What's Tony Thinking



First off, a reminder of the earlier announcement. Coming soon to a computer near you: our webinar based on the Francis Spufford book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense. It begins on Monday, February 7. For those of us on the west coast (PST) it will be 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. each week. Yes, you may have a cocktail or glass of wine if that’s your thing toward the end of that time frame. It’s mine. That means it is 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. EST. Sorry, it’s herbal tea or de-caf coffee for you guys. Central and Mountain time folks . . . well, you’ll figure it out. Register at the link in the sidebar on this website.

There’s no charge, but you do need to register to receive the link and join in. We will go eight weeks, one for each chapter. So the balance of February and March. Consider it your Lenten practice.

For the first hour the panel, which consists of yours truly plus friends from the Crackers and Grape Juice podcast, will discuss the material/ chapter from the book. Last half hour, more or less, comments and questions from webinar participants, via chat line or live. So, it’s possible to join, sit in and soak it up, without having to say a word. Unless you want to.

It is a kind of “Christianity (Again), As If for the First Time,” book. Except instead of dry/ abstract and finger-wagging, it is juicy and alive and, well, humane. So, if your faith is flagging a bit or if perhaps it has rolled over and died (but you miss it), this may be for you. Also good for skeptics, agnostics, as well as the curious and confused.

I’m re-reading the book, of course, and noticing things I hadn’t the first time. One of Spufford’s comments that I found interesting (and didn’t remember from my first reading) was about the religious emotion of “awe.” Many accounts of religion or spiritual experience begin there. Spufford does not. He begins with what he calls “undeniably gloomy shit,” i. e. human failure/ guilt and remorse/ a.k.a “sin, in a chapter called “The Crack in Everything.”

Here’s Spufford on why he did not begin upon an awesome mountain-top.

“I could . . . have put us on the traditional night-time hilltop, and had us gaze at the stars more numerous than the sand grains on the beach, and the red-shifted exhaust of galaxies revving away from us. I could have put our hearts in our mouths and filled us with awe at the bigness of it all; with the luminous, numinous Carl-Sagan-osity of things, which even Richard Dawkins agrees ought to stir us to our depths, though what it should stir us to do, of course is to seek out a career in the empirical sciences.

“I will give awe its due later, I promise, but the trouble with it as a starting-point is that is, by its nature, a rather isolated emotion, marked out by its sudden self-forgetting focus on an object external to us, and by its disconnection from everyday trundling along. If awe is powerful, it tends to be a state we fall out of knackered, after a while, unable to keep up the intensity. If it’s more modest, it tends of its nature to fade away anyway, to peter out on the hilltop where it began. And in neither case is it obvious how awe is supposed to relate to the rest of experience. I think of awe as a kind of National Trust property among feelings: somewhere to visit from time to time, but not a place you can live.”

This excerpt serves two purposes. It gives you a brief sample of Spufford’s writing, which I hope you will enjoy as much as I do. It also makes the point that awe, while wonderful in its moment, is passing. It may be a high point, but it’s not where most of us live most of the time (unless of course you are continually stoned, which makes everything “awesome”). And thus not the emotion to which to hitch all else in exploring why Christianity still makes emotional sense. Spufford’s comments also suggest why the now routine use of the word “awesome” for anything and everything is a bit off.

Better to start where we live, with “The Crack in Everything,” including you and me.

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