When Life Doesn’t Give You Lemons

In our backyard there’s a small lemon tree. We planted it last March, and right up to the Great Freeze of 2021 things looked promising. It was covered in leaves and fruit had started forming. Now, it looks dead. Local horticulturalists preach patience: it might come back, they advise; give it time.

Thankfully, the little lemon tree is the exception in our yard. Its bare branches contrast with the blossoming pecans and cottonwoods that will shade us all summer. 

It seems fitting that spring, at least in the northern hemisphere, coincides with Easter. Wildflowers, songbirds, bright green grass and blue sky—everything witnesses to new life. But as beautiful as this is, the coincidence can mislead. The spring-ification of Easter tempts us toward sentimentality.

Recently, the Brazos Fellows read Frederick Schleiermacher. We studied this Romanticist and German theologian as one example of the church’s response to the questions posed by modernity. Schleiermacher wanted to rescue Christianity for his very smart friends. They were sophisticated: they knew that the resurrection, like all miracles, was just a myth, and knowing this felt no need to continue with religious forms. 

Ok, that’s understandable, Schleiermacher replied, but real religion doesn’t have anything to do with doctrine or history. It’s a matter of feeling. It’s sensing the infinite; it’s experiencing one’s utter dependence; it’s that feeling “as fleeting and transparent as the first scent with which the dew gently caresses the waking flowers.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, as far as it goes. And thus liberal Protestant theology was born. In Schleiermacher’s version of Christianity, what matters is interior, subjective. For this, dew-covered blossoms do just as well as Word and Sacrament. And the Resurrection? Well, it’s a wonderful metaphor, isn’t it?

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5 in 10: Alan Jacobs

Yesterday our Course of Study enjoyed a visit from Brazos Fellows guest instructor Dr. Alan Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor, where he teaches and writes on theology and literature, literary theory and the history of criticism, and technologies of reading, writing and research. His many books include The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography, and most recently How To Think and The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.

Dr. Jacobs introduced the fellows to the poetry of W.H. Auden, specifically Auden’s Horae Canonicae, a series of seven poems that, as Jacobs put it, “take place on the day of the Crucifixion; or, considered in another way, on any Good Friday; or, considered in yet a different way, on every day of our lives.” It was a fantastic discussion of a marvelous poem (which you can listen to Auden reading here.)

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