I’ve heard newscasters refer to the Italian premier as a “tycoon” or “media tycoon” so often that it usually just wafts by me — but this morning, I wondered how audiences would react if our news sources typically referred to the U.S. president as “oil tycoon George Bush” (or more precisely, “heir to oil wealth”). Maybe he doesn’t have enough money to qualify as a tycoon (how much?), or doesn’t have a sufficiently extensive array of holdings. What makes Berlusconi a “tycoon,” while Bush is simply an extraordinarily wealthy just-plain-American guy?

Parallel Thought

Several weeks ago, I chafed at some folks’ tendency to make an idol of “justice”; this morning, Margaret sent a quotation from officially-important theologian Johann Baptist Metz, who spoke about “emancipation” in similar terms: “

“There is a real danger of ideologizing. Hardly any other word seems so excessively used, so hyper-legitimate, and so emotionally charged in present discussions.”
Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, Johann Baptist Metz (transl. David Smith) (New York: The Seabury Press, 1980).

That’s the kind of point I was trying to make.

Judas, Jesus, Dan Brown, and Friday’s Sermon

I don’t have very much to say about the Gospel of Judas that isn’t summed up in Stephen Carlson’s posts and comments; at a cursory reading, it looks to me like a predictable Gnostic gospel, with nothing especially sensational nor anything likely to change scholarly opinion on any major issue.

The Holy Blood, Holy Grail sensation-mongers have lost their court case that the da Vinci sensation-monger plagiarized their bogus sensational ideas. I suppose that the whole story could develop more recursively bizarre developments, but my imagination doesn’t work that way.

And in the more humdrum world of daily life in the church, I preached this morning on John 10, the scene where Jesus’ interlocutors threaten to stone him. The effort it took to eke this sermon out inhibited both tax preparation and course prep for this morning, but the sermon came together at long last (it’s in the “extended” portion of the post). I’ll tackle the taxes tonight or tomorrow.
Continue reading “Judas, Jesus, Dan Brown, and Friday’s Sermon”

To Do List

I had been planning to do the family taxes tonight, when it came into focus that I’m preaching tomorrow morning — so I have a sermon to compose, along with a handout for tomorrow morning’s New Testament Intro class, a grocery trip. So if I seem busy, you’ll understand, I’m sure.

Proud Papa

At the end of Greek reading group this week, Beth gave me an odd look and asked, “Did any of the prospective students [on whom Seabury spent three days making our best impression] seem at all confused about you?”

I hadn’t noticed anything, but the question was peculiar enough that I pressed Beth for some follow-up. This is what she told me:

“Your daughter was sitting with Lauren and me at the check-in table, and when prospective students signed in, we introduced ourselves. Pippa said that her father was the janitor, but he liked to pretend that he was the New Testament professor.”

She delivered this explanation with so solemn an expression, evidently, that Lauren was a little worried about what the prospective students would think, and some of the prospies asked Beth about it later.

Beth was a little uncertain about filling me in, but it was so spectacularly delicious a notion, and Pippa evidently spoke her lines so convincingly, that I could do nothing but roar with laughter and beam with pride. A father can impart only a few gifts to a child, and her capacity to deliver arrant absurdity with deadpan seriousness counts as a great inheritance from me (and my father and grandfather).

Morality 2.0

Doc helpfully nudged me to take a gander at his comments on morality in the Web 2.0 business environment, and I had a great time observing his thoughtful, critical readers work with his account of the various sorts of morality, and of their implications for business in the be-webbed ecology. I’m in an odd position with relation to Doc’s essay, since I have plenty to say — as usual, more than enough — but from a variety of positions and with different degrees of weightiness.

So, most important to me, I believe in the kind of interactions that Doc describes as a “morality of generosity,” to the extent that I’d want to call into question the propriety of calling the other approaches “morality” in the truest sense. As a theologian, I affirm the priority of grace (generosity, gratuity, giving) over other modes of interaction. “Balancing books,” an economy of interaction grounded in equal action (Doc’s “morality of accounting”) has going for it an intuitive sense of the fairness that matters deeply to U. S. ideological history — but it enmeshes us in an endless series of struggles over the nature of fairness, who gets to decide, and so on (struggles that constitute an economic drag as well as a practical impediment). “Self-interest” doesn’t even approximate a morality, as far as I’m concerned; even when “enlightened,” self-interest rarely approaches the degree of ethical grandeur of animal life. More often, it devolves into an appallingly degraded struggle of the rich and powerful to protect and extend their sphere of power at the cost of others’ livelihoods and lives.

So when Tim O’Reilly chides Doc for suggesting that Web 2.0 makes altruism central to business success (misreading Doc, as Doc points out), I have little worth saying. Sure, I root for companies to demonstrate the generosity that Doc commends, but I know less than zero about the balance sheets behind the people I know in The Industry. Maybe Tim’s right, such that altruism (which is not just the same as “grace”) bears no reliable connection to success in the Web 2.0 market. That’s not the point. Doc invokes the theology of grace to encourage business operators to show the same generosity that Flickr (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yahoo) does — but I invoke the theology of grace because it’s the right thing. Do it, eh?

After all, what does it profit someone to rake up a windfall on Web 2.0 and lose their soul?

Sweet Home Chicago

An odd weekend — some very wonderful elements, some very frustrating elements, very tiring, and now with the usual delay getting back to Chicago.

The wonderful: spending some time with my sweetheart Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday morning. As Margaret draws nearer and nearer to the end of her graduate program, and as she sees that she’s done well at the tasks assigned her, the outcome of her program comes clearer and clearer, and it’s a blast to see that realization in her eyes. Likewise, we had a delicious evening with Pascale, who led us around the Dupont Circle neighborhood, chose a fantastic Chinese restaurant for us, found the nearest late-night coffee shop (all right, that wasn’t so very hard, since coffee shops are pretty thick on the ground in that neighborhood) and returned us to our hotel, full, happy, and now with more fond thoughts of an online friend.

And my meeting at the Human Rights Campaign brought together a number of my favorite people in the field of biblical studies, and others whom I hadn’t known before. Academic provides an odd variety of sporadic friendships based on conferences and occasional correspondence; any time we can spend in general conversation makes for deeply refreshing nourishment to the soul.

At the same time, I feel some conflict about my role in the project (online biblical commentary geared toward the HRC’s readership). I expected that I was on their list because the HRC envisioned a shared effort at articulating biblical interpretations that embraced LGBT identity in a theological reading that was determined by common interests; in such an enterprise, I have plenty to offer. As it turns out, the HRC and the leading LGBT scholars among us had a more specific view of the project as oriented toward a distinctly LGBT-oriented interpretive practice (“queering the text” without necessarily accommodating hetero readers). I have no question that that’s a legitimate thing to do — I’m not calling the integrity of the idea into practice — but I have a very difficult time finding a useful role for myself in the outworking of the project. I spent most of Saturday feeling even more catholic and more Victorian than usual (and some people thought that was impossible!).

There’s nothing wrong with my feeling disprivileged for once; I don’t need to rule the world, or even to participate in every discussion on an equal basis. No discussions need my input. On the other hand, when someone wants to hold a conversation to which I don’t stand to make a useful contribution, we all may as well save time, energy, and travel money by leaving me at home. No hard feelings, honest, and a more sensible stewardship of resources (I can think of numerous LGBT scholars who weren’t there, who actually could make a substantive discussion to the HRC project).

That being said, everyone was very patient and polite to me, and weekend in Washington was wonderful. I’m just eager to get back home.

[Later: When I wrote those words in the DC airport, I didn’t realize what I was getting into. My plane left DCA at 7:00 EDT, already an hour late. We got to Chicago on schedule, but couldn’t land because of the thunderstorms. After an hour holding, we landed in Detroit (by now, it’s 10:00 EDT). We sat on the runway in Detroit for a half hour while they solemnly assured us that they’d get us to a gate, then when we got a gate, they kept us on the plane. At 12:30 EDT, we took off again, and we landed in Chicago at 12:30 CDT. But that’s not all! We had to wait twenty minutes to reach a gate, and once we disembarked — the first time I’d unfolded from my window seat since I got on the plane — we had to wait a half hour for bags. I arrived at home a little after 2:00 CDT, and am having a snack, and blogging, before I collapse in a smoldering heap of exhaustion.]