Monthly Archives: January 2006

Rank Reflections

I was just using Technorati a few minutes ago, and noticed that my Technorati Rank is 5,740. That’s not the kind of number that gets you swell-headed; you have to go through the alphabet a few times to get to the “list” that ranking earns me. Doc may resist being labelled an A-list-er, but I’m roughly on the WW-list.

On the other hand, granted that Technorati tracks 25 million blogs — I’m in the 99th percentile. That sounds better. I’m not the head of the blog foodchain, nor the “long tail”; I’m more like part of the “pointy elbow.”

Oasis in Desert of Pippa Art

Pippa has been permitting her gifts for painting and drawing a lengthy fallow period — and as we try not to strong-arm our children’s learning, we haven’t pushed her back to her easel. She was given several art-oriented presents for her birthday at the end of November, though, and in early December she set about executing a Christmas present for aunts Jeanne and Gail (whom she’ll make a three-week visit later in the winter).

We took the pastel in for matting and framing (a customer at the table next to us ooh-ed and aah-ed about the image, which discomfited Pippa), but it took longer to frame than could be squeezed in before Christmas. We picked it up during the week after Christmas, and after the holiday’s assembled family multitudes shuffled back to their various academic institutions, I packed and shipped the framed pastel to Maine.

Today, it arrived in Maine, and Jeanne and Gail have had the chance to admire it, and now I have permission to post it to my Flickr page — so those of you who’ve been missing the steady flow of Pippa art can take some solace in this shipment.

Christmas Chicken

Picture Day

Two pictures here, and one at Google video.

First, for Chris, a possible connection for him to get a guest-lecturer gig:

Chicago Clairvoyants

Then, a photo of the sign that has long tickled our family — we frequently park near here and walk past on our way to church.

Dog Sign

And finally, a Google video that seems spontaneous, but too good to be spontaneous — and it delights me even if was set up and rehearsed.

Welcome To Our Library

A few years ago I lamented about my students’ disinclination to look for any resources online; more recently, I’ve had to cajole students to bestir themselves to find research material in the physical library. I don’t deprecate the value of research material just because it’s found online, but I wish for my students the opportunity to learn not only from people so forward-thinking as to publish their work online, but also from some of the scholarship that has not yet appeared in digital form.

So I spent a fair amount of time this past weekend with the wonderful application Comic Life* writing/illustrating a guide for finding the relevant reference sources in Seabury’s United Library. I tried to include establishing shots so that people could orient themselves, images of specific books and periodicals (along with catalogue numbers) so that people could recognize them when they saw them on the shelf, and some miscellaneous observations about where to find pointers to pertinent books and articles. (The guide should also help fend off the tendency to rely on some sources that I don’t illustrate.)

My Trip to the United Library

I printed a couple of copies for the class and the librarian, and posted the pages to the Disseminary Flickr site in a set (and linked to it from the course website). But if you didn’’t see me this weekend, that’s what I was doing — and now you can find the New Testament reference material in the United Library, too.

* Comic Life could be improved in a variety of ways, but on most fronts it’s an exemplary program; it demonstrates the power of computers to make complicated special tasks into simple drag-and-drop errands. They advertise “zero learning curve,” and although that’s a marketing overstatement, it’amazingly close to being true. I recommend it strongly. Still, they should include or permit one to import some vector objects (such as arrows and explosion shapes), and manipulating styles of “POW!” text involves some frustrating idiosyncrasies.


Margaret and I have been fans of Michael Bérubé for ages; I especially remember an article of his in the Village Voice from around the year 1990, in which he offers a clear-sighted perspective on the effects of “postmodernism“ etc. on the well-being of Western Civilization. Margaret, in turn, read Life As We Know It with enthusiastic appreciation; we gave copies to several people, and we have an extra copy on hand right now, waiting for someone who seems to need it.

When Bérubé started blogging, I added him to my bookmarks right away, and someday I’ll get around to blogrolling him (though I maintain a consistent track record for sluggishness in modifying my blogroll). I knew a moment of delight when he left a comment a few months ago (he was gently correcting my recollection of his institutional affiliation).

All that is background for my presenting the following two links to posts that describe ways that Michael’s son Jamie has been learning since Michael wrote Life As We Know It. These stories encourage us to remember how much more expansively people are ready to learn than even encouraging, loving supporters such as Jamie’s dad necessarily imagine — and Margaret’s and my experience amply confirms the anecdotal evidence that these posts provide.

Not only will people always surprise you by their hunger and capacity to learn, but their learning frequently (I’m tempted to say “always”) depends for its quality on their desire to learn. Again, my experience confirms this, as a learner and teacher and as a home-school dad. Few things stick with me from high school as well as the probability theory I taught myself, the soliliquies I memorized walking to and from school, the basics of international relations, organizational politics, and diplomacy that I learned in Student United Nations and the Strategic Gaming club. We grounded our approach to teaching Nate, Si, and Pippa on that premise; I’ve wished any number of times I could teach seminarians that way (and I’m always looking for ways to approximate that more closely). I don’t think we should abolish schools and classes in favor of un-organized general learning, but it would take a lot to convince me that the goal of learning is best served by the assembly-line, compartmentalized structure that institutional education has taken in the U.S. and its sphere of influence.

By all means, let’s support teachers. They [we] need all the help they can get. And let’s remember that learning doesn’t depend on teachers, but teachers contribute to, enhance, enrich, catalyze, provoke learning in vital ways, and they [we] do so best when all of us devote deliberate energy and respect to the ideal of learning, continually, deeply, in company with other eager learners. When we consign “teaching” and “learning” to factory schools and limited, scheduled hours, we impoverish everyone affected by our culture (but especially the people hungriest to learn).

Jamie teaches us that’s another Paul we can’t afford to forget.

Talking Sense in Public

In the run-up to Christmas, anyone with a quarter-wit can start spouting off about what did or did not happen around the time Jesus of Nazareth was born. Even brilliant scholars succumb to the temptation to pump up the volume of imprecise, outrageous claims about history. For a counter-example, check out the online symposium over at Slate, where Alan Segal, John Kloppenborg, and Larry Hurtado talk over history, probabilities, and plausibility in appropriately measured tones.

I enjoy their conversation partly because I don’t agree with any one of them down the line — each makes strong points, each construes evidence in ways that I wouldn’t at various points, and all three address one another ccordially and respectfully.

As I read over their arguments, it occurs to me that biblical studies may approach the boundary of “disproportion of assent-claimed against evidence-available.” We have a relatively small pool of data, intensely studied over two thousand years, but we’re caught up in claims about belief (and certainty) that bear no durable relation to the quality of the evidence. That does not by any means suggest that I don’t believe what I say, or that I suggest that Christian (or other) faith is intrinsically implausible; it just means that my perspective on the evidence at hand provides me with little reason to suppose that I should be able to compel people to agree with me about what it adds up to.

To put the point theologically, the sketchiness of the data leaves ample room for the necessity of faith and grace — rather than making orthodox Christian faith the sort of logical outcome of any reasonable person’s deliberation about the evidence.

Wish I Were There

The kinds of thing Trevor and I proposed for the Disseminary continue to take shape — it’s just that other people in other places are making them happen.

The other day, Heather pointed me to the Anglican Decision website which effectively uses digital video to push its case for resisting the Episcopal Church’s present trajectory toward affirming full participation for gay and lesbian members. I disagree strongly with some of what they say, of course — they oversimplify and misrepresent those against whom they’re arguing — but one might bring the same accusation against some of the comments in the Via Media series. (I retain a lingering suspicion that my participation in the project was curtailed when it became clear that I’d be espousing a theological position at odds with the project planners. That’s entirely their prerogative, of course, and they permitted me to make at least a token appearance.) Whatever my dissatisfaction with their message, though, I have to congratulate them for going about it in a well-executed way that uses the internet for what it’s best at: disseminating.

This morning, Kendall’s blog points me to the news that Holy Trinity Brompton, the home of “Alpha,” is building a complement of strong theologians who will participate in a parish centre for theological education (apparently including online distribution of video resources). Again, I’m not on the same wavelength as Alpha, but the point that learning about Christian faith actually strengthens and deepens, enriches, and extends the reach of congregational life deserves ardent applause. This is, again, just the kind of thing we proposed years ago. I just wish someone had taken us up on it.

Cruft and Data

It’s probably true that you can find anything on the web, someplace — but the undergrowth is getting thicker and harder to navigate as people catch on that the cost of offering goods online amounts to hardly anything.

My case in point involves my research instinct’s interest in having correct dates for music in my iTunes database. Whereas GraceNote and its rivals often return a date that reflects the year a CD or compilation was issued, I prefer to associate a selection with the year it was performed or released. So when I play Estill C. Ball’s performance of “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” I want to know when Alan Lomax recorded the song, not when Rounder re-released it. If I search for “Estill C. Ball”and “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” though, I get an unceasing stream of sites that offer the CDs for sale. Throw in “Lomax” as a search term, and eliminate a couple of giveaway phrases from the constantly-reproduced sales copy, and the overwhelming preponderance of search results still amount to nothing more than a track listing.

The original Atlantic recording was evidently released in 1960, and Lomax travelled the south in 1959-60, so I’ll enter 1960 and be done with it — but it would be helpful to have a more robust filter to segregate commercial results from noncommercial information.

Cool Toy

No, I’ not talking about the new Intel Macs — though they certainly seem to qualify, and Josiah has been moaning and panting ever since Steve Jobs announced the new MacBooks. I’m talking about this collection of photo templates to which Jordon pointed the other day.

While I was putting together the links for this post, I searched Flickr for images tagged “keynote,” thinking I might find a snappy image of King Steve hawking his wares, where I found this familiar profile. Was David Weinberger caught up in the Apple mania since his hesitant embarkation on the journey from Wintel to Apptel? No, but with a little jiggery-pokery from Flickr Toys, I can associate David with the exciting news from Cupertino. . . .

[Meanwhile, Jeneane caught the Flickr photo wherein Jennifer caught me singing while washing up the dinner dishes.)

Two Down

Until yesterday afternoon, our house was as full as it had pretty much ever been (as far as inhabitants go): Pippa and I, with Margaret, Nate, Jennifer, Si (an enlarged version, from the swelling where his wisdom teeth used to be), and Si’s roomie Simon (he’s the one taking the picture).

Family Photo

But yesterday afternoon, Margaret dropped Nate at the train, and this afternoon Si dropped Margaret at Midway for her flight back to North Carolina. We lose Simon tomorrow, Jennifer on Thursday, Si on Saturday, and then Pippa and I are on our own again. Well, with Bea.

It’s been a wild and wooly interval, but they’re all very wonderful, and I fear the house will seem quite silent with them gone. Come back soon, okay?

Funny How Things Work

I’ve often mused about the way that a few minutes’ inspiration, or lack thereof, can constitute an enduring monument to a person — perhaps subsidizing their family finances (if, for instance, they write a really catchy pop song) or damning them in lasting memory (for making a stupid remark on a broadcast medium).

I’ve poured months of blood, sweat, and tears into biblical scholarship, and I still think I’ve done some pretty good work there. I’ve been serving the church, offering what I can to congregations and people. I try to be a good neighbor, teacher, father, and husband.

But the other day I checked in at the LibriVox project. I casually glanced at the catalogue: that’s an amazing repertoire of great reading, all for free.

The connection is — on the “about” page, Hugh McGuire tells the world that “LibriVox was inspired by AKMA’s audio volunteer project to bring Lawrence Lessig’s book, Free Culture, to your ears.” Hugh’s contacted me a couple of times, and I looked in at LibriVox earliler, when the catalogue was less lengthy; but this has caught on to an extent that I’d never, never have anticipated. Three cheers to you, Hugh, and thank you for doing the hard work of making my one-off fanciful notion into an estimable legacy of free recordings of great texts.

Now, I have to get around to contributing some myself!

My Comments On Daniel

I don’t have any; we don’t watch TV, so I didn’t see it (and from what I hear, I’m just as happy not to have cause to ask for my hour back). I’d be surprised if I haven’t learned all I need to from Todd, Jane, the Salty Vicar (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) and Titusonenine. If I had extra time on my hands, I’d follow the link to the Diocese of Washington blog — but I don’t.

Short answer: I’m among the least-connected Episcopal clergy around, but I’m not aware of any congregation with so great a concentration of issues. I grieve at the doctrinal and ethical tone-deafness of the show (and many commenters thereupon). It’s not being “honest” about the church; it’s representing Hollywood’s imagination of itself in clerical dress, and supposing that that’s what the church must be like (as far as I can tell from incoming reports).