Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Children in the Sandbox

An Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:-

We write to you to encourage, strengthen and support your ministry with our prayers. We would like to suggest that as faithful Episcopalians we stop playing these games of attention getting. What do conservative primates get out of condemning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? Media attention. What does it cost them? Nothing. So what's their motive? Attention from western media to be sure. And the sense of power that comes from bullying others.
If you went into a sandbox in which some bullies said you can play here but your sister can't, would you stay in the same sandbox? If playground bullies are not willing to have all the members of the family in the sandbox then let's leave the sandbox. We can create another one. We help neither ourselves nor our sisters and brothers if we do not have the courage of our convictions to leave the sandbox. We will no longer pander to those who want to be noticed by the world's media.
We can become a place where Episcopalians who want to get on with protecting the environment and promoting the rights and dignities of all human beings can live and thrive. Is it an accident that God has given glbt people to the church already baptized as full members into the body of Christ? No, it is our gift to the world. We must continue to ordain glbt people and bless same sex unions because such people and such unions are gifts of the Spirit. And who are we to reject gifts of the Spirit?
We speak a resounding "No!" to more funding for discussions about ordination of glbt people or the blessings of same-sex unions, and a resounding "Yes!" to continuing those ordinations and blessings.
Jesus declares emphatically in Luke 14:26 that whoever comes to him and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even life itself cannot be a disciple. In this text and in other similar passages, Jesus promises that divisions in households will occur as a result of heeding a call to follow as a disciple. Such a follower is called out of a household, away from father and mother, even wife, children, and brothers and sisters in an extended family. Such a person overturns blood ties to follow a command of open table fellowship in which Jesus insists that invitations to a meal should be extended not to friends, brothers, rich neighbors or relatives but to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind who cannot reciprocate. Jesus never says that everyone should be one happy family. It's time to take these words of Jesus about division between members of the same family seriously.
The world marches ahead of the church on many moral issues. Reactionary leaders of many mainstream religions, including Roman Catholicism, Islam, and the Anglican Church, have vitiated their moral leadership by maintaining positions that do nothing to relieve oppression, but rather serve to confirm powerful heterosexual males in their power, at the cost of women, children, and sexual minorities of the world. Where religious regimes like the Taliban are permitted to keep women in poverty and oppress them, those religious leaders, and others who fail to oppose them, have forfeited moral leadership. Where religious leaders fail to condemn on moral and religious grounds the recent murder of women like Zill-e-Huma, the social welfare minister in Punjab, they have forfeited religious and moral authority. Her murderer declared that women occupying senior positions was against the rule of God, and was an attempt to subjugate men. Religious leaders who do not speak up on behalf of oppressed minorities everywhere especially those in whom society has no interest have forfeited their moral leadership in the world.
The Episcopal Church has been in the sandbox with bullies far too long. It is time to stop negotiating with terrorists and allying ourselves with the spineless, and focus instead on doing some good in this world. The stakes are too high. With the passing of this generation into another one, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender question will be moot. If there is another generation on this planet.

Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jesus' Tomb

By now everyone will have heard of the (re)discovery of Jesus' Tomb and the accompanying documentary film to be shown this Sunday evening. In the 80's a first century burial site in Talpiot in Jerusalem was investigated. Of the 10 sarcophagi in the site, six were found with inscriptions, five of which were Aramaic and one was in Greek: Ossuary 80/500: Mariamene e Mara” – “Mariamne, and Mara (Martha)” Ossuary 80/501: Yehuda bar Yeshua” – “Judah, son of Jesus” Ossuary 80/502: "Matia” – “Matthew” Ossuary 80/503 "Yeshua bar Yosef” – “Jesus, Son of Joseph” Ossuary 80/504: "Yose” or “Yosa” – a nickname for “Joseph” Ossuary 80/505: "Maria” – a Latinized version of the Hebrew “Miriam.”

Today, there was a press conference at 11.00am in New York City and two of the sarcophagi have been on view on the NYPL (I said to a friend and colleague, Who would have imagined that we would be telling each other that Jesus' bone box is on display at the New York Public Library?) The authorities in Jerusalem may open the site to tourists.

There is more than one way to explain the relations of people to each other in the sarcophagi. We are not compelled to understand that Yeshua bar Yosef is married to Mariamne. We do not know what the relations of people to each other is except in the case of patronymics. Maria could be the wife of Matia or Yose or Yehuda equally well. Remember that more than one person was interred in each of the sarcophagi. As for the DNA evidence, we seem only to know that Mariamne and Yeshua do not share the same DNA and thus are not related. This does not compel us to think that they were married.

Textual Revisions as a key to understanding

A wonderful piece on NPR yesterday discusses reading redacted manuscripts as a way to understanding texts in an interview with Willard Spiegelmann, English Professor at SMU. Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art," for example, went through 15 drafts beginning not as a vilanelle (which is how it ended) but as notes on loosing things, titled "The Art of Loosing Things." The genesis of the poem, articulating the personal loss of a lover, is what later drafts return to. What we see is the history of a work, its creative process, and perhaps even embryonic genius at work.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Everyday reasoning including irrationality

A review of Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland by Nicholas Lazzard in today's Guardian Review Section commands purchase and reading of the book. First published in 1992, the book explores the extent of irrational thinking on a daily basis. Mr Lazzard says, "There are few books about psychology that can make you laugh out loud; this is one of them."

Daily examples of irrationality are:

1. Leaping to a decision.
Much irrationality results from simple laziness. We jump to a conclusion without taking the time to think things through. On the other hand, we all know people who analyze to excess. When the cost of additional analysis exceeds the expected loss that may be avoided by such analysis (or the expected gain to be achieved thereby), it is time to stop.

2. Inadequate brain cache.
A human can hold only a small number of ideas in his mind at one time...... When faced with a complex decision, a decision maker must use at least elementary principles of decision theory if he or she is to arrive at an optimal result. Even the simple method outlined by Benjamin Franklin -- writing down pros and cons in two columns on a sheet of paper -- can greatly increase the probability of reaching a rational decision. More advanced techniques can be used to advantage in complex cases.

3. Self-deception.
This well-known pillar of irrationality can be explained by reference to the principle of cognitive dissonance -- the mental conflict that occurs when cherished beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new evidence. The tension aroused by this conflict is eased by various defensive mechanisms: denial, rejection, avoidance, and so forth.

An example of this in the book: "Almost everyone reading these pages will at some time have paid money to see a bad film or a bad play. Despite excruciating boredom, people often refuse to leave, even if the show is so bad that they would have paid a small amount of money to avoid seeing it at all. Thus, they irrationally suffer a double blow - they have spent money and they endure an hour or two's needless boredom. The sensible thing for them to do is to leave, which means they only suffer the monetary loss."

What do you do in such cases? I confess clinging to the irrational belief that while the book I am reading or the movie I am watching is execrable, it must (surely) get better if I go on reading/watching it. On only one occasion have I left a movie before the end. Its easier for me to abandon a book. If I can't finish it, I give it away.

Moreover, there are assumptions we make that cause us immense difficulties:-

The first is: "Because it would be highly preferable if I were outstandingly competent, I absolutely should and must be. It is awful when I am not. I am therefore a worthless individual."

The second irrational (and unprovable) idea is: "Because it is highly desirable that others treat me considerately and fairly, they absolutely should and must do so, and they are rotten people who deserve to be utterly damned when they do not."

The third is: "Because it is preferable that I experience pleasure rather than pain, the world absolutely should arrange this and life is horrible, and I can't bear it when the world doesn't."

Friday, February 23, 2007

How the current Episcopal debate comes across

Recently, I met a clergyman from another branch of the Christian Church that does not ordain women. It was after Susan Russell and Kendall Harmon had been interviewed by Margaret Warner on the PBS Lehrer Newshour on Wednesday of this week. Since he brought up the topic of current debates in the Episcopal Church, I asked his opinion. "Of course its a good thing to get these matters out into the open," he began. Then he added emphatically, "They were interviewed for TWENTY FIVE minutes!!" commenting on the unusually large segment of the newshour given over to the debate. He added, "The woman looked professional and well-dressed, but I was surprised that she wore a piece of jewellery around her neck without a cross!" Cottoning on to the direction of the discussion, I inquired about the sartorial aspects of her dialogue partner, Kendall Harmon. "Oh dear," he said, "He must have lost weight recently because his collar was hanging off his neck. And you could see that the button on his cuff was undone."

There you have it. To all of us making public statements about the current debate: Caveat spectator! Viewer beware! The content of our discussion is immaterial; the issues decided. What matters is how we look.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Women and Words: March 6-7, Wake Forest University

"Women and Words" is the fifth conference in the Phyllis Trible Lecture series. This year's conference focuses on the power of religious language as it is used by women and about women to restrict or transform. In addition to three leading feminist scholars of religion who will focus on biblical language, the language of worship and theological language from a global perspective, this year’s series also features acclaimed writer Mary Gordon.

H'm. Helpful tip from the Guardian

This could be very handy. Especially these days. Especially the bit about ability to wring complex meanings from a single line. Must bone up a bit on creating intellectual frisson.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Joseph saw

In the Ethiopic birth narrative, The Road to Bethlehem, Joseph went off to find a midwife "and as he went along the road, the earth trembled, and the oxen and sheep stood looking up into heaven." This is a brief reference to miraculous events accompanying Jesus' birth.

According to the Protevangelion of James, this is what Joseph saw:

XVIII. I And Joseph found a cave there and brought Mary into it, and set his sons by her: and he went forth and sought for a midwife of the Hebrews in the country of Bethlehem.

2 Now I Joseph was walking, and I walked not. And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.

What Joseph saw is the miraculous effects of Jesus' birth on nature in which what normally happens is suspended. This is a way of speaking about the virgin birth to which the fleeting reference in the Ethiopic story alludes. In the icon of my previous post, the shepherd reports these astonishing event to Joseph since he had seen the sheep and tried to use his staff. (I must acknowledge with gratitude help from Prof. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona on this point).

These two posts show that two details in an Ethiopic story of Jesus' birth belong to what we would call noncanonical material. However, the Ethiopic canon of scripture contains many more books than our canon. It is probable that The Road to Bethlehem also includes oral traditions found also in the Protevangelion of James.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Joseph and the Shepherd

Another detail from the next paragraph of the Ethiopic nativity story The Road to Bethlehem is as follows:

Joseph looked around, and he saw a cave where animals were kept and he led Mary to it. Then he went off to find a midwife. As he went along the road, the earth trembled, and the oxen and sheep stood looking up into heaven.

Since this paragraph doesn't actually mention a shepherd, here's an icon that shows the scene to which this paragraph alludes (the animals are behind the shepherd on the right). Why does the earth tremble? Why do the animals stand looking into heaven? (Discussion in the post to follow in a day or so :)

Mary's Vision While Pregnant with Jesus

I've been perusing (from the library) A Synopsis of the Apocryphal and Infancy Narratives assembled by J. K. Elliot (Brill, 2006). It includes material from three newly published and unfamiliar Irish texts: a poetic version of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and nativity stories in the Leabhar Breac ("The Speckled Book" dated to 1411) and the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum (texts first edited by Martin McNamara in 2001 in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocrypha 13 and 14).

Under the heading "Mary's Vision of Two Peoples" the Protevangelion of James 17:2 (or 12)records:-

And (Joseph) saddled the ass, and put her upon it, and Joseph and Simon followed after her, and came near Bethlehem, within three miles. 6 Then Joseph, turning about, saw Mary sorrowful, and said within himself, "Perhaps she is in pain through That which is within her." 7 But when he turned about again, he saw her laughing, and said to her, 8 "Mary, how does it happen that I sometimes see sorrow and sometimes laughter and joy in your face?" 9 And Mary replied to him, "I see two people with my eyes, the one weeping and mourning, the other laughing and rejoicing."

Pseudo-Matthew 13 has a similar version:-

When, therefore, Joseph and Mary were going along the road which leads to Bethlehem, Mary said to Joseph: 'I see two peoples before me, the one weeping, and the other rejoicing.' And Joseph answered: 'Sit still on thy beast, and do not speak superfluous words.' Then there appeared before them a beautiful boy, clothed in white raiment, who-said to Joseph: 'Why didst thou say that the words which Mary spoke about the two peoples were superfluous? For she saw the people of the Jews weeping, because they have departed from their God; and the people of the Gentiles rejoicing, because they have now been added and made near to the Lord, according to that which He promised to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for the time is at hand when in the seed of Abraham all nations shall be blessed.'

The Leabhar Breac 66-7 has a version of this story as does the Liber Flavus 66:

'O father,' said Simeon, 'the maiden is speaking and I do not know whom she is addressing.' 'I think that she is suffering from tiredness and distress,' said Joseph. And when Joseph looked at Mary he saw that she was alternately sad and joyful. 'How is it, girl', he said, 'that at one time you are grieving while at another time you are happy?' 'I see two peoples,' she said, 'one of which is in mourning and the other in gladness and sacred scripture tells us to weep with the mournful and to rejoice with the joyful.' Joseph told her to go to bed and rest. 'O Simeon,' said he, 'Annoint the virgin's feet with oil.'

Now listen to a modern nativity story from Ethiopia, The Road to Bethlehem, (Macmillan 2000) loaned to me by Jemonde Taylor who was in Ethiopia in January:

Some months later, Herod the king sent out his officers to bring each person into their own city. So Joseph brought a donkey, and he sat Mary on it, and they started out along the road to bethlehem. After they had been travelling for a while, Joseph turned and looked back at Mary, and she was smiling and laughing. "The baby is about to be born," she said. "What shall we do, where shall we go?" said Joseph.

It would be easy to pass over this paragraph if one was not aware of the long tradition of Mary's prophetic vision as her child is about to be born. In the tradition of the prophets Mary feels within herself the pain and the joy of God's verdict. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that the prophet is a person who holds God and humankind in one thought at one time, and at all times. All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! God is always concerned. God is personally affected by what humanity does. God is a God of pathos, namely, feeling transformed into action. In Mary's case, this is the joy and sorrow of a birth that brings division as a consequence of it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Epiphany in Lalibela

A report from the Guardian (UK) of Timkhat, feast of the Epiphany, in Lalibela complete with all-night vigil and baptism early next morning.

New York: City of Antiquities

Sotheby’s 6 December sale of the Judith H. Siegel Collection of historicist jewellery by Castellani and Giuliano totalled $7.4m, with only five lots left unsold. Once again, it came as no surprise that the highest price of the day should have been the $475,200 paid for Castellani’s glorious Egyptian Revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace and brooch. What elicited a gasp from the floor was the $234,000 paid for his copy of a Byzantine gold and micromosaic brooch which had been estimated at $10,000-$15,000.

The real McCoy stole the day at Christie’s antiquities sale on 7 December: an Egyptian sarcophagus complete with the mummy of one Neskhons. The former was extravagantly painted in hieroglyphs, as was the custom in the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1040-900 bc). It appears that the coffin was excavated in 1900 when Liberty H. Holden of Cleveland, Ohio, purchased Neskhons during his Egyptian tour and donated him to the Western Reserve Historical Society, which is now $1.14m (£576,650) richer.

From Apollo Magazine, February 2007. Are these treasures now to be in private collections invisible to the public eye?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Multispectral imaging reveals new texts from Oxyrhynchus

Using multispectral imaging, scholars at BYU have uncovered new material from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection: an unidentified Christian apocryphal Gospel, a new ending to the Gospel of Mark, a different version of two verses in the book of Philemon, and a missing section in Luke 22:43-44. Here's another account from Oxford of the way multispectral imaging clarifies unclear readings and noting that the Oxyrhynchus texts will be published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, beginning with the next volume (LXIX). An article on the technical aspects is planned for Scientific American.

This project began with the excavation, in 1897-1907, of the town-site of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The excavators, B P Grenfell and A S Hunt (both Fellows of Queen's College, Oxford), recovered more than 100,000 pieces, fragments and scraps of papyrus, mostly in Greek, dating from the Roman and early Byzantine periods; the Egypt Exploration Society, which funded the dig, deposited these in Oxford. Since then scholars have worked to catalogue, decipher and publish this material. The first volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri appeared in 1898, volume 67 in 2001; there are at least 40 more volumes to come.

The present Project Director is Professor P J Parsons (Christ Church). The papyri, some 2,000 published and mounted in glass, the rest conserved in boxes, are housed in a workroom adjacent to the Sackler Library, with their indexes, archives and photographic record. The workroom serves also as the office of the project's Researcher and Administrator, Dr Nikolaos Gonis.

The mass of unedited material represents the random waste-paper of seven centuries of Graeco-Egyptian life. About 10% is literary, i.e. the fragmentary remains of ancient books; the rest documents public and private (codes, edicts, registers, official correspondence, census-returns, tax-assessments, petitions, court-records; sales, leases, wills, bills, accounts, inventories, horoscopes, private letters).

Remember that P. Oxy. 1, 654 and 655 contain sayings attributed to Jesus and, on the basis of their similarity to parts of the Coptic text of 114 sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, thought to be fragments of a larger sayings collection.

Women of the Early Church according to Pope Benedict

Yesterday, at the general audience, the Pope announced that the presence of women in the early church was in no way secondary.

On the plus side, he mentions the presence of women amongst the disciples in addition to the 12 male disciples: the prophetess (sic) Anna (cf. Luke 2:36-38), the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:1-39), the Syrophoenician woman (cf. Mark 7:24-30), the woman with the hemorrhage (cf. Matthew 9:20-22) and the forgiven woman sinner (cf. Luke 7:36-50). Then he mentions the protagonists of some of Jesus' effective parables, for example, the woman who makes the bread (Matthew 13:33), the woman who loses the silver coin (Luke 15:8-10), or the vexing widow before the judge (Luke 18:1-8), in addition to the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus before his passion in Mark 14.

There are women who played an active role in the context of Jesus' mission: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna "and many others" (cf. Luke 8:2-3) and who did not abandon Jesus (unlike the 12) at the cross. Mary Magdalene is first witness of the risen one and identified as "apostolorum apostola" by Aquinas in his commentary on John.

There are women prophets in Corinth as Paus attests in the Corinthian letter. Therefore, he says, the famous exhortation "the women should keep silence in the churches" must be relativized (1 Corinthians 14:34).

To bad he wants to leave unresolved Pauline contradictions: The much-discussed problem on the relationship between the first phrase -- women can prophesy in church -- and the other -- they cannot speak -- that is, the relationship between these two indications which are seemingly contradictory, we leave for the exegetes.

Paul in Romans 16 mentions Phoebe, a "diakonos" with genuine responsibilities (sic). But he completely ignores the designation "prostatis" Paul gives her. Rendering this term by "patron" or "founder" would be more accurate than the older "helper."

The Pope continues describing Rom 16: with delicate lines (Paul) recalls other names of women: a certain Mary, and then Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis, "beloved," as well as Julia, of whom he writes openly that they "have worked hard for you" or "have worked hard in the Lord" (Romans 16:6,12a,12b,15), thus underlining their intense ecclesial commitment. He completely omits Junia (Rom 16:7) identified until the 14th Century as a woman who along with Andronicus was a co-worker of Paul, of note among the apostles before Paul.

He refracts Gal 3:26-28, "the fundamental principle," according to which, for the baptized "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" though the prism of 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 in which specific functions identify distinct roles within the community. There is no compelling reason to interpret Gal 3 with reference to I Cor 12 nor has he provided one. However, its clear that the Pope can do exegesis when he wishes to avoid for example the implications of transcending social and ethnic and gender distinctions in Gal 3:26-28. He prefers rather to reinscribe distinctions in terms of functions which in regard to women he elsewhere calls "feminine holiness" or charisms.

One might also ask: What about discussing the impact of the Syrophoenician woman in Mark (the Canaanite woman in Matthew) or the Samaritan woman on Jesus' mission in John?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day "In the Garden"

In thinking of single people on Valentine's Day, Mahalia Jackson's version of "In the Garden" came to mind. You'll need Real Player to hear it. The song is under "Bonus Audio" as one of three files in a segment discussing Bill Henderson's book about hymns: Simple Gifts, Great Hymns, One Man's Search for Grace (2006).

You can hear this hymn in a variety of different ways: as a woman walks with her beloved in the garden; as a Christian person of faith walking with the Lord in the garden; as a lover with a beloved in the Song of Songs perhaps redeeming the story in the Garden of Eden; as Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus the gardener in the garden after the resurrection. Perhaps the story has something for everyone. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The New Model of Christian Marriage: Priscilla and Acquila

On Feb 7th, Pope Benedict XVI, in his talk to the morning audience at the Vatican, attempted to remedy the dearth of models of married couples in the New Testament and early Christian tradition by proposing Priscilla and Acquila. He concluded his talk: "So we render homage to Aquila and Priscilla as models of a married life responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian community. And in them we see the model of the Church, family of God for all times." But in case anyone noticed even the interesting detail that Priscilla is listed first in all references to the couple, he linked them to the Ephesian teaching about Christ and the Church.

Six New Things (Actually, One) in Chelsea, NYC

Gagosian Gallery, Sebastian + Barquet
hold Newson-fest in Chelsea showrooms
Marc Newson is regarded as one of the most creative and influential designers of this generation. And, perhaps, several others as well.

Sydney-born and entirely self-taught as an architect and designer, Newson produces giddily forward-looking furniture, glassware, lighting and luggage that have landed in the permanent collections of the world's top design museums, as well as Madonna videos. Last year, a Newson work commanded the most money ever paid at an auction for a work by a living artist.

This month, you have not one but TWO opportunities to indulge in the quirky and funky world of Newson's aesthetic ... and they are right across the street from each other.

The Gagosian Gallery is presenting a major exhibition of new, limited-edition works by Newson -- the first solo exhibition of Newson's talent in the United States. The works represent Newson's mind-boggling expertise at fashioning beauty from extreme treatment of materials like nickel and marble. Jan. 25 to Mar. 3. 555 W. 24th. 212.741.1111.

Meanwhile, the design showroom Sebastian + Barquet inaugurates its new showroom on 24th Street with an exhibition of vintage furniture crafted by Newson. The pairing is ironic -- the exhibition hearkens to the past while Sebastian + Barquet's spectacular new showroom heralds Chelsea as the future epicenter of 20th and 21st century design. Opened Jan. 25. 544 W. 24th. 212.488.2245.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stevie Smith on Mark's Gospel

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, nailèd 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.

Stevie Smith, “The Airy Christ” from New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.Source: The New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1988).

In this poem, Stevie Smith presents the Airy Christ as a fresh breathing image in Rieu's translation of the gospels. "If Christ is not God," she wrote, "he is a human being, a lofty and noble creature, someone we may love an admire and whose words we may sort." If Christ is God, She argued, then he is party to an ignominious bargain, the death of God's son to redeem our sin, a bargain that imposes an intolerable burden of guilt and gratitude.

In general, she had no patience with aspects of the New English Bible translation and poor syntax. She argued that the translation of Gen 1: "When all things began, the word already was.." leads naturally to the question, "Was what?" since the construction is not current English. Moreover, changing the words of the Lord's Prayer from "Lead us not into temptation" to "Do not bring us to the test" would conjure up for the British reader images of going to a series of cricket matches called "test matches."

Stevie Smith's attitude to Christianity is that of an agnostic who could not entirely abandon belief in a God of Love (Spaulding, Stevie Smith, 234). Alongside her Anglican background was "my formidable conscience, a most practical agent, a really literal creature, full of the plainest common sense and a determination to make words mean what they say."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Codex Sinaiticus detected on Feb 7th, 1844

Remember Oscar Wilde's line, " Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it has merely been detected." Well, the same applies to the detection of Codex Sinaiticus by Constantine Von Tischendorf in 1844, the anniversary of which falls this past week.

The earliest complete copy of the New Testament, it is the antecedent of all bound copies of the Bible. Containing over 400 large leaves (pages) of animal skin, partly calf, on which half of the Old Testament and Apocrypha (2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1&4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach, all of the New Testament with the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas is written in Greek. Named after the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, 347 leaves of the Codex are now in the British Library. Eleven leaves from the beginning and end of the Codex remain in the monastery of St. Catherine while 43 leaves are at the University Library in Leipzig and parts of five leaves are at the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg. An estimated 330 leaves completing the Old Testament are lost.

Dated to the mid-fourth century, the Greek is without word division (scriptio continua) and in capital letters. The text is arranged in four columns on each page. On every page one can see thousands of corrections dating from the fourth to the twelfth century visible in the margins and between the columns. It is perhaps the most corrected early manuscript of the Christian Bible.

While we know nothing about the producers of the codex or the place they worked (Alexandria, Rome, Caesarea?), we can detect three copyists of the text known as A, B, and D. Each scribe copied and corrected his or her work. Scribe A added to the ending of John's Gospel the verse 21:25, "And there are also many things which Jesus did, the which, if they were tobe written every one, I suppose even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." Scribe D noticed an omission from scribe A's copy of I Cor 13:1-3 and inserted the missing text into the margin above.

Between the 5th and 7th Centuries, a corrector known as Ca not only emended earlier errors but also attempted to bring the entire text into line with a version of the text more familiar to him or her. In the Lucan account of the crucifixion, for example, Ca restored the passage, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Now the entire Codex in its four separate parts is being digitized and will appear in 2009 or 2010.

Friday, February 09, 2007

James Graham and redemption of a gay RC concert pianist

How about some Celtic music?

James Graham sings Mo bhò dhubh mhòr, a beautiful fragment of a lost Piobaireachd which he learned from Kenna Campbell, then into a strathspey called, "Gogan a chinn mhoir," about a man called Gogan who was popular with the ladies, a reel called "S ioma' rud a chunna mi," and finally a gig, "Nighean na Cailliche Crotaiche Crubaich," about the daughter of an old humped backed woman who was inclined to be a bit of a stroppy madam!

And here's a story about the redemptive power of music in the life of one gay RC pianist with a side glance at the church's teaching on homosexuality including St. Paul from this week's Tablet.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mary Panel on Feb 21st

Monday Feb 5th Greek News:-

Scholars and clergy from different Christian traditions will address the place of “Mary in our Life and Times” at the annual Cathedral Fellowship lecture series at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Center. The inaugural presentation is by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Abbot and retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America at 7:30 Thursday February 15th and the series will conclude with a panel discussion the following Wednesday the 21st at 7:00 PM.

The deep and beautiful mystery of Mary, Theotokos: The Mother of God, will be explored by the presenters, panelists and the audience. The powerful ties of most Christians to the Virgin Mary have inspired some of the world’s greatest poetry, art and architecture and enabled countless generations to endure the miseries of poverty, war, illness and cruelty. Her name ever on the lips and thoughts of Christians, Mary is often forgotten when theology is discussed. The Cathedral Fellowship lecture series will explore Mary’s place in our lives and times.

The place of Mary in the Episcopal Church and the Protestant tradition differs greatly from the Orthodox and Catholic churches and in the latter today there are powerful movements centered on traditional and even revolutionary views on Mary unfamiliar to Orthodox Christians. The modern world opens up new perspectives on Jesus’ mother, both skeptical, as with religion in general, and sociological, especially among feminists. Outside the trenches of the culture wars, however, men and women of faith seek to know the place of Mary in modern times and lives that are so radically different from the days of the ancient Fathers and Mothers of the Church.

I will be a panelist on Feb 21st. The Presentations will be at Holy Trinity Cathedral Center, 337 East 74th Street. Light refreshments will be served and a donation of $10 is requested. For information email: csirigos100@aol.com

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cancelling Liberia's Debt

Today would be a good day to call US Treasury Secretary Paulson asking for debt relief for Liberia. Next week, the Liberia Donors conference meets on Feb 13-14 in Washington DC. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on world leaders to cancel Liberia's debts. In this country Jubilee Network USA amongst others has led the effort.

Does your local representative supported the Jubilee Act? Representatives Waters (D-CA), Leach (R-IA), Frank (D-MA), Bachus (R-AL), Lee (D-CA), and Maloney (D-NY) re-introduced the JUBILEE Act (HR 1130) in March 2005. The JUBILEE
Act is groundbreaking legislation that would require the U.S. Treasury Department to work inappropriate multilateral settings to achieve 100 percent cancellation of the debts of 50 nations by the multi-lateral development institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF),World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The bill urges that the debt cancellation be paid for from the international financial institutions’ own resources and that it come without harmful conditionality attached. The JUBILEE Act will help build a better safer world by providing impoverished nations the fresh start necessary for development. It is now in committee.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Review of Jesus' Family Values from The Dominion (LI) January 2007

The Dominion (Diocese of Long Island) for January 2007 offers a short review of Jesus' Family Values by John Egleston of the George Mercer Jr. Memorial Library. Scroll down to p.6.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Discussing the Apocalypse at Trinity Institute

"Talk of the Town" in this weeks New Yorker magazine includes a piece entitled "End is Near Department" by Rebecca Mead reporting on the recent Trinity Institute's "Apocalypse Not."

The second paragraph gives you a taste of the piece:-

An appetite for smoked-salmon canapés and pinot noir (comment: not reading and discussing the "Left Behind" series) was all that was required of guests at the evening’s gathering, which was held at Trinity’s rectory, a town house on Charlton Street that was built by John Jacob Astor in 1826 and was acquired by the church in 2004, for five and a half million dollars. It joins Trinity’s considerable portfolio—the church owns six million square feet of office space between Houston and Canal Streets. Above the dining-room fireplace hangs a portrait of the house’s current occupant, the Reverend Dr. Jim Cooper, by Thomas Loepp. It depicts him standing on Wall Street with the church and its environs in the background. “There are our dog and cat, and there’s my buddy Mohammed, with his hot-dog cart,” Cooper said.

In the third paragraph, Rebecca Mead mentions the conclusion of Barbara Rossing's talk in which she calls for a novel to be written based on the book of Revelation: “We need a novel whose heroes are rooted on the earth, living in sustainable communities, maybe practicing Permaculture gardening.” Barbara Rossing actually describes the novel as one in which a band of heroes for example rescuing Appalachia from stripmining, engaging in prophetic acts of healing, and speaking truth to power. The earth rescues God's people who are about to be devoured by the dragon in Rev 12 by opening its mouth to rescue and swallow us up.

But the conclusion of her talk is not enough! We need a fuller flavor of the whole talk not a (trivilializing) sound bite (a canape?)

Barbara Rossing's talk available on Trinity Institute's website discusses reading the Bible into the unfinished future in which the earth is God's home that will not be left behind. Taking Moltmann's challenge to adopt ecological economics for the next century, she makes a case for reclaiming the Book of Revelation as a diagnosis of sickness in our world and a vision for healing of this planet. She reframes the discussion not as sin but as illness for which the leaves of the tree of life are for healing. Our unsustainable way of life is coming to an end but not the planet itself.

She does in fact discuss the "Left Behind" series. Revelation is not a count down to the end of this world as novels like the "Left Behind series" imply. The apocalyptic tradition has been hijacked to provide a theology that might be described as "God so loved the world that he sent world-war 3." Armageddon is not the central aspect of Revelation. The "Left Behind" series is fictional in its plot and theology. It is not biblical. In the 19th century when this kind of rapture theology appeared Sojourner Truth critiqued it: "What's nice to come back to a world covered with the ashes of the wicked? If the Lord comes and burns the earth I am going to stay in the fire like Shadrach, Meshach and co. and Jesus will keep me from harm through the fire." Jesus in fact blesses peacemakers and teaches love of enemies.

We need the apocalyptic tradition including the book of Revelation to diagnose "affluenza" (affluence and influenza) in our present western society. We have the disease of More, a disease that is actually idolatrous because its puts us in the role of God. To find healing we need to reclaim the biblical voice of protest. At the heart of Revelation is a prophetic message offering a vision of hope with a sweeping critique of empire and violence against the earth. It has sustained a protest against slavery and against apartheid in South Africa. The word "Apocalypse"means unveiling. When Toto reveals who Oz really is, we see what really is.

What is the truth we need to hear? First Prof. Rossing proposes to go back to the first century and hear the book of Revelation as a call to faithfulness to Jesus, the slain and risen lamb. Hearers are called to an exodus out of empire. The Greek word "ge" means earth. "Kosmos" means world. "Oikoumene" means world and is not the same as the cosmos but actually the imperial world as it is in Luke's account of the census in chapter 2. Revelation says that what will end is "oikoumene," the Roman imperial world and its language of contest and domination. Like Paul, the writer of Revelation says that there will be an end to "eternal Rome." The "ge" will be renewed as God's dwelling place. In Rev 11 God announces "I will destroy the destroyers of the earth" not the earth itself.

What is Revelation's anti-imperial message today? Jesus the slain lamb offers two different political economies of the New Jerusalem and Rome's violence and millitarism. Readers and hearers of Revelation are called to make a choice and come out of the evil empire to God's city of healing and justice. The seven plagues are warnings that work out into the future the danger of the imperial path the empire is taking. Similarly, Scrooge is shown what might happen so that he can amend his life in the present. Chapters 17 and 18 shown the fall of Rome and the horrors of Babylon.

A vision of hope is depicted as the city of the New Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22 with open gates, ecological renewal, and enough for everyone. God is depicted as dwelling among mortals and God's throne is on earth. There is no rapture to heaven. This is the opposite of the toxic economy of the Roman empire listed in Rev. 18 including human slaves. The new economy centers around the tree of life. In the middle of the city is a paradise of green space and a river flowing out from the throne of God and the lamb. The water is freely given for all. The leaves of the tree are medicine for the nations.

Use of the Columbia river water has been much discussed. The Roman Catholic bishops got everyone to agree that this water is the water of life for all of us in the North west.

God's will is not to destroy but to heal is from the leaves of the tree of life. This is a striking image. How can we take to heart this image of the tree of life and the medicinal leaves for the healing of the world including its cities? Warmongering is heating up the planet. Revelation wants to lay on our wounds and the wounds of the world the leaves of the tree of life for healing and downsize our ecological footprint to heal the brokenness of the world.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Concerns and issues about rendering something into another language confronts all readers of the Bible. Especially those reading it in a secondary language. I've been reading "On Translation" by Paul Ricoeur. He says (from George Steiner), "To understand is to translate." Translation, he tells us, follows from two ineluctable features of the human condition: the plurality of natural languages and the ­non-­transparency of the self to others, or even to ­itself. Beyond a reaction of paralysis in response to Babel, he proposes translation so as to overcome: 1) the impossibility of translation and 2) the creation of an ideal artificial and universal language to overcome the deficiencies of natural languages. In communication we have to overcome notions of inadequacy and resenting the necessity of the task (particularly if you are an introvert). Clarity and self understanding are the twin goals of the enterprise.

Any translation of the Bible is a hybrid: a translation and at the same a text in its own right. What of its authority? Richard Whately (1787-1863), Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, held up an Authorized Version to his clergy and said, "Never forget, gentlemen, this is not the Bible!" He continued, "This, gentlemen, is a translation of the Bible!" The preface of the KJV stipulates that "the very meanest translation by people of our profession contains, nay, is the Word of God" just as the King's speech uttered in parliament and translated into Dutch, French, German etc. is still the King's speech.

Rendering the language of God into human speech is an impossible hence fraught undertaking.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Legacy of Molly Ivins

Here's Molly Ivins' last article, "Stand Up Against the Surge" written Jan 11, 2006.

Celebrating the land of Brigid's birth

I took this photo at 6.15am on the shore of Strangford Lough on September 10th 2006. Every morning and evening curlews could be heard along with shore birds coming and going with the tide.

Celebrating St Brigid

Brigid of Ireland—the patron saint of poets, blacksmiths, and healers—was born at Fauchart near Dundalk c.450. She was the daughter of Dubhtach, poet-laureate of King Loeghaire, and his bondmaid Brotsech. Because of the jealousy of Dubhthach’s wife, Brigid and her mother were forced into slavery. She spent her childhood serving the family of a Druid priest performing the burdonsome tasks associated with running a household and a farm. Early in her life she became a Christian. Legend holds that she received baptism from St. Patrick, but this is unlikely. As an adolescent she returned to her father who commanded her to marry. Rather than obeying him, she chose to become a nun receiving the nun’s veil from Bishop Macaile of Westmeath. Afterward, gathering a group of women around her, she founded a nunnery at Kildare (Church of the Oak). Needing to have the sacraments performed, Brigid prevailed upon Conlaed, the leader of a nearby group of anchorites, to receive episcopal consecration and to move with his followers to a site adjacent to the nunnery. This seemingly “mixed house” based upon the Celtic social concept of equality between men and women was unique among Irish religious foundations. Brigid as abbess of Kildare influenced Irish church affairs and headed a network of nunneries as well. Kildare prospered under royal favor in the seventh century becoming one of the most magnificent churches in Ireland during this time. When Brigid died c.525, she was buried alongside Conlaed beneath the altar at Kildare. Three centuries later her body was translated to lie beside the remains of St. Patrick at Downpatrick, one of Ireland's most holy shrines. The shrine was despoiled during the Reformation and its relics dispersed.

Her first biographer Cogitosus writing c.650 attributed to her a number of miracles. Later “lives” added to these miracle stories. Her childhood miracles were associated with the multiplication of food such as providing butter for the poor. As abbess, with the assistance of angels, she caused cows to give milk three times the same day to enable visiting bishops to have enough to drink. Brigid was also credited with taming a wolf at the request of a local chieftain whose pet dog had been killed accidentally by a peasant.

Brigid’s cult spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and as Irish monks wandered throughout England, Wales, and the Continent, they carried Brigid’s cult into those areas as well. In England at least ninenteen churches were dedicated to her, most notably St. Bride's Church on Fleet Street in London. Brigid is still venerated in Alsace, Belgium, and Portugal. Writing in the late twelfth century, Gerald of Wales noted a feature of her cult he witnessed on a visit to Kildare in 1186. There, a sacred fire maintained daily by twenty nuns (nineteen, after Brigid's death) burned continuously. The walls of the firehouse remained on the hill by the abbey church until the eighteenth century. Today, only the foundations remain.

One of Ireland’s most beloved saints, Brigid is known as the “Mary of the Gael.” She is most noted for her compassion to others, especially to victims of violence, the impoverished, and lepers. On one occasion she gave her father’s sword to a leper. Her father, unaware of her act of charity, became enraged and at a loss to control this daughter who gave away his wealth and possessions.

Plaited crosses fashioned from rushes are associated with Brigid. Her iconography depicts her with a cow lying at her feet. Brigid’s feast day is February 1, long held sacred as Imbolg, the Celtic festival of Spring.

Podcast Conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education

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