Friday, December 26, 2014

Yes, the Pope did issue "a blistering critique" to the Curia

Did the Pope issue a "blistering critique" of the Curia? Yes says RNS writer Josephine McKenna. But Dawn Eden of "Get Religion" doesn't think so. She cites a read of the Papal statement in Zenit and another by Rocco Palmo who notes that the Pope began by a call for forgiveness and concludes with a statement that the critique could be aimed at all Catholics.

You be the judge. We need the Italian text from the Vatican first. Here is the English version also from the Vatican.

The text addresses: "Cari fratelli..." that is "Dear Brothers" hence intended for the Curia not for all Catholics although of course the papal address has been widely read. "Fratelli, brothers" i.e. Cardinals is repeated at the conclusion. I thus disagree with Rocco Palmo's reading: the admonition is addressed to the immediate audience.

An opening paragraph states that the Curia is called to improve to fully realize its mission. Yet like every human body it is exposed to "malattie, al malfunzionamento, all'infermita." This is rendered as "sickness, malfunction and infirmity" in the Vatican English version. But the Italian uses stronger language: "disease, malfunction and infirmity." In fact where the Italian word repeats the word "disease" as in "Curial diseases, malattie curiale," and "diseases more frequent in the life of the Curia," the English translation consistently prefers the less forceful "Curial illnesses" or "ailments."

Since the body of the address identifies the 15 spiritual conditions, it is important to know how to designate the Italian "malatia or malattie." The English text uses "ailment" or "illness" except in four cases: Spiritual Alzheimer's disease; the disease of indifference, accumulation, worldly profit and exhibitionism. The Italian uses the same word all the way through. My judgement is that the English has weakened the Italian.

The English translation omits considerable text. Here is the the first disease:
The first is “the sickness of considering oneself 'immortal', 'immune' or 'indispensable', neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.

But the Italian is more detailed and contains descriptions and even diagnoses of pathologies:

1. La malattia del sentirsi “immortale”, “immune” o addirittura “indispensabile”, trascurando i necessari e abituali controlli. Una Curia che non si autocritica, che non si aggiorna, che non cerca di migliorarsi è un corpo infermo. Un’ordinaria visita ai cimiteri ci potrebbe aiutare a vedere i nomi di tante persone, delle quale alcuni forse pensavano di essere immortali, immuni e indispensabili! È la malattia del ricco stolto del Vangelo che pensava di vivere eternamente (cfrLc 12,13-21), e anche di coloro che si trasformano in padroni e si sentono superiori a tutti e non al servizio di tutti. Essa deriva spesso dalla patologia del potere, dal “complesso degli Eletti”, dal narcisismo che guarda appassionatamente la propria immagine e non vede l’immagine di Dio impressa sul volto degli altri, specialmente dei più deboli e bisognosi[8]. L’antidoto a questa epidemia è la grazia di sentirci peccatori e di dire con tutto il cuore: «Siamo servi inutili. Abbiamo fatto quanto dovevamo fare» (Lc 17,10).

The missing text could be rendered into English thus: It is the disease of those who become masters and who feel superior and not at the service of all. It often stems from the pathology of power, the "complex of the Chosen," the narcissism that looks passionately at its own image and does not see the image of God stamped on the face of others, especially the weak and needy. The antidote to this epidemic is to feel as sinners and say with all the heart, "We are unprofitable servants, we did what we had to do" (Luke 17:10).

The English translation of Curial disease #3 omits the connection of Christians to the humility, selflessness, detachment and generosity as seen the mind of Christ in the description of Philippians 2.

Narcissism is something about which Pope Francis has had a good deal to say. In 2013 in an interview he spoke of it:

However, as we said, Jesus told us that love for one's neighbor is equal to what we have for ourselves. So what many call narcissism is recognized as valid, positive, to the same extent as the other. We've talked a lot about this aspect.

"I don't like the word narcissism", the Pope said, "it indicates an excessive love for oneself and this is not good, it can produce serious damage not only to the soul of those affected but also in relationship with others, with the society in which one lives. The real trouble is that those most affected by this  -  which is actually a kind of mental disorder  -  are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists".

Many church leaders have been."You know what I think about this? Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."

On another occasion Pope Francis described narcissism as an "ecclesiastical sickness:"

"The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre. A good theologian and philosopher is open, or incomplete in thought, always open to the ‘maius’ of God and of the truth, always in development. And the theologian who does not pray or does not adore God ends up sinking into the most repugnant narcissism. And this is an ecclesiastical sickness. Narcissism in theologians and in thinkers is harmful and repugnant.”

It is clear that Pope Francis has given much thought to the ecclesiastical disease of narcissism. It is clear that the Italian text describing diseases in several cases contains more details than the official English text and in the first disease a diagnosis of narcissism. To omit this element of his address is to miss the continuity and development of his thought.

Vatican insiders think the Pope's address was unique. Cardinal Lajolo, the former Vatican governor and foreign minister expresses surprise and says

To be honest, nothing like this has ever happened before'. 'It is the first time this has happened; never before had a Pope set us in the Curia a series of pathologies that we must examine ourselves on.' 
All along, says the cardinal who has been head of some of the most important offices of the Holy See for many years,  'the exchange of Christmas wishes has been a customary occasion, that follows a usual pattern'.

Lajolo points out that for the first time the Pope asks the Curia to examine itself on a number of issues.

In the Pope's address to the Curia we are indeed seeing a strongly worded diagnosis, and critique calling for healing. The force of the Pope's address can be seen in a "tepid reaction" of the assembled Curia in this video from France 24 at 56-59 seconds here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Judaism and Jesus

On Point with Amy-Jill Levine and James Carroll on the topic of Judaism and Jesus

Along the way Amy-Jill Levine talks about her new book mentioned below and comes up with provocative titles for parables/stories like that of the Good Samaritan: "the Good Rapist," for example.

James Carroll, scholar in residence at Suffolk University. Author of the new book “Christ Actually: The Song of God for the Secular Age.” Also author of “Constantine’s Sword,” “Toward a New Catholic Church” and “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” among others. Columnist at the Boston Globe.
Amy-Jill Levine, professor of the New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. Author of “Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi.” Also author of “The Misunderstood Jew.”

Saturday, October 04, 2014

On Shadows & Realities in Education: Plato's Republic Book 7

    Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open toward the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette-players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
    [Glaucon] I see.
    And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
    You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
    Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
    True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
    And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
    Yes, he said.
    And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
    Very true.
    And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
    No question, he replied.
    To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

Alexander the Great ISAW October 8 2014-January 4th 2015

5 East 84th St.
New York, NY 10028

Saturday, July 19, 2014

UCL: Centre for Editing Lives and Letters: Archaeology of Reading

News from the UCL Centre for Editing Lives and Letters is that they have received a grant from the Mellen Foundation to explore the archaeology of reading through the marginalia or annotations of early printed materials. Through this uncatalogued data we get access to a history of reading.

In partnership with the Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries and the Princeton University Library, the project builds upon several decades of humanistic research that has focused upon the printing revolution of the sixteenth century, and the widespread practice by active readers of leaving often dense, interpretive manuscript annotations in the margins, and between the lines, of the books they read. This diverse evidence of annotation provides a considerable range of unique and largely untapped research materials, which reveal that readers—much as users of the internet today—adapted quickly to the technology of print: interacting intimately, dynamically, socially, and even virtually with texts.
The history of reading remains a rich area for research, as scholars seek to better understand these reading habits and strategies, though it has remained a particularly daunting task when conducted in a purely analogue context, particularly with books that literally contain thousands of notes.

Alison Flood in the Guardian notes that the project will start with the works of Gabriel Harvey.

In his copy of Livy's history of Rome, the Elizabethan scholar Gabriel Harvey paused to write a note in the margin about how he read the text in the company of Philip Sidney, and how the two had "scrutinis[ed it] so far as we could from all points of view, applying a political analysis, just before his embassy to the emperor Rudolf II".

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On translating IOUDAIOS

Adele Reinhartz writes a piece on "The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity" in Marginalia for the LA Times Book Review (6/24).

She raises questions about the way in which many scholars now render IOUDAIOI as "Judeans." Where formerly scholars including those who translated the Bible once rendered ioudaios/ioudaioi as “Jew/Jews,” since 2007, now these terms are rendered “Judaean/Judaeans.” The argument of scholars like Steve Mason is that the category “Judaean” is a more precise and ethical because in the first place it corresponds to the complex meaning of ioudaios in ancient sources and second, that is counteracts the anti-Semitism historically associated with some of these Greek texts, particularly the New Testament.  

The latter is forcefully argued by Danker in the entry for Ioudaios in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) third edition (478a-b):

“Incalculable harm has been caused by simply glossing ioudaios with “Jew,”  for many readers or auditors of Bible translations do not practice the historical judgement necessary to distinguish between circumstances and events of ancient time and contemporary ethnic religious social realities, with the result that anti-Judaism in the modern sense of the term is needlessly fostered through biblical texts.”

Prof Reinhardt’s then focuses on the rendering of the term in the gospel of John.  She says, “despite some neutral or even positive occurrences, the Ioudaioi figure most prominently as the opponents of Jesus, who’s lying and murderous conspiracy to have crucified demonstrates that they are children of the devil (John 8:44).”  And she notes that “the potent association between these figures and the devil remains deeply embedded in anti-Semitic discourse to this day.”

Rendering Ioudaioi by “Judeans” is a way of making adherents to the laws of Moses in the Hellenistic world e.g. Jews in the gospel of John invisible. And it exonerates the author of the gospel of John from any role in the history of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

She argues that “the term Jew is more precise because it signals the complex type of identity that the ancient sources associate with the Greek term and also because it allows Judaean to retain its primary meaning as a geographical designation useful when discussing the inhabitants or topography of Judaea.”   That term is more ethical “because it acknowledges the Jewish connection to this period of history and these ancient texts and because it opens up the necessity of confronting the role of the New Testament in the history of anti-Semiticism.” 

Let the debate continue!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mellon Lectures 2014

2014 Mellon Lectures recorded here
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University. In this six-part lecture series entitled Past Belief: Visions of Early Christianity in Renaissance and Reformation Europe, Anthony Grafton focuses on the efforts of artists and scholars to recreate the early history of Christianity in a period of crisis in the church from the 15th to the 17th century. In this sixth lecture, entitled “Constantine and Conversion: The Roles of the First Christian Emperor,” originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on May 11, 2014, Professor Grafton argues that in their retelling of the dramatic and exemplary life of Constantine, scholars and artists forged new forensic, historical, and multidisciplinary approaches. They used philological and antiquarian evidence to unpack a layered and incoherent body of evidence that exposed the apocryphal legends of what has been called an “inherited conglomerate.” Protestant and Catholic writers concurred in their assessment that Constantine’s reign marked a radical transformation of art and religion and was thus a historical moment of great consequence—yet one or two began to see Constantine in less dramatic terms, as the human, political figure that he was. The erudition and imagination of these scholars and artists in the early modern period produced sophisticated and acute views of the early church, from which we can still profit today.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Mary & Jesus in the Garden" my talk at St Bartholomew's Church, March 21, 2014

Deirdre Good, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at General Seminary presented a multimedia examination at St Bartholomew's Church on March 21st 2014 in mid-town Manhattan on the theme of “Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the Garden” in text, art, and music. I am so glad to be able to hear the interaction amongst all of those who were present!  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Making the case for Biblical Languages in seminary curricula

There's a wonderful blog post (in an excellent blog Seminarium) making the case for required biblical languages in seminary curricula.

I particularly like this paragraph:

But seminaries prepare ministers, not scholars…

Excellent point. In fact, I believe neglecting this point is the primary issue in our approach to teaching biblical languages. Often, a Hebrew or Greek class is oriented towards the would-be scholar—even if most of the students are preparing for ministry. The language geeks do well but most walk away with a mere passing grade and the unintended lesson that the Bible “isn’t really their thing.” In the worst-case scenario, capable, called, and conscientious would-be pastors are held back because they can’t memorize the aorist passive participle plural paradigm.
What if biblical language courses were realigned towards the knowledge and skills that ministers need? Lesson plans that integrate exegetical practices, homiletical cues, and theological interpretations are not only more effective pedagogically but also more useful in the long run. Effective ministers need not be able to cold translate a random passage but they should be able to help their hearers make interpretive leaps between our culture and the ancient world. Do we test our students on the intricacies of recognizing a jussive versus an imperfect, or on how this distinction has played a key role in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy? What I’m describing are language classes that help seminarians discern their orientation towards Bible.
At General Seminary we offer two years of elective biblical language instruction in Greek and Hebrew and occasionally we offer Syriac and Coptic. We include material from the early patristic period and continue to the creeds. Of special interest is the LXX, the Bible of the early Christian communities. Focus on the LXX can be integrated into classroom discussion through the topic When God Spoke Greek (see the review of Timothy Michael Law's excellent 2013 book with that title in the LA Review of Books here). Everyone of course has the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) online.  The great benefit of this kind of focus is that we can broaden our knowledge of the early Christian tradition. And continued use of the LXX in Orthodox Christian traditions opens up a fruitful dialogue with Eastern Christian traditions today. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"What if Arianism Had Won?" Diarmaid McCullough 4th lecture in Princeton in Europe series

Gospel of Thomas critical edition by Uwe-Karsten Plisch on sale

We have acquired more copies of this critical edition of the Gospel of Thomas and are offering it at over 70% off. See details below for more information on this helpful resource.
All of our Markdowns can be viewed Here
We also also many new arrivals of used books in the area of New Testament. View them Here

Plisch, Uwe-Karsten
Gospel of Thomas: Original Text with Commentary
(Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2008)
Hardcover List: $69.95 Your Price: $19.99
Add to Cart

The Gospel of Thomas, a collection of words of Jesus, is one of the most significant extrabiblical texts of the early Christian era. This edition presents the texts in the classical languages and provides an English translation and a readily readable commentary.

It includes:

- an introduction to the Gospel of Thomas - the complete Coptic text
- the text of the Greek fragments and a Greek retranslation of all logia with parallel texts from the canonic gospels
- an English translation - an extensive commentary
- illustrations of the Coptic manuscript
- an appendix with an index and bibliography The introduction and commentary do not assume knowledge of the classical languages, making The Gospel of Thomas accessible to a broad audience.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Baptism at Ephesus?

There is now some scholarly consensus that 1 Timothy 6 alludes to baptism at Ephesus.

1Tim. 6:11 But as for you (Timothy), man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession [AORIST tense indicates a specific event--Timothy's baptism?] in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 

Here we have a possible allusion to Timothy's Baptism including confession and commitment. Since 1 Tim was written in Ephesus, we have here evidence of baptism at Ephesus maybe in the Baptistry of the Basilica of St John. The "presence of many witnesses" may include the congregation at Ephesus. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Erich Gruen April 10th "Christians & Jews in the Age of Nero" Live streamed

2014 Divinity-Classics Lecture

Erich S. Gruen, U.C., Berkeley
Introduction by John J. Collins
    Yale Divinity School
                      Thursday, April 10, 2014 6:00pm
                       Linsly Chittenden Hall, (LC-101), 63 High Street
This lecture is free and open to the public.
Reception to follow.
The lecture takes as its starting point the arrival of Paul in Rome. It attempts toreconstruct the atmosphere for Jews and Christians in Neronian Rome at that point, toconsider the attitude of the Roman government toward them, to discern their relationswith one another, and to ask what Paul might have anticipated when he chose to appealto the emperor and present his case before the imperial throne.
Erich S. Gruen is the Gladys Rehard Wood Professor Emeritus at U.C., Berkeley. His most recent books include,Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans (Harvard University Press) and Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (PrincetonUniversity Press). For more information about Professor Emeritus Gruen,
John J. Collins is the Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School.
The lecture will be livestreamed at
Sponsored by Yale University’s Divinity School,
Department of Classics, and Judaic Studies Program.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Inside & Out--Ordained Women Embodying the Paradox of Servanthood & Authority April 29th 1.30-3.00pm General Seminary

Talley and Bishop

Ordained Women Called to Servanthood and Authority: Embodying the Paradox Inside and Out
Tuesday, April 29, 1:30–3:00 p.m.
Optional lunch 12:30–1:30 p.m.
at The General Theological Seminary
440 West 21st Street
New York City
Lunch and Program: $20
Program Only: $10
Net proceeds will go to the Global Women’s Fund.
Jesus called his disciples to lead as one who serves, saying of himself, “I am among you as one who serves.” Yet Jesus taught as one having authority, and gave authority to his disciples to do works in his name and to “bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
How best can ordained women—indeed all those called to ordained ministry—find balance in embodying the paradox of being a servant-leader, while bearing fruit in an authentic way? Please join us for a theologically inspired discussion in which we will explore this vital topic, its invitation and challenges, and as women, discern ways to express our individual clerical style of authority and service, right down to the clothes we wear.
Join us as we discuss:
•  Women’s issues of balancing authority and servanthood at the altar, in church, in public
•  Discovering and expressing one’s individual clerical style
•  Best resources for women’s clergy-wear: from collars to blouses, dresses, albs, and chasubles
Leading off our discussion will be our distinguished guest, the Right Reverend Chilton R. Knudsen, Assistant Bishop, Diocese of New York.
Our panelists representing the neighboring dioceses and The General Theological Seminary:
•  Diocese of Long Island: The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon for Missional Vitality
•  Diocese of New Jersey: The Rev. Ophelia Laughlin, Rector of St. George’s by the River, Rumson, NJ
•  Diocese of Newark: The Rev. Lauren Ackland, Rector of Grace Church, Madison, NJ
•  Diocese of New York: The Rev. Deacon Denise LaVetty, Interim Director of Deacon Formation Program
•  The General Theological Seminary: The Rev. Dr. Amy Lamborn, Professor of Pastoral Theology
The Rev. Danielle Thompson, Chaplain, GTS, will be our moderator, and the Rev. Canon Jeanne Person, Canon for Pastoral Care, Diocese of New York, will also participate in the event.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Prof Susannah Heschel: "The Aryan Jesus in Nazi Germany: The Bible and the Holocaust" at Creighton U, Omaha in Nebraska

An important and wonderful talk by Prof Susannah Heschel on “The Aryan Jesus in Nazi Germany: The Bible and the Holocaust,” The Kripke Center for the Study of Religion, Project Interfaith and the Institute for Holocaust Education, Creighton University, April 23, 2013.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Homeless Jesus?

An article in the Huffington Post relates that
This 'Homeless Jesus' statue has found a home after similar works were rejected from cathedrals in New York and Canada, but not all are welcoming it with open arms. The moving work by Timothy P. Schmalz has provoked diverse responses since being installed at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C.
Rev. Doctor David E. Buck, the church rector, sees it as an evocative combination of beauty, art, and religion. "It's Jesus representing the most marginalized of society," he told NBC Charlotte. "We're reminded of what our ultimate calling is as Christians, as people of faith, to do what we can individually and systematically to eliminate homelessness. Part of a faith commitment is to care or the needy."
 The sculpture by Timothy Schmalz  is inspired by Matthew 25. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Women and public speaking by Mary Beard in LRB

Mary Beard, fellow of Newnham College Cambridge where she teaches Classics has an excellent piece on women and public speech in the LRB:

My aim here – and I acknowledge the irony of my being given the space to address the subject – is to take a long view, a very long view, on the culturally awkward relationship between the voice of women and the public sphere of speech-making, debate and comment: politics in its widest sense, from office committees to the floor of the House. I’m hoping that the long view will help us get beyond the simple diagnosis of ‘misogyny’ that we tend a bit lazily to fall back on. To be sure, ‘misogyny’ is one way of describing of what’s going on. (If you go on a television discussion programme and then receive a load of tweets comparing your genitalia to a variety of unpleasantly rotting vegetables, it’s hard to find a more apt word.) But if we want to understand – and do something about – the fact that women, even when they are not silenced, still have to pay a very high price for being heard, we have to recognise that it is a bit more complicated and that there’s a long back-story.

She says that there are only two exceptions: 1) Women are given speech as victims and martyrs (think of early Christian women, some of whom even "changed gender" at the point of public discourse) and 2) on occasions when women speak out "to defend their homes, children, husbands or interests of other women." Think here of the mother of the Maccabean martyrs. 

The issue is larger than this, however,

What I mean is that public speaking and oratory were not merely things that ancient women didn’t do: they were exclusive practices and skills that defined masculinity as a gender... Public speech was a – if not the– defining attribute of male-ness. A woman speaking in public was, in most circumstances, by definition not a woman. We find repeated stress throughout ancient literature on the authority of the deep male voice. As one ancient scientific treatise explicitly put it, a low-pitched voice indicated manly courage, a high-pitched voice female cowardice. Or as other classical writers insisted, the tone and timbre of women’s speech always threatened to subvert not just the voice of the male orator, but also the social and political stability, the health, of the whole state. So another second-century lecturer and guru, Dio Chrysostom, whose name, significantly, means Dio ‘the Golden Mouth’, asked his audience to imagine a situation where ‘an entire community was struck by the following strange affliction: all the men suddenly got female voices, and no male – child or adult – could say anything in a manly way. Would not that seem terrible and harder to bear than any plague? I’m sure they would send off to a sanctuary to consult the gods and try to propitiate the divine power with many gifts.’ He wasn’t joking.

and she concludes that we need to
raise bigger questions about the nature and purpose of speech, male or female. We should perhaps take our cue from this, and try to bring to the surface the kinds of question we tend to shelve about how we speak in public, why and whose voice fits. What we need is some old fashioned consciousness-raising about what we mean by the voice of authority and how we’ve come to construct it. 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

How Colm Toibin wrote The Testament of Mary

At 192 Books last week, a group of us went from the seminary to hear Colm Toibin read from several of his books. When one of our number asked him how he came to write The Testament of Mary, he explained that one Friday night whilst everyone was out dancing, he stayed at home and read the Introduction to E.V. Rieu's (1953) translation "The Four Gospels." Of John, the author of the fourth gospel, E.V. Rieu writes in the Introduction (p xxix), "It is not unlikely that he read Euripides and Plato." Deleting the words " not un(likely)," Toibin imagined that if John had indeed read Euripides and Plato, (at our event, he said "Aeschylus") then the world of Greek tragedy including tragic women opened John's gospel to his imagination and he considered how Mary (in John?) might be a figure like Antigone or Medea.

This makes sense of much of the book. Where a Jewish Mary once went to a synagogue, Toibin's Mary, living in Ephesus, at the end of the book goes with other women to the temple of Artemis. Her sensibilities are not those of the gospel writers who pester her to say things about Jesus. (Toibin says that on Mary the gospels were no help.) "They will thrive and prevail and I will die," she says. "If you want witnesses," she says to them, "then I am one and I can tell you now , when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it." 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Presentation in the Temple & Theological Education Sunday, Feb 2nd, 2014

Presentation in the Temple & Theological Education Sunday

St John’s Cathedral, Albuquerque, NM

Today’s gospel is about seeing and holding, hearing and being heard.
To see and to hold and to hear, you have to have an object. In today’s gospel that’s Jesus. Jesus is a baby whose parents present him in the temple. Later in Luke’s gospel an adult Jesus will be the subject not just of Luke but the assumed subject of Luke-Acts.
In today’s gospel
·      Anna and Simeon do the seeing
·      Simeon does the holding
·      And we try to see what they see, hold what they hold and hear what they say
What does it matter? It matters, because in seeing and holding and hearing babies, as Anna and Simeon do, we can create trust in and with those around us, and in these circles of widening trust, we have the chance –through small acts--to make and re-make the world.

But first, we have to practice listening.

There was, said the great conductor Claudio Abbado, a certain sound of snow—
·      Not from underfoot crunching but
·      The sound of falling flakes
·      New down dipping on an ocean of spray
·      Pianissimo, fading into silence

Claudio Abaddo had learned listening skills from his maternal grandfather, an expert in ancient languages. Together on holidays they would walk in silence near the Matterhorn. And as an adult he walked there again, “specifically to test on the silence the orchestral scores that flowed, perfectly memorised, in his head.” (The Economist, “Claudio Abaddo” obituary, Feb 2, 2014)


“In rehearsal this was almost his only word, accompanied by a gesture, finger to lips, or one of his quick, dazzling, toothy smiles, or a sudden glance of the eyes that were, he thought, his most effective tool. He did not dominate the music, but was its servant. So no shouting, like Toscanini. No furious baton-play or maestro posing, like Karajan, whom he had succeeded in 1989 at the Berlin Philharmonic.

·      Strings, listen to brass
·      Flute, liaise with oboe
·      Those playing G sharp, flow around those playing C.
·      Those with the top melodic line, let the depths surge through.”

Listening to other musicians, orchestras become more cohesive and the sound is almost like that of chamber music.
Abbado also knew these magical moments disappear as suddenly as they occur-- always different, never the same.
That’s the thing about listening—it’s about receiving sounds & voices so as to absorb and be transformed by what we hear. To listen better we have to practice. And listening to others is not just what music is all about, it’s about learning and growing through trust and deepening relationships. It’s about the joy of being humble enough to receive God and God’s presence in our lives.

Listening is at the heart of education, which is why I mention it on Theological Education Sunday.
It takes many forms (visual, auditory, sensory), but is the only way to understand someone else’s life and experience. Yet most people today have been taught the opposite. We are told and we even believe that what is important about an education—and a life—is to express your opinions, to tell the world what we think. All day long, -- and I’m guilty of this too--we text, we tweet, we post our status updates on our Facebook pages. We are thus in danger of eclipsing listening, and without it, we cannot access lives, experiences, and beliefs that are different from our own. We cannot create trust. Learning how to truly listen may be the most important global lesson of all. And by showing up here in the Cathedral we are doing just that. Like Simeon and Anna we are ceding control to God: we are open to hearing because we trust.

Simeon and Anna are true saints of Israel. They seem to have lived their lives open to the Spirit.  As prophets they reach out to hear, touch and hold. Probably frail and able to achieve little that counts in terms of worldly value, they are wise to the things of God.
Ears can be deaf to the sounds and voices of others. But the ears of Simeon and Anna, and through them our ears, can undo isolation and dishonor by listening, valuing, inducing trust, respecting others and thus growing in faith and love of God.
Let us pray in the words of St Theresa:
Christ has no body but yours,
No ears but yours, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Compassion to this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the ears, through which he blesses all the world. Amen. 

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...