Evidence and Persuasion

I’ve been approaching the New Testament II class this winter somewhat differently from past years; whereas before, I divided the survey between gospels (first term) and epistles (second term), this time around I tried to do the cognitive work of the survey of the whole NT in the first term, and have been trying to get at questions of discerning stronger and weaker interpretations in this second term.

Certain aspects of the class have affirmed that decision. It looks clearer and clearer to me that it’s right to segregate the modes of thinking; it’s too much to introduce the conventions of NT scholarship at the same time I’m asking students to identify which are the strongest and best interpretations, and which are dodgier.

On the other hand, I haven’t quite successfully helped the NT II students arrive at a critical apparatus for recognizing stronger or weaker. That has a lot to do with the way the discipline has constituted itself; I’d argue that New Testament studies, biblical studies, has tended to induct new practitioners based on their intuitive apprehension of practices and rules that remain unstated, or are stated in ways unhelpful to a beginning outsider. I’d love to have the time to do some work on ways that biblical scholars actually frame their arguments — not the tacit arguments and warrants that we’re socialized to recognize and interpolate into the explicit rhetoric, but the ways we actually frame our cases (so that I could then work with students toward identifying which of these a particular article was advancing, and also could try to supply what our elliptical reasoning omits. That pertains directly to the project I was pitching to Rodney Clapp last fall, introducing students to biblical scholarship with very short manuals on “what makes this kind of argument convincing”; unfortunately, it would require a set-aside block of time to go through a repertoire of articles, highlight the argumentative skeletons of the pieces, and foreground the warrants, make explicit the presuppositions that stand to persuade the careful reader. Maybe after the next book. . . .

Back: Broken

The long-overdue essay on postmodernity and faith has approximated competion. It needs a conclusion, and it would be better with another round of sanding and filling — it’s constituted by refactoring materail from some earlier unpbulished stuff — but I’m at word count.

The Latest

After copious experimentation, Pippa and I have settled on our favorite peanut sauce recipe. We are sufficiently impressed to have begun contemplating the advantages of an all-peanut-sauce diet. . . .

Stress, Grace, Joy

I’ve been wrestling with two essays and homily for the past week — one of the essays on the current mess in the Anglican Communion (and I fret that it will hurt some whose friendship I cherish), and the homily for a memorial service for a friend. What with life at Seabury and these obligations, I’ve had a lot of restlessness and annoying, persistent headaches at the lower back of my skull.

But this is not about me. It’s about grace and truth.

This morning, I drove out to Aurora, Illinois in the sleet and rain, where I received communion from my friend and former student Charlie De Kay. Then the congregation — sparser than usual, due perhaps to the weather or perhaps to the prospect of a long-winded professor from Seabury come to bother them — gathered in the Guild Room for a talk about The Historical Jesus And Why We Shouldn’t Obsess About Him, and they paid generous attention, asked pertinent questions, indicated their interest in the follow-up meeting two weeks from now. As I was driving home from Aurora, I thought over what I might say at tomorrow night’s memorial service, and I had to pause to recollect in gratitude the inestimable wealth of blessings in my life: enduring friendships with wonderful students; a staggeringly spectacular family; a remarkable network of attention, affection and mutual support online; and more opportunities to write than I can fulfill.

All of this is not something I earned, not something I can claim by desert; I’m too frail, too compromised, too vain, too short-sighted, too limited in my capacities. All these gifts are pure grace. The joy of that gift surged over me this morning, on my way home; the stress and pain were transfigured, still stressful and painful, but linked into a complex whole constituted from the free generosity of greater goodness, greater virtue, greater wisdom than mine. That sort of gift can’t be kept, but only extended.

I saw clearly that I can’t do enough to extend that grace as fully as I ought. To this I testify: some things are right, somethings are true, much that is greatest is costly, and I partake of my innumerable blessings at cost to others. If I could make everything happen my way, I still would get things wrong, let people down, act on self-serving inclination. I am so sorry.

This morning I saw a newborn baby waving to his mother. I believe in that baby’s wave more than in any bright idea, any plan or proposal of mine. Bless you, child; bless my sisters and brothers; bless me.
Continue reading “Stress, Grace, Joy”

Another Boston Story

Yesterday afternoon David Weinberger reported from the Beyond Broadcast conference; though pretty much everything he ever writes pertains in some way to online education, his report of John Palfrey’s presentation strikes me as particularly pertinent, especially the lines, “semiotic democracy, e.g., control of cultural goods, with meaning created by many, not by the few. More YouTube and Second Life, less Disney. But ([Palfrey] asks), will people participate? Will we just create the old structures online? And won’t new intermediaries emerge to decide what we see?”

We’ll see — but someone’s going to forge that path first, without knowing in advance how it will turn out. Waiting for certainty that we can’t go wrong will paralyze us; venturing the chance of an instructive failure will set free our energies and imaginations to make possible the educational YouTube, the pedagogical Second Life.


News of the death of Dennis Johnson surprises and saddens me. My dad has always been an ardent fan of the Celtics, and he instilled in me an allegiance to the franchise rooted in respect for Red Auerbach’s coaching and Bill Russell’s and John Havilicek’s style. Back when I still watched broadcast television, I used to love seeing the resurgent Celts of the 1980’s: Larry Bird, of course, and Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and my hero, the Chief – Robert Parish. DJ played Celtics basketball: team first, skills oriented toward cooperation and harmony. Those games exemplify much that I hold dear, and DJ perhaps more than any other single player gave up spotlight and individual glory to reorient his game toward a collaboration with other extraordinarily gifted teammates.

It hurts to remember him as an ordinary man as well as an extraordinary player, as someone who threatened Donna, the woman he loved, with a knife. No excuse, no slack – that’s not what greatness is made of, and nostalgia and sentiment mustn’t paint over the dreadful reality of those moments. For whatever reason (or lack of reason), he stepped away from the fullness of what he might have been; but he and Donna stayed together, and he subsequently gave ample testimonies to his remorse and penitence.

When he died a couple of days ago, he was just 52 years old, just a dite older than I am. He was working off the ramifications of his transgression, and from what I gather, was doing great things with developing ballplayers (and apparently doing right by Donna). He had more of an opportunity than most of us to taste and embody excellence, and less of a chance than many of us to demonstrate transformation of life and reconciliation. Much as I miss the player he was and the coach he probably would have been, I most of all miss the years he could have devoted to regenerate love.

Cory on Jobs

Last time I linked to Cory Doctorow involved some degrees of criticism and misunderstanding, so it’s a pleasure this time to point out his incisive diagnosis of Steve Jobs’s double-dealing rhetoric about DRM and music.

Straight to the point from the penultimate paragraph:

Apple doesn’t sell music because of DRM — it sells music in spite of DRM. The iTunes Store proves that you can compete with free. People have bought billions of dollars worth of music from Apple because it offered a better user experience. But no one bought for the DRM. Some people bought in spite of it, some bought in ignorance of it, but there’s no customer for whom DRM is a selling point. No one woke up this morning wishing for a way to do less with her music.


It Is (Mostly) Finished

This morning, Margaret handed in the last written exam in her dissertation process; she will complete the ordeal with an oral defense of her exams on March 2. The oral won’t necessarily be a picnic, and writing a dissertation is a momentous challenge, but the obligation to compose a short essay on a not-precisely-anticipated topic for the approval of five authority figures entails a litany of onerous stresses – and Margaret has negotiated them, finally. In a very short while, she’ll be ABD. Yay, Margaret!

Quick and Brilliant

This morning, NPR reported on research that shows (what those of us who actually listen to bereaved friends knew) that the Kübler-Ross stages of mourning don’t necessarily occur in the designated order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

That topic will hereafter ever call to mind this post from Micah and Laura (I’m quoting it here, in case something bad ever happens to Micah’s archives):

[Micah]: Laura, I’m sorry, but Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is dead.
Laura: She is not! That absolutely sucks! Are you sure? Check again. Ah, what’re we gonna do without her? Well, I suppose it’s OK. Everybody dies.

Speaking of Micah, he points to Whispers in the Loggia, especially this post that announces that the Vatican web backend has gone Mac-native.