Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Choices and the Incarnation: Christmas 2018


Once a month, I volunteer at our local food pantry. For about two hours, 80 or more people stream through seven tables of foodstuffs to help feed their families for a month. In summer, we offer fresh vegetables. Before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, local supermarkets and national food distribution systems offer seasonal food including turkeys, hams, and occasional outliers, most recently 5 pound bags of white flour from Kansas. A volunteer accompanies each client through the room, pointing out options, packing seasonal offerings and their other selections in large heavy boxes, and helping them to their transportation. Everyone assisting is a volunteer, and the system is streamlined to make the best use of everyone’s time while giving recipients what choice is possible.

Last week, in the last distribution before Christmas, I tried to help a newcomer select food items. This person bent over each table, perhaps to see better, picked up and examined every single package, can, or food item carefully before deciding about it. All the volunteers tried one way and another to move the person along faster with no success. Seemingly oblivious to our increasing frustration, this person proceeded along at their own pace, causing other clients behind to stop and wait.


Was this deliberation mere pickiness? Genuine food sensitivities? Prudence and concern not to clutter life with unneeded items? Care that others not be deprived? Or was it simply one place, in a severely limited living situation that must offer very few options, where the act of choice could be exercised?


In our local well-stocked supermarket, no-one would bat an eyelid if we spent several hours scrutinizing every single item by proceeding slowly up and down each aisle. Indeed, staff are there to facilitate our choices, and they regularly inquire at the checkout if we have found everything we sought. Freedom of choice is held out as a virtue of our commerce and our lives. Freedom of choice is a bedrock this country was founded on. In every society, punishment is imposed by circumscribing personal freedom, with capital punishment being the complete loss of freedom.


Yet giving up freedom is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas. it is precisely divine freedom that God relinquishes in the incarnation by voluntarily taking on the constraints of human life in all its restrictions and finitude. And God’s omnipotence is shown here willingly and in humility, knowing what we do not: what the loss of divine freedom entails and exactly how fragile and vulnerable human life is.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Coming in December 2018: American Values, Religious Voices (U of Cincinnati Press)

American Values, Religious Voices

100 DAYS. 100 LETTERS

American Values, Religious Voices
13

Distributed for University of Cincinnati Press

176 pages | 40 illustrations | 8 x 8 | © 2018
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many Americans questioned how to respond to the results and the deep divisions in our country exposed by the campaign.  Many people of faith turned to their religious communities for guidance and support.  Many looked for ways to take action.  In November 2016, biblical scholar Andrea L. Weiss and graphic designer Lisa M. Weinberger teamed up to create an innovative response: a national, nonpartisan campaign that used letters and social media to highlight core Ameican values connected to our diverse religious traditions.  American Values, Relgious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters is a collection of letters written by some of America's most accomplished and thoughtful scholars of religion during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.  While the letters are addressed to the president, vice president, and members of the 115th Congress and  Trump administration, they speak to a broad audience of Americans looking for wisdome and encouragement at this tumultuous time in our nation's history.  This unique volume assembles the 100 letters, plus four new supplemental essays and many of the graphic illustrations that enhanced the campaign.  Published near the midway point of the Trump presidency, this book showcases a wide range of ancient sacred texts that pertain to our most pressing contemporary issues.  At a time of great division in our country, this post-election project models how people of different backgrounds can listen to and learn from one another.  The letters offer insight and inspiration, reminding us of the enduring values that make our nation great.

https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/A/bo41499136.html
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Monday, April 02, 2018

Elements not Stages of Grief from the NY Review of Books

Jessica Weisberg

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross later applied the same five stages she identified in the process of dying—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—to the process of grieving. As with dying, she never meant to imply that grief was contained to just five feelings, or that the stages were linear, like levels in a Nintendo game. “They were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages…. Our grief is as individual as our lives,” she wrote in On Grief and Grieving. Kübler-Ross found it laughable how some doctors had the gall to hold an essential organ in their hand but had no capacity for ambiguity.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Genesis of Blame: Anne Enright in London Review of Books Winter Lectures at the British Museum Feb 23rd 2018

Anne Enright's first of the LRB Winter Lectures, "The Genesis of Blame" on Friday Feb 23rd 2018 held at the British Museum is here.

Anne Enright is a wonderful writer. Born in Dublin in 1962, she was educated in Dublin, Canada and at the University of East Anglia, on the creative-writing MA course. For six years, she was a television producer in Dublin, and now broadcasts on RTE; she also writes for the London Review of Books and the Irish Times. She is married to the actor and director Martin Murphy; their children are aged four and seven. Her fiction includes the short stories of The Portable Virgin (which won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature), and four novels: The Wig My Father Wore, What Are You Like?, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch and The Gathering (Cape), which won the Man Booker Prize. She has also published a non-fiction book on motherhood, Making Babies. She lives with her family in Bray, Co Wicklow.

In "The Genesis of Blame" Anne Enright first investigates whether the Pope was correct to describe the serpent's overtures to the woman in Genesis 3 as "seduction" in a recent statement on "fake news." She argues that the fault was not in Genesis but in fact found in the fake translation into Latin by Jerome of the fake letter of 1 Timothy 3 (fake because not written by St Paul):

 ‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence’ because ‘Adam non est seductus, was not seduced; but the woman being seduced mulier autem seducta was in the transgression.’

In fact, in the beautiful complex story of Genesis, there was no seduction and no Satan. And she has grounds for making this case by e.g. careful investigation of the underlying Hebrew.

But there's one other textual tradition she doesn't consider that makes a difference in regard to these Genesis texts that are or are not about seduction: the 2nd Century BCE Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture or the Septuagint (from the legend of its origin in the Letter of Aristeas describing the 70 translators working in Alexandria). This textual tradition exists in various forms and recensions in the first and second century CE where it became the means through which first century Jewish writers like Paul and the author of 1 Timothy encountered the Hebrew Bible. A version of Gen 3:13 in the LXX reads, "The serpent tricked me and I ate." The Greek verb behind this translation, "apatao," can be translated "deceive, mislead" and also "seduce." These connotations of the Greek verb "apatao," including seduction, are alive and well in the book of Judith the Greek version of which dates to 100BCE (cf. Judith 10:4; 12:16). None of this contradicts Jerome, Jerome's translation, or his influence but it helps to explain the traction of a reading of Genesis 3:13 as seduction well before he began to work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Podcast with Carol Newsom

Very engaging podcast and conversation with Prof Carol Newsom of Candler School of Theology, Emory University, discussing her work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, research on the Bible and ecology, and development of the self in the Bible and Early Judaism.

Prof Carol Newsom is the author of the Women's Bible Commentary now in its third edition. 

Podcast Interview with Prof Katie Day hosted by Prof James McGrath

Prof James McGrath of Butler University was kind enough to invite Prof Katie Day and myself to join him in a recent podcast on our co-ed...