I recently discussed my Church Dogmatics project with a retired Presbyterian minister friend who asked me, “Where are you going with this?” I didn’t have an adequate answer and I still don’t. I hope to be able to complete my reading of Barth’s massive magnum opus and to write about my experience in a blog on my new website. I intend to share both the content of Barth’s theology and my subjective impressions of it. It would be great if I attracted readers who knew much more about Barth than I do who could offer helpful comments and make corrections of my attempts to understand what I am reading. However, I have to face the fact that I may give up this project in boredom or frustration. I also have to realize that I may not live to complete it.
With this in mind, I was encouraged to discover that Karl Barth never finished his major work. He had envisioned writing five volumes, but in spite of the fact that he worked on it for over thirty years, he never reached volume five and only partially finished volume four. The fact that Barth failed to finish Church Dogmatics inspires me to pursue my project even though I am in my retirement years.
At this stage in my life it is tempting to think I shouldn’t bother with challenging projects because I may never live to complete them. Nevertheless I have launched both short-term and long-term projects that I know I may not complete. I study the Arabic language and nearly every day have conversations via Skype with Palestinian friends in Gaza City and Hebron. I grow tomato plants on my balcony which I grew from seeds. I try to read one book a week. (So far this year I have completed 17 books.) I continue to take cello lessons from my wonderful teacher, Carter Dewberry. Last Saturday night I was thrilled to be allowed to play an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” on my cello in the worship service of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, California. Learning to play the celIo is a lifetime project. I recall reading that when the legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90, he replied, “Because I think I’m making progress.” On social media and in person I try to be an advocate for two unpopular causes: justice for Palestinians and also civil rights and full acceptance of LGBT people in the Church.
Last Saturday for the first time I noticed a plaque in the entrance to the main sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Orange, California, (where New Hope Presbyterian Church currently meets). Over a list of donors to the building of the church were these words by Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
My Barth’s Church Dogmatics project may never be finished, but neither did Barth finish his great work. I find that encouraging.