Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mary Magdalene and Jesus: a scene of recognition

David Wynne's remarkable depiction of the moment of recognition between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in Ely Cathedral. We were there yesterday. How different it is from the more familiar "Noli me tangere" type!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Barchester Towers

Barchester TowersBarchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Quite enjoyable and worth reading particularly for those of us employed by the Episcopal Church. How much the mores and values of a bygone age govern the plot development is striking: lack of candor or reticence e.g. about the content of Mr Slope's letter to Eleanor on everyone's part forces lengthening of events while people labor under misapprehensions. Clergy are portrayed as having few theological thoughts let alone any of merit. There are no theological discussions recorded and yet different churchmanship drives the actions of several characters. To the male narrator, women are either sirens or widows.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 27, 2010

BBC's most watched programme Top Gear: Three Wise Men Christmas Special

Anyone who hasn't seen Top Gear, the BBC's most popular programme, might consider their Christmas Special in which the three stars follow a route to Bethlehem that vaguely follows that of the three wise men of Christian tradition (not biblical text). The point seems to be to see how well the three cars hold up to the rigours of local roads and desert conditions through Turkey and Syria en route to Bethlehem (spoiler: Richard Hammond in the Fiat seems to hold up best). Interludes at the Sea of Galilee include the serious injury to James May and attempts by James Cameron to appear as "JC" and walk on water. Finally in Bethlehem, they present equivalents of gold, frankincense and myrrh to what looks like a baby in a racing driver suit (but what do I know?)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ABC writes

In case anyone missed it, here is the Archbishop's Christmas message for Radio Times.

The story says that something is happening that will break boundaries and cross frontiers, so that the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead of fearing each other.  There is something here that draws strangers together.  It's what some of the old carols mean by talking about the 'desire of all nations' –as if what human beings really wanted was not revenge, endless cycles of miserable scoring off each other, but being able to stand together in shared astonishment and gratitude – held together not by plans and negotiations but by something quite outside the usual repertoire of human events.  By something just inviting us to recognise we're loved – if we could only stop and see it.
The clutching hand of the baby is, for most of us, something we can't resist.  The Christmas story outrageously suggests that putting our hand into the clutch of a baby may be the most important thing we can ever do as human beings – a real letting-go of aggression and fear and wanting to make an impression and whatever else is going on in us that keeps us tied up in our struggle and violence.
Even more outrageously, the story suggests that this particular baby, the one born in the outhouse, the one who is rescued at the last moment from a village massacre like the ones that happen so regularly in forgotten civil wars today in Congo or Sudan – this baby is the place where the power of the creator of the universe is completely present. And what on earth might it mean to say that the ultimate power in the universe is more like a baby clutching at us in blind trust than it's like the President's bullet-proof motorcade?
Well, all that is to go a bit beyond the story itself, of course.  Christians believe it and not everyone else does.  But it still ought to make us think.  The fact that this story of defenceless love - even when it's wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy-dress of Christmas as it's developed over the centuries - touches something universal is at the very least a fact that should make us think twice about giving up on the human heart's capacity for goodness and faith, however deeply buried.  One-horse open sleighs in South India may be surreal all right; but surreal things can connect us with some surprising realities. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Something Not Understood (alas)

Yesterday's Radio 4 programme at 6.00am, Something Understood was on the Nativity Stories. Given the description, you can see why I would be interested:

Mark Tully considers the symbolism and meaning of the traditional nativity stories and asks what they can offer us in a contemporary context.

Alas, nothing of the gospel nativity stories was explained or analyzed. Instead we got general remarks from the eminent historian Prof Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Yes, we heard some beautiful music and some lovely poetry. But by the end of the programme, I don't think we understood anything about distinctions between Matthew and Luke and divergences amongst sources like the Protevangelion of James and the synoptic gospels. So there's plenty of opportunity to do another programme on the same topic!
Q. What's a dyslexic agnostic insomniac?
A. Someone who lies awake all night wondering if there really is a dog.

(borrowed from A Word A Day)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

White Light Festival for Episcopal Cafe

Here's my post for Episcopal Cafe on the first White Light Festival at Lincoln Center in NYC. There are listening links for readers to get a sense of the sounds and events. The piece has been picked up by a College Sports blog. And it will soon be posted here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Anselm Kiefer at the Gagosian until Dec 18th (Tu-Sat 10-6.00pm)

This extraordinary exhibit is well worth braving the cold arctic air that whips around the corner of 24th Street and 10th Avenue in Chelsea today. Want to see images of the Shechina or Jacob's Ladder or Valentinus for that matter? Kiefer shows post war mythology and religious symbolism mixed up together and served in grey and white.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fear Not Blog (from the Huntsville Times)

The Fear Not Blog from the Huntsville Times for Dec 8th was on bible translations, particularly the new Common English Bible (only the NT is finished so far).

The Common English Bible is the newest completely fresh translation from the best available historical texts. Being completed by a consortium of 115 biblical scholars and more than 500 readers in six countries from 22 Protestant, Catholic and Jewish congregations, the New Testament portion has been released, with the complete Bible, including the Apocrypha, due out in Fall 2011.
Edited for both accuracy and readability and supported by the presses of the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, the new texts will include maps from the National Geographic Society. See a full description along with a handy comparison chart of all English translations and paraphrases at
I'm trying it out and so far I like it. More serious comments in the New Year!
Today at 8.00pm is the first performance of Missa Brevis for the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Muslim Jesus

In this week's New Statesman, Mehdi Hasan examines The Muslim Jesus, in which

"the former Cambridge professor of Arabic and Islamic studies Tarif Khalidi brings together, from a vast range of sources, 303 stories, sayings and traditions of Jesus that can be found in Muslim literature, from the earliest centuries of Islamic history. These paint a picture of Christ not dissimilar to the Christ of the Gospels. The Muslim Jesus is the patron saint of asceticism, the lord of nature, a miracle worker, a healer, a moral, spiritual and social role model."

“Jesus used to eat the leaves of the trees," reads one saying, "dress in hairshirts, and sleep wherever night found him. He had no child who might die, no house which might fall into ruin; nor did he save his lunch for his dinner or his dinner for his lunch. He used to say, 'Each day brings with it its own sustenance.'"
According to Islamic theology, Christ did not bring a new revealed law, or reform an earlier law, but introduced a new path or way (tariqah) based on the love of God; it is perhaps for this reason that he has been adopted by the mystics, or Sufis, of Islam. The Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali described Jesus as "the prophet of the soul" and the Sufi master Ibn Arabi called him "the seal of saints". The Jesus of Islamic Sufism, as Khalidi notes, is a figure "not easily distinguished" from the Jesus of the Gospels.
Mehdi Hasan asks why Tarif Khaladi writes such a provocative book:
 "We need to be reminded of a history that told a very different story: how one religion, Islam, co-opted Jesus into its own spirituality yet still maintained him as an independent hero of the struggle between the spirit and the letter of the law," he told me. "It is in many ways a remarkable story of religious encounter, of one religion fortifying its own piety by adopting and cherishing the master spiritual narrative of another religion."
My question is why the New Statesman has now noticed a 2003 book and at this time of year. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An Original Manuscript (not of the New Testament but) of A Christmas Carol

I love to go to the Pierpont Morgan Library at this time of year to gaze at the original manuscript of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, one page at a time. Somehow I missed the fact that last year the entire manuscript had been digitized! Here it is.

We have nothing resembling an original manuscript or papyrus fragment of the New Testament. Instead we have hundreds of copies of the text. And translations that give an unwary reader the impression that there is such a thing as a rendering of the original text.

So it is wonderful to see something entirely different: an original manuscript. And now I do not have to go to the Morgan each year to see a different page. I can examine at my leisure the first full-length novel by Charles Dickens. Look, for example at the paragraph in the final stave describing the transformation of Scrooge: there's hardly an addition or deletion in the dialogue. It is as if Dickens had the clearest idea of the language of Scrooge's transformation.

Our promotional videos for Studying the New Testament!

And there are more on our book page...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Another review of _Starting NT Study_ (SPCK)

STARTING NEW TESTAMENT STUDY: LEARNING AND DOING reviewed by Stephen R. White (Church of Ireland Gazette, June 18th, 2010)
Authors: Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good
Publisher: SPCK; pp.174

THE AUTHORS of this relatively slender volume have achieved the remarkable and commendable task of making a textbook interesting. In four short sections, they provide, first, an overview of the social and cultural settings of Jesus and the New Testament and, second, an introduction to Paul and his letters, the Gospels and the Catholic epistles and apocalyptic writings.

In each section, the authors outline the received critical opinions on the various books as to such things as date and provenance, but they also take note of any academically-respected variant opinions. The theology of each author is deftly - if necessarily briefly sketched out and each section concludes with a useful series of questions and exercises.
The volume would provide an ideal introduction for anyone new to the field of New Testament studies; even for those who may be generally familiar with the material, it provides a stimulating and rewarding refresher course.
Furthermore, the style, which is immensely readable, makes the academic content thoroughly accessible to the specialist and non-specialist alike. The book is well equipped with the usual academic apparatus. Each section contains a substantial bibliography of further reading and there is a useful glossary and detailed index at the end of the book.

An excellent book for students of theology, as well as a worthwhile read for anyone who simply wants to discover more about the background to, and content of, the New Testament
Stephen R. White

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cleopatra with Profs Catharine Edwards and Maria Wyke

This week's In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) discusses Cleopatra with Catharine Edwards, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London and Susan Walker, Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.

Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies, the successors of Alexander in Egypt. She was born into an impoverished country. Ancient sources note that she had a good education, noted by ancient Roman sources. She could speak Egyptian. Her father died when she was 17. Unfortunately, there are very few Egyptian sources informing us about her. What we know comes from antagonistic Roman sources. Octavian, her vanquisher at the battle of Actium, constructs a narrative about her that frames the events as a primal battle: Rome against the East; man against woman. This approach characterizes subsequent histories. It is remarkable that any account of her abilities has survived Roman propaganda. 

Another review of Starting NT Study (SPCK)

Here's a review of Starting New Testament Study from thegoodbookstall (UK). Thanks, Chris Moore! There's also a podcast of the review at the end. Here's how it begins:

New Testament introductions abound, with many publishing houses feeling the need to add to their number. This book, is noteworthy both for its brevity and also its approach.
The book is split into four chapters which follow two introductions: the first dealing with issues of critical methods and their impact on interpretations; and the second looking at dictionaries, translations, commentaries and websites.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Rare Interview with Alan Bennett

Today's Guardian book podcast has an interview with Alexandra Harris whose book Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper has just won the Guardian first book award. And there is a rare interview with Alan Bennett which is quite wonderful. His memoir A Life Like Other People's was published earlier this year to great acclaim. He discusses his eighteen year old partnership with Rupert Thomas and how they moved in together after he was diagnosed with cancer. He mentions his working class background and his political affiliations (to the left of the Labour Party). History Boys is perhaps his biggest success. It has a definite trajectory of admission to Oxford or Cambridge and draws people into the characters. He talks about his writing: never underestimate the importance of the will in writing, he says. He writes every day. "You've got to do it or you'll get nowhere." 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christian-Muslim Dialogue on Mary/Maryam at Vanderbilt

On December 11th, an interfaith panel from 6.30-8.00pm will compare how the two religious traditions perceive Mary/Maryam. The forum is titled “Recollecting Maryam: An Inter-textual Encounter with Mary in the Biblical and Quranic Traditions.”

The moderator will be the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, founder of Abrahamic Reunion West, which is committed to healing the global dysfunction between Muslims and Christians.
Participating will be:
From the Catholic tradition: Robin Jensen, Luce Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, Vanderbilt University.
From the Muslim tradition: Tayyibah Taylor, founding editor-in-chief and publisher of Azizah Magazine, a publication that provides a vehicle for the voice of Muslim American women.
From the Protestant tradition: Melanie Trexler, Ph.D. candidate in theological and religious studies, specializing in Christian-Muslim dialogue and comparative theology, Georgetown University.
The program is sponsored by The Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt and the Scarritt-Bennett Center. 
For more details, click here

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World Aids Day

On World Aids Day, Sir Elton John opines in the Independent (which he is guest editing for a day) that he is heartened by hope:
I'm heartened by the recent statistics from UNAIDS that tell a promising story – 5 million people on treatment and a 25 per cent drop in new infections across the worst-affected countries since 2001. I'm motivated by the progress that Aids has quite unintentionally moved forward, rather than the destruction it has left in its wake.

Human ingenuity, he says, has wrought changes:
When it struck the gay community with such ferocity, Aids galvanised gay men not only to demand medical treatment as patients, but also equal treatment as human beings. When religious leaders and moral crusaders declared it to be "God's judgment", brave and unlikely champions such as Princess Diana and Ryan White emerged to challenge the prejudices and taboos that lived in the hearts of millions. And when epidemics claimed the lives of millions of nurses, teachers, miners, and soldiers, an army of ordinary people proved to be much stronger, building networks, raising funds, and opening their hearts to the sick and their homes to the orphaned.

In the meantime, we can and must speak out against religious and social bigotry keeping Aids alive. 

There are plenty of ways to observe World Aids Day in NYC. Lights on the Washington Square Park Memorial Arch will be switched off during a "Light for Rights" media event from 5:30  p.m. to 6:30  p.m to remember those who  have died of AIDS.  Fifth Ave. at Washington Square Park North.) 

Speaker Christine Quinn and actor Stockard Channing will speak. There also will be a performance by the Broadway Inspirational Voices choir. The lights will then be turned back on to emphasize human rights for those living with HIV/AIDS. 

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...