Monthly Archives: August 2008

Different Puzzles

I’m working on one presentation for an international conference, another for a clergy conference, and I have to make a connection from St Louis to Tennessee — and I’m discovering that it’s a lot harder to book a flight from St Louis to Nashville than it is to put together a provocative essay on technology, copyright, community, and theology.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this.

lly Ballou Here….

Last night, we all were on our way to Elmo’s to celebrate John Utz’s having landed a job as a fifth-grade teacher at an exciting school, when we heard a snippet of Bob Elliott on the radio. Margaret and I were so captivated that we could hardly get out of the car when we arrived at Elmo’s, and we had to explain to Pippa who Bob and Ray were (“are,” in Bob’s case) and why we love their style.
This morning I went a-searching and turned up the treasure-trove of old Bob and Ray show recordings. I started listening to one while I read my daily dose of Lucian of Samosata (my Greek is rusty — if not outright calcified — so I’ve been working through Lucian to regain the pretense of competence). Pippa came downstairs and asked me to make breakfast for her and when I brought her eggs and (veggie) bacon out to her, she was listening intently to Wally Ballou, Biff Burns, the Komodo Dragon Expert, Mary Backstayge, and the other characters and skits.
 Triumphantly, this is A K M Adam, saying write if you get work.

Dark Knight After

How come no one told me Sophia Hinshelwood was in the Batman movie? I was staring at her in the press conference scene, wondering why she looked so familiar — and not in an “I’ve seen her in another movie” way, but in an “I know that person” way. I asked Margaret who she was, but Margaret (having spent so much less time around the Seabury Institute office) didn’t recognize her.
It was an unsettling, but terrific surprise — and enthusiastic congratulations to Sophia, for whom this will, we hope, be the start of something big!


We’ve unpacked some of our boxes, moved others around, gotten me a Duke ID card and an office key (I’m ensconced in the office of Richard Hays, for whom I’m subbing this year), and we’re still waiting for connectivity from our home. The stress levels are high, as this intermediate state touches different nerves from the liminal state of packed-up-but-not-settled. There’s much good going on, and still some glitches.

Danger in the Tropes

In Kenneth Turan’s review of Tropic Thunder, he refers to “the self-involvement of actors who say things like ‘I don’t read the script; the script reads me.’” That line stood out when I read the review, because when applied to grandiose film stars, it rings true — but I’ve frequently heard it cited approvingly (mutatis mutandis) by theologians with whom I’m broadly sympathetic: “Instead of us reading the Bible, we should let the Bible read us.”
I’ve never been comfortable with that trope, for reasons that people who know me will quickly anticipate. It points, commendably, to a disjunction between the cultural narcissism that presupposes its own superiority to insights from evangelists and commentators of centuries past (on one hand) and the humility of considering that one’s own methods and analysis may be flawed in ways that we don’t perceive. Still, and vitally importantly, it’s not the Bible that’s “reading us” when we get off our high horses; it’s other people and the different priorities they bring, or even more often it’s our projections of what other people might think of us and our interpretations.
That obviously makes a huge difference. Once we come clean about the fact that the “reads us” trope usually relies on representations of the other (the Bible, the Oppressed, the Native, the Exotic Foreigner) that reside in our own imaginations, we can see more clearly that claims about “being read by” another usually just displace and occlude our own authority behind a mask that represents some more innocent, more generally-acknowledged interpretive presence. As a result, people feel as though they can get away with claims about the Bible that might otherwise seem self-serving or uncharitable, or they can congratulate themselves for a ventriloquistic “being read by” that still permits the ostensibly passive interpreter the last word.
Here’s a really radical idea for people who want to “let the Bible read them”: why don’t you stop and actually listen to the people who, in reading the Bible, come to the conclusion that you are wrong? They are not always right; they may not be right at all; but at least they actually are other than you, and they are not encumbered by your tenacious longing to justify yourself. (They may be afflicted with the need to justify themselves, but that’s a different problem.) Or we could all just come to the seminar table as fallible, needy, self-justifying sinners, and be a lot more patient with one another.

Anyone? Weinberger?

As we were extracting varied booty from the buried treasure of our cardboard box and packing tape collection, I encountered a box marked “Mugs and Utensils.” Since we haven’t yet located the electric kettle, I dared hope that this box might contain the vital necessity for making hot coffee (Pippa already recovered the French press and the coffee grinder, bless her soul).
So I opened the box and pulled out — three volumes of paperbacks on The Art of Star Wars. Quoth I, “Mugs, utensils, and Star Wars?” Margaret rejoined, “Where’s David Weinberger when you need him?”

Summer Statistics

Now that we’ve alit in Durham, we can look back at our summer travels. In conversation with Mark, it occurred to me to work out just how far we’ve come. Beginning somewhat arbitrarily with our departure from Princeton in early June, this is what we’ve done:
Princeton to Pittsburgh (memorial event for my Dad): 336 mi.
Pittsburgh to Evanston (packing week): 480 mi.
Evanston to Ypsilanti (visit Nate and Laura): 270 mi.
Ypsilanti to Princeton (return trip): 613 mi.
Princeton to Baltimore and back (Loyola faculty picnic): 262 mi.
Princeton to Hyannis (to ferry to visit Mom): 303 mi.
Hyannis to Boston (drop Pippa off, visit Taylor-Coolmans): 71 mi.
Boston to Princeton (return trip): 266 mi.
Princeton to Durham (first load): 449 mi.
Durham to Chicago (via air; we didn’t drive this leg, so I’m not counting it)
Evanston to Indianapolis (big-ass truck evening one): 203 mi.
Indianapolis to Johnson City (big-ass truck, day two): 460 mi.
Johnson City to Durham (big-ass truck, last leg): 219 mi.
Durham back to Princeton (return trip): 449 mi.
Princeton to Durham (second load, round trip): 898 mi.
Princeton to Framingham (on our way): 246 mi.
Framingham to Augusta to Brunswick (See Pippa’s play): 216 mi.
Brunswick to Damariscotta to Quincy (pick Pippa up, visit Himmers): 219 mi.
Quincy to Shoreham NY (visit Clevengers): 139 mi (not counting ferry mileage)
Shoreham to Baltimore (see Orioles, visit Fowls): 246 mi.
Baltimore to Durham (phew!): 323 mi.
That’s a total of 6,668 driving miles this summer. That’s roughly a round trip from Fort Kent, Maine, to San Diego. That’s roughly the distance from New York to Kabul. At 60 mph, that’s 396 hours in the car/truck cab. At an average of 20 mpg (a guess, between the Subaru and the rental vehicles) and at $4 a gallon, that’s $1,333.60 in gasoline. We won’t even calculate the collateral expenses of prepared food, hotels, and wear and tear on our flesh and spirit.

Take Me Out

Home Of the Birds

Margaret arranged that I go to today’s Orioles game, in really terrific seats. Steve took Pippa and Brendan and Liam with us, and we got to watch the Rangers paste the home team by a disheartening margin. It was Senior Citizens Day, and the gate attendant thrust an Orioles minifan (battery powered) into my hand, since I’m 50. But Camden Yard looks great.


And tomorrow, we land in Durham, God willing.

Lassie, Come Home!

The drive from Lawn Guyland to Baltimore was interrupted by a nasty traffic jam on the Jersey Pike, slowing us down considerably (we travelled about eleven miles in an hour of stop-and-go driving), but we travelled smoothly the rest of the way and pulled into Baltimore a while ago. We were cramped up from being squeezed into the car for hours, so Melinda suggested a nice walk in the woods adjacent to their house.
That sounded good to all of us, so we headed out along the path that leads along Gunpowder Falls and its tributary creek, Pippa and Melinda in the lead, Margaret and Steve and I following. After we got more than halfway in and looped back to our starting-point, I picked up the pace to walk with Melinda, and Pip bounced ahead of us like the Tigger she resembles in energy reserves and leg strength.
After a quarter mile or so, we lost sight of Pippa — who, presumably, had sprinted ahead of us to spring out from concealment and surprise us. We called a couple of times, but received no answer (which tended to confirm our suspicion that she was either hiding or hurrying home ahead of us. Alas, when we got back to Chateau Fowl, Pippa was not there.
So with a father’s determined energy, I jogged back into the forest, accompanied by Melinda. I’d holler “PIPPA!” every minute or two, but only chirping birds and scuttling squirrels responded. At length, I thought I heard PIppa’s distinctive loon call, and when I shouted that we were coming, she answered “I’m here!” We connected in just a couple of minutes, and got back home safely before dark. No injuries, no panic, just a short interval of active concern.
On the original part of the walk, I told Meilnda how good it feels to stretch out my Achilles tendon and plantar fascia. This was true, and my foot and heel have in general been bothering me a great deal less since I started stretching them frequently during the day (and taking naproxen once or twice a day). Right about now, though, my foot hurts a bit, and I could use a shower. Which I think I’ll take.
On the other hand, our little lassie is home safely, without damage and without having to call out the rescue squad. She who once was lost, now is found. Thanks be to God!