12 September 2013

Robert Farrar Capon, and a few other thoughts

Robert Farrar Capon; source.

Today I found out that, a week ago, Robert Farrar Capon died. Somehow everything that I wanted to say about Syria, Moscow's elections, and so on, seemed to be part of a dull background noise and I sat here feeling overwhelmed by memories and by gratitude. That is, memories of my first years as a Christian, and gratitude that his books played such a formative role in those years. And though I had no right to demand that, at age 88, he defer his final step into the full glorious freedom that is our birthright as believers, I'm afraid that the idea that he's died really takes some getting used to.

My copies of his books are over 5,000 miles away, to my utter frustration, or I'd be reporting on some of the lines I'd underlined with exclamation marks in the margins. But I want to mention two of them that were particularly important to me. One of them, Hunting the Divine Fox, may be my favorite book of Christian apologetics, and I'm sure I've given away more copies of that book than any other. If you're familiar with the book, you may be surprised that I call it "apologetics," and I'm not even sure that Robert Capon himself would call it that. It is not exactly a direct argument for God or Christian doctrine, but for this post-modern age, it may be even better: it is an argument for the meaningfulness of theological language, and for the sheer God-honoring fun of thinking coherently about God.

Three of Capon's books in one, including my two favorites.
The other favorite of mine was his book on evil, The Third Peacock. No, he doesn't give an intellectually satisfying formula to explain evil or to get God off the hook. Nor does his rich and playful way with words serve to slip glibly out of this most basic dilemma. Instead, his aim (in my view, well accomplished) is to reset the frame: evil cannot separate us from God's eternal promises to us, which are part and parcel of the love with which God created us in the first place. We don't live our lives in judgment (either of God or of ourselves); we live in relationship, in tears and joy, in undeserved and outrageous grace.

Many other bloggers and columnists have been saying goodbye to Robert Farrar Capon, as I saw this evening during my therapeutic search for others sharing my sense of loss. I rediscovered an interview with him that I linked to last year. Here are some links from Alissa Wilkinson. Here's an appreciation from Christianity Today. Tullian Tchividjian provides a feast of quotations. Here's a review of Robert Capon's most in-your-face book on grace, Between Noon and Three. See how difficult it is to write about this man without trying to entice you into reading more and more? I hope you will do just that.

Friday PS: Another fertile link (with comments) @ the Internet Monk. Thanks to Donna Laine for the reference.

Over the years, of course, the news of the deaths of many, many precious people has come to me and impacted me to one degree or another. Of those whom I didn't know personally, who were more or less in the celebrity category, only a few deaths have truly brought me to a full stop: Jim Henson, Dr. Suess, Vladimir Horowitz, and now Robert Farrar Capon.

All I really want to say this evening about the USA, Russia, and Syria, is this. How in the world did we get into a situation where the president of Russia lectures the president of the USA on the rule of law? And rightly so?? The way things get decided and explained in Russia generally is a combination of ruthless pragmatism and conventional group wisdom ("It's obvious to any normal person..."), in contrast to the West's hangups on due process. It's just plain odd to see things reversed. A little like the feeling that Charles Blow must be having.

And here's Marc H. Ellis, also commenting on this same ironic mess.

Here's just one of many columns on the political trends and stresses revealed by last Sunday's mayoral elections in Moscow and Ekaterinburg. I can't say how balanced or astute these observations are, but it touches on one of the most fascinating spectacles we've witnessed in Russia's recent political history: an election campaign (in Moscow) that was fascinatingly similar to retail-level campaigns in the USA. And all the while, there's an undertone in many of the commentators here who are perhaps afraid to be seen as giving in to the seductive appeal of the new opposition hero, Aleksei Naval'ny: any successful opposition politicians who ever got into power would be just as authoritarian as their predecessors. To which I reply: are you seriously waiting for a leader to emerge who is shy about being a leader?

Anyway, Sean Guillory doesn't think the opposition should get too giddy just yet. On Sunday, the Kremlin also got what it needed: legitimacy.

"In Secret [U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court, Google Wants Public Hearing."

Professional cynics continue their fascination with the new Pope.

Rachel Held Evans, "The thing I'd love to forget about the people I disagree with" ...
I had assumed he had taken the easiest path when he hadn't.

It bothers me when people make the same careless assumptions about me.
Congratulations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and to our whole species: Voyager I reaches interstellar space.

Blues dessert, the one and only Albert Collins:


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of Robert Farrar Capon before, and then read a blog post about him a few days ago at the Internet Monk website: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-homily-14
I immediately went to Amazon and ordered "Between Noon and Three." With you endorsement added, I'm looking forward to discovering a new author. Enjoyed the Albert Collins--

Bill Samuel said...

Well maybe we got in this situation with Putin rightly calling out Obama, and providing a peaceful alternative, through the power of prayer.

Millions have been praying for peace. Few of us expected Putin to be the agent for bringing a real positive change in the situation, but God can use anyone. Praise God!

Johan Maurer said...

Donna -- thank you! I usually see Internet Monk articles right away, but somehow missed this one. I'm glad you posted the link; I'll add it to the blog post itself.

Bill -- Amen. Interesting that Putin even mentioned Francis.