Author Archives: Kyle Rader

About Kyle Rader

Kyle is a theologian and postulant for holy orders in The Episcopal Church, and currently a Visiting Research Scholar at the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School and lives in New York City with his spouse and two kids. Visit Kyle's contributor page for a longer bio and CV.

Looking for Grace in a Graceless World

Because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the event that began the Reformation, there have been a lot of articles about Luther, especially as Reformation Day drew near. The best one that I came across was entitled Suche nach der Gnade in einer gnadenlosen Welt by Matthias Drobinski, which appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on October 31. What follows is my translation, posted with the kind permission of the Süddeutsche.


Looking for Grace in a Graceless World
by Matthias Drobinski (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, October 31, 2017; trans. Kyle Rader)

The theologian and poet Christian Lehnert tells how he once preached about the love and nearness of a gracious God in an East German village, and afterward, an old Polish woman intercepted him and asked, “You prayed for God’s nearness? Do you know what you’re asking for?” She then explained how, in 1939, she hid in a ditch in a field and prayed for her life as the German tanks came. Then she felt God’s nearness and lay hidden in the earth’s arms. The tanks rolled on by. But a few days later, everyone who lived in the next farmhouse over was found dead, shot, with their tongues nailed to the kitchen table. The one was saved, the others were murdered.

Is that God’s nearness and grace? Continue reading

Halloween, Reformation Day, and All Saints

I love Halloween. I also love Reformation Day (which I realize puts me at odds with some fellow Episcopalians). Most of all, I love All Saints Day (and I like the aesthetics of All Souls/Día de los Muertos, though I find it theologically problematic). It has always felt right to me that these three celebrations go together, jack-o-lanterns and all. My All Saints post from a few years ago is still one of the better things I’ve written, where I talked about the healing bond holding us together with all those we love, as well as those we can’t imagine loving yet, living or dead. That’s the All Saints aspect of the whole thing.

But I also like the Halloween aspect.

Continue reading

On not Imagining Redemption

Jacob's Ladder by William Blake, sort of how I try (not) to imagine redemption

Blake, Jacob’s Ladder. Like the redemption you can’t imagine, you can’t see where the ladder is going.

All the “me toos” on Facebook remind me of certain aspects of Judaism I admire and sometimes envy, particularly the willingness to let evil and suffering just be evil and horrible without trying to fit it into a narrative of redemption, or at least not any redemption that one presumes to be able to imagine yet. Because there is nothing good, beautiful, or redemptive about any of this.

It takes a very appealing sort of courage and hope to live with evil that is just evil, and still say baruch atta adonai. I think this is why, for example, there’s never been much enthusiasm for rebuilding the temple, quite apart from the practical difficulties that would attend such a project. Until the Messiah comes, rabbinical Judaism doesn’t presume to know what a redeemed world would look like (and the Messiah could probably rebuild the temple without destroying the dome) [Jewish friends: please feel very welcome to offer correction to this characterization of your religion, should you find it warranted]. Continue reading

A Cloak over the Land

St. Brigid of Kildare, whose feast is today, is the unofficial patron of Brent House, my spiritual home at the University of Chicago and my sponsoring community in the ordination process. Patroness of scholars, brewers, and dairy workers, defender of peasants, ascetic for the sake of joy, and worker of delightfully over-the-top miracles. Like Brent House, a symbol of everything good in the world.

The story is told that she once asked the king for land on which to build a monastery (which would have also been what we would call a community center). The king in question was more concerned with his own revenue than with his communities, so she told him that she only needed as much land as her cloak could cover. After he agreed, she threw her cloak on the ground and it covered the whole county. A reminder of who the land really belongs to, and what it’s for.

Now the United States of America is a bit bigger than Kildare, but that makes no difference to God. Thanks everyone, for all the ways you are reminding our worthless leaders whose this land is, and what it’s for. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves while you’re at it. Drink a beer, if you can do safely, and eat some ice cream or cheese. We also resist what is evil by celebrating and sharing what is joyful.

O God, by whose grace your servant Brigid, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Collect for Feast of St. Brigid)

And check out this beautiful icon from the Church of St. Brigid in Kildare. Follow the link to learn more about it and about her.

Brigid of Kildare. Follow the link to learn more about her and about this wonderful icon, written by Sr. Aloysius McVeigh RSM an displayed at the church in Kildare.

Brigid of Kildare. Follow the link to learn more about her and about this wonderful icon, written by Sr. Aloysius McVeigh RSM an displayed at the church in Kildare.

Undoing Babel

Donald Trump is trying to take away our humanity. He is doing this by cutting us off from one another. But Jesus came to make us divine by making us fully human, which requires us to share a commitment to a common world and a common conversation with one another, no matter how strange our voices sound to each other. Look what Trump is doing: he is impeding communication, and thus communion. Whether it be by silencing government employees, defunding humanistic research, building his wall, or blocking immigration and denying asylum. He tells his lies about groups of people so that we will not be able to talk to them or listen to them, and he does it expertly–the Lord rebuke him!

An icon of Pentecost

An icon of Pentecost

 

But all it takes to resist Trump is what those of us who are committed to the Gospel are going to do anyway: we have to refuse division and create communion. When Trump cuts off channels of communication, we have to open new ones. What this means concretely depends on where you are and who you are. But one thing we can all do is pray, including (especially!) for our enemies.

I am currently working on an article that is partly on Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. I was despairing about its relevance or usefulness to our present struggles when I came across this in one of my secondary sources:

Communication is a necessary condition for community; but direct communication between human minds, a transparency of mutual understanding, is not possible in the fallen human condition. Language arises from the conflict of this impossibility with the natural human need for community…For Augustine semantic activity–understanding and communicating through language–was the index of the human need for transcendence in the most general terms: for union with other minds in the very act of understanding a shared world.
-Robert Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool University Press, 1996), pp. 110-11

But as Augustine explains in De doctrina and elsewhere, to put a short-circuit what other people and other things mean is to defy the very work of the Incarnation. It is a false judgment that loves and regards others as having no value. It cuts us off from them and them from the beauty and goodness of the whole creation. To use Augustine’s words, it is to fail to see them and thus ourselves as signs.

So the good news: Jesus has already undone what Trump is trying to do. Pentecost undid Babel. Just as we can pray for each other even we really don’t like or understand one another, we can also commit to seeing ourselves as part of the same conversation. For anyone to attain the transcendence which Augustine diagnoses as the basic desire behind all of our communication, we need every human being in on the conversation. This does not mean that we all speak the same language or say the same things. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, the first Christians did not all start speaking the same language. They started speaking every language. 

The fullness of conversation is something that will have to emerge amidst all the tensions, failures, and misunderstandings of our glorious cacophony. But to invoke one more Augustinian conviction, there is another voice speaking behind and through ours, enabling understanding to emerge. It is the “light that enlightens all peoples,” the Word of God.

God’s word is not chained. So don’t despair, and don’t believe the lies. Call your representatives, find a march to attend, invite someone different from you to coffee. And for the love of God, pray! Trump may have invoked God in his inauguration speech, but he has actually declared open warfare on everything God is trying to do. He will fail. He will go the way of  Nebuchadnezzar and Nero. He may be saved, but his works will lie in ruin. Sad.

Titus after Trump

I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear. Continue reading

Break every chain!

This post starts off talking about babies, but it’s really about prisons and what you can do about them. Actionable items at the end!

Our Lord Jesus Christ breaking every chain.

Our Lord Jesus Christ breaking every chain.

Having a baby is an emotional roller coaster, even when you’re not the one whose body was playing host. When our twins were born six weeks early in January, one was in the NICU for one week, one for three. Shortly after the first came home, they moved the little one to a different part of the hospital for babies who were considered low-risk. We did not think much of the low-risk part of the NICU. The main part was a much more loving environment. There were more babies, more family members, and it seemed to us, more attention from the very gifted nurses. The low-risk ward seemed very much like an afterthought. It was a converted patient room on the recovery floor with six or seven babies in incubators tended by two nurses. With a few notable exceptions, we did not find them to be as good as the nurses in the main ward. There were fewer family members coming and going. It seemed that our little baby was just in a glass cage all day, except when we were able to come take him out. I speak of how it seemed, not of how it was. Objectively, the care he received was perfectly adequate. Continue reading