Monthly Archives: April 2009

Planning Ahead For Homelessness

Margaret and I had a short conversation just now about the summer. We’re trying to figure out what to do beginning in June, when our lease (and our contracts) runs out: what to do with our stuff, whether to look for an apartment in Baltimore (maybe not, since she may not have a full-time position and her current rooming option would be more affordable, but what about Pippa and me then), with whom we (or one of us) could spend a little time to save on rent or hotels. And it’s still mathematically possible that full-time jobs might turn up for both of us, taking us from relative penury to relative luxury. It’s more than slightly surreal, however, to be planning ahead to be broke and homeless.

To Do List

As I work through another stack of exegetical papers, I’m struck by the variety of ways that students approach the task of writing an interpretive essay. I’ve said before, elsewhere, that we in the biblical field have a very hard time articulating what we expect of students; we enter the field by having successfully assimilated an array of criteria that rarely (if ever) come to explicit expression, so when we assess student papers, it’s hard to communicate just what we’re finding right or wrong, praiseworthy or unsatisfactory. Our students aren’t dull-witted or willfully obtuse; they just don’t observe a translucent, rule-governed discourse that they might emulate. Even when one articulates an extensive description of criteria, and explains characteristics of excellent work, students often go their own way. They may be unaccustomed to these criteria, or may have been so firmly imprinted by another teacher’s different approach, or be generally confused about argumentation, exposition, or other tasks. In a word, student’s lack a clear, coherent, lucid explanation of what biblical scholars do, of what they as students should do, of how one might frame a sound interpretive argument, of what constitutes a supporting argument or a rebuttal, and so on.
If, as seems moderately likely, I have a certain amount of free time during the next year, I look forward to producing a small tract that lays out a rough sketch of what constitutes an interpretive problem, how to distinguish among a report and an expository essay and an exegetical essay, what constitutes evidence in exegesis, what to make of various exegetical methods, how to introduce the testimony of scholarly sources (with due attention to their diversity and disagreements), and so in — somewhat in the style of my handout on conducting NT research in Seabury’s United Library.
But first, I have to finish these papers. And if I do perchance find a job, this task — though all the more urgent — may have to wait for other immediate obligations.

What He Said

I say a Church which allows people to serve at her altars not holding a doctrine which may be said to be a doctrine of this Church, is cruel to them, if she perpetually requires them to say what they do not believe; and therefore, while it would be hard for me to accept, in deed I would oppose to the utmost of my power anything which should throw the slightest doubt upon [this doctrine], I for one should be prepared to refer to this Committee on the Revision of the Rubrics, provided such a commission should be appointed, the consideration of some means whereby the Bishop of the Diocese, or the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese, should have the power to protect and to defend real and true conscientious scruples wherever they might be.
James DeKoven “The Canon on Ritual, and the Holy Eucharist,” an address to the General Convention in 1874 (on baptismal regeneration — but applicable, it seems to me — much more broadly, and not by any means unilaterally)

Not With A Bang

Today’s the last day of my last class at Duke. Since I have no idea what (or whether) I’ll be teaching next year, this feels like… kinda… the end, as far as I know. I have been knocking myself out for so long to make myself a good teacher and to make a valuable contribution to the theory of my field, with some demonstrable accomplishments on both counts, it’s quite disorienting to arrive at this situation.
Yes, it’s not at all unlikely that I’ll eventually land another teaching job. The difference between “there’s a strong chance” and “too bad that didn’t pan out” seems particularly vivid to me, though, for the time being.

Wow! Education and Gaming! Imagine!

This morning’s Inside Higher Education includes a breathless column by two professors of entrepreneurship about the relevance of computer games to education. I link to it partly because it’s further evidence of what some of us have been arguing for a long time – that if you want people to learn voluntarily and enthusiastically, it’s a good idea to observe and benefit from the patterns of eager learning they already demonstrate. But more, the giddy rhetoric reminds me of Victorian travel prose: “You’ll never guess — they wear t-shirts from previous conventions!”
I’ll try to decide whether I’m more satisfied that some faculty have begun to open their minds in this direction, or more frustrated that so vast a proportion of profs decline even to consider these ideas.

More On Ed Tech

Videorecording lectures is like filming a stage play (or a concert). An excellent performance can cross the media difference, but the odds are stacked against it. In order to make the recording snap, one needs to render the performance on the medium’s own terms. Compare a static camera recording a rock concert with Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, for instance.
(I know I’m not the first to say this — just marking it down here since it crossed my mind again this morning, and by writing it out I may prepare my thoughts to move on to the next topic.)


Brother Matt O’Riley made a mountain of beaded decorative eggs to give out at Easter; we received ours several days ago (and waited till closer to today to open it), and they’re marvelous! I think I spotted our Elvis Costello egg, our “shell” eggs, and our Mary egg in the movie he and his friend made of the project — the earring egg I missed. Maybe I’ll have to watch again.

Alêthôs Anestê!

Pippa, Margaret and I hit all the Triduum services at Holy Family to bring our very peculiar, somewhat stressful Lent to a joyous end. As John the Elder says, “what we will be has not yet been revealed” — but we’re hoping that Eastertide brings some relief and pleasant surprises in that regard.

Cue Bulging Veins

I listen to NPR a lot, and this morning I was struck by the extent to which they devote air time to people who expatiate on theological topics, but without the benefit of rich literacy in theological deliberation.
Lest I be misunderstood — and people frequently react sharply on this topic, so I’ll probably be misunderstood anyway — I’m not saying that poets, politicians, opera singers, ballplayers, legal commentators, dog catchers, and diplomats should be prevented from commenting on “what I believe” or that their views should be explicitly deprecated. Imagine, though, a culture in which NPR spent a lot of air time describing home remedies for various ailments, offered by people with no particular claim to medical authority, and hardly ever mentioned the fact that a number of researchers and practitioners have actually attained articulate and closely-reasoned insights into health care. Interested as I am in home remedies, I also want to know what medical researchers say about health and wellness.
Surely a great part of NPR’s reticence, and that basis of their choice of the populist path, involves the headaches that would ensue from reporting some angles on theologico-spiritual topics and not others. The Reformed theologians might be up in arms if a story included Catholic/Orthodox scholars, but not Presbyterians; a story that quoted a conservative Southern Baptist scholar would irritate the liberal Congregationalists, and so on ad infinitum. But NPR is already doing this by reporting only anodyne demotic spirituality; they’re simply evading the issue by selecting interviewees who don’t wear an explicit denominational tag.
This is not a moment when NPR will probably consider hiring a richly-informed, sympathetic, even-handed reporter of theological and varied-faith issues (a sort of audio-journalist version of Martin Marty); still, if they understand their mission to include educating the public about various angles on complex topics, this would be an area where their present coverage falls radically short.

Further Stromateis

Jennifer alerts me that Trinity Church Wall Street will be offering online Station of the Cross and a Twittered Passion Play. I haven’t found the online Stations on their site, but if you copy-and-paste their script into a page you own, evidently the online stations will appear on your page. I’m somewhat baffled by the mechanics of that, and I’m not sure I want to see a passion play mixing in with the rest of my Twitter feed, but I s’pose they get points for using digital media.
Today’s Cat and Girl follows up Wednesday’s comic about words and meaning.
The Duke colleague for whom I’m substituting, Richard Hays, sent me a link to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Tod Linafelt, who was a recent graduate from Eckerd College when I went to teach there and who holds an appointment at Loyola College, where Margaret is teaching this year. Tod questions James Wood’s assessment of biblical narrative as devoid of complex characterization.