Resolution Where There May Never Be
By Will Joyner
Is there an underlying theme to this edition of Harvard Divinity Bulletin, the second issue produced under a new design and a rededicated purpose? In the inaugural issue, Spring 2005, the theme was, overtly, new birth and related risk. But this time around, as we carefully tried to balance the contents, we weren’t thinking along a theme—we simply wanted to get about the business of presenting an even better collection of writing and artwork than we had done before.
Now, in the dog days of August, I’m not so sure. As we take a last look, page by page, searching for the smallest typo but also stepping back finally to take in the whole, I’m struck by how much of what’s here touches, at least tangentially, on human suffering and on unresolved human conflict: Darfur, the Holy Land, the strange and often sordid landscape of church sex crises; Darwinian theory and/or “intelligent design,” democratic or autocratic Islam, a predictable or a surprising new pope, same-sex marriage or not. It seems as if we needed, amid the summer’s sweeping backdrop of war, terror, and famine, to shift from contemplation of bright, limitless possibilities, represented on the Spring 2005 cover by a man regarding the stars, to contemplation of earthly error and confusion, despair and death—that is, to not so pretty a picture.
The writers and artists included in this issue approach their difficult subjects with calm, open determination, with the attitude that creative thinking can still be applied even to those human situations that allow virtually no hope.
I am also struck, though, by how consistently the writers and artists included in this Autumn 2005 issue approach their difficult subjects with calm, open determination, with the attitude that creative thinking can still be applied even to those human situations that indicate, at least to human eyes, virtually no hope of resolution. Whether it be in Jon Meacham’s recalling the words of founders both secular and religious, to show firm grounds for civil (as in polite) disagreement; or Sarah Coakley’s possibly audacious, but certainly brave suggestion of a new theology of desire; or Kenneth Miller’s and Francis Fiorenza’s offbeat perceptions of Benedict XVI; or Stephanie Paulsell’s and Laura Nasrallah’s lyrical witness on the restorative power of narrative; or Chris Herlinger’s and photographer Nils Carstenson’s clear-eyed reporting from Sudan—I could repeat the entire table of contents, which you’ll find on pages 4 and 5—there’s a thread of unrelenting purpose that we want to maintain as a theme in every issue.
Stated in a different way: all of this mate rial more than validates the risk involved in such a publication, the risk that I mentioned on the first page of our inaugural issue.
What was our readers’ response to that issue? In practical terms, it was almost too much to handle. Our mailbox and email inbox have been crowded, day by day, with messages of discontent and of praise (many more of praise, thank goodness). In Letters, we’ve included only a small sample of the reactions we received on the new design—one positive, and one not so—but in this regard it’s safe to say that a large majority of the reactions verged on the ecstatic.
We’ve also included a relatively small portion of the letters we received that addressed subjects broached in Spring 2005’s articles and artwork. In part, this decision owes to space considerations. In part, it owes to particular writers’ wishes to offer opinions but not have those opinions published. But, disturbingly, it also owes to the use, in more than a few letters, of intemperate language that has no place in this, or any, arena of discourse. So, I pause here to ask that all written reactions to Harvard Divinity Bulletin be formulated in a spirit of humility and patience, and with regard to common decency (and good grammar). Certitude is one thing; coarse, even profane certitude is quite another.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the overall response to Spring 2005 was an almost-overwhelming number of requests to be added to our mailing list, and of requests for extra copies. This number indicates to us that Harvard Divinity Bulletin is being widely handed around, from friend to friend, from parishioner to parishioner, from child to parent and parent to child, from colleague to colleague. This, of course, is extremely gratifying, but more than a little daunting. We welcome all new readers, and will do our best to add names and addresses to our rolls as quickly as possible, but please bear with us—we’re a small operation with a quirky new database. (Also, I would like to remind everyone that this new undertaking is expensive: extras are available, but at $8 a copy, through email request or at the Harvard Divinity Bookstore.)
Like the illuminating material we’re gathering from first-rate writers and artists, your response to this incarnation of Harvard Divinity Bulletin more than validates the risk involved in such a publication. We’ve touched many a nerve already. We expect to touch many more.
The last piece of editorial content chosen for this issue was the photograph for the final editorial page, a coda spot we’re calling Repose. The word “repose” is an important one for us, because of its myriad, often contrasting meanings. It can allude, for example, both to peace and to death. It can indicate the absence of animation, but it can indicate the presence of poise as well. It can refer to an absence of activity, but it can refer to a state whereby contemplation is more possible, to enrich future action.
In this last sense—and at the risk of being too clever—the word can also be rendered as “repose,” as in look at old things in a new way, not necessarily to cede or dilute any passionately held conviction or religious belief, but maybe to strengthen it, enhance it, make it more accessible, or better enjoy it.
We feel that the writers and artists included in this issue are alike in their ability to “repose,” and that this is a theme—a guiding principle really—for us all to aspire to always.
Will Joyner is editor of the Bulletin