Where It’s Happening

David links to the year-end summary of the favorite online videos from twelve webby marketers; I was delighted to see that he chose Michael Wesch’s “Web 2.0. . . The Machine Is Us/ing Us” (and Seth Godin chose Wesch’s follow-up video).

And Doc points out that David Isenberg has wrangled another year’s-worth of F2C, his annual “Freedom to Connect” conference. It’s a pivotal meeting at a pivotal moment in the trajectory of U.S. participation in cultivating the digital dimension of our common life, and I hope some legislative types (maybe even some candidates) pay attention to what develops there.

As Best I Recall

It will come as a complete shock to my friends to hear that somehow, between the study at home and my study at the Center (in other words in the short walk through the living room, out to the car, from the car in the parking lot upstairs to the office), I completely lost the manuscript for Sunday’s sermon. I have the computer file, of course — I just lost all the emendations I scribbled onto it as I read, reread, and improved it before the service. I’m pasting a version of it as best I can reconstruct it in the extended section.

Deb greets AKMA at her installation

And not only was Debra installed Sunday, but several of my Chicago-area students were priested: M.E., Susan, Heidi, Corinne, and Jeannie (and Janey, too, further afield). It was a busy weekend for the Holy Spirit!
Now, to square away some loose ends and finish our gift-shopping. . . .
Continue reading “As Best I Recall”

Pro Tempore

I know I promised to post Sunday’s sermon yesterday, but I’ve lost my hand-corrected copy of the manuscript. If need be, I’ll reconstruct the changes I made — but I’d rather start from the refinements I already made.

Dear Jeneane


That rain you requested was sent to the wrong address.

I drove from Princeton to Cape May today, to preach at Debra’s installation as Vicar of St. Barnabas, a small church near the southern tip of the Jersey peninsula, and all along the way I saw standing water in streets and fields, streams brimming their banks, muddy rivers, flooded coastal swamps, and more coming down every mile. I wish I could redirect some of it where it’s more needed. . . .

The service, on the other hand, was wonderful — a community amply enthusiastic about their pastor, Bishop Councell demonstrative in his delight with Debra’s ministry, and generous good humor all around. I’ll post the sermon tomorrow; tonight I’m just unwinding.

Do I Read an “Amen”?

From Stephen Downes, a post from Michael Umphrey that emphasizes the importance of actually improving students’ writing (at the high school level — but gosh darn golly, maybe something like that would even help college and graduate students). Some of the standout points include Stephen’s comment that “I do believe that there are good reasons for good writing, and that there are ways to become a better writer. Clarity and precision – whether in writing, art or athletics – are virtues, because they help you obtain your objectives. The principles of writing are intended, in the first instance, to foster clarity and precision,”; Michael’s observation that although “empowerment, authenticity, and voice” may identify dimensions of writing that teachers should encourage, “research (not just Googling). . . . truth, and accuracy” were pretty desirable too (I would add “even more desirable,” and I’d import Stephen’s “clarity and precision” here. Plus, “knowing the difference between an argument and an opinion).”

Michael suggests that getting students to write online, where they stand visibly responsible for what they say, would be a good step — blogging, for instance.

Michael notes that you can’t simply assume that accredited teachers make good writers (one might think this self-evident, but the ideological power of credentials obscures the obvious in this as so many other respects). Teachers need to be taught to write better, and the whole curriculum should support the value of strong, clear, focused writing — otherwise, in a culture that accords little explicit emphasis to effective expression, it will be perceived as a cranky obsession of the minority who uphold it. “Promote this school as the place where writing matters.” In theological education, one can only imagine what would happen if a particular seminary got the reputation as forming remarkably articulate, effective preachers and communicators.

It’s not that it has been tried, and found wanting. It’s that it has been found difficult, and not tried.

Don’t Know What To Make Of That

As I was working on my sermon for Debra’s installation just now, I hit the Quicksilver launch combination to start my copy of Accordance, to fine-tune a biblical reference — and Warcraft booted up instead. Pavlovian creature of habit that I am, I began to enter my login and password before it occurred to me that this was not the application I wanted at the moment.

Debra need not fear; I will not be incorporating any dialogue from Warcraft in the sermon for the day (although one can allegedly learn useful life lessons by playing). Pippa wants me to discuss the theological proposition that “God is a chipmunk”; I’m not sure where she picked that notion up, or why she would want me promoting it, but such is the way of teenage daughters, I guess.


It’s practically mid-December, and no one warned me. Something ought to be done.

I built a number of primitive computer games back in digital antiquity, I’m a gamer now, I’m an Anglican theologian, and was brought up in a Shakespehearean household. I would have given an eyetooth or two to be part of Edward Castronova’s Arden experiment, so you can chalk up some of what I’m about to say as sour grapes. But when (as it turns out) he was obliged to suspend development of the experiment because the game he produced “is no fun,” I think I am somewhat justified in saying, “Duh!” Castronova is a good guy and an acute economist, but from what I gather (“Arden” relies on a software engine I don’t have, and it’s not clear whether it runs on Macs at all), he seems to have built a world that’s functional and accurate, but offers players no persistent motivation for playing. Oh, well, what’s $240,000 among friends?

At the same time, Yale has used a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to put put together seven complete online courses — one-upping MIT’s Open Courseware by heightening production values and rolling the whole course into the package. You can chew gum and stare down at your notebook in your own home (not for credit, of course), while prominent Yale faculty lecture through several popular courses. Props to Yale — it looks as though they’re doing this very right, and I’d advise anyone who’s thinking of going to seminary, or any seminarian who hasn’t already taken Old Testament intro, or anyone who’s in OT Intro now or needs a refresher, to check out Christine Hayes’s course. And bonus points to Yale because the course materials are all minty-fresh Creative Commons licensed!

Plus, Margaret flies home this afternoon! What could make the day better?

Another Candle

Anita Rowland died yesterday.

I didn’t know Anita well; others knew her much better than did I. Our paths crossed a few times back in olden times, when Blogaria was a small neighborhood rather than an exploding metropolis, but not since then. No matter — our lives were knit together not just by any exchanges we may have had, but by our shared friendships with Shelley, Jeneane, and Frank (among others).

We’re lighting a digital candle for you, Anita, and for all who grieve you. Perhaps it will shed some light to others who miss you, to us in memory, to strangers who learn to know you retrospectively through the imprint you made on us. Perhaps to you, in some way we don’t yet understand. We’re lighting a candle, and we’re coming after you.

Stepping In It

Well, the Diocese of San Joaquin has voted to disassociate itself from the Episcopal Church (and to associate itself with the Province of the Southern Cone), and some people are thrilled, and some people are furious, institutional authorities are figuring out whom to replace with whom on which charts of authority, very many people wonder what the Archbishop of Canterbury will do about the steaming mess freshly delivered to his doorstep, and lawyers are girding themselves to generate billions of billable hours.

Almost everyone who has spoken publicly on this development has deployed rhetoric that smacks of idolatrous fixation on Nikê, the goddess of Victory. Whatever may be dubious about somebody’s behavior, or language, or theology, or history, or legal reasoning, can be explained by the necessity of taking such-and-such a stand, now — or else what? Let them get away with that?

It is all well and good to stand up for gospel truth — God bless such testimony! — but so far as I can tell from reading the Bible, followers of Jesus are expected to work out their problems among themselves, and not wrangle or exercise coercive violence toward one another (or anyone). And if the Wrong Side were to get a temporal advantage that way, so much the worse for them; in all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.

The conflict sets people into odd contortions. People who advocate strict adherence to exactly what Scripture teaches will readily fight in court to possess the real estate they claim, despite Paul’s explicit prohibition of such action. People who advocate the exercise of pastoral sensitivity in the interpretation of Scripture espouse uncompromising rigor in the interpretation of canons. People are devising mind-boggling amalgams of catholic and protestant premises that support their claim to whatever is in dispute. Each thinks their own rationalizations are just and true, whereas their adversary’s rationalizations only serve their whimsical convenience.

If our charity were not already exhausted, we might have reached a settlement that recognized the good will and theological integrity of our discussion partners (misguided though we know them to be). Lacking charity, it seems as though name-calling and legal maneuvering will constitute the principal means by which a number of church leaders endeavor to glorify the gospel. For some reason, that doesn’t sound like good news to me.


A week from tomorrow, I’ll haul the Outback down to coastal New Jersey to preach at the installation of Debra Bullock as vicar of St. Barnabas-by-the-Bay. This is a very good thing, in several ways — most importantly, she’s a very wonderful, conscientious disciple of Jesus, who cares a lot about important things; less importantly, I always relish the chance to preach, even if I’ve specifically asked the parish at which we worship on Sundays if they would please not invite me so to do; and last, I’ll have a chance to say hello to Bishop Councell, who used to be a Seabury trustee.

On the other hand, the readings are relatively familiar (dry bones, body parts need one another, and keep Jesus’ commandments), and I would rather avoid restating a predictable premise on predictable grounds (on one hand) or pulling out a old-time favorite (on the other). Right now, I’m thinking especially about the psalms, 133 and 134. Probably not that many people have heard a sermon on the text, “It is like fine oil upon the head / that runs down upon the beard, / Upon the beard of Aaron, /and runs down upon the collar of his robe.” That makes the option of preaching on the psalm pretty intriguing to me. . . .


Pippa and I strolled down the the dining hall at Princeton Seminary as is our habit on Fridays, and as we were finishing up our meals, we heard an announcement from the podium at the front of the hall. It turns out that — unbeknownst to us — today was Burt Reynolds Day at PTS, which means that today the seminary held its annual Best Mustache Contest (a spectacle that will live in my memory as comparable only to the year I was in St Jean-de-Luz for the Fête de Thon and the coronation of the Tuna Queen). The panel of three judges awarded prizes in the categories of “Best Effort,” “Newcomer,” “Most Creative,” and overall “Best Mustache” to contestants and their named mustaches (names such as “The Big Red Wave,” “The Finish Line,” “Fred Sanford,” “Dirty Jersey,” and (our favorite) “The Feminine Mystique” — a contestant in the “Best Effort” category who, sadly, did not win).
Pippa wondered how I would have done if they’d run that contest back when I taught here. She decided that my PTS-era ponytail would have helped “The Porcupine” make a strong showing, anyway.