Response to a Letter – January 2016

Thanks for the Newman quotations!
I am persistently interested in Newman’s deeply considered decision to “return” to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism, and in the nineteenth-century context, it made considerable sense for him. I believe him to be one of the leading respondents to what has been called the “sundering of the whole” in the great rise of Enlightenment ideology, rationalism ending in Idealism and abstractions, and the redefinition of God so that God could in no way match the times and the needs, let alone the demands of nurturing fellowship (re Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rich corrections and encouragement). Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed such a God was dead, and fie on the churches and the culture that had helped to create such a god—and numerous other modern gods!

These years I continue to read from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (d. 1973) and Franz Rosenzweig (d. 1929), among others, who in the German Jewish and Christian contexts (ca. 1910-1933 and forward for ERH; both were born Jews—ERH was baptized a Christian at 17; FR was “converted” to Judaism in his twenties) defied the divinized modern powers and idols. They took language (speech), Scriptures and traditions seriously and provided a way to seat faith firmly in the God who loves and who calls everyone into that very same life of love God possesses. I am impressed that they anticipated in fresh (eccentric, yes, but that’s what was needed) ways what happens from time to time as the Spirit moves, including in the deliberations and activities of Vatican II and the teaching of the last few popes on the Gospel, the family, and on global evangelization.

Yes, that’s something coming from a Baptist, but then, anyone who knows the Evangelical Catholics and isn’t afraid of the spiritual discernment that allows recognizing them as true brothers and sisters—coworkers in the faith, albeit another “communion”—will know that. I think this is an example of what Rosenstock-Huessy spent his life probing and describing, and what he wrote about as “incarnatory” or incarnational Christianity. We can say, O yeah, that’s basic, but he really meant that we are to incarnate the presence and Spirit of God just like Jesus Messiah, in an unbreakable, co-creative, gospel-oriented, constructive, revelatory, and redemptive partnership. The Eastern Fathers and more recent Eastern Orthodox teachers have a lot to do with the inspiration and force of his arguments, and I want to know more about their direct influence. Besides that, would you believe, the Scriptures help in this endeavor!

Anyway, the quotations from Newman provoked me to comment because the “incarnatory” quality that Rosenstock-Huessy taught and lived thrives in the life and words of Newman. Wherever one sees the flourishing of Christ-centered and biblically informed communities, there one finds the selfsame Spirit.

. . . to go on speaking – like Al Davis.

The mentor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a little book of great ideas not long before he died, The Fruit of Lips, or Why Four Gospels.  In the chapter called “The Cross of Grammar” he wrote:

A word may be true as to content; it may be true enough to be verified in its own author’s actions; finally, it may be so true that it compels the next speaker to respond and to go on speaking.

These words came to mind as I read the good words in the Marshall News Messenger about a friend to many and civic servant from Marshall, Al Davis.  Al was a longtime attorney and former assistant district attorney, and husband to Jane Ogden, our university colleague in psychology, now retired.  A faithful churchman and choir member at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Al died of a heart attack this past Saturday.  We shall all miss him.

Rosenstock-Huessy (R-H) wrote of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that “They are sound as wells of speech.”  He meant that they are all authentic responses to the message of the life of Jesus in relationship to his disciples, Father God, and the World, and that each Gospel contributes uniquely to the same story.  The Gospel writers complemented each other.   R-H writes,

What is the end and the beginning of speech?  The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of this particular act of the spirit.  End and beginning bring an inspiration down to earth.  End and beginning of any book declare whether it is true or not.  But this truth is a threefold truth.  A word may be true as to content . . . .

And so it is, and was, and shall be, relating to the life of Al Davis among us.  Our newspaper carries the eulogies – the good words – of Al’s colleagues, coworkers in the community, his friends, and many he helped.  If a man’s life is a book, and his words are text for his life, then Al Davis finished well – he completed a good, admirable book.  We know this because so many already have been inspired to speak further good about him, and in the days to come others will speak in a similar way.

The life and, to us, untimely, death of Al Davis bereaves us but also inspires us.  His life, actions and words should remind us that in each of us, in our communities, we have the resources to overcome the wrong, to organize our efforts so that our intentions and plans succeed, to speak encouraging words to each other so that each person is inspired to contribute his or her own words and book in the time available, to make our relationships, community and society more what they can and should be, and to bring more music and joy into everything we do.  I believe Al Davis would like that!  After all, that was so much what he was about while he lived and served among us.

Now, what about us?  One more word from E-H – a word for pondering:

The Gospels were true enough to compel the next speaker to go on speaking above and beyond the last word of the last speaker.  Each one had to step in where the last speaker left off.  They were imparting the concrete time and scene of their speech so vividly to each other that they touched each other off, to the next move.  They sing, over forty years perhaps, one Gospel, each in his own key, on his specific wave-length, according to his lights, in handing the joyful and arduous task over to the better man, one after another.  In this act, then, the “Four Gospels” became a continuation of Jesus’ life through the minds which were made over by their office of Evangelists.  They were created into the Lips of the Word.

Let’s all be like Al Davis, “the better man.”

 

References all from pages 81-82, The Fruit of Lips.