William Stringfellow is a gift who keeps on giving. Through my contacts with folks who knew and loved Stringfellow, I have come to know the remarkable journalist, activist, and Stringfellowian fellow traveller Nathan Schneider. A few years back Nathan wrote a wonderful piece on Stringfellow called The Biblical Circus of WIlliam Stringfellow. A deeply sensitive reading of the weird and inspiring combination of biblical faithfulness, social and ethical passion, and riotous sense of humor that was Bill Stringfellow and his life partner Anthony Towne, I was quite impressed. Then to my delight, I was led to another remarkable piece Nathan wrote, "Why the World Needs Religious Studies" on the importance of religious studies as an academic discipline. Those of us who dig in the mines of the humanities are often on the defensive these days and Nathan's piece is now one of most widely cited and influential short works on why it is so crucial these days that we not allow budget constraints and the principalities and powers to have their way in de-humanizing higher education.
To top it off, Nathan has published not only one, but two books this year. The first is God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet, in which Nathan interweaves the various proofs for God that have arisen over the centuries with his own religious quest, blurring the hard and fast distinction between doubt and faith.
His second book is his fascinating and insiders view of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. (the Stringfellow note is struck right away!) Here's how the publisher, University of California Press describes it:
"Thank You, Anarchy is an up-close, inside account of Occupy Wall Street’s first year in New York City, written by one of the first reporters to cover the phenomenon. Nathan Schneider chronicles the origins and explosive development of the Occupy movement through the eyes of the organizers who tried to give shape to an uprising always just beyond their control. Capturing the voices, encounters, and beliefs that powered the movement, Schneider brings to life the General Assembly meetings, the chaotic marches, the split-second decisions, and the moments of doubt as Occupy swelled from a hashtag online into a global phenomenon."
Having just finished the book over the holiday break, I can say that it is all of this and more. His is a deeply loving and sensitive reading of the hopes, fears, and spiritual sensibilities of those who gathered in Zuccotti Park; Nathan is not fawning, however; his book is also critical analysis of the problems of the movement and he is clearly a brilliant young thinker in the heart of what we might call the revitalization of the religious left. As I have come to know Nathan personally in recent months, I am heartened by the strain and the dedication. His work with Occupy Catholics show him mining the tradition of Cornell's great chaplain Daniel Berrigan, and he is writing in a genre that is all his own (is it journalism? theology? Social Criticism? Social Media? Yes yes yes and...)
On days when I wonder whether these old bones can still live, I think of Nathan and the many many others like him who refuse to sacrifice their humanity before the gods of profit and false peace.