The fussy side of scholarship

October 22, 2014

Frirst DraftToday I sent my publisher the draft index for The American Church that Might Have Been: A History of the Consultation on Church Union. This is, I believe, the last piece of hard work on a project that has consumed 10–15 hours a week for at least five years.

I may have to fuss with this final part of the manuscript a little more, to correct errors in formatting and to proofread the typeset pages. The Chicago Manual of Style, I realized after my index was almost complete, devotes 46 pages to its instructions on indexing and my work would have been easier if I had read the last few pages that provide a method for doing the work. Today, I am savoring the sweet taste of completion. Counting front matter (but not the index, which hasn’t been typeset yet), the book is 254 pages long.

WatkinsIt is supposed to be published before the year is out, which is important to me because 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of my receiving the Th.D. degree in church history and historical theology from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. My Th.D. dissertation, in the typescript prescribed by the Turabian manual, is 425 pages long (without an index). My new book is probably longer by 20%.

The dissertation explores the ecclesiology of New England Puritanism, with special attention to the contributions of Increase Mather (1639–1723), who spent his entire career as a minister in what was then the preeminent church in Boston.

There is a nice symmetry in bracketing this half–century of my life with books on ecclesiology in the United States. Although the idea popped into my head only this morning, these two books separated by half a century examine periods in church history that were similar in vision and hope. Church leaders in the 17th and 20th centuries hoped to reshape the churches of their time so that they would be fully faithful to the one Church of Christ and be appropriately adapted to life in the culture of their era.

I have to admit that I’m tired of working on my new book, especially because the last phase of manuscript development deals with fussy details. Everything needs to be exactly right and I find little pleasure in dealing with these matters even though I know how important it is that the pages be accurate.

These activities have been especially burdensome because of the death earlier in the summer of my wife, Billie Lee Caton Watkins, who was my most constant proofreader. Although she rarely commented on the ideas in my manuscripts, she had an eagle eye for punctuation, spelling, and clarity of expression.

Another factor leading to fatigue is my birthday on Halloween that pushes me further into my octogenarian decade. In a comment on one of my recent postings on Facebook, a friend stated bluntly that I work too hard. Whether or not she’s right, I doubt that I will start another book with the scope of the one that I now am finishing.

I do, however, have three half-finished book manuscripts to work on, half a dozen shorter pieces that clamor for my attention, and a stack of half-read books to be finished. I feel greater zeal, however, for spending time on my bikes. If today were not so wet—perhaps the rainiest of the season so far—I’d be out there now instead of writing this blog.

Something else I need to do: figure out ways to sell this book. As soon as more information about such matters has developed, I’ll be sure to let you know where to get yours!

Singing our way to the cemetery

October 7, 2014

The Christian funeral according to Thomas G. Long: a review essay

(Continuing a series on rituals at the time of death)

Accompany Them with Singing My first funeral was one that Thomas G. Long would have approved. It took place 60 years ago in Somerset, Indiana, a village on the Mississinewa River where I was serving as pastor while doing my theological studies in Indianapolis, 75 miles to the south. The deceased was a frail old man who died shortly after a fall and broken hip. He was embalmed in the funeral home in the town of Wabash where he had died in the county hospital. His family and a few villagers whom he had known all of his life gathered at the little Christian Church for the funeral. The open casket bearing his body was at the center of the church where the communion table ordinarily focused attention. I used the order for funerals of my church, which was published in Christian Worship: A Service Book, edited by G. Edwin Osborn.

Following this simply, traditional funeral rite, most of us followed the hearse to the village cemetery, whose caretaker was a third-generation resident of the Somerset community and long-time elder of our church. There we conducted a committal service and watched the first phase of the burial. The mood of the occasion was very much like that in Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard.” Although the theme was muted, the family and the larger community were joined together in a journey in which we accompanied this old man as he moved from his embodied life with us to a new form of life, reposing upon “the bosom of his Father and his God.”

Long would have approved this funeral because the traditional ritual, the immediacy of the body, the sympathetic presence of community, and the reasonably clear gospel narrative were all present in a way that was self-evident to participants and respectful of the life of the deceased. His book, Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Westminster John Knox, 2009), mourns the loss of such closely integrated funeral practices and scorns many of the alternatives that have become commonplace in urban American during the sixty years since I conducted that traditional liturgical journey.

One problem in our time is that cemeteries and churches are far removed from one other so that the cohesion of the journey is hard to sustain. Another is the fading away of the Christian narrative that once provided the plot line for funeral rites and the resulting personalization of ceremonies and services that mark the end of life. We now concentrate attention upon remembering the details of the deceased life rather than upon the theological narrative of how that person now moves forward from this life in our world to a new way of life with God. Long deplores funerals that are intended to be therapeutic sessions for survivors rather than occasions for worshipping God. Read more. .    Singing Our Way to the Cemetery

A new style book on old style ecumenism

October 1, 2014

Reviewing Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed: Questions for the Future of Ecumenism, by Michael Kinnamon

A New Book on Ecumenism

A New Book on Ecumenism

At one level, the many churches around the world affirm that there is only one church, one “body of Christ.” At another level, they recognize that in practical reality there are many churches, each one of which functions as though it fully represents that one church.

Ecumenism is the attempt to solve this conflict between theological assertion and historical reality. It is the continuing effort to draw these churchly entities together into a more explicit manifestation of what they really are.

Early in the twentieth century, the desire to manifest the church’s oneness became a complex process, usually referred to as the ecumenical movement, that has been the primary expression of ecumenism for more a hundred years. Especially important among its several patterns of work were the formation of inter-church councils, church unions, study commissions to establish theological consensus, and joint efforts for evangelism and missions.

The ecumenical movement reached its highest point of activity during the decades following World War Two and then entered into a period of decline. The senior editor of a major publisher stated the current situation clearly when he acknowledged his company’s probable lack of interest in a manuscript that I was doing on the Consultation on Church Union: “Nobody’s interested in old-style ecumenism any more.”

Despite this alleged lack of popular interest, Michael Kinnamon has successfully published a new book (with this same publisher) in which he interprets the current state of affairs in the ecumenical movement, analyzes new patterns that ecumenism is taking, and explains why this movement continues to be important.

He is well qualified to write this kind of book, having spent his professional life dealing with ecumenism: in his formal academic training, as a staff member of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, as a highly skilled participant in ecumenical conferences and ventures around the world, and in academic posts in four U.S. seminaries, Prior to assuming his current position at Seattle University, Kinnamon was general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Through these many years Kinnamon has engaged in this work because, “like many others, I long for a church better than the one I see around us.” Read more…… Kinnamon-Renewal Movement