Thursday, June 30, 2011


In honor of yesterday's Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, we ate poached fish and melon risotto.  (I got these recipes from this fun cookbook - and yes, melon risotto is actually really good!)

Anyway, we cajoled L. into trying a bite of the fish.  (She scarfed down the risotto.)  She took just a teeny, tiny piece of fish, one that would fit on the head of a pin and still leave some room, and then declared, "I don't like fish...yet."

It was the "yet" that got to me.  She really does see herself as growing bigger and bigger every day, and there are some things she wants to like in the future but she knows she's know quite there: dogs and cats are on that list, so are bicycles, and now, apparently, so is fish.

It makes me think about moral theology and all the times I've heard people declare an entrenched position with no possibility of movement (from both the "left" and the "right").  But so much of moral theology is about practical reasoning, about learning the right thing to do from moral exemplars and learning while doing. It's about being able to turn and turn till you are faithfully following God, to learn not to have hard hearts, but ones open to God.  And it takes a lifetime.

So I really admire L's "yet".  It speaks to the practical wisdom we all need to cultivate - for a long time, a lifetime -  as we navigate our way toward God.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"It's Their Choice..."

I'm watching "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" courtesy of my sister who wants to change careers and go into food science (or something).

If I hear one more phrase to the effect of "Look, I know this isn't the healthiest thing but this is what people want.  It's their choice..."  I'm going to turn off the show.  (So pretty soon, I imagine....)

People seem to be conflating "my choice" with "so I'll do naff all about anything about food because I'll just leave everyone's choice up to them".  Even if they are passionate about getting people to think differently about food.  Even if children at the schools are clearly unable to make the same kinds of choices their parents are.  Even if the food choices we adults have today are shaped by governmental food policies dating to the '50s.  Even if (as Philosophy PhD Husband pointed out) the highly touted "French Way of Eating" is partly that way because of no-snacking policies developed during the Third Republic.

Which is just to say, sure people have choices.  But they're limited ones - limited by both lack of vision for the future (what, really, do we want for our kids) and our lack of depth perception about what has gone before.  Policy does affect what people do.  And now people, individuals with, yes, "choices," want to change the policies, and, I guess we could say, are making a choice to try to change the policies.  But this has weirdly devolved into arguments about "You can't do that because you're messing with MY choices." 

It's just a zero sum game.  There're only losers in that scenario because there's actually never any room to maneuver.  One becomes a slave to "the choice" regardless of what that "choice" is.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: #PoisonedChalice

Upfront and wholeheartedly: Jennifer Woodruff-Tait's book The Poisoned Chalice: Eucharistic Grape Juice and Common-Sense Realism in Victorian Methodism
 is a very clear, well-written, friendly book that has made excellent use of a range of sources.  Though this is an "academic" book, I can easily see non-academics reading it and finding it understandable.  I have already recommended it to several friends who study US religious history, who have promised to order it for their libraries.  But I think anyone who has wanted to think about "why grape juice" will find this a great read.

Indeed, I would have benefited from this book had it been around in my seminary days. As a junior MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 90s, an argument arose about alcohol use on campus because some found it unfitting that students studying for the ministry should be drinking alcohol in any context, including communion.(For the record, there were always two cups available - one for wine and one for grape juice...) "Gee," I remember saying rather snidely, "I'd hate for Jesus to work a miracle on YOUR water." 

Jenn Woodruff-Tait discusses how grape juice advocates read the Wedding at Cana (through something called the two-wine theory) and also shows how science, reason, immigration (and anti-Catholicism), and a desire for good hygiene all colluded in making grape juice necessarily the drink of choice at the altar table.

In reading this book, I am reminded very much of Amy Laura Hall's book Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction Religion & Spirituality Books)
, which similarly uncovers Protestant sensibilities (this time in the early twentieth century) to show how Protestant sensibilities colluded with particular middle class ideals. 

Woodruff-Tait is "technically" a historian; Hall is "technically" a Christian ethicist.  But perhaps this should suggest to us two things: 1) the separation of "fields" really makes very little sense in our days of being interdisciplinary; 2) Woodruff-Tait's book should rightly cause all Christians to reflect on the ways in which our cultural standpoints merge with our theological understandings in helpful and unhelpful ways.  Our moral imaginations are captivated by things that seem "common sense" even when these do not (necessarily) reflect the gospel.

As a one-time Methodist (indeed, as one who was on the General Board of Discipleship and present at some of the discussions of the Eucharist that Woodruff-Tait mentions in chapter 7) and one who has now come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, partly because of the Eucharist - this book causes me to reflect on the ways in which my understanding of the Eucharist (both then and now) might be colluding with non-gospel sensibilities.

Thank you to Jennifer Woodruff-Tait for a fine book!  I look forward to reading more from her!

Note: I was provided a copy of this book by the University of Alabama Press.. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

About The Book:
This work examines the introduction of grape juice into the celebration of Holy Communion in the late 19th century Methodist Episcopal Church and reveals how a 1,800-year-old practice of using fermented communion wine became theologically incomprehensible in a mere forty years.

About The Author:
Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait is Adjunct or Affiliate Professor of Church History at Huntington University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and United Theological Seminary.
You can find more about her at:

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I'm in the midst of writing this book on theology and the internet, and so I have precious little time to post these days.  I'm typically found hunkered down in my office, typing furiously, except when I take little breaks to walk over to the day care and nurse Baby G.   It's summer - so I don't see a lot of people, and that's a good thing as far as work goes - less good for me and my stress level.

But I had a mini-opportunity to think about other things today.  I ran into a couple students on campus that I haven't seen in a year or more- both calling out, "Dr. Bennett!" 

The title "doctor" always makes me blush a bit.  After all, I am no "doctor" wearing a white lab coat.  And I still have a bit of first-year-out-of-grad-school feelings about being a "doctor of theology": really?  I mean, really?  (As with the "Master of Divinity" how can anyone really claim to be a "doctor" of theology?)

Nonetheless, there it is, and that's my name here, at least among my students.  After the first round of blushing, I remember, "Oh yeah - I'm an adult - and a professor."  It makes me feel different, respond differently to people.  I remember to treat myself with a bit more respect because they treat me that way.  I've had to grow into that name a bit, and still, I am learning how to be 'Dr. Bennett'.  Crazy how that works.

Not coincidentally, the use of this name makes me reflect on other names - particularly the fact that I am currently trying (in vain, I know, I know!) to get my six month old daughter to say Mama.  "Mama - you can say it!"  All I get is a raspberry - she's getting quite good at those, actually.

"Mama" is another name I've had to grow into.  Despite the fact that my three year old is now at the age where she says "mama, mama, mama" constantly - Mama, look what I can do! Mama, I'm hungry!  - I still feel a bit weird thinking of myself as a "mama".  Oh yeah - I'm an adult, and a mama.  I'd better act like it.

Some would argue that the only actions that have real meaning are the ones that we "mean" to do.  But I don't think that's it at all - I think I'm constantly learning how to live the words I speak and the words that name who I am.  Love - that's another word that I'm not quite comfortable wearing yet, though I say it and try to live it all the time.