Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"O Taste and See," an anthem by Pamela Decker, performed at St Peter's By the Sea Episcopal Church, Bayshore, LI.


Every so often, I fantasize about the music I would like to commission: an oratorio or anthems for the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15; songs for the Montanist Oracles; something along the lines of a Bach Cantata or Handel's Resurrezione for John 4 (dialogue between Jesus and the woman at the well) and John 20 (dialogue between Jesus and Mary Magdalene)...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Derek Jacobi as King Lear

Went to a mesmerizing performance of King Lear at BAM last week. From the opening scene in which Lear --just on the other side of his physical powers--sweeps across the stage, removes his own crown from his own head only to bend it simperingly to hear the honey'd words of his daughters--to the last scene in which he carries his dead daughter Cordelia across the same stage lying her down to see in vain if a faint breath form her lips can be detected, the performance was magnificent and heart-breaking. Ben Brantley's review in the NY Times is here.  In November 2010, Derek Jacobi talked to the Guardian about the role and his life.

Yes, BAM still has the occasional ticket through a cancellation. That's how I got mine...

Tools for a hybrid class website

Life goes on. Prof Hacker (aka Professor Nicholas C. Martin) lists tools for a hybrid class website some of which I want to look into this summer and implement this fall (need more memory on the laptop first):


  1. Self-Guided Pre-Course Assessments: We wanted to provide a fun and relevant introduction to the course as well as learn more about the biases and backgrounds of our participants, so we created a module that asked our participants (1) how tech-savvy they were and (2) how optimistic or skeptical they were about the impact of technology in addressing social problems. Based on participants’ responses, the module recommended readings and multimedia that were specific to them (one to reinforce their position and one to challenge them to think differently). To build the module, we used a rapid e-learning authoring tool called Adobe Captivate. Some other popular programs for this kind of rapid authoring are Articulate and Lectora. Captivate is great for building interactive self-guided simulations and branching scenarios. Adobe Captivate outputs to Flash Media files, which can be a problem for older browsers. However, Adobe has just released a Flash to HTML5 converter, which should expand accessibility to browsers such as Google Chrome and Safari for mobile devices such as the iPad and iPhone.
  2. Visual Maps of Readings and Other Multimedia: We also sought to find new ways to visualize course content (readings, videos, case studies). One tool we really like is called PearlTrees, a visual social bookmark and curation tool. We created our unit in PearlTrees by adding links to all the web-based readings, videos and articles for the course and then embedded it into our LMS. Seeing all the content in one space gave participants a better top-level understanding of the material and afforded them the flexibility to focus on the content they found most interesting, all without having to leave the class website. The students indicated they preferred using Pearltrees to access materials relative to the static .pdf syllabi found on traditional course support platforms.
  3. Zooming Presentations: To date, zooming presentation tools such as Prezi have primarily been used as PowerPoint alternatives because they allow for more engaging and non-linear navigation of content. We decided used Prezi to create a Case Study Library with six categories (Health, Education, etc.) to introduce our students to the tools organizations are using to address different elements of the peacebuilding and international development spectrum. We divided the class into small groups and had each group explore the profiles of three tools listed under each category. Our participants definitely enjoyed the non-linear navigation and integration of multimedia that Prezi provided, although the tool can be a bit buggy at times–particularly when trying to use the YouTube video embed feature. Hopefully we’ll begin to see some other tools competing in this space soon.
  4. Community Links and Bookmarks: Over the past few years as a classroom teacher, I’ve often lamented the fact that when participants share relevant web-based articles, organizations, or projects during discussions there is no way to capture them for others to revisit later. However, new tools for social bookmarking allow participants to share links and to add tags and descriptions to shared content. Our LMS had a built-in functionality for users to submit links and tag them, but other options include setting up a class Diigo account with one class username and password. If the majority of participants are already on Facebook and Twitter, other options include creating a dedicated course Facebook group to share content, or setting up a class hashtag (ex. #AU1234) for Twitter to categorize and easily reference all class tweets. (Read further ProfHacker reflections on teaching with social media.)
  5. Shared Whiteboarding and Mindmapping: Finally, we’ve also tested a number of interactive whiteboard and mindmapping tools. Some of our favorites include Corkboard.me, Edistorm, and Mindmeister. Before the course, we asked students via email to post what specific skills they wanted to gain from the course and what questions they had. They used Corkboard.me to capture and visualize their individual expectations and view comments from other students. In our first in-person meeting, we discussed the corkboard and used it as a framework for the remainder of the course. At the end of the class, we reviewed it to assess if all of the expectations had been addressed. Students greatly appreciated the ability to add input and shape the direction of the course. It also made our job easier as facilitators in making sure that we were aligned with student interests. One challenge to note is that it can be cumbersome to have students use a separate login account to access these tools. Corkboard.me does not require students to be logged in, but the drawback is that there is less accountability for posted content.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Scholars on the Rapture

We have been busy with this rapture business lately but I have time to get in a post before 6pm! I've been speaking to Slate Magazine about whether animals will get to heaven along with Obery Hendricks of New York Theological Seminary, Roger Haight and Christopher Morse of Union Theological Seminary. David Sanchez has been speaking about the rapture to Fox News. Barbara Rossing explains the history of the notion of the rapture:



Harold Attridge promises that those who expect the world to end today will be bitterly disappointed while James McGrath explains why May 21st isn't the end of the world.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ethiopian Magic Scrolls are on display at Elizabeth Street Fine Arts until June 30, 2011. Here's a review in the New York Times. Apparently there is also an accompanying display of processional crosses.

Magic or healing scrolls usually take the form of long, narrow, often segmented vertical strips of parchment covered with handwritten texts — protective prayers, spell-casting formulas — interspersed with drawn and painted images. Such scrolls were, and still are, created by traditional healers and diviners. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has always viewed the art with deep suspicion, in part because it mixes canonically sacred and heterodox elements: figures of warrior-saints and archangels rub shoulders with uncouth demons; talismanic designs derived in part from Islamic, Judaic and pre-Christian folk sources mingle with New Testament quotations.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's That Time of Year: Commencement

There are many reasons I enjoy Commencement: celebrating students' real academic achievement and the beginnings of their professional careers; participating in the ritual itself (ours is in Latin which is unique) including academic regalia and the granting of degrees both real and honorary; marking an end in the case of departures and (inferred) new beginnings within a few months.

It is a privilege to meet student families at some point over the course of three days: either after the Baccalaureate Service on Tuesday or at the reception after the Commencement service itself, or even at early breakfast on Wednesday in the refectory. These families have sacrificed a great deal to get to this moment of graduation: most have been transplanted to New York City and made it work for the spouses and the children who must find work and schools respectively.

On the periphery of commencement is the weather--it will probably be rain this year but usually it is fine. And by now Spring is well and truly established in New York City. Recent rains make it lush: columbine, for example, in our seminary grounds is in full bloom.

Commencement also marks a promise of return to more or less uninterrupted academic work over the summer. And our library will be ready for use again this fall after a hiatus of several years.

So let the celebrations begin!  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

(At least) 5 things everyone should know about the Bible

Kristen Swensen in Deseret News published a recent article "5 Things Everyone Should Know About the Bible." She posits:

1. Every Bible is actually a collection of books. The word itself means something like "little library." Many of the Bible's books developed over a long period of time and include the input of a lot of people (ancient Israelites, Babylonian Jews and Greek pastors, to name a few), reflecting particular places (urban Jerusalem, the northern Galilee, rural Judah, and ancient Persia, for example) and times (spanning as much as a thousand years for the Old Testament and a couple of centuries for the New Testament). Plus, the collection as a whole developed over centuries. This helps to explain the tremendous variety of theological perspectives, literary styles and sometimes perplexing preoccupations (which animal parts go to which parties in which categories of sacrifices, for example) as well as why some texts disagree with others.


Next, she points out that not everyone has the same Bible. Then she points out that the Bible was formed after the literature in it was written down, and that the Bible in English is a translation and finally, that these facts do not impede belief in the Bible as the word of God. Some people found these ideas challenging. The original article concludes:


"The Bible's endurance is astonishing. Knowing the few bits of information provided here, as plain as they may seem, makes it possible to make sense of the Bible — its uses and abuses — for yourself. But this information is more than a starting point. It's also a companion along the way, enabling new insights, providing correctives, and allowing space for the dynamism of your own ideas and learning." Maybe a particular value of this collection of ancient texts is how it demands that we think for ourselves rather than treat each text, no matter its historical background or literary context, as some edict from on high.


You might want to add others. I've been thinking how to word a statement about the cautious use of the moral authority of the Bible.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

In the noise and exuberance of the end of the semester, it is always good to find a quiet corner to be still. Here on the seminary close we have quite a few of them. Let us hope that we continue to value them and can keep them for the next generation of seminarians. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"Be Who God Meant You To Be and You Will set the World on Fire"



The Bishop of London's Sermon 

29th April 2011
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.
Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.  
In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.
William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.
A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.
It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.
You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.
We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.
Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:
“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”
As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.
As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.
I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:
God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Sr Elizabeth Johnson+ M. Shawn Copeland "Women, Race & Redemption"



Lecture: Women, Race and Redemption

Speakers: M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of theology at Boston College, and Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, Ph.D., distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University. Sponsored by Union Theological Seminary, the Department of Theology, and the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.
6 p.m. | Pope Auditorium, Lowenstein Center, Lincoln Center campusContact: (718) 817-3256

The auditorium was quite full. Best part of the lecture last night was the standing ovation given to Sister Elizabeth Johnson before she began to speak!