The 2007 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture
The Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture are designed to foster original scholarship pertaining to youth and the contemporary church. The lectures are delivered as a series at the Princeton Forums on Youth Ministry and are published annually. Lecturers include scholars who are not directly involved in the practice or study of youth ministry but who can bring the fruits of their respective disciplines to bear on ministry with the young.
With its traditional emphasis on group activities, youth ministry cries out for reflection on the meaning of Christian community. How will we create a cohesive community among the youth in our congregations? What do we do when exclusive cliques threaten the health of the youth ministry? How will we engage young people with the wider faith community and with the communities in which we live? Should we try to draw adolescent loners into the youth group? What tools can we offer young people as they engage with other faith communities or communities from other nations?
Theological reflection on community is foundational for addressing these questions faithfully. The 2007 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture provide such reflection. Rather than offering simple steps for building community in your youth group, these lectures use the lenses of friendship, moral formation, reconciliation, and the African Christian concept of communal salvation to shed light on the meaning of Christian community and how it relates to ministry with the young.
- Is Anyone (Even the Devil) Irreconcilable?
- Practicing Reconciliation in a violent World
- Carving Stone, or, Learning to Speak Christian
- Why did Jesus Have to Die?: An Attempt to Cross the Barrier of Age
- The Recovery and the Promise of Friendship
- The Promise of Friendship and Practice of Ministry
Carving Stone, or,
Learning to Speak Christian
Learning to Be a Stone Carver
I was raised a bricklayer. Actually, that is not quite true. I was raised to labor for bricklayers. I eventually learned to lay brick, but not with the skill of my father, who was a master craftsman. In truth I was a better laborer than I was a bricklayer because to be a master craftsman requires years in the trade. It is important to remember, however, that while the laborer may not have the skill of the bricklayer, no one can become a bricklayer, at least a bricklayer who is a craftsman, who has not learned to labor. For to lay brick well requires that you have learned the subsidiary skills, such as how to chop (mix) mortar. Bricklaying, like all significant work, involves a hierarchy of tasks, and those who would practice the craft must learn those skills in an appropriate order. 1
Attention to the training necessary for crafts such as laying brick, I believe, is crucial if we are to understand the role theology might have in education, or, as I would prefer, moral formation. Too often I fear we associate education with teaching students how to think. We think, moreover, that thinking is a linguistic activity. Education certainly involves learning how to think, and we do think linguistically, but it is important that we not think of thinking as something that goes on in our "minds." By observing the language two stone carvers use to reflect on their craft, I hope to show why learning to think, as well as learning a language constitutive of thinking, is rightly understood as work done with our hands.
Such a view may seem quite odd in a conference designed to investigate what role theology, and in particular moral theology, may have in educating and forming lives. 2 Theologians are not usually associated with hard work or physical labor. I suspect theologians are more like laborers than bricklayers; that is, the theologian's task is to serve those who are masters of the craft of being Christian. Yet if that craft is constituted, as I think it is, by language, then it becomes all the more important that some are trained in the hard work of teaching the language of the craft. In particular it is crucial that those charged with the task of teaching not forget that teaching and learning a language, particularly the language of prayer, is as physical as learning to carve stone; a remark, however, that I can only develop by saying more about learning a craft and, in particular, the craft of stone carving.
In The Stone Carvers: Master Craftsmen of Washington National Cathedral, Marjorie Hunt tells the story of two Italian American master stone carvers—Roger Morigi and Vincent Palumbo. 3 Both men were born and trained in Italy, but like other Italian carvers they came to America because they had skills necessary for the completion of buildings like page 2 the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Washington DC, which is more generally known as the National Cathedral of the American Episcopal Church. 4 Roger began work at the cathedral in 1956 and was joined by Vincent in 1978.
Both Roger and Vincent were born into families of stone carvers. For them, to be a stone carver was to be made part of a tradition whose habits of memory, the stories of carving stone, were inseparable from the stories of the family. 5 For example, as Vincent Palumbo carves he reports the memories of the years he spent being guided by his father:
When I was working with my father on a job we don't feel we were father and son, but just partners. We talk a variation of things—how to do the best. He always teach me the secrets how to give the master touch, how always he wants me—even if stone is dead material—still he was telling me how to make the stone look like life, almost talk, look realistic. Especially to give that small detail, so when we were carving flowers, the petals of the flowers look like moving. That was the best part. And I'm trying to do the best I can in his memory (5).
Vincent and Roger take pride in their family tradition because they understand their families to represent the longer tradition of stone carving. To carve stone is to contribute to an ongoing tradition nestled within larger narratives that give purpose to the craft. That they are carving stone for a cathedral means that they do not understand what they do to be just another job, but rather they participate in the story that constitutes their and our existence. Thus Vincent's claim that "Even God gave Moses the ten laws on stone. He carved the Ten Commandments on stone. So this is the oldest trade in the world" (3).
Roger was the master carver at the National Cathedral for twenty-three years. He reports it was a task he cherished above all others. "To me" he says, "the cathedral is like my home. Next to my home, it is home. When you say that, you say everything. You get attached to a place. This may be just stone to most people, but to me it's alive" (37). Hunt reports that Roger's last carving for the cathedral was a life-size statue of Adam. Roger's comment on his life work was, "I finished where God began" (37). That he would so describe his work wonderfully witnesses to his understanding of how his craft fits within a larger purpose.
Roger and Vincent were brought up in families of stone carvers, but they still had to be apprenticed to a master stone carver if they were to become masters of the craft. To be sure, carving involves some formal instruction, but according to Roger you cannot teach anybody to carve. Rather,
you give them the fundamentals of carving, like you take a hammer and a point and you hit, you take a chisel and cut. But the main thing in carving, you steal carving. When I say steal, you see, like you're in the shop and there are seven or eight apprentice boys. One would be a little better than the other, and you have two or three carvers working in the same place, so you watch one, you watch the other; you steal a little bit from one, you steal a little bit from the other. Then you put it all together yourself. You develop your own technique (41).
Roger and Vincent make clear, however, that within the community of stone carvers there is a clear and essential hierarchy determined on the basis of skill and seniority. They therefore describe their learning to be stone carvers as "coming up" in the trade, to indicate the long process required to work through the levels from apprentice and journeyman in order to finally become a master of the craft. Such a process is necessary because to be a good carver you need to be able to do everything, from obtaining the stone from the quarry to putting the carved stone in place on the building. Thus a carver must be "almost perfect as a stonecutter, which means you've got to be able to put a straight face on a slab of stone maybe two-and-a-half meters long by a meter, meter-and-a-half wide, with different kinds of tools—we call a six-teeth or an eight-teeth point" (68).page 3
For stone carvers apprenticeship is imperative, but the master, at least at the beginning, is not expected to pay his apprentice. As the apprentice improves, the master may start to pay the apprentice, but again that is at the master's discretion. According to Roger and Vincent, such an arrangement is more than fair: "You have to consider this," Roger says, "the guy who taught you, what he gives you, he gives you a gift. And if you dedicate yourself enough to learn, to make something of it, he gives you a gift that nobody can steal from you. What he give you money can't buy" (51).
Though the apprentice learns by imitating the master, this imitation does not mean one slavishly copies the master's way of working. Rather one must develop, in Roger's words, "something of your own." Therefore the master "should correct you if you make mistakes, but they should allow you to use your own techniques, what you think, what you feel about it" (72). Those just beginning to learn, therefore, must travel to other shops of stone cutters in order to learn how to work with different materials and tools.
A good stone carver is, in a manner, forced to be innovative because they soon learn that every stone is different, requiring different tools. 6 So there is no one right way to carve in general, but rather the stone carver must be ready to do what works best for each particular stone. Roger reports that his father used to tell him, "If it works to wipe it with your ass, do that!" (71). Stone carvers must be ready to work with a wide range of material, but because it is their task to transform raw material into art, they hate nothing more than having to work on a poor grade of stone. If the stone is "crumbly" in Vincent's words, "it ruins your ambition because you work and work, and it don't come up too good" (104).
The stone carver, therefore, must constantly adjust his tools to the stone. For example, Roger observes that pink Tennessee marble is "sensitive" because "it resents the tools" whereas Botticino stone is like "working glass, it's sharp, it snaps like anything." In contrast, Carrara marble is the kind of material that every little hit with a chisel brings life (105). 7 This means that not only must the carver adjust to the stone, but he must know his tools, because if a tool is tempered too hard it will cut the stone, particularly limestone, too rough.
And so the precarious nature of the craft, the constant need to rethink one's approach, means also that one learns to be a stone carver through talk. Vincent says he was nourished in the craft in his home and in the discourse of daily life. He describes it this way:
When you come from a traditional family you learn from talking. What happened to me, we was in that trade. We was talking about work anytime; at breakfast, dinner, supper, most of the subject was work. Think about this stone, how we gonna do this, who was gonna do that, we gotta use this trick. So you're growing, and you listen, and your mind, it gets drunk with all those things, and then, when it comes time, you remember (20-21).
Stories are, therefore, crucial for learning to carve stone. Through tales of personal experience and stories passed from one generation to another, stone carvers learn habits, attitudes, and standards "that lie at the heart of who they are and what they do" (56). The stories, moreover, name as well as constitute the virtues required to be a carver of stone. Vincent observes that to carve stone "it requires 100 percent concentration" because, according to Roger, "You've got to be patient and not overestimate the stone, because when you overestimate the stone, it comes back and bites you" (100).
To learn to carve stone, therefore, is not like learning a language—to learn to carve stone is a language that is inseparable from the work itself. Hunt describes Vincent's formation as a child this way: "like a child learning a language, Vincent began to acquire a grammar of stone carving; he began to piece together knowledge of the various elements of the craft and the underlying principles that governed them" (21). In Vincent's words, he learned the music of stone carving:
I remember this clear, especially when I was young and I was there [in his grandfather's shop] trying to learn stonecutting. I remember we was about eight or nine stonecutters. We was three or four kids like me and then the old masters. As we say, all the work was done by hand. We gotta put a face on this big page 4slab of stone with a brush hammer and things like that. And what happened while we were working one of the guys start to sing. While he's singing, all the rest they start singing, too. And so what happened, we work by the tune of the music, of the singing. So we beat the bush hammer on the stone to make some kind of music; it was according to the singing. And we make more production because you can't stop, you can't split the singing. And it's many times like that (62).
Vincent draws on the analogy of music to describe what he understands a stone carver to be, that is, a performer. Just as a composer can write a beautiful symphony, the beauty of the symphony depends on it being played well by the musicians. So it is with carving. "The sculptor makes a beautiful piece, but it's up to the carver to make the work on stone look really good or to ruin the thing because he does not know how to carve" (97). According to Vincent, stone carving is the art of reduction, in which the carver brings into view what was hidden in the block of stone. But to reveal what was hidden, Vincent suggests, is miraculous. He puts it this way: "The sculptor is the creator. He creates on clay. And then when they cast on plaster is the death. And the carving is the resurrection. That is the motto of our branch of the stone business" (98).
What Vincent, Roger, and Alasdair MacIntyre Have to Teach Us
If we are to recover a determinative understanding of the contribution theology might make for the formation of Christians, I think we best think of education more like teaching people how to carve stone rather than what we usually associate with the education provided by academic institutions. 8 This is particularly the case if education is about forming people in the habits of speech that make possible the virtues constitutive of the Christian tradition. The problem with the knowledge so often taught in our schools is that in such a setting Christian convictions cannot help but be presented as information. But information, by its very nature, is not meant to do any work and is thereby open to ideological distortions. 9
That is why I think it important to make explicit what Vincent and Roger have to teach us not only about how to carve stone, but about what is entailed in learning any significant way of life. They were fortunate, of course, to be born into families in which the tradition of stone cutting was, so to speak, in the air they breathed and in the food they ate. The habits of hard work were not foreign to them. Yet it was not sufficient for them to be born into families of stone carvers. In order to become master stone carvers it was necessary for them to become apprenticed to masters of the craft. Through their apprenticeships they acquired the more basic skills necessary to perform at the highest level of stone carving. In the process they learned to be patient, because without patience they could not have learned how to carve the stone.
That apprentices acquire virtues in the process of learning the basic skills of stone carving has important implications for how education should be understood. Not only should there be a clear hierarchy of skills into which the student is initiated, but those skills should habituate the student in such a manner that they acquire power to do what otherwise they could not do. As a result students will discover that knowledge, at least the knowledge associated with theology, requires that our lives be transformed. Such a transformation, however, is best understood retrospectively, because the very virtues acquired in learning the story are necessary to understand what has happened to us. Thus the virtues require that we have become virtuous in order for us to recognize that we have done so.
Education so understood happens through imitating a master. Yet the key to learning from a master is learning when it is appropriate to depart from what one has learned from the master. Innovation is necessary because no stone is the same, nor is any significant story finished. In order to recognize the challenge, the difference this or that stone may present, the stone carver must learn the "grammar of the stone." Language is not only constitutive of the practice of page 5stone carving, but of any significant practice. Just as a master stone carver teaches his apprentice through the stories of the craft, so any teacher must help the student learn how to say what they do. For the apprentice can only become a master by locating his life in and through the narratives that have shaped his training.
To learn the language of stone carving is to learn to tell the stories constitutive of the trade. These stories make up the tradition of stone carving so that the skills of stone carving can be passed on from one generation to the next. Still, the tradition of stone carving—like any significant tradition—changes, requiring that those in the tradition be articulate, in order to ensure that the changes remain faithful to the work of stone carving.
Yet the tradition of stone carving gains its purpose and intelligibility from other stories and traditions. How the tradition of stone carving fits within these larger narratives will require ongoing discussion and argument. For it may turn out that some practices and stories may distort the very character of stone carving. It is, moreover, quite possible for stone carving to be put to the service of quite perverse purposes and traditions, which is but an indication that stone carving is not self-validating. 10
This brings me to what I think we must learn from Alasdair MacIntyre if we are to ascertain what Vincent and Roger have taught us. Of course my account of what Roger and Vincent have to teach us has obviously been shaped by MacIntyre's Aristotelian understanding of the virtues. The virtues, according to MacIntyre, are dispositions to act in specific ways for definite reasons. The exercise of the virtues, however, is not only for the sake of the virtue, but for enjoying the kind of life of which the virtues are constitutive. Therefore to understand how the life of virtue is also the best life means that the virtues must be part of an ongoing tradition about the goods that constitute a life worth living. 11
MacIntyre notes that there is an important analogy between the development of the capacity for right judgment about the good life and how capacities for right judgment are developed in more particular forms of activity with their specific standards of excellence. According to MacIntyre,
Just as an apprenticeship in sculpture or architecture is required in order to recognize what excellent performance in these arts consists in, just as training in athletic skills is necessary to recognize adequately what excellence in athletic performance is, so a capacity for identifying and ordering the goods of the good life, the achievement of which involves the ordering of all these other sets of goods, requires a training of character in and into those excellences, a type of training whose point emerges only in the course of the training. Learning of this kind, as of other kinds, is what the uneducated, left to themselves, do not and cannot want: "those engaged in learning are not at play; learning is accompanied by pain." (Politics VIII, 1239a29) 12
According to MacIntyre, Plato and Aristotle thought a polis, a politics, was necessary to provide the context for the disciplines necessary for the acquisition as well as the ordering of the virtues. Yet it was also the case, according to MacIntyre, that Plato and Aristotle recognized that no such polis was available. The academy and the lyceum were their attempts to develop philosophical schools that might discharge the function of the polis. Yet no school can do the work of the polis. MacIntyre argues that the same situation that faced Plato and Aristotle also faces us. As a result we try to substitute something called "education" for what only a tradition can do. 13 That is why stone carvers like Vincent and Roger are so important for MacIntyre. For as long as such people exist, MacIntyre thinks, we at least have some examples left of what a virtuous tradition entails. 14
Yet MacIntyre also argues that in the absence of a polis it is not possible to provide an account of the "systematic forms of activity within which goods are unambiguously ordered and within which individuals occupy and move between well-defined roles that the standards of rational action directed toward the good and the best can be embodied." 15 Which means that no matter how much effort we may as Christians put into education, the education that results, if it is not shaped by the practices of the church, may reflect a quite different understanding determined by the gospel. We may think that as Christian educators, for example, we are teaching the language of the Trinity, but if that page 6 language is divorced from the habits and practices necessary for work to be done by the church, the language will seem at best "idealistic" and at worst useless to those whom we teach.
Learning the Grammar of Christ
In his book The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, George Lindbeck helps us to see the challenge before us by providing a typology of three theories of religion, each of which entails an account of language. The cognitive-propositional type assumes that the language of doctrine corresponds in an unproblematic way with objective realities. The experimental-expressive type interprets religious speech as symbols correlative to and interpretations of feelings or attitudes characteristic of the human condition. A third approach, which has obviously informed the position I have taken in this paper, Lindbeck calls the cultural-linguistic. From a cultural-linguistic perspective, religious faith is understood to resemble a language correlative to a way of life. To be a Christian from a cultural-linguistic point of view is not like learning another language, but rather is to learn another language. 16
Lindbeck observes that the great strength of those who represent the experimental-expressive type, who are usually associated with theological liberalism, is that they attempt to make religion experientially intelligible to those who do not share the faith. 17 That project usually assumes some account of epistemological foundationalism in order to sustain an apologetic strategy aimed to show that religious language can be correlated with characteristics of the human condition that are allegedly universal. The task of the theologian, therefore, "is to identify the modern questions that must be addressed, and then to translate the gospel answers into a currently understandable conceptuality." 18 The difficulty, however, is that if such a translation project is successful it is not clear why you need the language of faith at all. 19
As an alternative Lindbeck suggests that the very idea of "translation" is a mistake. Rather what we need is a method that more closely resembles ancient catechetical practices. Instead of trying to describe the faith in new concepts, we should instead try to teach the language and practices of the faith. Lindbeck observes,
This has been the primary way of transmitting the faith and winning converts for most religions down through the centuries. In the early days of the Christian church, for example, it was the gnostics, not the catholics, who were most inclined to redescribe the biblical materials in a new interpretive framework. Pagan converts to the catholic mainstream did not, for the most part, first understand the faith and then decide to become Christians; rather, the process was reversed: they first decided and then they understood. More precisely, they were first attracted by the Christian community and form of life. The reasons for attraction ranged from the noble to the ignoble and were as diverse as the individuals involved; but for whatever motives, they submitted themselves to prolonged catechetical instruction in which they practiced new modes of behavior and learned the stories of Israel and their fulfillment in Christ. Only after they had acquired proficiency in the alien Christian language and form of life were they deemed able intelligently and responsibly to profess the faith, to be baptized. 20
Lindbeck notes that after Christianity became socially established, this kind of catechetical process disappeared, though similar results were obtained in diluted form through normal processes of maturation. This normalization is now part of the problem because people, at least people who inhabit the countries that once were in some general sense "Christian," know just enough "tag ends of religious language" to inoculate them from recognizing the transformation of life required to speak Christian. The grammar of people formed in this way is exemplified by statements, often heard in America, such as, "I believe Jesus is Lord, but that is just my personal opinion."
The problem, therefore, becomes that the unchurched, as well as many who are churched, may think of themselves in this time "after Christendom" as quite pious, but their piety does no work. In Lindbeck's words, they are often page 7 "interested in translations of the gospel into existential, depth-psychological, or liberationist language that articulates their latent Christianity," but the language so translated does no work analogous to the language Vincent and Roger had to learn in order to become carvers of stone. 21
Just as Vincent and Roger had to learn the language of stone carving to carve stone, Christians must learn the language of faith if we are to carve and thus to be carved to be Christ for one another and the world. Vocabulary is everything. Few tasks are more important in our day than teaching the language of the faith. But as we saw in the case of Roger and Vincent, the language must be constitutive of the work to be done. It is not as if the language is a means to do the work, but the language is the work to be done. What we say as Christians cannot be separated from the practices of a people called "church."
One of the ways Christians have tried to articulate the relation between what we say and what we do is by drawing on the tradition of the virtues. That we have done so should not be surprising because speech itself is habit. To learn to speak Christian, to learn to speak well as a Christian, is to be habituated. Thus we are told we must speak the truth in love. The love that we believe necessary to make our words true is not a subjective attitude, but rather is to be formed by the habits of the community necessary for the church to be a true witness. That is the work our speech is to do. Part of the educational task of the church requires some to be set aside, you can call them theologians if you desire, in order to ensure that the words we use do not go on a holiday.
For some time, many, Christians and non-Christians alike, no longer believe that the words Christians use do any significant work. In such a situation some are tempted to think the task of the theologian is to develop theories of meaning to show that what Christians say makes some sense, even though there is no work for the language to perform. In contrast I am suggesting that the task of the theologian, who may or may not be a master carver but must at least know what it means to be a master carver, is to direct attention to those masters of the faith whose lives have been shaped by the grammar of Christ. Let us, for example, reflect on lives like Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier, whose lives are unintelligible if Jesus is not the Lord.
I believe God, the master carver, is doing a new thing for his people in our time. The "new thing" is not unprecedented if we remember that the story of Israel is also our story. For I believe, as Lindbeck suggests, that the social and political power of the church is being "reduced," just as Israel was "reduced," so that what has been hidden might be revealed. For a church so "reduced," education is not some further activity the church needs to do beyond being church. For to be Christian will mean that you cannot avoid discovering that, as we say in Texas, you "talk different." I am convinced, moreover, that those who discover the difference our speech makes will also find that their lives have been made happy. For they have been given good work to do in a world increasingly determined by the belief that there is no good work to do.
Not least among the good work Christians have been given is prayer. All Christian speech is to be tested by the one work we have been given as God's creatures. We call that work "liturgy," which is the work of prayer. And when we, like Vincent and Roger, learn the joy of the work we have been given, our work will be sung. Indeed the language of the Christian, the stories that make us who we are, must be sung, because the language of our faith is the very act of witnessing to the master who shared the gift: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christian education begins and ends in the praise of God. 22