Monthly Archives: December 2009

Way To Do It

I’m heartened to see the Ekklesia Project’s quick reaction to President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. EP has put up a blog where its participant spokespeople can articulate their responses to the speech; Stanley Hauerwas offers his appreciation and dissatisfaction in the first of the columns; Tobias Winwright has prepared another response, and I anticipate further contributions to the discussion. Since the most prominent media tend to treat theological deliberation as irrelevant — instead favoring either extreme responses from animate caricatures or pre-spun sound bites from churches’ Upper Management — this rapid deployment of digital publication illustrates a best-practices use of online resources for making audible the voice of a non-mainstream constituency. Bravo EP, and Bravo Hauerwas!

That Time Of Year Again

Last year I celebrated Pippa Day — the annual observance of the day we first met and welcomed Pippa into the family — by the usual expression of maudlin affection and by displaying a couple of pictures of her as a much younger person, and she struck back by writing a deeply moving note about her own feelings relative to the kooks who love her so (it’s offline, now; I think I saved a version of the page somewhere, but I can’t link to it). This year, when I’ve expatriated to Scotland and she’s started down the path of independence by boarding at Interlochen, I’ll go light on the sentimentality. Instead I’ll just say: the best things Margaret and I have ever done have involved our spectacular, wonderful children, all of them. And those best things have usually seemed strange, impractical, daunting, lonely, frustrating in prospect — but I can’t underscore strongly enough how tremendously all those challenges are surpassed in the staggering marvelousness of Nate, Si, Pippa, Jennifer, and now Laura and Laura (warning, Laura: I realized this week that I don’t have enough photos of you, and I will be aiming to rectify that deficit when we visit this year).
Whatever else I do right, in whatever days are accorded me, I can’t imagine that they’ll amount to more than a hill of beans compared to taking part in these folks’ lives. What a gift that is to me! And Pippa — lest I miss the chance to return to the presenting occasion for today’s post — thanks for icing the familial cake for us. I can’t wait to see you all again, soon!

Annual Ritual

There are only two weeks left in December, and I haven’t really noticed what music in my iTunes collection comes from 2009 (as opposed to other years). So I’m now listening to an all-2009 playlist, in order more judiciously to name my Top Releases list. I’m hoping that I really fall for some more rocking music, because for now all my selections befit an aging geezer who is settling into a calm-music phase of his descent into senescence.

Glasgow And Me, Part Five (A Quick One)

In the course of my holiday shopping (and — let’s be honest — self-indulgence shopping), I’ve had occasion to stop in at numerous Glasgow antiques shops. None had any fountain pens, and I gather that this is the normative condition of such vendors in Scotland (alas). My point this afternoon, though, is that it seems a typical business practice for Glaswegian antique and used-goods merchants to make huge archaeological tells of random goods, of which only the surface layer is functionally accessible. Couple this anti-sales strategy with exceptionally narrow aisles and fragile goods sitting precariously atop these mounds, and you have a strong disincentive to pick up anything that isn’t already on the surface. Thus, all the sub-surface goods that the dealer has invested in are a dead loss; they might as well not be there, except that if they weren’t there a buyer might be able to move more freely through the store, or pick up and examine closely the items he or she can now easily reach and lift.
My proposed business plan: offer a vintage-goods dealer a flat fee to remove all the hidden junk, then re-sell it in a store with decent visibility. No need to pay me an upfront fee for putting this into practice; just send me a portion of the massive profits you’ll reap. Plus, if you do find any fountain pens under there, let me have first dibs on buying them.


I was hoping to get some time for simple relaxation this week, but a long-delayed tsunami of curriculum-revision committee meetings and the attendant course descriptions, Personal Development Plans, intradepartmental communiques, and also exams to mark, gift shopping to navigate, housecleaning and laundry to do, it begins to feel as though I’ll be full speed ahead with tasks through my departure Monday morning.

Back In The Saddle

After years of frequent participation in leading the Eucharist and preaching at St Luke’s and Seabury, I’ve gone two years with relatively rare exercise of my ministries in those departments. This morning may mark a turned corner in that circumstance, though; I preached and deaconed at the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin in Glasgow, and later in the week will meet with the Provost and the rest of the staff to arrive at a formal understanding of whether and how I can help the cathedral staff.
I’ll post the sermon below the fold. First, though, let me acknowledge that I treat William Blake more superficially than he or the poem deserves. An academic member of the congregation pointed this out to me after the service, and I readily admit it. There’s only so much you can say in a sermon the point of which is not a searching literary analysis of a poem by William Blake; mine is a glancing critical observation. That said, I stand by the general point for which the poem in the “Preface” to “Milton a Poem” serves as an illustration here.
I erred in following the lectionary’s recommendation that Isaiah 12:2-6 serve as the psalm for this service. The Cathedral opted to use a regular psalm, so the Isaianic motifs from the sermon don’t get any traction from the readings that the congregation will have heard. I had some trouble location the sweet spot for checking the text through my bifocals, so I mixed up the word order several times, so there’s a getting-used-to process I’ll need to observe. But really, it was wonderful to have the sense once again that I might be a sharer in the ministry of a church. Everyone at the Cathedral was very positive and encouraging, and I look forward with exhilaration to taking a regular part in cathedral life.
Continue reading Back In The Saddle

Walking Home From Lunch

The Divinity Student Council (students who are studying toward degrees for ministry, as distinct from students who are taking general BA’s) had its End-of-Term lunch at a Greek restaurant on Sauchiehall Street Friday. My students pronounced it “Sucky hall,” but an alternate interpretation suggested “Socky hall”; I vote for the latter on grounds of potential embarrassment and on grounds of phonetic likelihood (it seems more likely to me that an “ah” syllable might migrate toward a schwa sound than that a schwa would take on a more specific vowel sound). Either way, as I was walking home to Partick from Sauchiehall Street, fog descended on Glasgow, and the towers of my institution rose majestically through the fog, against the sunset sky:

Glasgow University Tower from Sauchiehall Street

I also took a photo of the tower seen from Partick Bridge; or more precisely, I took two such photos, one exposed for the tower and one exposed for the greenery and the river. Someday when I feel ambitious I’ll try to align them and balance out the exposure, but for now they’ll just stay separate.
It’s a very pretty place. I’m glad to be here.

Glasgow And Me, Part Four

  • The days are down to just about seven hours of daylight (even fewer on cloudy days — not that we have any cloudy days in Glasgow). Sunrise is after 8:30 in the morning, and sunset between 3:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The weather isn’t bad at all; often rainy, of course, but not too chilly, and once you get used to “rain” as the default weather, the non-rainy days seem more frequent and more pleasant.
  • The other day I bought some sprouts for a sandwich; sprouts-eaters in the US will know what I’m talking about, the plastic container jammed with growing sprouts in it. I was impressed to see a label prominently declaring that these were grown in Sussex, so I need not fear that these were inferior, high-carbon-footprint postmodern continental sprouts. When I got home to make the sandwich and pulled out some sprouts, I was stunned to discover that the Scottish packaging actually includes the dirt in which the sprouts are growing. So, presumably, Sussex is exporting itself 18 square centimeters at a time. This could be either a short-sighted self-defeating export plan (“Our home… it’s gone!”) or a very subtle plot to extend the borders of Sussex (and hence, of England). Perhaps it’s pushback against Scots autonomy? But whatever was going on, I had to renegotiate my sandwich plans to avoid ingesting unforeseen minerals.
  • The other night I had fajitas at one of the bars near my flat.

    Fajitas at Cottier's

    “Fajitas?” you may ask, “in Scotland?” Well, they certainly were fajitas in a sense — but they were in noteworthy ways unlike any fajitas I had ever had (or made) before. In the first place, they were served with neither refried beans nor rice. No refried beans anywhere near the platter, so far as I could tell (the lighting was dim). Yes, peppers and onions, courgettes and aubergines; no mushrooms (again, so far as I could make out). The spices resembled what I would expect, but at the same time tasted different. And — and this is the weirdly Scottish angle — I think the role of refried beans was played last night by mashed rutabagas. No kidding — neeps in my fajitas! It was all pretty satisfying for someone who hasn’t been to a Mexican restaurant in a long time and who was eager to have fajitas without making them himself, but aspects of the experience were gravely disorienting.


    I have to go back again and check this out.

  • The Theology and Religious Studies Department’s R&DC (proudly) pointed me to a BBC page that features the singers with whom she performs singing the Hallelujah Chorus with as many Glaswegians as wanted to, at the City Halls. That’s Meg almost in the upper right corner of the performers, one person to the left (with her head at an angle). If you actually want to hear Glasgow sing — rather than just talking about singing — you have to click on the “run-through” link (it took me a while to figure that out).
  • I am usually an early riser in the States, but over here — although I’ve made the gross adaptation to local time — I haven’t made the fine adjustment that would sustain my crack-of-dawn habits. I have new-found sympathy for Matt Pappathan, my eldest son and my daughter, and all the late sleepers I’ve known. Still, I’m pretty determined to work myself back into getting going between 6 and 7, if only because fifty-plus years of self-consciousness tell me that I ought to be awake and productive then, and the same number assure me at around 5 in the afternoon that there’s no real point to knocking myself out working any longer.
  • I haven’t had Coke in ages; don’t like it that much, and for caloric reasons I might as well get Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. At lunch today, though, I was in a situation that made a Coke the most simple choice of a beverage. I noticed the difference right away: over here, they don’t swap out sugar for corn syrup. The sugary stuff tastes much better (not that I’m going to fall into the habit of drinking liquid sugar).

Looking Ahead

In the curriculum alteration that’s coming up here at the University, the ministry track will have a first-year class with a component that draws on my work on meaning and practices, roughly the terrain I covered when I offered “Meaning and Ministry” as a course at Seabury. The only catch is that I’ll have only a third of a term in which to do it. Now, I’ll probably be contributing to other ministry courses into which I could weave subsequent materials — so if there’s material that follows from my premises, I can take care of that later.
The puzzle, though, is what the best, most economical way would be to make a convincing case for my semiotico-, hermeneutico-, ethico-theological understanding of “signifying practice.” I wil have a limited book budget — I oughtn’t to ask students to buy more than one book, two if they’re cheap. So: if I get, say, a three- or four-week crack at persuading my first-years to look at the world as I suggest (and thankfully, the other ministry faculty have indicated support for the premise), what among the kinds of thing I typically foist on students (such as the readings we discussed on the Beautiful Theology page) would win the most buy-in?


I just took forty-five minutes working on the web version of my “Theology and Popular Music” talk at the SBL. On a moment’s whim, I navigated over to another site, thinking that I was doing so from another tab in my browser.
I had clicked over to a Google search, leaving behind the forty-five minutes of carefully-polished prose, and returning to an empty text field. Now it’s time to make dinner, and I’m not sure I have the energy (or the heart) to start over. Maybe I’ll work on it tomorrow while I’m invigilating the Bibs 2B exam.


Note: it’s hard to use Facebook and to blog at the same time, especially (I suspect) for us long-time bloggers. Especially at the end of a tiring term. Especially with various writing obligations pending. Especially when my metabolism is still adjusting to intercontinental life. But mostly, I’d bet, because of Facebook.
When I write for my blog, I’m addressing a broader, vaguer readership. I’m not thinking about keeping things short and punchy, light and noncommittal. When I write for my blog, the data is stored on my server space, and comments are under my watchful eye. When I write for my blog, I can hyperlink the way I choose, and make connections to topics I’ve blogged earlier (such as “Glasgow”). I can change the look of my blog (even though I haven’t for years), I can use CSS and tags and put tags on the posts, make categories, and so on. And did I mention all the data is on my server, not Mark Zuckerberg’s?
I’ll try to keep blogging, try to work it up to a more regular, more substantive pace. And I’ll be posting status updates on Facebook steadily, too.


My colleague in New Testament studies at Glasgow, Ward Blanton and his wife Amy yesterday became parents of a daughter Sophia Elizabeth (hence, Zoe became a sister, too)! Word is that everyone is well. Loving best wishes to them and all who join in rejoicing at this good news.