Hyphenated Greetings

My first post here calls for an introduction. So here goes (in the order that will get me the least short-term grief).

I am married to a woman whom I met in Philadelphia almost forty years ago and we live with two cats, Cordelia and Kabbigail (we are those kind of people).

I spend most of my time teaching history (chiefly U.S.) at a small liberal arts college (name withheld to protect me from my bosses).

I have written and edited many more books than any English-speaker needs but writing is part of my vocation and it currently calls me to a religious biography of H. L. Mencken, someone who was not religious but far more thoughtful about it than most.

I am an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (I dislike identifying myself as elder because most Americans associate the office with Mormons.)

I root for the Phillies and it used to be a lot more fun doing so before Ryan Howard’s achilles blew up.

I blog also over here.

These are parts of my identity and I juggle them daily. Many Christians these days think that one’s faith or outlook goes all the way down, that faith in Christ or submission to the magisterium, or practicing Islam affects everything a person does. After examining myself and studying historical subjects I am not so convinced that religion is so basic to a person’s identity. When I go to the ballpark and root for the Phillies, I am not certain that my ways as a fan are all that different from any other Phillies’ rooter who chose not to wear a jersey or baseball cap that day (too old for that). When I teach history I try to present material in a way that conforms to the expectations of colleagues in my department and the training I received in graduate school. When I relate to my wife, I do not follow the conventions that would inform my relations with members of the congregation where I am an elder.

In other words, life as a Christian is complicated. The best word to describe that is one that the intellectual historian, David Hollinger, coined in his book Postethnic America — hyphenation. To recognize that people (even Christians) are a mix of different responsibilities and loyalties is to admit that “most individuals live in many circles siumltaneously and that the actual lving of any individual life entails a shifting division of labor between the several ‘we’s’ of which the individual is part.”

I suspect that most of my posts here will reflect a hyphenated identity. Even when writing about matters explicitly Christian, a number of other factors enter into my (and I suspect your) considerations. It strikes me that admitting this complicated outlook is basic to being human as opposed to living up to some sort of super-spiritual ideal of a life dedicated and consecrated to Christ 24/7. In fact, I plan to write a series of posts about my experience with reading through the Bible in a year. Instead of it being inspired by all the counsel from bloggers at the end of 2014, the idea to read the Bible and blog about it through the calendar comes from the clever decision by Julie Powell to blog about her attempt to cook through all of Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (That attempt was the subject of the charming movie, Julie and Julia — highly recommended.)

In which case the Protest that I hope to put back in Protestant is as much directed at certain Protestant pieties as at anything having to do what happens in the Holy See or its outlets.

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