I maintain that the most important truth of the gospel for our times is simply this: that God saved the world, not by abolishing or transforming the human condition but by taking it on.

— Edward T. Oakes in a 2005 article in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review.

SR Let’s, uh, let’s talk to . . . let’s see, uh, Bruce, in Richmond Virginia. Welcome, you’re on the Diane Rehm Show, Bruce.

Bruce Good morning.

SR Good morning!

Bruce Uh, when you look, when you look at the price on oil, or gasoline as a retail product, it’s based on futures, not what is actually happening in terms of supply and demand but what might happen. Now the president, I understand, a few weeks ago, signed an executive order opening up the first phase of off-shore drilling. And prices dropped instantly! When are the two parties gonna come to the table and reconcile some of their partisan issues and actually take the role of leadership, instead of constantly bickering back and forth over these small issues, and, and, and put the American people first? I’ll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

SR Okay. Chris?

CH Well, I hope Bruce won’t take this as a flip answer, but perhaps they’ll get serious and talk with each other after the election. I think the prospects for any deal other than this tax extension deal on energy are, are nil.

SR Do you two both agree with that?

SB Essentially yeah. Yeah.

SR Nodding doesn’t work on the radio!


SB We, we don’t see a lot of movement in a lot of energy legislation happening until after the election.

DS Yeah, I’ve said this earlier, I’m hopeful about the tax credits, and I think we’ve got some real momentum on that. I’m more skeptical about off-shore drilling and those sorts of issues.

SR Is this just because there’s not enough time, and the differences are so great, and you’ve got rules in the Senate that uh allow for filibusters, the President’s gonna veto, there’s just too much to do too quickly?

CH Well, that’s certainly the fall-back excuse, but the real reason is that the Republicans really believe that they have a winning issue, politically, . . .

SR Mm hmm.

CH . . . in this coming election by hammering the Democrats on their opposition to off-shore drilling. And they . . . .

SR Clearly the Democrats agree, or they wouldn’t be moving this bill.

CH Exactly.

SR I mean, let’s be honest about it.

CH And the Senate Republicans are simply not gonna do this. And, uh, a Senate Democrat, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, has said that the House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate.

SR Except for these extenders on, on, that . . .

CH Yes.

SR . . . where, where you said earlier there has been a bipartisan agreement, including the Republican leadership of the Senate.

CH Exactly, and that’s very significant.

SR I’m Steve Roberts, and you’re listening to the Diane Rehm Show. David? Go ahead.

DS I, I think Chris is basically right. But you just cannot emphasize enough how sad it is for our country that the crisis of rising oil prices over the past year has turned us to a focus on off-shore drilling. If you wanted to make a list of the top five solutions to America’s, America’s energy problems, off-shore drilling would not be on the list. We have an opportunity to change our economy, to use plug-in electric cars, natural gas vehicles even, biofuels, more efficient cars, that’s where we should be focusing, not on this, on this fundamental distraction of off-shore drilling.

SB I . . .

SR Sarah.

SB . . . I disagree with David that that’s where the focus has been. Actually, with high oil prices Americans respond with a huge amount of efficiency. We’ve seen a drop in oil consumption, . . .

SR Mm hmm.

SB . . . less, less oil consumption in this country in response to these high prices, so Americans have shown that they are capable of instituting efficiency, that they are willing to do it and that they’re doing it now.

SR Including driving less.

SB Including driving less!

Excerpted from the first hour of Wednesday’s Diane Rehm Show, a look at energy legislation working, kind of, through Congress now. (The House put their deal through Tuesday, and it’s on to the Senate.)

The discussion’s worth a listen — it’s a useful snapshot. Participants are guest host Steve Roberts, Brookings Institution fellow David Sandalow, American Petroleum Institute rep Sarah Banaszak, and Energy Daily writer Chris Holly.

One of the more frequently phone-snapped cars in the Baltimore area, I’m guessing.

Maryland-regional business & government news service The Daily Record has run a useful little series this past week on the USGBC’s ever more popular, ten-year-old system for establishing buildings’ and builders’ ‘greenness’ — ‘LEED,’ for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. There’s no head-page for the series, unfortunately. To read the whole, see the last article — a look at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s very successful headquarters, the first LEED-Platinum certified building — and trace the series back from article to article using links under the series’ ‘Uncertain Savior’ graphic.

Of the articles looking at criticism of the LEED system, this one citing building-performance guru Joe Lstiburek’s public concerns is worth specific notice. His critique is a bit narrow in focus and perhaps doesn’t sufficiently credit the USGBC’s holistic aims for built-environment reform, but it seems an important one for making sense of the green building problem.

We have confused, as a society, wants and needs, and a lot of people have raised up their wants way above their needs and way above their abilities to support all those wants. . . . What we have got to do is get back to the basics in difficult economic times like this and explain to people that you will not wither up and die if you don’t have that wide-screen TV.

— Millard Fuller, formerly of Habitat for Humanity, speaking in Arkansas yesterday. From The Examiner.

Better perhaps if we leave out the ‘in difficult times’ part — and give some attention to just what basics should mean.

Had he just died, and that had been the end of the story, it, it would have been something that could have been interpreted any number of ways, but it would have fitted our religious expectations. That is, in some sense we would understand its inevitability — it had to happen — his teachings might live on after him, he would be a renowned sage, but he would be gone and the whole story would have a kind of tragic fullness to it. Because an end had been given to his story. Because death, and this is death’s great service to us, gives us an end to our stories that makes them meaningful. But then comes Easter. . . . I think sometimes we tend to forget that the Gospel of Easter is not just something that seems incredible, and seemed incredible, it was in some sense subversive of the whole sacred order of the universe. Uh, because — what happened at Easter was that the sane responsible prudent decisions made — the, by those who were responsible for sustaining the economy of life and death, the economy of chaos and order, the social reality of the universe in which Jesus was located, had passed their verdicts, discharged their offices, done what was expected of them; and God had passed his judgment and it absolutely reversed those verdicts. Christ was not assumed into a hereafter in a simple sense. Christ did not disappear into the divine mystery. God did not confirm the verdict of his judges. God did not accept the finality of death, its meaningfulness, he didn’t take the well-rounded story of Jesus with its tragic conclusion and make something beautiful out of it; rather God shattered the power of death in Christ. And in that moment, a whole, the whole rationality of a world reconciled to death collapsed.

After all — I mean, there’s no older religious wisdom, and again I’m not making statements about all non-Christian religions, that’s not what I mean, but I mean there’s a religious wisdom that we all share going back to the beginning of human piety — there’s no older religious wisdom than the one that teaches us that the sacred, there’s a sacred necessity and irreversibility of death. And that a victim that has been once offered up to ‘the gods,’ or ‘order,’ or, or, or ‘the divine,’ has to be then transformed into some higher, more abstract good. But that’s not what happens. Rather it is still the person, Jesus of Nazareth, in his particularity, who is vindicated over against all the powers — the political powers, the cosmic powers, the power of death itself. And in that moment, what is revealed is that, according to the divine vantage which is revealed in Christ, death is not part of God’s order. It is not God’s final word. It is not part of his economy. And then what becomes of all our sacrifices, what becomes of all the resignations we’ve had to make and all the reconciliations? We discover that we are no longer permitted to enjoy the solace of a certain sort of religious resignation. Uhm, we can’t just sink away into the chaos of nature, uh, death is no longer there a thing to be mastered and understood as part of the cosmos. Incredibly, we’ve been told that death itself — which has been made natural to us over, at the expense of so many victims, and at such a huge expense of cultural, religious labor — that death itself never was the truth of things. Death, which religion, culture, just practical wisdom had made familiar to us and even meaningful for us becomes a stranger to us again. Essentially meaningless. Ultimately unjust — no matter what the workings of divine providence may do with any given moment of death, nonetheless death itself no longer fits.

Um, this is a very simple thing I know, uh, but . . . it strikes me that somehow we don’t always appreciate it that, that contrary to the best, the most prudent, the most serious religious and philosophical reflection of much of human culture, which teaches us, ‘Well, yes, we have emerged from that, that ignorance of death that was our special condition as children — can we now be reconciled to the cosmic reality of death,’ instead what the Gospel says is ‘Well, no, the real question is whether the world can be redeemed from death,’ because that strangeness of death to us, that, that sense of alienation and distance between ourselves, is in fact an index of truth. It points us toward something truer than the practical wisdom that culture and religion and so much of our social history would have us embrace. Um, in a sense, the resurrection of Christ calls us to a second naïveté. A post-, how can I say it, a, a, a post- — I don’t want to say post-religious, again it sounds as if I’m simply condemning religion in the abstract, but a post- [pause] -critical return to our most primordial intuition of death as something unnatural. Obscene. Intrinsically evil. And a return, in a sense, to that disquiet before the power of death, that, th- — its power to interrupt our natural orientation towards the future which is the thing from which, supposedly, all the wisdom of the ages was supposed to deliver us. What we discover is that that disquiet, perhaps, was always a sign of a created openness to God and his kingdom, and that in a sense the odd tendency of primitive man to see death as unnatural turns out to be a sign of spiritual wisdom, a perfectly correct sense that most of us would do well to try to recover, the true nature of spiritual beings created in the divine image. And that maybe even that strange and haunting and irrecoverable immediacy of the small child’s experience of the world is a foretaste of our true home. Having, uh, departed from the garden of our first innocence, as I called it earlier, we’re called not to become disenchanted realists content to dwell here under the dominion of death, looking for, uhm, rationales for why there is death, why this person dies, refusing to acknowledge the sheer idiot hideousness of death, refusing to recognize death as a thing that is evil but instead learning to be wise and at peace with it. No. We’re summoned rather to enter into the city of a second and higher innocence which knows death only as a shadow, and a falsehood, overcome by infinite love.

From a terrific lecture given by David Bentley Hart in 2006, available in mp3, free, at the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press site.

And despite the apparent priorities of the ministry of Christ, Jesus is moved by His mother’s maternal boldness to respond to the need. And, as is always true of His miracles, His intervention results in an excess of Grace. His miracles are always “more than enough.” There is never mere “efficiency” in Grace: the Trinitarian radiance of Love can never be characterized as “just enough.” There are always leftovers in the aftermath of the Power of God. There is too much wine. There are twelve baskets of bread. There is 153 fish in a net. There are aliens, Canaanites and Samaritans who are accidentally healed, despite historical strictures. There are Messianic secrets that are always broken. Animals speak, the rocks cry out, entire storms are soothed into Peace.

From a post of a little more than a week ago on the Orthodox blog Second Terrace.

Wells Fargo:

Please cancel my credit card account, Visa # ****, immediately.

I can hardly believe your company billed me for not using this account. I’ve been penalized for paying off one of my credit cards and not closing the account before I had reason to use it again. Brilliant.

I have no doubt that the inactivity fee is listed in a schedule of fees that I have read at some time. I accept responsibility, and I’ve paid the bill. You have my money and you have your fine print. What you won’t have from now on is this customer.


Paul Bowman

Middlebrow is th’ new lowbrow!

Yesterday General Motors announced it will go solar at a plant it maintains here in Baltimore County. The rooftop installation by SunEdison (a Maryland company to the south, in Washington D.C. suburbs) will be one of the largest on this side of the country. This was noteworthy enough to be local radio news yesterday afternoon. The Sun’s report is here — oddly buried a bit in back pages today.