Thursday, August 30, 2007

Publication of The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Sex & Gender

Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, ed. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. I hope this important reference work will find a wide audience among professionals, students, and interested lay users. For additional information, visit www.gale.com, and in the first “Search” box in the upper right corner, and enter “Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender.” I have an essay in it on sex and gender in the New Testament.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mother Teresa defended by James Martin et al.

James Martin has come to the rescue of Mother Teresa in the OpEd section of the NY Times. Worth reading, to be sure. Whether she needs to be rescued is another matter. In the meantime, I suppose we have to wait for the publication of the book. Here's some more rescuing. Andrew Greeley in the Chicago Sun-Times has a good take:-

I suspect that some Catholic source tried to explain these matters to the ABC reporter, but the reporter's paradigm for all things Catholic is scandal and had been given that paradigm by his news editor, who already had the lead for the story in mind. How could the clip have begun with ''Catholic experts on sanctity said today that the revelation of the secret letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta were simply one more proof that she indeed was a saint and a very great saint at that.''

His conclusion:-

Catholic nuns are interesting only when they become cops or bricklayers or baggage handlers at the airports or other weird jobs. In part it is the fault of the church leadership, which avoids transparency like it was the bubonic plague, and has been known on some occasions to short-circuit the canonization process. And, anyway, how do you explain to a religiously illiterate, secularist reporter about the Dark Night?

UPDATE
Five letters to the Times reacting to James Martin's piece.
From the Globe and Mail:-

Since its founding in 1997 by a San Francisco Episcopal priest, the Reverend Sally Bingham - who got herself ordained specifically to bring environmentalism to faith communities - IPL has become a muscularly influential religious eco-organization with branches in 23 states, federal grants, funding from the Ted Turner Foundation and links to all the major players in the green movement.

This week it took a big step into the public domain by launching ShopIPL.org, a national online store selling everything from solar-cooking devices to smart switches for lights and water-heater tanks, all carrying the imprimatur of the U.S. federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The greening of faith communities has become a growing phenomenon over the past decade, especially in the area of global climate change.

Closer to home, GTS has begun drilling for a new geothermal heating system. A press release explains:-

The Seminary's geothermal project is a model for the Episcopal Church's long-standing concern for environmental stewardship. By eliminating tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the initiative makes an exemplary contribution to the effort to stem the tide of global warming, a problem cited by the church's 2003 General Convention as a threat "to God's good creation," one that has a disproportionate impact on "the poorest and most vulnerable in the United States and around the world." By eliminating dependence on fossil fuel to heat and cool 260,000 square feet of buildings, the project is a powerful endorsement of Convention legislation aimed at reducing dependence on fossil fuel, which, the Convention said, "harms air quality and public health and is contributing to changes in the global climate that threaten the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors around the world."

It is especially appropriate for General Seminary to undertake a project that so clearly responds to the Episcopal Church's concern about energy conservation and global warming. The very term "seminary" derives from the word for a seedbed or nursery, in which life-giving seeds are first germinated and then propagated. Also, as a teaching institution which attracts students from all parts of the US and many other countries, GTS is uniquely positioned to demonstrate to the Church's future leadership that environmentally sensitive technology is cost-effective and achievable in the here and now--even in relatively expensive settings, such as New York City--and with cherished, historic structures nearby. With General's geothermal project as a model, the next generation of church leaders will better informed and able to play an influential role in promoting understanding of and support for environmentally sensitive energy development.

Unaccompanied minors

Having just brought my niece aged 8 to the departure gate for her solo return to the UK from the US, I've been thinking about unaccompanied minors on (long haul) flights.

She was not the only one to be ushered onto the plane before the other passengers and after first class and premium economy. I waited until the words "departed" appeared under the flight # before I left the airport. And I checked with the airport personnel. Since she appeared completely unfazed by the trip over to the US, so she seemed on the way back. The flight is just long and boring, she said.

Anecdotal evidence from recent dinner-table conversations on the subject opines that Americans are more cautious after 9/11 about putting unaccompanied children on flights than Europeans. Its certainly easier to put children on direct flights. Let's see what she has to say about this one.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bald Eagle sighting on our last day in Maine

Today Jossie and I are preparing to leave Maine tomorrow. In our to-ing and fro-ing in the car to buy presents and return library books, we were lucky enough to see a Bald Eagle flying overhead. If I were an ancient Roman, I would take it as an auspicious omen...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our newest kitten Merlynne


After a recent birdwatching trip, we pulled over to the side of the road to get a map from the car boot (trunk). J said, "Listen! There's an unusual bird call out here." We stuck our heads out of the car to listen to a sound like "eeeuuuuu." Buzzard? Osprey inland? The Rev. Dr. Mom brightly said, "Sounds like a cat!" So we looked down and out of the grass and underbrush at the side of the road came a bedewed, all-grey manx kitten. So we took her home (after asking at nearby houses if they had any lost kittens) and here she is (and yes, we are still working on bird watching):-

A Slice of Our Daily Life

Thanks to The Rev. Dr. Mom, here's an up-to-date description of our life at the moment. Its wonderful to have a full house (including four cats, two dogs, The Rev. Dr. Mom and her son Christopher and our niece). Presently the two young people are playing chess whilst the adults have gone for an internet fix at our local internet cafe since we have been without any internet connection for four days (and no resurrection in sight). J says we should go home and learn to use our cameras....

Richard Belzer on What Would Jesus Do (No, Really)?

On Huffington Post
today
. If you still think we live in a democracy...

Lutherans agree to read more Bible

The ELCA Assembly meeting in Chicago this past week endorsed "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible," a five-year initiative to promote study of the Bible. The initiative grew out of a proposal the North Carolina Synod made to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. One recommendation stressed the importance of Scripture for believers "throughout the ages" and thanked the North Carolina Synod for proposing the initiative. It was adopted by a vote of 1,000 to 19. A companion recommendation, adopted 956 to 68, gave specific suggestions for ways to "invite and encourage all members, expressions, institutions and partners of this church to commit themselves regularly and increasingly to hearing, reading, studying, sharing and being formed by God's Word."

Here's what else they did.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Being a Sausage (off line)

My niece comes today to stay with us for two weeks so I will be a full-time Aunt and not much of a blogger :) I LOVE being an Aunt, btw.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Peter Thompson in the Guardian writes a piece "Face to Faith" as an atheist with a fascinating argument critiquing Dawkins et al. and presenting an argument about the function of religion:-

The resurrection of God presents a challenge to those such as Dawkins and Hitchens because they continue to perceive religion as an opiate which is handed out by states and their tame priests and mullahs in order to keep people quiet, rather than as a home-grown product consumed by people in order to dull the pain not only of global economic disadvantage but also of a deep, yet unidentifiable sense of loss. And again it is Bloch who gives us a clue as to where this sense of loss resides. In The Principle of Hope he states that what drives us forward is the paradoxical desire to find our way back to somewhere we have never been: home.

The desire to return to somewhere completely new but familiar is clearly a sense which underpins all religious, but also much secular thought. It takes many forms, but is undoubtedly a product of the historical shift from the primacy of politics in the 20th century, to the primacy of economics today. Where once social attempts to control the invisible hand of the market were given precedence, our age has seen growing social inequality and the privatisation of hope. It should be no surprise that fundamentalisms of all sorts have rushed in to fill that void. The difference between fundamentalism and progressive religious belief, however, is merely the difference between looking backward or looking forward in order to find the way home.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Starred review from PW to appear next week:-

unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Baker, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8010-1300-3

Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, was inspired to write this book when Lyons (of the Fermi Project) commissioned him to do extensive research on what young Americans think about Christianity. Lyons had a "gut-level sense that something was desperately wrong," and three years of research paints exactly that picture. Mosaics and Busters (the generations that include late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political, and sheltered. Rather than simply try to do a PR face-lift, Kinnaman looks at ways in which the church's activities actually may have been unchristian, and encourages a return to a more biblical Christianity, a faith that not only focuses on holiness but also loves, accepts and works to understand the world around it. It would be possible to get lost in the numbers here, but the authors use numerous illustrations from their research and life experiences, and include insights at the end of every chapter from Christian leaders like Charles Colson, John Stott, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis. This is a wonderful, thoughtful book that conveys difficult truths in a spirit of humility. Every Christian should read this, and it will likely influence the church for years to come. (Oct.)

Two finished pieces of writing

It's a happy coincidence that I finished two commissioned pieces today: an essay, "Jack, Our Savior?" for a collection of essays entitled "Secrets of 24" to be published in October and a 1750 word entry "Spirit" for a biblical dictionary to be published next year. Guess which one will have the wider audience? I found it well-nigh impossible to finish the latter and still consider it a woefully inadequate discussion of the topic given the range of literature and the difference of thought covered. Just take this as one indication of problems with a single verse. One could write 1750 words on this verse alone! The only thing I felt was useful in the "Spirit" article was to raise questions about when the noun "spirit" is capitalized in biblical translations and why.


First summer male Rose Breasted Grosbeak with female Goldfinch on feeder. We feed generations of Grosbeaks. This year's parents seem to have left.

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Here If You Need Me" by Kate Braestrup

Memoir of a chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, "Here If You Need Me" is a good read for anyone. It's well-written. My guess is that would-be priests aka seminarians would love it. Here's a review from the Christian Science Monitor. It's causing a stir here in Maine.

A paragraph from the review:-

The common thread in these riveting accounts – a young husband's death, a snowmobiler trapped under the ice, a lost girl, a couple who have been swept over a dam while swimming, and others – is the value of mindful presence, Braestrup's uncanny ability "to just show up, shut my mouth, and be." When friends and family ask the hard questions, she suggests, "if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Recent survey on "family values" report from India

Indians are staying together as family, finds a 57-nation survey, according to the Times of India.

The average household size in urban India is 4.8 persons. In all Asian countries in general, the percentage of people living alone is very low. However, there are concerns about expectations from families. More than any of the other countries surveyed, 76% Indians feel that it is important that their families think they are doing well in life. Over half the parents want their children to move ahead in life, even if it means putting a lot of pressure on them, says the survey. The corresponding figures are 63% in China, 51% in the US and 33% in Germany.

California and paper votes

According to today's NY Times, California’s top election official on Friday decertified three voting systems widely used in the state but said she would let counties use the machines in February’s presidential primary if extra security precautions were taken.

The official, Debra Bowen, the secretary of state, said she made the decision in response to studies showing that the machines could be hacked.

This meets the definition of not being a sausage! We were just discussing voting irregularities in the last two elections at dinner last night with 6 friends.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Flawed etymologies

This week's TLS has a review of two books on Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, "The Verbal Doodles of Saint Isidore" by Emily Wilson, John Henderson
THE MEDIEVAL WORLD OF ISIDORE OF SEVILLE
Truth from words
244pp. Cambridge University Press. £55(US $99).
978 0 521 86740 5

Stephen A. Barney et al
THE ETYMOLOGIES OF ISIDORE OF SEVILLE
475pp. Cambridge University Press. £85. (US $150).
978 0 521 83749 1

Isidore's book of Etymologies was arguably the most influential medieval book after the Bible in the medieval west for 1000 years. He lived 530-632 CE.

The review says:-

Isidore became the patron saint of the internet in 1999. The analogy between the Etymologies and our own information superhighway is in many ways a tempting one. Like the internet, the book contains information from a bewildering number of different sources, ranging from ancient Roman proto-encyclopedias (especially Varro’s De Lingua Latina, Pliny’s Natural History and Servius’ commentaries on Virgil), through Byzantine school manuals on logic, music, grammar and architecture, to the works of Boethius, Jerome, Augustine and Eusebius. One of the few disappointments in the new English translation of the Etymologies is that the authors offer very little detailed information about Isidore’s sources. To do so would, of course, be the work of several lifetimes: more information on this subject will be forthcoming in the ongoing French edition of the Etymologies, of which so far five volumes out of twenty have appeared.

It may often seem as if Isidore, like a bad search engine, offers little or no control over all this material. Certainly, much of the “information” he provides is (from a modern perspective) blatantly false, albeit entertaining. For instance, we are assured that “Beavers (castor) are so-called from castrating (castrare). Their testicles are useful for medicines, on account of which, when they anticipate a hunter, they castrate themselves and amputate their own genitals with their teeth”. Isidore lifts this detail of natural history straight from Pliny (backed up, in this case, by a number of other ancient authorities, including Aristotle and Juvenal). As with the internet, written testimony takes on a life of it's own – even in cases where you might think it would be better to go out and look at some beavers. That thought seems not to have occurred to anybody for several hundred years: the story of the self-castrating beavers was still current in the seventeenth century, and was mocked by Thomas Browne in his wonderful analysis of ancient errors, the Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1646.

The review later rejects the internet analogy. My favorite paragraph:-

Most of Isidore’s supposed etymologies are – by the standards of modern academic philology – complete twaddle. About a quarter of them are made up out of his own head. The Etymologies often reads like a series of bad puns: “Horses (equus) are so called because when they were yoked in a team of four they were balanced (aequare)”; “Humus (humus) was the material from which the human (homo) was made”. His real subject is the Latin language in which he writes. This makes the Etymologies extraordinarily difficult to translate in a satisfactory way. As Isidore himself suggests, translators have to be like priests or prophets: “Translator (interpres) because he is the medium ‘between the sides’ (inter-pres) of two languages when he translates. But the person who interprets (interpretari) God is also called an interpreter for the humans to whom he reveals divine mysteries”.

It's truly alarming how etymological explanations still play a role in our seminary education. As if etymology offers the only necessary explanation of a word or idea. Is disgruntled the opposite of gruntle?? Does "prophet" in Greek really mean pro +phemi, namely, "someone who speaks on behalf of another person/God?" Does apostle really mean someone who is "sent out" from the Greek apo + the verb "stello"? Moreover, do these explanations make sense of what we actually know of prophetic and apostolic activity? Passion isn't only about suffering. It's about desire and enthusiasm and anger as well. Ekklesia does not define a "church" as being "called out." The word connotes an assembly.

Anyone care to share their favorite etymological fallacies?

A great day for women's golf

Isn't this a series of magnificent pictures and what a day for women's golf :) The R&A will never be the same...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

C of E on Harry Potter

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, says "Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own, Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all. Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners. There's nothing better than a good story to make people think, and there's plenty in the Harry Potter books to make young people think about the choices they make in their everyday lives and their place in the world."

And no, I haven't read #7 (yet).

Raising a family



Here's Dad with two offspring (downy woodpeckers)in July. He's taught them to eat suet from the feeder but they still like being fed by him even though they are well-nigh adults.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

James 4:5

Anyone looked at this verse? There are several things to ponder:-

# What does "spirit" connote in the phrase, "spirit which dwells in us"? The term only occurs in one other place in the Epistle, namely, at 2:26.
# What is the subject of the quotation in verse 5? God? or spirit? If so, in what sense might "spirit" be taken (see first point)? Is the spirit God's spirit? Since "pneuma" is either nominative or accusative, could "spirit" be the object?
# Which rendering of "dwell" should be preferred (there are two Greek variants of the verb), namely, "(God) made to dwell" or "(the spirit) took up residence?"
# Does "scripture says," introduce the citation which then extends to the end of v.5 followed by another (identifiable) citation in v.6 or (since the quotation in v.5 is unidentifiable) might we take v.5 as a parenthetical comment translating, "Do you think that Scripture speaks in vain? Does the spirit that God made to dwell in us desire enviously?"
# Whence the citation?

Here are some translations:-

"The spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely" (NIV, NEB)

"He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us" (NASB) or "He jealously desires the [human] spirit which lives in us"

"The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"(NKJ) or "the Spirit of God in us loathes envy" (Richard Bauckham)

David Bentley Hart's new translation of The New Testament

David Bentley Hart's new translation of the New Testament is a breath of fresh air: responsible, creative, and inspiring. Yale Unive...