Monthly Archives: December 2010

Three Days And Three Nights

It seems as though it’s been weeks since Sunday; my best explanation involves the nasty affliction that seems to be bouncing among my Glasgow friends (second-best explanation is the bug that besieged Laura Harris-’s dad Doug). Either way, the explanation involves a high-impact infection that hit me at first in my throat, then with grave sinus congestion and headaches, hot and chilly flashes, and at last with a cough. (You’re too late; Vicky has already made the menopause joke).
I suspect I’d been holding this miasma at bay by sheer force of will (my will’s force is very sheer indeed) until the sermon be preached Sunday morning. During the latter parts of last week, I remember noticing that I wasn’t entirely confident I was thinking clearly about the sermon, and I’m not at all sure it made much sense. Pippa couldn’t understand it; Margaret said it gave her a helpful idea for her work using Hebrews; Doug and Carol said kind things about it, but they’re comprehensively generous and although I trust them unreservedly, I also know that generous people don’t always make the most vigilant critics.
After church Sunday, I started wobbling. My voice rapidly became squeaky-scratchy, and I felt just a little light-headed. The whole McVetty-Harris-Adam tribe went out to celebrate Carol’s 26 December birthday by catching the City Lit theater company’s performance of “The Wind in the Willows,” then enjoying a delectable dinner at Francesca’s. Happy birthday, Carol! It was a glorious afternoon and evening!
As the day lengthened, though, I felt more and more unwell. We packed and prepared for our sojourn in Ypsilanti, but I went to bed early. Monday I sat in the passenger side of the rental car, croaking and moaning and blowing my nose — I was great company for my sweetheart. It was terrific to see Nate and Laura Hope, and the bed in our hotel is comfortable, but I was a wreck, and poor Margaret could hardly sleep a wink.
Yesterday was suboptimal but OK, and we had a great dinner at Margaret’s home (Laura Hope (Nate’s fiancée)’s mother is named “Margaret” too), though I was still wobbling with congestion and squeaking with sore throat. I feared that last night would be a reprise of Monday night, but it played out differently; I coughed on and off, but no baking heat and minimal congestion. I mostly just had a hard time keeping hydrated, and occasionally coughing and needing to clear my head.
All of which leads up to today‘s report, which (I think) points toward nearly ordinary health (I haven’t tried my voice yet, but my head feels only slightly congested, and not especially achey). This evening, Josiah and Laura Harris- (who has been feeling fluey herself) plan to come up to Ypsi to unite the nuclear family for the first time since Si’s wedding. Looking forward to seeing everyone, and thankful that I’m feeling better!

More Link Stromateis

Around the house whirls energy and productivity, while I myself have been struggling with Sunday’s sermon (alternately concentrating on what I might say, and distracting myself with nonsense). I may need to go sit at the corner coffeeshop for a while to see if I can make some headway; somehow I don’t think I’ll have lots of time for composition tomorrow. Alas, my own energies seem to be depleted by a bug that presumably followed me from Scotland; a sore throat started yesterday morning, and intensified overnight. We’ll see how that develops. In the meantime, though, it’s a tremendous treat to spend time with our family here, whom I not only love but also admire.
All that being said, the tabs are accumulating in my browser window again, so here’s this morning’s linkdump:
• The London Review of Books describes the vile, repressive practice of kettling from some of those caught up in the demonstrations against education cuts last week. Who in government will stand up and call “Shame!” for this horrible misprision of peace-keeping?
Theory, Culture, and Society interviews John Milbank, and the interview displays both the elements of John’s theology that seem very sound and important to me (I affirm his sense that “universities often work better when they do have a particular ethos,” that it’s an “illusion that there might be a kind of natural, purely human culture that didn’t have religion and myths,” and the importance of “a new alliance between popular religiosity and intellectual reflection”), as well as the aspects of his theology and his self-understanding from which I would have to distance myself (I see no benefit in arguing things such as “Christianity itself is the truest universalism” or getting tangled in claims that “the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and autonomy have got debased” — well, debased relative to what? contemporary exponents of Enlightenment ideals don’t necessarily think of their goals as “debased” — or his antagonism toward the sophists). There’s no need to adulate or revile Milbank; cheerleading or name-calling doesn’t advance any cause worth taking seriously. Let’s push things forward.
• As a home-schooler before home-schooling was even as culturally prominent as it is today (still not very), I’m always pleased when thoughtful people in the public eye recognise and take up the reasons for pursuing the goals we aimed at with our progeny. Caterina Fake — one of the founding developers of the late lamented Game Neverending and Flickr (whose fate Yahoo may have sealed last week), and founder of Hunch — has started blogging about her concerns relative to student-centred learning. (By the way, it’s fun to read about Hunch in David Weinberger’s forthcoming <Too Big To Know; both David and Caterina have been there online long enough to have the perspective to make them interesting participant observers of the technology landscape.)
• Speaking of forthcoming books, is anyone looking forward to reading Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade more than Margaret and I? I doubt it. I will arise and go to my nearest bookseller to procure a copy as soon as it’s available!
• And speaking of books and buying, Gary Gibson posts an author’s (sardonic) perspective on the oncoming catastrophic change in the economy of publishing. The principal impediemnt to authors, musicians, filmmakers, and others being paid for their brilliance in this new economy is not “the internet” or “pirates,” it’s the immovable resistance with which most publishers and artists cling to the financial model of the late-nineteenth to late-twentieth centuries. The economy of rewards and support for the arts has always been changing; the notion that one relatively brief, relatively local moment when the material conditions of production, circulation, and acquisition sustained a particularly lucrative system of financing the arts (and even during that interval, there was constant discontent about the ways that the marketplace allotted “success”) will be blotted out in a relatively short while. Beginning several years ago, the mammals of the arts industry has had the opportunity to steal a march on their dinosaur rivals by embracing the internet and learning from the Net how to cultivate a thriving arts economy (and plenty of artists and even publishers/distributors have done so). Authority figures may muster tremendous coercive force and expend vast sums of money to lock the arts economy to a past that’s already failing, disintegrating, eroding before our eyes and ears, but even as the FCC caves to regressive industrial lobbying (for the time being) some quarters will perceive the market opportunity in real net neutrality, in real DRM-free and copyright-sane production and distribution — and will reap the benefits of foresight and agility. The question is neither “But how will we produce this or that?” nor “Who will pay the authors/musicians?”, but “When will our assumptions about production and support shift enough that we can learn how, on a large scale, the arts economy will shape up in a digital environment?” I’ll give you a hint: censoring, DRM, penal enforcement, and ever-expanding claims relative to copyright will not turn out to be the answer.
Happy Christmas Eve!

Catching Up Stromateis

The last few days week have entailed so sweeping a list of distractions that I won’t even begin to recount it. As a result, however, my “ought to blog this” queue has approached Tolstovian proportions. Here’s a sample (some links surely fell out of my mind when I fell and banged my head):
IVP cites “five things pastors should know about first-time visitors.” I object to the marketing-ideology frame the author adopts, but I’ve long advocated the premise that clergy and congregations should hardly ever relax from thinking about how enter-able their communities and worship services are. If you don’t care to click through, here is my (more theological) translation of their five points: First, “Visitors make up their minds regarding a new church in the first ten minutes of their visit” (that one didn’t need translating); second, “Most church members aren’t friendly” (that one’s OK too, though I’d try to put it more gently and constructively); third, “You can’t assume that visitors feel any obligation to stay with you, your denomination, your theology, your liturgical style, or even your specific faith” (which implies at least two things, one being that everything we do ought to be done with an eye toward helping make it possible for people to understand why they should come back, and the other being that education constitutes a desperately important element in evangelism); fourth, “God has called the church to hospitality” (not, heaven help us, “is in the hospitality business”); and finally, “Every moment counts toward making a lasting first impression” (hence, the congregation and its front-line representatives ought to be fully, thoroughly, deeply, and temperamentally formed for welcoming people. Not everyone is or need be cheery, effusive, actively helpful, and so on, but the church betrays its calling if it encounters visitors who rightly perceive it to be aloof, insular, and morose). There, I saved you some bother.
• The estimable Alan Jacobs (I estimate him to be about 183, though I won’t stipulate what units those are 183 of) posts Andrew Hudgins’s “Praying Drunk.” This time I won’t quote it, because it will be good for your soul to go read it.I’ve often said that I’m not a good reader of poetry; this is an aesthetic and spiritual weakness of mine that for which I’m sad. I do, however, immediately recognise some poems as telling the truth, and this is one of them. Thanks, Alan, for citing it.
• Alan also pointed to an apposite passage from Kenneth Burke’s Philosophy of Literary Form that characterises not only “the materials of your drama,” but the conditions for participation in any weighty, historic conversation. This sort of narrated picture captures my sense of why modern theologians, philosophers, and participants in culture — even and especially those who encounter alien, alienating dominant cultures — ought (and stand to benefit from) imbibing deeply the sense of that culture before intervening to alter it. Some few very brilliant hearts can make such a revisionary intervention solely on the basis of their own insight and experience, but practically everybody else can participate more intelligibly, more persuasively and productively, more respectfully (and even our most wrong-headed adversaries typically merit respect in one dimension or another if we attend patiently to them) by knowing the tradition into which one is stepping.
Matt reminds us about the honourable legacy of St Thomas the Apostle, who became known as “Doubting Thomas” and who has been claimed as a sponsor by all sorts of skeptical types. I read John’s Gospel (the one which informs us about Thomas in a way that contributes to the “doubting” nickname) as affirming the expectation of evidence, unlike the Synoptic Gospels; that is, whereas in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given it,” in John’s Gospel Jesus is all about giving people signs. So Thomas ought not be seen as transgressively skeptical (as some of his self-justifying admirers proclaim) but as sensibly faithful — “Jesus has taught me to believe on the basis of good reasons, so where are the good reasons for believing he has risen?” Now, some people assimilate John’s Gospel to the “don’t put too much emphasis on visible evidence (it might lead to works righteousness!)” perspective, and I wouldn’t try to force the issue, but I venerate St Thomas (and his namesake from Aquino) as representatives of evidence-based theological thinking.
• Hmm, that one I oughtn’t to share. But it’s good!
• I’ll have more to say after I’ve spent a few days here, but I’m already surprised at how non-native I feel in the USA.
That’s enough for now. I should get on with things, and be more social. We]re here, we’re safe and in good health, and it’s a deep joy to see our kids and the McVetty-Harrises. You all take care, and we’ll look forward to seeing you, too.

This Is The Story (The Short Version)

Margaret’s earache — the one that flared up two weeks ago — has abated in the intervening days, but she still couldn’t hear. She went to the GP this morning to have her ear flushed, and the nurse and GP discovered that she couldn’t hear because she had a punctured eardrum. The ear-nose-throat specialist advised her simply not to fly. The GP, who’s better-acquainted with her, pointed out that she wouldn’t have any trouble as long as there’s a hole in the eardrum, because the pressure will equalise — it’s the return trip that she ought not undertake until her ear has fully healed. Any damage she does in the next weeks might have permanent effects. We have plane tickets for tomorrow morning at 6 AM; you imagine what happens next.
We spent much of the middle of the day scrambling for the best suboptimal answer. At one point it seemed as though we had to keep pushing forward; at another, that we mustn’t. Maybe we could delay our tickets; no, we couldn’t. I was cut off on a phone call with KLM after forty minutes and £10 of negotiations; when I called back, they weren’t answering phones, since the weather in the UK has been so unexpectedly harsh.
So we’re going ahead with the flights tomorrow. Margaret will stay in Chicago (or take ground transport if she wants to go anywhere else) until her ear has healed and she’s been approved to fly by an American medic. I’ll stick with my 3 January return ticket to Glasgow. I’m disappointed about her ear not being healed (not the GP’s fault, they couldn’t see past the inflammation when she was first treated), about her not coming home with me when she was scheduled to, about her being grounded in Chicago (and our wonderful children and in-laws having to put her up), and especially about the risk to her hearing. We only have so much time to deal with the circumstances. We will lose money on the changes no matter what. We haven’t seen the family in a long time. KLM isn’t talking to us.
On the whole, I would prefer not to have days such as this.
I’ll be in touch, and will let readers know as much as I can about how Margaret’s ear, and the trip, are progressing.

“Tain’t A Fit Night Out….”

I didn’t want to blog about it yesterday (when so important an other entry took precedence), but in the morning on my way to a meeting I slipped on some ice and fell directly onto the back of my head. (Insert apposite jokes here.) Luckily for me, my heavy woollen greatcoat slid upward as I fell, and it buffered the impact of my skull on the pavement. I didn’t black out; a couple of helpful passers-by checked on me, and I could count and see straight and, eventually, stand up and walk. Everyone kept a close eye on me all the rest of the day; I showed no signs of ill effects, and at least one person guessed that it might have jarred some sense into me. (I still like French critical theory, though.)
Today is a bit different story. My skull and brain seem to be doing OK, but the rest of my body is full of little aches and pains, places (I suppose) where my muscles and joints and bones tried to use the milliseconds between loss-of-balance to impact to protect me from greater harm. It’s a bit funny, though, to be feeling the effects of the fall everywhere except where I made contact.
Anyway, Margaret and I are very thankful that this was so inconsequential an incident, and we can still look forward to flying back to the States in a couple of days (aaak!) to visit our children and their friends and families. See you Wednesday, Chicago!

Happy Pippa Day, World!

Most of the UK and USA will go about their business today, shopping or striving or selling out or selling or buying or processing — blithely negligent of the momentous significance of 17 December — at least, this year. (A few years hence, when everyone knows of her awesomeness, then more people will surely celebrate.)

Summer Hat Color

Today is Pippa Day, the day our family welcomed our astoundingly pippa-tastic daughter. We’ve told the long tale of woe joy and intrigue several times over the past few days, and we may well tell it again more this weekend. It always has the same, most happy ending. Happy day, Pippa!

Repeat: Aspiring Scholars Wanted

I’m repeating this post, since it’s the time of year when people send out applications for doctoral programmes. I’d be pleased to sign up a couple of bright, willing postgraduate students who would take their degrees in the beautiful West End of Glasgow, where it never snows. Honest!

Spread the word: I’m settling in here at Glasgow, and have gotten to a point where it would be sensible for me to begin working with PhD students.
If you’d like to go on and begin doctoral study of the New Testament, why not give Glasgow a serious thought? (Why not, also, if you want to study OT or theology or whatever? — but my colleagues can start their own blogs.) Glasgow is a terrific city; the University is a darn good one; we’re having an administrative spasm just now, but that shouldn’t affect postgrads much. The School of Critical Studies within which I work includes many fascinating colleagues from the English Language, English Literature, and Scottish Literature fields — including Kei Miller, whom I just met at the Re-Writing the Bible Conference), and of course a very strong lineup of biblical and theological staff. And Gifford Lectures!
I am especially well-suited to supervise work on the Gospel of Matthew or the Epistle of James, or about questions specifically involving my work on hermeneutics and theology. I could easily enough stretch to cover other synoptics or the Pauline epistles, if your Pauline topic doesn’t suit better my colleague Ward Blanton.
If you are admitted to Glasgow’s postgraduate research program, you will modulate fairly directly into research and writing for your PhD thesis. I would expect to work closely with you, to ensure the high quality of your work and to ward off any unwelcome surprises when you present your thesis for defence. You would work among a care of very agreeable postgrad neighbours; right now, I believe that most of our students are working with the Centre for Theology, Literature, and the Arts (led by David Jasper). By the way, US students, this means no qualifying exams and although you will have no required classes in the department (there may be some workshoppy classes to help prepare you for life as a teacher and writer), I will endeavour to make sure that you and your colleagues read well and widely in the course of your preparation. I am not inclined to send you out without confidence that you’re solidly grounded in your field of study.
If your readiness for research study is not immediately clear, you may be admitted to a taught masters program, in which you would take classes toward a masters degree, and during which you would demonstrate your academic mettle to the faculty who might then admit you to postgraduate study.
Lovely city, agreeable institutional setting, wonderful colleagues, straight to work on research — what’s the catch? Well, if you’re from outside the UK (or, in a different way, the EU), you’ll probably have to arrange the financing of your program on your own. We have some aid for overseas students, but not much; don’t be hurt if we don’t have any for you. And of course, I think this is the worst academic job market in human history, for all qualified scholars at all levels from all institutions.
But if you have scholarship aid already, or don’t need to worry about that; if you’d like to study the New Testament (or the Old Testament, or theology, or Theology, Literature and the Arts) in a nifty locale, give a thought to applying here at Glasgow. And if you’d like to ask me about more details, email me at akm dot adam at gmail dot com.

Great opportunity!

Respect, and Dis-

We heard from Nate today that the last piano teacher with whom he studied before going off to Eastman — Emilio del Rosario — had died.
Mr. del Rosario meant a lot to us, since he took Nate under his tutelage even though it became clear that Nate wasn’t going to become a competitive pianist. He and Nate liked one another; Mr. del Rosario would tell him jokes, and although Nate wasn’t wont to practice constantly, he did keep playing. We recognise him in the Tribune’s obituary: “It’s really very simple. I not only love what I do, I love my students as well. They are like my children. And I am one of the luckiest people around.” A wonderfully gracious sentiment; thank you, Maestro.
And to the Trib: Thanks for all those ads surrounding and pasted into the middle of the obituary. Way to keep things classy.

Concerning The Recent Apocalypse

As I type, the midwestern US faces an ordinary, garden-variety blizzard: about 15 to 20 inches (40 to 50 centimeters) in a thirty-hour span (on top of a certain amount of snow lying already). Happens every year, sometimes twice or more a year, and although they don’t usually postpone US football games, life goes on as usual. Now, a snowfall of 5 feet or so — while not astounding — might be pretty disruptive.
As I type, Glasgow has mostly recovered from its recent ten-day-long snow cataclysm, which involved perhaps a total of 20 cm spread over the ten-day span. Motorists stranded! Trains stalled on the tracks! Housebound desperation! Councils closing public facilities! Someone from the northern US is tempted to mock and fleer at the havoc wrought by so ordinary a snowfall, but that mockery misses the point. It’s not the absolute snowfall that makes for a disruption; it’s snowfall relative to warranted expectations. It wouldn’t make sense for Glasgow, given what Margaret and I have been assured to be its predictably minimal snow accumulations, to keep prepared for a ten-cm snowfall. Ploughs, shovels, mountains of salt and grit — these wouldn’t be used most of the time, and there are urgent public needs that justifiably prevail over precautions for such unlikely events.
(“How unlikely?” you may ask. Margaret and I have spent considerable time looking for statistical records relative to annual snowfall rates in Glasgow and Scotland, but we have mostly found records only of the number of days with “snow lying” (on the ground) and lofty-but-firm assurances that although it occasionally snows in Strathclyde, the snow only stays in the higher elevations apart from a day or two a year.)
I’m glad Glasgow’s pavements are navigable, and I wish my midwestern friends a swift deliverance from such inconvenience as the blizzard entails. Come on over as soon as you can get ploughed out. Meanwhile, it’s back to the usual wintry weather for us: temperatures just above 0°, cold rain, frosts, and short days and long nights. We’ll let you know when the next sign of the apocalypse comes.


Margaret’s got one. It demonstrates all the characteristics of a classic earache, chief being that the pain prevents her from concentrating or resting. We’ll go to our GP in the morning if it hasn’t gotten better by then. Me, I’ll probably try to catch what sleep I can.