing. Thus a paper on law and virtue written in, oh, 1999, will contain a primer on "virtue-ethics" and a summation of After Virtue--as though nobody's heard of this before. All disciplines, I'm sure, play this game somewhat when engaging in cross-disciplinarity work (excuse the term), but law and, especially, theology foreground the awkwardness of the endeavor in a special way.

    4. Anon and Och, Spot on. Preach it my brothers! "Theology" has whored itself out to interdisciplinary scholarship so it can be seen with the "real intellectuals" of the age and perhaps some validation might rub off on it. Heck, no one wants to spend 6-10 years in college only to be regarded as some backwater hillbilly bible thumping ignoramus.

  4. My take on "theology/ministry" majors over the past 40 years is (in general, there are exceptions)... "ministry" has become the lazy person's way to become a "therapist" or a social worker, "therapists/social workere" are generally people working out personal issues and have a messiah complex and what better validation of your vocation than "God's will for your life". Any vocation that gives you power over people's lives by virtue of a title or position regardless of how psychologically healthy you are attracts goofballs.

    "Theology" as an intellectual discipline is a separate issue in my mind. Most "theologians" end up in "ministry" of some kind because theology is the passport to the vocation.

    1. I wonder if this holds as true -- on average -- for Catholic priests. I'll be the last one to deny that in the wake of Vatican II there were a lot of, umm, undesirable seminarians ordained to the priesthood. (Thankfully Father Time is handling that problem -- slowly but surely.) But by and large the educational-training demands for Catholic seminarians far exceeds those required to be a Protestant minister (some exceptions exist) or an Orthodox priest. I suppose one might toss in the reality that most Catholic priests are simply too busy these days to get that involved in the lives of their parishioners; that may also serve as a barrier. I don't really know, though. It's just something that pops into my head from time to time while I'm standing in line at the Confessional...

      I should add in that my impression of most Catholic priests -- thus far at least -- is a distant one. I have only spoken to one in any real detail about my life and the others I know either from their personalty at the pulpit (which, thankfully, ranges from a mixture of fascinating and edifying on the high end to just plain boring on the low end) or in the Confessional (which is also a little bit of a mixed bag, but with the worst of it being, "Oh that's not really a sin..."). I haven't had any encounters with self-anoited spiritual gurus and, to be honest, I don't really expect to. I've always found most of their advice pretty down-to-earth ("Stop arguing with your wife, idiot") and if there's a spiritual ring, it's the healthy sort I can get behind ("Do you pray the Rosary? Why don't you go do that instead of arguing with your wife, idiot").

    2. Gabriel,

      With one exception you echo my experience.

      But one time, I had this priest who I later learned was working on a LCSW, hear my confession. I confessed 4 sins, all 4 very common, none very pretty. Of the 4, he wanted know in 3 cases if I had considered counseling, because a good shrink could probably get me over my problems.

      I wanted to ask him what good the damn confessional was, and what a shrink was going to say to get me to stop touching myself or losing patience in traffic. Instead I said the Act and got out of there. He didn't even give me a penance. (A seminarian friend said the confession WAS my penance, but I'm not so sure...)

      Hezekiah Garrett

  5. I hear what you all are saying and agree with a lot of it.

    Most div schools stay open now because probably 1/4 of the student body should not be there. In my personal experience of VDS this is absolutely true. Part of this is because folks did degrees in bullshit areas (Moral Leadership ? Organizational Skills or something or other) and HAVE no background in history, texts, languages, or philosophy. So apocalyptic jewish literature and its impact on early christian texts?? They dont have a clue in the slightest. They basically keep the school afloat with loans....

    but on a grander scheme ---
    Hasnt theology always gone awhoring? Egyptian spoils? Aquinas and aristotle? most modern theology and Heidegger?

    But lets also be honest -- has anyone spent much time talking with sociology, literature, or philosophy students? Most have no idea what they are talking about. The humanities now are completely awry.

    1. I don't at all think you can do theology without reference to outside intellectual disciplines. I'm not even sure what that would look like. It's just that the way outside disciplines often get utilized is amateurish, which for me is just a symptom of the typically low quality of theology student, though the brightest div students usually manage to go into Religious Studies PhD's to do something straightforwardly historical-- even if they're not language-obsessives, the American Religion people I know are mostly extremely smart former div students.

      I think academic theology is significantly worse off than the other humanities, even English and Comp Lit. The economic and institutional reasons Owen mentioned are a part of it, but the bottom line is that the stakes are just too damn low for it to be a serious discipline in our social context...

    2. But lets also be honest -- has anyone spent much time talking with sociology, literature, or philosophy students? Most have no idea what they are talking about. The humanities now are completely awry.

      Daniel, I've long made it a rule not to let such truths get in the way of my personal favorite bitch&gripe points.

    3. the American Religion people I know are mostly extremely smart former div students

      I second that assertion, and I've wondered about it for years. As much as I hate to admit anything good ever coming out of Wheaton, Mark Noll's disciples tended to be pretty damn bright (and they tended to convert to Catholicism, or become mainline Prots). I suppose his Notre Dame disciples are probably above par as well.

  6. I really wasn't expecting to find a grey matter circle jerk when I wondered over here.

    The place sounds awesome though. Or at least the smoke pad out back. Wish I had a boss and co-workers like that. Sounds like family. I do like the way you write, it kills time sitting on a truck. And I doubt I get ran off from here for not being nice enough to suit somebody.

    Got any recommendations on insoles? I have flat arches and can't find anything but like $30 Dr Scholls things these days. Used to be able to get decent ones for 6 or 7.

    Hezekiah Garrett

    1. Hezekiah, have you checked sporting goods stores that have shoe departments? (Big 5 in my town) I've gotten good replacement insoles for my work shoes for about 15.00.

    2. No, they're usually in malls, but I guess I'll have to get over my aversion, if the local grocer and druggist can't get them anymore. (The grocer, Kroger, could care less. The druggist was more sympathetic but has to sell what corporate sends him.) So thanks for the tip!!!

      I was going to say sporting goods stores are usually Dicks, but then I realised not everybody has that chain and might not get the joke.

      Hezekiah Garrett

    3. LOL! Yeah we have some Dicks in Phoenix. We have some lower rent sporting chains that aren't in malls, that's where I go for shoes and stuff.


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