Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bible Storytelling

Last Saturday at the seminary, a workshop for tri-state area deacons, "Leading Bible Study" took place. Through an extraordinary chain of events, Thelma Ruffin Thomas and her colleague Joyce Parr led the morning part of the workshop. It wasn't planned that way but it was much, much better!

I had gone to my office at 9.15 to collect handouts for the workshop at 10.00am. The student worker setting up the coffee and tea came into my office in considerable distress because these supplies and even the coffee pot were not where he'd left them the previous night! "Perhaps they've gone walkabout," I suggested, adding, "I'll call the front desk to see if they know."

"Yes," said the desk person on the other end of the phone, "I think X is setting up coffee and tea right now for a different workshop, and she might know about your supplies." Indeed she did. And she was sure that some kind person had laid them out for her the night before!

After that, it was a simple matter of getting the deacons to the coffee and tea. Or getting the coffee and tea to the deacons. And then I wandered over to see Thelma setting up for the other workshop: "Biblical Storytelling." Internalizing the biblical story so as to tell it authentically was exactly what I'd wanted to spend the first part of the workshop for deacons doing. Turns out that getting the coffee and tea and deacons together was just the beginning of the fusion. The next part unfolded so that "Biblical Storytelling" blended with "Leading Bible Study" and the deacons got the blessings of Thelma, Joyce, and the other workshop leader and participants!

Thelma and Joyce told biblical stories through movement and music. First, Thelma used a rain stick whose sounds created an aura of expectation. Then she did a rap of the gospel passage in the voice of Peter seeing a ghost and then walking to Jesus on the water. When it was over, she asked what feelings did the story evoke? And we were off into the world of multiple meanings and layers of storytelling in which a spoken, living gospel unfolds in the hearts and minds of hearers.

So when we got to the afternoon session to discuss leading bible study, we were primed with living, breathing, oral gospel authentically conveying multiple meanings to listeners. We took that into a practice of Anglican Bible Study in which we focused on hearing and respecting each person's application of the gospel to their lives.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Ha Shanah: Prayers, Hopes and Wishes

The BBC reports that twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah, and before Passover (in March/April), the Western Wall has a spring clean.

Thousands - the supervising rabbi says it is millions - of pieces of scrap paper are winkled out of the cracks in the wall, swept into plastic bags, and buried carefully on the Mount of Olives.

On each piece of paper is written a prayer, or a hope, or a wish. Most are scrawled in situ. These days you can also text or email a prayer, which will then be printed and wedged in for you.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today seems like a good time to post pictures from a recent trip to Maine before we see the after effects of a tropical storm and possible hurricane on coastal regions. Weather alerts are for today through early Monday. It was Maine's first hurricane watch in 17 years, the National Weather Service said.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The First Debate +Body Language

It wasn't a debate. Although Jim Lehrer encouraged the candidates to address remarks to each other from the outset, McCain refused. He chose instead to respond directly to Lehrer rather than looking anywhere else. Obama otoh addressed Lehrer, the viewing public via the TV camera, and McCain. When McCain spoke, Obama looked at him. When Obama spoke, McCain looked elsewhere. When McCain critized Obama without looking at him, it was as if he was speaking to himself. So we saw two different body postures: one fixed, one open; one rigid, one flexible. I found it fascinating and I know which I prefer.

Friday, September 26, 2008

MDG's, Financial Crises and the Future

Although this is an unpromising time for countries to pledge support for aid against hunger, poverty, disease and for education, and the track record of converting pledges into actual donations is abysmal, yesterday the NY Times reported that donations from the private sector were forthcoming,

the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made among the largest commitments from a nongovernmental entity. It pledged $168.7 million for fighting malaria and joined with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in a $76 million pledge to help poor farmers win competitive prices for their crops.

The effect of a stalled bailout on the world economy is palpable. E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post clarifies,

The simple truth is that Washington is petrified about this crisis and will pass something. There are dark fears floating through the city that foreign investors, particularly the Chinese, might begin to pull their billions out of our system.

Scarier than the bad mortgages are those unregulated credit default swaps that financier George Soros has been warning about. There are $45 trillion of those esoteric instruments sloshing around the global financial system. They were invented as a hedge against debt defaults, but even the financial smart guys don't fully understand their impact or how to price their real value.

In addition to everyone else, Gordon Brown is in Washington meeting with President Bush on the economic situation saying, "British families would want to know everything possible was being done to secure stability."

Insisting the Bush meeting had a practical purpose, Brown said: "While the problem comes out of America, it has consequences for all of us and every family will want to know that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that there is stability; and that is stability for people's jobs, for people's mortgages, for people's standards of living."

Meantime, have a look at this provocative piece on Daily Episcopalian. And get ready for the debate tonight.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Thursday, September 25 – 7:00 p.m.
A Florence Gould Event


in conversation with Olivier Corpet and Emmanuelle Lambert of IMEC (l’Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine).

Denise Epstein will discuss the work of her mother, Irène Nemirovsky, author of Suite française.

50 years after her mother's death, Denise Epstein discovered and transcribed the first two parts of the remarkable, unfinished five-part novel, Suite française, now a worldwide bestseller.

In French.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Irène Némirovsky: A Daughter's Discovery

With Denise Epstein, daughter of Irène Némirovsky, interviewed by Sandra Smith, Robinson College, Cambridge, U.K.

Thanks to the genorosity of a friend, I got to attend this poignant and moving event. Denise Epstein spoke of her mother as she does here. Why did you never open the suitcase, someone asked. Because it didn't belong to me--I was waiting for its owner to come back, she said. Here's a link to the exhibit open until March 2009.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Church of Sweden celebrates 50 years of women's ordination

At the Museum of Work in NORRKÖPING, Sweden, an exhibit opening today celebrating 50 years of women's ordination.

The exhibition focuses on the personal life story of seven women. In the photo, text, audio tracks, videos and objects told their stories. The exhibition also provides a background to the decision in 1958.

Berättelserna handlar också om prästyrket och hur vardagen kan se ut för till exempel en fängelsepräst, sjukhuspräst, församlingspräst och utlandspräst i New York. Stories are also about the priest profession and how everyday life might look for such as a prison chaplain, hospital chaplain, parish priest and foreign priest in New York.

Among the women depicted in the exhibition are Elisabeth Djurle Olander, who was one of the first three women who were married priests in the Church of Sweden in 1960 and Christina Odenberg which in 1997 became the first woman bishop.

Our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was present and here's an interview she gave today translated from the Swedish.

How Sweden Solved Its Bank Crisis (NY Times)

Who can go through the news of last week's financial crisis without reflection?

Today's NY Times notes: Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

Why not consider something similar here?

A few American commentators have proposed that the United States government extract equity from banks as a price for their rescue. But it does not seem to be under serious consideration yet in the Bush administration or Congress.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mary Beard's new book on Pompeii

Here's a scintillating excerpt from Mary Beard's new book Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Robert McCrumb in the Guardian calls her "the classical world's most provocative figure." Her blog gets over 40,000 hits a day!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Today I met a friend at Cha-An Japanese Tea House for tea. The decor was beautiful and the tea excellent. There's something peaceful about a bamboo interior, rattan floors, lanterns and lowered voices. The colors are quiet. And the absence of clutter is very important. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Citizenship Day Today

Citizenship Day is an important opportunity to remind ourselves and our communities about the rights and responsibilities of being citizens both in the United States and as part of our global community. As citizens, it is our responsibility to become active participants in our democracy, and to make sure that everyone's civil rights are protected. As a fairly new citizen, I have some strong feelings about this!

"You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like [to] not be an American - [to] not have been an American all your life- and then, suddenly, with the words of a man in flowing robes to be one, for that moment and forever after. One moment you belong with fathers to a million dead yesterdays-the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows."-- Naturalized American Citizen George Magar Mardikian, a native of Armenia whowas awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Harry S. Truman for his contributions to his adopted country.

Jesus Spoke Greek

My post on today's Episcopal Cafe, "Jesus Spoke Greek" is here.

Just to situate this discussion in relation to recent scholarship, The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies By John William Rogerson, Judith Lieu, Published by Oxford University Press, 2006 (ISBN 0199254257, 9780199254255) in a chapter "Language and Translation of the New Testament," Stanley E. Porter p. 189 (link here) cites nine passages in a discussion of whether Jesus conversed in Greek, listed in order of increasing probability. Jesus' trial before Pilate, attested in all four gospels, is, according to Prof Porter, the most probable example of Jesus' speaking Greek. My last paragraph tries to draw some conclusions from this material.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kwai Sing Chang, R.I.P.

Kwai Sing Chang was my senior colleague at Agnes Scott College. Here's an obit from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He was everything one wants in a colleague: kind, helpful and generous. Kwai was held in high esteem at Agnes Scott College for his quiet and balanced outlook. He had a great sense of humor. He told me once about being mistaken for a laundry man when he and his wife Miyoko arrived in Decatur.

The paper notes that he recently took to composing haikus.
Dr. Chang composed this haiku in March, and it says he was ready to embrace death:
White and pink dogwoods
Impatiently, eagerly
Wait to bloom and fall

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Went to the Met Museum today with a house guest to see the J. M. W. Turner Exhibit. Here's an example:
The Angel Standing in the Sun exhibited 1846
Oil on canvas
support: 787 x 787 mm frame: 942 x 942 x 73 mm

In the foreground are Old Testament scenes of murder and betrayal: Adam and Eve weeps over the body of Abel (left), and Judith stands over the headless body of Holofernes (right).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin & the Clarence Thomas Factor by Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, has written "Sarah Palin and the Clarence Thomas Factor" for Religion Dispatches. It's a great piece.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Muslims and Mary

Tina Beattie in this week's Tablet, reports on working at Lourdes:

This year, I worked as a volunteer for an afternoon at the baths. It felt like taking part in a carefully choreographed ballet, as we coordinated our movements to ensure that the woman going through the water was held and comforted, that her dignity was assured and her prayers were assisted. I had a sense of the world's women flowing through my hands, so much vulnerability, so much diversity, so much trust. I heard no prayers for miraculous healings. I just heard wave upon wave of prayers for support, for courage, for understanding, for loved ones, for children, for husbands, for hope. Again, I had that sense of an immense maternal presence, holding, consoling, being there for all of us.

Afterwards, as we were putting on our outdoor clothes, I spoke to the woman I'd been on duty with. I asked her what parish she came from in the UK. She smiled. "I don't have a parish. I'm a Muslim," she said. She had visited Lourdes when her son was ill, and she had been going back ever since. She explained that Mary is honoured by Muslims, and she had no difficulty taking part in the ritual of the baths. Liminality can create spaces of human encounter and recognition by which we see beyond the confines of our daily lives, and discover different ways of being together across the boundaries.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française

Woman of Letters at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (opening September 24) tells the remarkable story of a writer driven to create, of a mother and her daughters, of memory and identity, of legacy and loss. A Russian-born Jewish author, Irène Némirovsky quickly rose to literary celebrity in her adopted France. But her fame and accomplishment, and even her conversion to Catholicism, were not enough to save her when war came; she was deported to Auschwitz in 1942. Among the few items that she left behind was a valise that contained a leather notebook. Haunted by painful memories, her daughters avoided opening it until Denise read it more than fifty years after their mother’s death. She discovered not a diary, but a major literary work: the first two parts of an unfinished five-part novel, Suite Française. The exhibition illustrates Némirovsky’s life and her extraordinary literary gift to the world with stunning and heartbreaking artifacts, including the original manuscript and the valise, never before exhibited.
The LGBT Religious Archives Network (LGBT-RAN) invites submissions for its fourth annual LGBT Religious History Award. The submissions deadline is October 17, 2008. Complete details on this award for papers can be found at:


This award honors outstanding scholarship in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender religious history. It is part of LGBT-RAN's effort to promote scholarship in this emerging field of study. Questions about this award may be directed to Mark Bowman at mbowman@lgbtran.org.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Jesus' Blood Never Fails Me Yet

Gavin Bryars: Jesus' Blood (1971) is remarkable. This is ostensibly the story of its provenance.

American Experience: Roberto Clemente wins ALMA prize

Bernardo Ruiz's Documentary for PBS American Experience: Roberto Clemente was awarded the ALMA prize by the Latino Media of the US NCLR (National Council of La Raza) for best documentary depicting a Latino nationwide. The awards ceremony will be broadcast Friday Sept 12 on ABC at 8pm.

From the interview:

What do you hope audiences will take away from your film?

I hope that people walk away with a deeper sense of the man. I think we've made a very unusual film. It's an historical film on one level but it's also a deeply spiritual film. Clemente was a deeply committed activist and humanitarian, and I hope people take that aspect of his legacy and walk away with an understanding of what's possible.

I also hope it opens up the space for more Latino biographies, and more stories for people who are both of this country and not of this country. I think that's an increasingly important story: people who could be considered immigrant in some light, people who are of many cultures.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sometimes, you see things you can hardly believe you are seeing....and everyone else has things to say about it too. And you want to savor the moments before tomorrow's final, because tomorrow is another day and this day's triumph was thrilling!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Is this really the way to find great new books?

authonomy is a brand new community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins. We want to flush out the brightest, freshest new literature around...(hat tip to FT.com). I think its more likely to be agents followed by targeted promotion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jesus and Empathy

Trinity Wall Street devotes an issue of their magazine to empathy and here is a piece on Jesus and Empathy by yours truly:

In the central section of Mark’s gospel, Mark presents Jesus’ collective identity three times as the suffering Son of Man whom true disciples imitate by following and taking up their crosses. Three times they misunderstand, and each time they are corrected.

As a counterpoint to this teaching, Jesus encounters a rich man whose possessions impede progress towards the kingdom. In response to his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus lists the commandments including the injunction not to defraud. The young man declares that he has kept all these things from his youth. Then the narrative records, “Jesus, looking intently at him, loved him and said, ‘Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.’” Jesus’ additional demand is not a dismissive trap but stems instead from a deep desire to free the man from “the cares of the world and the delight in riches which enter in like thorns and choke the word.” (Mark 4:19)

Jesus perceives, both narratively and personally, the impossible challenge his words pose. And his perception proves correct: at Jesus’ word, the man’s face fell, and he went away grieving, for he was unwilling to give up his many possessions. Jesus’ reaction empathizes with the rich man’s plight. He does not judge.

Other articles are excellent.

Ipse dixit

TLS Letters to the Editor Sept 3, 2008
Alastair Sim

Sir, – It would be a shame if the last words on Alastair Sim to appear in your pages should be corroded by the scope of the biography under review (Mark Simpson’s Alastair Sim, reviewed by Anthony Head, Biography in Brief, August 22 & 29). The clowning, albeit of a rare order, which he displayed in the St Trinian’s films, did not convey his range or qualities. His last small, but important, part was in the film we made of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, in which he played Peter O’Toole’s uncle, a character whom I confected to be one of Chamberlain’s less loyal Cabinet ministers. Sim was evidently dying at the time (his wife was always there to minister to him) but he made nothing of his distress: he was punctual, correct and unfailingly droll. O’Toole and John Standing treated him with unaffected deference. I had written one rather louche line in his dialogue which he asked, politely, to be allowed to excise: “It’s a little . . . young for me”. There was about him, for all his playful shamelessness, an unassuming pudeur. His timing was beyond prediction, or criticism; he made his lines both funnier and more true than I had imagined them.

Lagardelle, 24170 St Laurent-la-Vallée, France.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ellen Goodman in today's Boston Globe

Ellen Goodman in today's Boston Globe hits the nail on the head (hat tip to a friend):

I agree that candidates' families are off limits, but we can surely ask about this kind of thing:

As for the candidate as mother, is it beyond the pale to wonder whether Sarah Palin and her husband should have thought first of shielding their daughter from a media lens that they know will focus on the baby bump and a marriage that will take place during a national campaign?

Watch this space (as they say in the UK) or "stay tuned" to this issue.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Acorn falls. Who hears?
The rippleless tide? the fog?
Summer goes. Who heard?

Haiku by Paul Mazur

Households in Pompeii (Talk by Penelope Allison)

On Friday September 19th Penelope Allison (University of Leicester) will give a talk entitled:

"Investigating household practices: Pompeian case studies" in the 5th Floor Conference Room of the Italian Academy at Columbia University.

For more information about the talk, contact Zoe Smith (email: zms2102@columbia.edu)

501 Italian Academy
1161 Amsterdam Ave

New York, NY 10027

Here's more info about Pompeii.

Podcast Conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education

 Just thrilled that our podcast conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education are available here: https://podcast...