Monday, March 31, 2008

Celebrating the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi


In 1944, faced with a situation in the diocese of Hong Kong that called for pastoral care, Bishop Ronald Hall ordained Ms. Li to the priesthood. Although this action was well received in the diocese, it caused a storm of protest in the wider communion and pressure was brought to bear on the bishop, requesting that she relinquish the title and role of a priest.

When Ms. Li became aware of the concern of the wider church and of the pressure on Bishop Hall, she did not get angry and leave the church but made the decision to resign the exercise of her ministry in 1946. For the next 39 years, she served faithfully under very difficult circumstances, particularly after the Communists took over mainland China.

In 1983, arrangements were made for her to come to Canada where she was appointed as an honorary assistant at St. John's Chinese congregation and St. Matthew's parish in Toronto.

The Anglican Church of Canada had by this time approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and in 1984, the 40th anniversary of her ordination; Ms. Li was, with great joy and thanksgiving, reinstated as a priest.

This event was celebrated not only in Canada but also at Westminster Abbey and at Sheffield in England even though the Church of England had not yet approved the ordination of women.

From that date until her death in 1992, she exercised her priesthood with such faithfulness and quiet dignity that she won tremendous respect for herself and increasing support for other women seeking ordination.

We celebrated the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Florence Li Tim-Oi in chapel today. Sr. Ellen Francis who wrote the icon, preached. We also installed in chapel the icon written by Sr. Ellen Francis shown above.
April 14, Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th Street.
"Contesting the Land: Christians and Jews in Late Roman Palestine"

Oded Irshai, Senior Lecturer of Ancient Jewish History, Hebrew University. Through a revealing analysis of historical sources and an original look at the question of the land, Dr. Irshai explores a seminal period in the formation of the Jewish Diaspora. Full program available.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Admission: $15 general / $5 students

Sunday, March 30, 2008

To make a good speech: concentrate on the audience

Today's NY Times has advice about giving speeches:

Research has shown that visualizing yourself being successful at giving a speech can lead to actual success, Professor Beebe said.

And the experts are unanimous on this point: Concentrate on the audience — who they are and what will interest them — and not on yourself. After all, this isn’t really about you and your insecurities.

“You’re speaking because you have valuable information to share,” the National Speakers Association says. “Recognize that your true goal is to help the audience and make them understand your message.”


This focus takes you away from your own anxieties and towards the listeners. If you don't know them, greeting an audience before a speech makes connections and alerts you to their interests. Besides, you can then make eye contact with and speak to those you have met beforehand during the speech itself.
MOBIA, the Museum of Biblical Art in NYC is currently showing Realms of Faith: Medieval Art from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. This Thursday April 3, from 6-8.00pm Georgi Parpulov, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Walters Art Museum and Co-curator of Realms of Faith, leads a gallery talk and tour of the exhibition. Tour begins at 6:30pm.

Museum of Biblical Art, 1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New York, NY 10023-7505

Saturday, March 29, 2008

James Carroll's book Constantine's Sword has become a film opening on April 18.

There is a free word-of-mouth screening for area clergy or religious leaders and educators, to take place at 7:30 pm on April 8th at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan (334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th street). Following the screening, audience members will be able to engage in a candid Q and A with director Oren Jacoby. Seats are limited, so please RSVP to shira.dicker@sd-media.com as soon as possible.

The film’s theatrical release on April 18th is especially timely as the Pope will be visiting New York City at that time. In the film, Carroll raises difficult questions about Pope Benedict’s leadership.

Non-violent resistance in the Bronx

NPR reports:
Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.
The Airy Christ
by Stevie Smith

After reading Dr Rieu’s translation of St Mark’s Gospel.

Who is this that comes in splendour, coming from the blazing East?
This is he we had not thought of, this is he the airy Christ.

Airy, in an airy manner in an airy parkland walking,
Others take him by the hand, lead him, do the talking.

But the Form, the airy One, frowns an airy frown,
What they say he knows must be, but he looks aloofly down,

Looks aloofly at his feet, looks aloofly at his hands,
Knows they must, as prophets say, nail├Ęd be to wooden bands.

As he knows the words he sings, that he sings so happily
Must be changed to working laws, yet sings he ceaselessly.

Those who truly hear the voice, the words, the happy song,
Never shall need working laws to keep from doing wrong.

Deaf men will pretend sometimes they hear the song, the words,
And make excuse to sin extremely; this will be absurd.

Heed it not. Whatever foolish men may do the song is cried
For those who hear, and the sweet singer does not care that he was crucified.

For he does not wish that men should love him more than anything
Because he died; he only wishes they would hear him sing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dan Harrington on New Biblical Scholarship e.g. Pheme Perkins

Nobody surveys new biblical scholarship better than Prof. Dan Harrington of Weston School of Theology, editor of New Testament Abstracts, and here's a new survey in America for March 31, 2008.

I like Pheme Perkins' Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels very much but I'm not quite ready to consider it as a required text. I think that statements about Peter in Matthew are too open to anachronism: Peter "on the one hand provides a link between the teaching of Jesus as it is remembered and practiced in the church of Matthew's day and Jesus himself. On the other hand, Peter also appears as an everyman figure possessing the weaknesses and strengths that any disciple might posses" (p.189). This is nuanced but not quite enough. Ekklesia in Matthew 16 describes something more like an assembly. The problem is that the word "church" conveys much too much of our modern connotations of public religious building. I know its in modern translations but textbooks don't have to reinforce it. (And I know what Tyndale says: congregacion!)

I'll continue reading the book this Spring. And I'll continue to look for a discussion of the relationship of "community" to "church" in the book since both terms occur and overlap but are distinct. I'm wondering, for example, why there's a community/church in Matthew's gospel but only a community in Luke's gospel.

Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?

Why -- do they shut Me out of Heaven?
Did I sing -- too loud?
But -- I can say a little "Minor"
Timid as a Bird!

Wouldn't the Angels try me --
Just -- once -- more --
Just -- see -- if I troubled them --
But don't -- shut the door!

Oh, if I -- were the Gentleman
In the "White Robe" --And they -- were the little Hand -- that knocked --
Could -- I -- forbid?

Last night, I went to a recital of songs by Joyce DiDonato including Copeland's settings of poems by Emily Dickinson. "Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?" is here.

We might expect a quiet question but the opening lines are sung assertively with a double forte dynamic. Copland’s Dickinson has no thought of modulating her voice, altering her opinion, or amending her thought.

At the close of the song, these lines are repeated almost as a refrain. Indeed, the score directs the vocalist to offer the closing lines with a triple forte dynamic and to hold the word “loud” for three full measures, and therein lies the irony of the lyrics. Although the speaker speculates that she is barred from heaven for being “loud,” and acknowledges that she is capable of singing “Timid as a bird,” she persists in her assertion of her right to sing with force and vigor. She does so to underscore her direct statement that she has deliberately made herself unfit for heaven. She might be timid and thereby earn eternal salvation, but she chooses to proclaim—and, in Copland’s setting, to proclaim yet again—the worldly self.

Why is the singer so assertive? She hypothesizes that if she were heaven’s sentinel, she would have difficulty in barring entry. Copland’s lyrics repeat the question, “Could I forbid, could I forbid, could I forbid,” the possibility rendered more unthinkable with each voicing.

Copland’s lyrics change the singular “Gentleman” of Dickinson’s poem into plural “gentlemen in the white robes.” Thus, the figure of God the Father in his role as judge has been replaced by a gendered collection of religious gate-keepers. So access to God is effectively cut off by male religious authorities and this is what the poet/singer protests.

And that was just one song!!!
According to Paul Sims of the Daily Mail, The Rev Robert Harrison's book, Must Know Stories, contains retellings of ten Bible stories and is out tomorrow.

In the nativity story, Jesus is born in an overcrowded house instead of a stable, amid family conflict as Joseph's aunt deals with the fact that he and Mary are not even married.

Mr Harrison, who preaches at St John's in Hillingdon, West London, added: "It's better to tell the story controversially than not at all."

A Church of England spokesman said: "Robert Harrison is simply drawing parallels between biblical stories and situations that people may recognise in modern life.

"It doesn't change the original stories."

But last night some notable Christians disagreed.

Catholic MP Ann Widdecombe said: "It sounds to me as if it's gone much too far. It is one thing to give a biblical story a modern application and something quite different to distort all the facts."

Dr Justin Thacker, head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "In trying to communicate the stories to a contemporary audience some of the essential features and message may have been lost."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I agree with this review by Carlin Romano of Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason. I saw her interviewed on Bill Moyers. I've read parts of the book.

..If Jacoby were a more nuanced thinker, she'd be less abusive and more explanatory. Many secular thinkers, after all, grasp that religious thought persists not because believers are stupid or can't reason, but because concepts like God, faith and design possess logical peculiarities that make it impossible to disprove religious beliefs without prior agreement on how one defines terms.

It's telling that Jacoby piles on The Da Vinci Code and The O'Reilly Factor while ignoring NPR and BOOK-TV. The latter play the same role in the "edifice of middlebrow culture" as many of the media for which she's nostalgic (e.g., Saturday Review), but because she insists that edifice has "collapsed," they don't exist in her inventory.

"It is possible that nothing will help," Jacoby writes ruefully in her last chapter. "The nation's memory and attention span may already have sustained so much damage that they cannot be revived. . . . "

On the contrary. Jacoby needs to get out of her apartment, stop seething about "junk," and parlay her books into a professorship. That might introduce her to students - a species with whom she seems unacquainted - who reject her senior-citizen notion that "reading for pleasure . . . is in certain respects antithetical to the whole experience of reading on computers and portable digital devices."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008



Another Easter visitor--an American Woodcock! Almost incognito...in the grounds of the seminary.
The Thirteenth Apostle: April DeConick--50% off until April 7!
Martin Marty writes in the Chronicle about Jeremiah Wright: Prophet and Pastor:
Trinity focuses on biblical teaching and preaching. It is a church where music stuns and uplifts, a church given to hospitality and promoting physical and spiritual healing, devoted to education, active in Chicago life, and one that keeps the world church in mind, with a special accent on African Christianity. The four S's charged against Wright — segregation, separatism, sectarianism, and superiority — don't stand up, as countless visitors can attest. I wish those whose vision has been distorted by sermon clips could have experienced what we and our white guests did when we worshiped there: feeling instantly at home.

Yes, while Trinity is "unapologetically Christian," as the second clause in its motto affirms, it is also, as the other clause announces, "unashamedly black." From its beginning, the church has made strenuous efforts to help black Christians overcome the shame they had so long been conditioned to experience. That its members and pastor are, in their own term, "Africentric" should not be more offensive than that synagogues should be "Judeocentric" or that Chicago's Irish parishes be "Celtic-centric." Wright and colleagues insist that no hierarchy of races is involved. People do not leave Trinity ready to beat up on white people; they are charged to make peace.

Monday, March 24, 2008

This week's TLS on ABCs past and present

There's a good review in this week's TLS of Rowan William's Wrestling with Angels edited by Mike Higton by David Bentley Hart, a visiting professor at Providence College and a dismissive review of David Hein's book on Geoffrey Fisher by John Whale.

Hart calls the collection "provocative and profound" and notes that William's essays dealing with the thought of modern philosophers and theologians are "exercises in philosophical or systematic theology" or "careful inquisitive readings." They suit Williams well. Hart describes the essay on the nature of human interiority "somewhat original" noting that it juxtaposes Bonhoeffer and Wittgenstein. The essay on Vladimir Lossky is "deeply respectful" and brings into focus "certain troubling weaknesses of Lossky's thought." However, he fails to elaborate on what these are. He thinks the two essays on Hegel "compellingly demonstrate" why theologians must continue to engage with Hegel's thought on "the implications of Trinitarian dogma, the nature of freedom and community, the possibility of speaking of God and much else." He does not care for the essay on Don Cupitt.

David Hein's book on Geoffrey Fisher is found wanting by John Whale, former editor of the Church Times and former assistant editor of the Sunday Times. It is an incomplete picture, and a "slender biographical essay." Fisher was "an autocrat of fixed opinions who urged them even when the matter at hand had ceased to be his business." Failing to take the complete picture into account, the book gives Fisher "an easy pass." This is a good example of a critical review.

Sunday, March 23, 2008



Easter visitors: Teresa, John, Peter and Alice Stewart-Sykes (plus walrus)!
'Easter', a mixed media piece by Dennis Di Vicenzo on Episcopal Cafe Art Blog, uses contemporary graphics to tell the story of Christ's Resurrection from his perspective. Di Vicenzo breathes new meaning into the symbols of Easter and offers us a visual language of new interpretation. In 'Easter', there is action as the Pascal lamb and all that follows is poured out of the cup of salvation. The communion host, the fish, the heart, the text from the prayer book, the stained glass windows - all of these symbols illustrate the story of Easter. In using imagery that is understood by people today, Di Vicenzo is in his own way offering his viewers eyes to see new life.

With thanks to Mel Ahlborn.

Noli me tangere

Jennifer Green in the Ottowa Citizen researches "Noli me tangere" in John 20:17. She's done her homework!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Music for Holy Saturday from BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show, available for seven days. Playlist is as follows:-

Gesualdo: Plange quasi virgo (from Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday)
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 015
Track 3

Palestrina: Quomodo obsuratum est aurum (from 3rd book of Lamentations for Holy Saturday)
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral
Martin Baker, Master of Music
Hyperion CDA67610
Track 8

Juan Esquivel de Barahona: O Vos omnes (A Capella Portuguesa)
Bernadette Nelson / Owen Rees directors
Hyperion CDA66867
Track 9

Morales: Incipit oratio Jeremiae prophetae (from Lamentations for Holy Saturday)
Doulce Memoire
Denis Raisin Dadre, director
Astree Naive E8878
Track 6

Victoria: Ecce quomodo moritur (from Tenebrae on Holy Saturday)
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral
David Hill, Master of Music
Hyperion CDA66304
Track 15

Alonso Lobo: Lamentations
The King's Singers
Signum Classics SIGCD 119
Track 6

Friday, March 21, 2008



From the Guardian:
The speaker of the US House of Representatives yesterday called on the international community to condemn China for its crushing of protests in Tibet, saying the crisis was a challenge to the "conscience of the world".

Pelosi said it was incumbent on "freedom-loving people throughout the world" to speak out against China's "oppression". If they did not, "we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world".

Here's her press release from March 8th on this topic.

Good Friday Liturgy: Daughters of Jerusalem

BBC Radio 4 presents: Good Friday Liturgy: Daughters of Jerusalem. The words of Carol Ann Duffy tell the story of the crucifixion from the perspective of the women who witnessed Christ's Passion. The music is striking. The narrative is told as if Mary Magdalene follows the passion sequence of events including the trial when she hears from Pilate's wife (whom she knows personally) her advice to her husband. An interlude with Veronica recalls the words of the Sermon on the Mount.

Incidentally, if you don't know the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, winner of the T.S. Eliot prize for poetry in 2006, here's her poem, Prayer:

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer -
The Scotsman has a refreshing interview with Most Rev Dr Idris Jones, Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland:

Q: Today is Good Friday – what do you think the Easter story means to people today?

A: What I hope it would mean to people was that Christians can share with people a sense of hope, that it's possible to turn round even the most difficult situations and find a way of moving through to a good and positive outcome. I would hope that bit of the Christian message might communicate itself through Good Friday.

Q: What did you make of the (Roman Catholic] Bishop of Motherwell's comments last week about the "conspiracy" against the Church by gay campaigners, whom he described as the enemy?

A: That's a view that I do not subscribe to and, in my experience, I have seen no evidence that it is true at all.

Q: What about the fact we had such a high-profile individual making those statements? Is that negative for religion as a whole and how it is perceived?

A: I want to hedge my answer here because I think it must be the case that people have a right to speak from a religious conviction. So if somebody who is representing a particular faith feels they need to speak to a particular situation, they must have the right to do that. I think in this case it was the wrong situation to speak about and it was not the message the whole Christian community would wish to convey.

Q: Also in the press in the last few months was the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments on Sharia law: that it perhaps should be incorporated into UK law. What did you think of that?

A: As I understand it, what the Archbishop of Canterbury was saying was that, just as special provision is made for the recognition of family disputes being settled in Jewish courts, just as it's accepted that the Law Society and the medical profession have their own tribunals for disciplinary affairs – and this is seen as acceptable within the overarching law of the nation – some similar provision should be made to include those of the Muslim community. I don't think that's at all exceptional.

It's important if we're going to have an integrated community that all sections of the community feel they have been recognised and heard, and one way of doing that would be to see if it's possible to incorporate some of this special area of family decision-making within the overarching law of the land. But there can only be one law and that is the law of the land and that cannot be diluted or compromised in any way.
Larry Hurtado writes on the resurrection in Slate:-

Historically, then, how Christians have understood Jesus' "resurrection" says a lot about how they have understood themselves, whether they have a holistic view of the human person, whether they see bodily existence as trivial or crucial, and how they imagine full salvation to be manifested. Does salvation comprise a deliverance from the body into some sort of immediate and permanent postmortem bliss (which is actually much closer to popular Christian piety down the centuries), or does salvation require a new embodiment of some sort, a more robust reaffirmation of persons? This sort of question originally was integral to early Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection. In all the varieties of early Christianity, and in all the various understandings of what his "resurrection" meant, Jesus was typically the model, the crucial paradigm for believers, what had happened to him seen as prototypical of what believers were to hope for themselves.
Simon Jenkins writes in today's Guardian:-

England's Sistine Chapel lies lost in the western reaches of Gloucestershire. It is smaller, to put it mildly, and older by 350 years. But what it lacks in grandeur it adds in serenity. I would exchange five minutes in the chancel of Kempley church for an hour in Rome. And I would have it to myself.

Here's the object of his interest.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" represents Jesus Christ being captured in the Garden of Gethsemane by soldiers who were led to him by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. (Commentary from the National Gallery of Art).

Caravaggio focuses on the culminating moment of Judas’ betrayal, as he grasps Christ and delivers his treacherous kiss. Christ accepts his fate with humility, his hands clasped in a gesture of faith, while the soldiers move in to capture him.



At the center of the composition, the first soldier’s cold shining armor contrasts with the vulnerability of the defenseless Christ. He offers no resistance, but gives in to his persecutors’ harsh and unjust treatment, his anguish conveyed by his furrowed brow and down-turned eyes. The image would have encouraged viewers to follow Christ’s example, to place forgiveness before revenge, and to engage in spiritual rather than physical combat.

Caravaggio presents the scene as if it were a frozen moment, to which the over-crowded composition and violent gestures contribute dramatic impact. This is further intensified by the strong lighting, which focuses attention on the expressions of the foreground figures. The contrasting faces of Jesus and Judas, both placed against the blood-red drapery in the background, imbue the painting with great psychological depth. Likewise, the terrorized expression and gesture of the fleeing man, perhaps another of Christ’s disciples, convey the emotional intensity of the moment. The man carrying the lantern at the extreme right, who looks inquisitively over the soldiers’ heads, has been interpreted as a self-portrait.

When I saw this picture in the National Gallery of Art in Dublin, I was so struck by the contrast between Christ as the object of others' actions and Christ as subject in, for example, Mark's portrait of Jesus. Caravaggio's Christ is now being forcefully grasped as he once grasped the hands of others to heal them, and was touched in turn by the woman who sought healing. It is as if those who now seize Christ seek to bend that healing power to their will. This is represented by the force of the four dark figures on the right.

Max McLean performing Mark's Gospel

Last night a group of us went to Max McLean's performance of (most of) Mark's Gospel using the NIV.

It is a powerful experience, to be sure. And there are lighter moments. Mr McLean creates a humorous portrait of the disciples' incomprehension particularly during the episodes of the feedings of the five and four thousands. This appealed to the audience of which I was a part. But since the two episodes of the healing of the blind in chapters 8 and 10 (the man healed partially and then fully and Bartimaeus--the latter being the last healing of the gospel) there is no pathos in the partially sighted disciples' incomprehension of Jesus' teaching about the suffering and death of the Son of Man.

Since Mr McLean omitted all of Mark 13 in his performance, we are presented with a non-apocalyptic Jesus. Jesus arrives in the temple, leaves it, then returns to predict its destruction in a single verse. There is no aside to the reader. Gone is the fig tree episode and its relation to the temple. Gone too are the parables of chapter 12 about the killing of the son of the vineyard owner and the widow's offering.

What remains is his interpretation of the cry from the cross in which, as Mr McLean explained to us at the end of the performance, Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world that have been or ever will be committed. From this Jesus God turns away his face. Clearly, a human suffering Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross is still the stumbling block it was for Peter and the disciples.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is there any substitute for the Holy Land?

On balance, it is probably good news that Bible Park USA has assembled such a stellar cast of theologians. What gives me pause however is that these 10 academic theologians merely "guide the development of" the theme park. Here's the site itself (with no mention of said theologians).

The Coincidence of Purim and Good Friday

Something to think about this Holy Week is the coincidence of Purim and Good Friday.
From The Jewish Week News:

There are significant associations to be made between the two holidays, and more specifically between the deaths of Haman and Jesus.

Ancient Aramaic versions of the Esther story employ the term tzalab, “crucify,” to describe Haman’s demise. The first-century historian Josephus did as well. While Jews have traditionally ascribed his death to hanging with a noose, historians doubt that such methods of capital punishment were used during that period. In his Sistine Chapel interpretation of Haman’s death, Michelangelo emphasized the Christological parallels, depicting a crucifixion rather than a hanging.

For Jews of the Middle Ages, who often suffered under oppressive Christian rule, the parallels between Jesus and Haman were more subtle. While Jews never vilified Jesus himself, the way they vilified the genocidal Haman, Purim gave them the opportunity to channel their fears into an annual celebration of epic triumph over an eternal oppressor. The rabbis called that oppressor “Amalek,” noting Haman’s ancestry that is recounted in the book of Esther itself. It is noteworthy that Amalek is introduced in Genesis as the grandchild of Esau, whose Edomite line was linked by post-biblical sages to Rome and later, to Christendom.

No wonder fifth-century Byzantine rulers proscribed the Purim custom of burning Haman’s effigy, suspecting that Jews were trying to satirize Jesus’ death. Just as with the Passion Play, the Purim spiel has carried the potential to incite participants and observers alike toward an intensified hatred of the Other. The most infamous Passion Play is the Oberammergau Passion Play, called by Hitler in 1934 a “precious tool” in his war against the Jews.

It is not coincidental that vicious attacks against Jews have often taken place during the Christian Holy Week — and that one of the most heinous attacks by a Jew, the massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994, took place on Purim. Goldstein attended Purim services just before setting out on his infamous mission, undoubtedly drinking up the Megillah’s message of vengeance. Esther is meant to be read as farce, but taken literally it is perhaps the bloodiest and most chauvinistic book of the entire Bible. The unholy alliance of Purim and Good Friday is an ugly tableau that appeals to the worst instincts of human nature, and that highlights the most dangerous traits embedded in both faith traditions.

These traits can be traced through liturgy, such as the Pope’s recent reintroduction of the Tridentine Latin Mass, which includes the prayer recited specifically on Good Friday “for the conversion of the Jews.” And in Jewish liturgy there is the original Alenu prayer, which chastises those who “bow to vanity and emptiness,” i.e., Christianity.

Despite it all, Jews and Christians continue to love these two holidays. That’s because, along with all the malice, Good Friday and Purim also reveal Judaism and Christianity at their most hopeful. The messianic themes so endemic to Easter are also on display in the Purim story.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Helen Vendler on William Butler Yeats for St Patrick's Day

Helen Vendler speaks about Yeats' poetry on Open Source. She asks, why does Yeats group so many different forms under one title? Noting that he takes the received forms and reinventing them, she declares that Yeats is a modernist.

Think of the graphic shape a poem might have. "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" is is 4 x 4 x 4. Four beats in each line. Four lines in each of the “quatrains” (each in the “perfect” rhyming order a b a b, in this case). And four quatrains (not separated here into four stanzas) in the poem.

So the one-off form of the thing is as elegantly, decisively squared away as the soldierly beat of the marching monosyllables: “fate,” “hate,” “love,” “cross,” “loss,” and the rest. Form makes a tight fit with the cool, collected thought the poem voices. The form itself is a statement of the sad but settled order in the airman Major Gregory’s mind. So the original shape of this poem becomes virtually inseparable from its “message.” Or as Helen Vendler puts it in her new account of Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form, “By such formal means Yeats confirms that the airman’s choice is the correct one for his soul.”

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
speciesism (SPEE-shee-ziz-uhm, -see-ziz-uhm) noun

The assumption of superiority of humans over other animal species,
especially to justify their exploitation.

[Coined by psychologist Richard D. Ryder (born 1940) in 1973. From Latin
species (appearance, kind, form), from specere (to look). Ultimately from
the Indo-European root spek- (to observe) which is also the ancestor of
such words as suspect, spectrum, bishop (literally, overseer), espionage,
despise, telescope, spectator, and spectacles.]

"At one point in Darwin's voyage to South America, James Moore told me, the
naturalist stopped in Brazil, where his blood ran cold to see slaves in
manacles being tortured by Catholic traders. Darwin was enraged as a
Christian, but also as a scientist, because he recognized that the slave
trade relied on the false notion that slaves were a different, inferior
and exploitable species.
"Upon his return to England, Darwin extended the idea to the way people
treated animals, an early precursor to Richard Dawkins's argument about
speciesism. 'To say man is the pinnacle of creation and all things were
created for him ... Darwin says that is the same arrogance we see in
the slave master,' said Moore."
Shankar Vedantam; Eden and Evolution; Washington Post; Feb 5, 2006.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Documentary film of her first year

Women's Hour for March 17th reports on a new documentary by Siatta Scott Johnson, Iron Ladies of Liberia, about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's first year in office.

In a clip, President Sirleaf talks to Firestone Tire Company about the dreadful living conditions of employees (houses without windows and no schooling for children). Apparently, she followed up this public criticism to see new houses being built for Firestone employees and children being sent to schools.

Here's a link to the movie itself.
According to a new report by the BBC from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, some members of ant colonies exhibit --oh dear-- selfishness.

Ants are renowned for their ability to work together, and put the good of the community ahead of personal concerns.

But new research suggests that their colonies are actually hotbeds of devious, selfish and corrupt behaviour.

And it is the royal family - or male ants carrying a so-called "royal" gene - that are largely to blame.

Scientists have discovered that some males pass the gene on selectively, to ensure that their offspring become reproductive queens, not mere workers.
PW's Religion Bookline for Weds March 12 notes:-

The Emmaus Readers: Listening for God in Contemporary Fiction
Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch. Paraclete, $17.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-55725-543-3
It's rare for an edited anthology to be consistently good, let alone exceptional, but this unassuming collection of essays on 12 novels with religious themes offers rich satisfaction. The essayists—all Calvin College professors and staff members—formed a group called "the Emmaus readers" in 2006 to better understand the role of faith in creating and interpreting fiction. The novels include overtly religious books, like Mr. Ives' Christmas and Mariette in Ecstasy, as well as less predictable choices, like Life of Pi and the graphic novel Road to Perdition. Each chapter offers a plot synopsis, an analysis, questions for discussion and suggestions for further reading. Readers will be introduced to some novels for the first time, and will attain deeper understandings of others they already love. Fans of Peace Like a River, for example, will delight in exploring the biblical and literary allusions of Leif Enger's Midwestern masterpiece, and many who neglected P.D. James's Children of Men will expand their understanding of her story's projected dystopia. Perhaps the Emmaus readers can pen a sequel taking on novels by the likes of Graham Greene, Chaim Potok, Gail Godwin or Vinita Hampton Wright. (May)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The enduring power of Titian's Noli Me Tangere


Does everyone know the story of how pictures from the National Gallery were stored in Welsh slate mines during WW2 to save them from potential damage?

Winston Churchill sent a telegram forbidding the planned shipment of the National Gallery's paintings to Canada for safekeeping. "Bury them in caves or in cellars," he commanded then director Kenneth Clark, "but not a picture shall leave these islands."

The museum then decided to display one old-master work a month in response to public outcry. Somehow they canvassed a nation. "The picture that the public wanted most of all was Titian's 'Noli Me Tangere,'" Director MacGregor recounts, describing it as "surely the deepest investigation in Western painting of a love that survives death.... It is an incomparable meditation on love continuing without physical contact."

Something to ponder on the eve of Holy Week.
Time Magazine's David van Biema on Re-Judaizing Jesus citing Amy-Jill Levine and Bruce Chilton amongst others. His conclusion:

...the reassessment should increase both Jewish-Christian amity and gospel clarity, things that won't happen if regular Christians feel that in rediscovering Jesus the Jew, they have lost Christ. But, he ends by citing someone else, we are in too deep to stop. Sounds rather too reluctant to me.

Here's a far more beneficial mention of Jewish and Christian scholarly collaboration on the topic of resurrection from today's NY Times by Peter Steinfels. Here's the book the article mentions due out at the end of April from Yale.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Golden Eagle and other raptors



We went to a talk about raptors at a nearby nature reserve. These are injured birds (someone shot the Golden Eagle; the Barred Owl --not shown-- lost a wing in a road accident) now recovered as far as possible and living in captivity. Something good out of a tragedy is the education of all of us about supporting raptors even in our back yards.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring Break in Maine



Here I am for the week writing and editing the first third (the NT section) of my new book, surrounded by our six fur babies, while J goes off to work.

Monday, March 10, 2008



Open to the public for the first time this week are four rooms from the house of Emperor Augustus in Rome (scroll down the link for more images of "la casa di Augusto"). Classicist Mary Beard gives further fascinating details. Augustus lived in a house not a palace. However, his house on the Palatine hill "somehow linked directly to the temple of Apollo" which he had built. Thus, he could hold receptions "at home" in and around the temple, and by so doing, link himself to Apollo.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fascinating article from the NY Times on texting and the generation gap indicating a new level of connectedness (but little sense of real presence):

Ms. Turkle recalled a vacation with her daughter in Paris, where she hoped to immerse her in the local culture and cuisine. “Part of the idea of Paris is being in Paris,” Ms. Turkle said. But during an afternoon stroll, her daughter received several calls and text messages on her cellphone from friends back in Boston. Her daughter, she said, felt compelled to return every one.

When Ms. Turkle asked why she didn’t turn off her cellphone and enjoy the city, she said her daughter replied, “I feel more comfortable talking with my friends.” But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said. “It’s a new sensibility.”

The smoking Tree of Life

Now we know what the leaves of the Tree of Life are in Revelation 22:2:

"..through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations," we know what to do with them.

This reminds me of a story from my childhood. My father, a priest in the C of E, regularly visited a psychiatric hospital in Kent near where we lived where he would celebrate Eucharist. He noticed that the leaves of the Bible from which he would read the gospel were disappearing. Making discrete inquiries, he found out that the inmates were tearing off pages to roll tobacco in and smoke. Remember those lovely fine thin pages (India paper) of the KJV?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day!

In China, more than 125,000 people have added their names to a UNIFEM online campaign to end violence against women. Nearly 200,000 people around the world have joined in the effort, based on U.N. statistics that show 1 in 3 women suffers physical or sexual violence during her lifetime.

In Britain, opposition leader and Conservative Party candidate David Cameron promised to give one-third of ministerial jobs in his government to women, the Telegraph reported March 2. Currently, 6 of 28 members of the opposition's shadow cabinet are female. And to combat violence against women, the Million Women Rise Coalition is marching in London today, demanding the government develop a national strategy to end gender-based violence.

In South Africa, women marched in miniskirts to protest harassment from taxi drivers, the Johannesburg Star reported March 5. Men joined in the 300-person march responding to the sexual assault of Nwabisa Ngcukana, 25, who was stripped of her clothes and physically and verbally harassed at a taxi stand in Soweto for wearing a miniskirt two weeks ago.

The New York-based Goldman Sachs Group pledged $100 million to pay for the business education of 10,000 women in emerging economies worldwide over the next five years. Schools receiving grants will offer flexible, short-term education programs to women who lack access to traditional business programs for monetary or other reasons.

In the United States, the housework gender gap is closing, according to a March 6 report from the Council on Contemporary Families. Men have become four times more involved in housework and three times more active in child care in the past four decades, suggesting a generational shift in gender roles. Women cut back their average housework load by two hours over the same period.

Heather Baudin, a high school junior in Wasbah, Ind., won the right to play in her school's all-male baseball team after she challenged a state rule that barred girls from playing in the sport if the school also had a softball team. Her lawyers charged that the rule violated Title IX requirements prohibiting gender discrimination. Baudin was a little-league all-star.

Teofila Ochoa and Cirila Pulido--aged 13 and 12 during a 1985 military atrocity in Peru that cost the lives of 69 indigenous peasants, the majority of whom were women and children--were awarded $37 million in compensation from retired army major Telmo Hurtado by a U.S. federal judge in a March 5 ruling. During the incident, Hurtado issued orders to beat the men and rape the women, the Inter Press Service reported. Ochoa and Pulido survived, but many of their relatives were killed.

Pratibha Patil, the first female president of India, greeted International Women's Day with a call to her sisters to shape their destinies. "Our women folk inspired by Mahatma Gandhi came out of their homes to take part in the freedom struggle," she said. "Beginning with their determined efforts in the days before our freedom, today our women continue to strive to transform the social order into a more just and equal one."

At a European Union conference in Brussels this week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "Justice is thwarted when women are denied the right to play a political role in their nations; disease flourishes and spreads when women's perspectives are not taken into account in terms of disease prevention. In today's modern world, no country can achieve lasting success and stability and security if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines."

Mrs Thatcher (who would not notice the day, I think) is out of hospital. According to the Times,

Those who have met her in recent weeks said that she showed no apparent signs of ill health and she is lucid most of the time but occasionally drifts off in the middle of conversations because of difficulties with her short-term memory.

Last night, thanks to the generosity of a member of our Board of Trustees, several people from the seminary went to a performance of Grace at the Lucille Lortel Theatre with Lyn Redgrave. It was spectacular! Here's a review that indicates the highpoints.

Lyn Redgrave is the atheist (she prefers naturalist) mother of a son who opts to become ordained as an Episcopal priest. She's a professor; he was a lawyer. Her husband, an ameliorating influence between them, asks wittily, who's going to take a priest called Father Friedman seriously? In monologues of the son Tom we see an attempt to articulate faith as intuitive nonrational knowledge of God's existence. He compares this to love of the woman he wants to marry. Can you accept that I don't believe in God, she replies to his offer of marriage. Can you accept that I do, he answers.

The most poignant moments are at the end of the play following Tom's death (we are left to gather that it was in an act of religious terrorism, perhaps the London Underground bombings). How can his mother make sense of this? In a disclosure to her daughter in law when they are attempting a reconciliation (Grace forbade Tom's church funeral and the daughter in law read a Philip Larkin poem at the civic funeral about the way parents can ruin their children), Grace confesses that a shard of her rational self understands Tom's death at the hands of a religious fanatic to be brought on by himself. But Grace's self-justification is at the same time utter anguish and in inarticulate grief she screams out loud. In the silence that follows, when we realize that atheists have come to the limit of understanding, her daughter in law offers a tissue. You're in just as much mess as your granddaughter, she jokes! (The daughter in law was pregnant when Tom declared his desire to marry her).

The play ends later when Grace goes off stage to comfort a fretting granddaughter. We hear, through the loudspeaker in the baby's crib, Grace's consoling words. There, there, its alright, she says. I'll tell you a story about the watchmaker. This is a rational explanation for the creation and empirical ordering of the world. When her husband and daughter in law look in horror at each other, hearing a disembodied voice and thinking of the likely repetition of the animosity that existed between mother and son, we hold our breath in case nothing has been learned. Got you! comes the voice of Grace through the speakers. And we all breathe a sigh of relief...something other than rationalism has begun to be manifest in Grace after all. Something more like Grace.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Flat Lesions in the Colon

I'm a survivor of colon cancer so I'm interested in this news. And I had a flat lesion that proved to be cancerous.

The long and the short of it is that patients need to be sure that gastro-enterologists who do colonoscopies for us are looking for polyps and flat lesions (which may even be depressed thus less visible). A 15 minute screening procedure won't do! There's a dye that can show flat lesions and assist detection.

The study, of 1,819 military veterans, mostly men, found that 9.35 percent had flat lesions, and those lesions were five times as likely as polyps to contain cancerous or precancerous tissue. Depressed or indented lesions were the least common but the most risky. Together, the flat or depressed lesions accounted for only 15 percent of the potentially cancerous growths found in the study, but were involved in half of the cancers. Once the doctors spotted the flat lesions, they sprayed a bluish dye on them to see their outlines better and remove them completely.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Premier of Sir John Taverner's Requiem available for seven days from BBC Radio 3 here. A review from the Independent is here.
Lynne Walker describes the performance:
Cast in seven movements, and drawing on lines from the Requiem Mass and the Koran, as well as Sufi texts and Hindu words from the Upanishad, it was composed for a cruciform space, here Liverpool's atmospheric Catholic cathedral.

The Requiem, from its ghostly opening, stratospherically high on the cello, to its ethereal ending, shows Tavener's gift for conjuring massive, if skeletal, architectural spans of music from modest material, relying on ritualistic development to substantiate wraiths of sound. Slender it may be on paper, but in performance the score creates an immediate ambience.

Dramatically polarised between movements of, variously, austere rigour, devotional intensity and shimmering beauty, the fourth movement, "Khali's Dance", is a whirlwind of agitated rhythm, punchy vocal writing, and a toccata-like line for the tireless solo cello (Primordial Light). Unamplified throughout, Knight gave a natural, unforced account of the taxing solo-cello part.


Mark McNulty's remarkable photography of the rehearsals and setting is here.
Thanks to colleagues and students and friends, hosting and facilitating the first seminary discussion in New York City of The Torah: A Women's Commentary was sheer joy. 12,500 copies of the first run have sold out! The second printing is due any time.

Prof Andrea Weiss took us through Deuteronomy 32 and the five layers of the multivocal commentary pointing out the images for God such as Rock, Father, Mother. The translation is a carefully revised version of the 2002 NJPS translation finished in 2005 by Rabbi David Stern. Details here. Prof Weiss noted the verb of nursing in Deut 32:13 (often obscured by English translations) and the verb of begatting in 32:18. On this latter verse, the Rabbis described the image of God (as a woman in labor) imagining God saying, "You caused me to feel like a male trying to give birth." (Sifre D'varim 319). She read a poem from the interpretation section called Voices in which Death is compared to a messenger coming in the night. This brings out the idea of Deut 32 as almost the last words of Moses.


After his helpful response pointing out the contribution of these insights to commentaries already in existence on Deut 32, Prof Owens asked, Can we see this commentary side by side with (revised) Plaut in synagogue seats? An intriguing possibility.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008



Tomorrow at 1.30pm in Seabury Auditorium at General Seminary, 440 W 21st Street!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Senator Obama and the Sermon on the Mount

As far as I can tell, in response to a question during Q&A sessions this past weekend in Ohio, Senator Obama noted that while he did not support same-sex marriage, he did favor granting same-sex couples civil rights such as transfer of property or visiting each other in hospital. He added (because the questioner was Pastor Leon Forte from Grace Christian Center in Athens, Ohio) that if people found that controversial, his position derived support from the Sermon on the Mount which he regarded as more important than an obscure passage in Romans.

We can be pretty sure he was referring to Romans 1. But he didn't clarify which parts of Matthew 5-7 he meant. And he didn't say that the Sermon on the Mount supported same-sex unions or same-sex marriage. That would be an astonishing argument. What he seems to have done is infer that Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7 did not exclude the possibility of recognizing that same-sex couples have legal rights and that Jesus' words should be given more weight than a few verses from Paul's letter to the Romans.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Happy Mothering Sunday to all our Mothers!

Good Friday Talk at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Images of the Crucifixion
A look at works of art, including Gerard David's masterpiece, which use composition, color, and symbolism to contribute to the viewer's aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual experience.
Hazel Rodriguez
Free with Museum admission
7:00 p.m., Gallery Talk Stanchion, Great Hall

Hannah Betts: Gamophobes in the UK

Today's Guardian has a report from Hannah Betts on evidence that marriage is avoided in the UK.

Rates of marriage in Britain - 283,730 in 2005 - are at their lowest since 1896. Given the ebb and flow of population, this is the most paltry scoring since records began almost 150 years ago. Divorce statistics may have fallen (there being fewer candidates), yet, still, 40 per cent of first marriages and 70 per cent of second shots end in divorce.

According to this year's British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, published in January, two-thirds of people see little difference between marriage and cohabitation (a mere one-fifth taking issue). Even regarding children, where more traditional views tend to apply, only one in four people believes that married couples make better parents. Meanwhile, over half declare weddings to be more about celebration than lifelong commitment, with two-thirds endorsing the truism that divorce can be 'a positive step towards a new life'. As Professor Simon Duncan, co-author of the marriage chapter, decreed: 'The heterosexual married couple is no longer central as a social norm.'

Here's the author's perspective:
Hailing from multicultural Birmingham, I did not attend a traditional Christian wedding until my mid-twenties. Words cannot express my head-spinning, Carrie-style horror at the revelation that my friend, a lawyer, was being walked down the aisle by one man to be handed over to another, a (rather less distinguished) lawyer whom she promised to obey, the whole thing rounded off by a series of male speeches while she remained silent in her faux virgin's white. Ten years on, another friend, the breadwinner in her relationship, was instructed by the officiating cleric to submit to her husband in all matters, to thunderous masculine applause.

Dr Jane Lewis, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, argues that these days marriage involves no small degree of risk for women. 'At the beginning of the 20th century marriage offered protection of a sort. If the marriage worked, it was probably the best way of coping economically. Today, the costs of marriage in terms of childbearing are front-loaded for women. What if one marries, gives up work while the children are young, sacrificing pension contributions, earnings, promotion prospects - and then the husband leaves? Marriage has become a risk,' says Lewis. 'The more economic independence one has, the more one can protect against that risk.'

Some women see marriage as a sacrifice of self. Yet, as the conclusion notes, a detractor writes the article!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The BBC's new film "The Passion" starts on March 16 in the UK and will be shown later on HBO. The site has links to readings of Mark's passion narrative. The film takes Jesus' Jewishness seriously and removes tendentious aspects of the passion narrative: the people present in Jerusalem do not say "His blood on us and our children" for example. Articles by Mark Goodacre and Ed Kessler provide scholarly perspectives. The whole thing sounds promising.