Duly Noted

Anyone who has gotten a paper back from me with the annotation “asserted, not argued” should recognize Patrick’s entry concerning Prof. Marianne Meye Thompson’s expectations of her students. You may not like it, but I’m not the only one who expects students to write thoughtfully and argue a case.
I got to Patrick’s page from Judy’s Research Blog, which was discussing Tim’s link to Mark’s comments about preaching. Since, in a moment of insanity, I have acceded to a contract for a book about preaching, I’m heavily invested in this topic —but this morning I’ll merely note that the vast preponderance of preaching that I’ve heard functions at the level of “it could be worse” or “mildly enjoyable.” If preachers depended on the quality of their exposition and presentation for their bread, a great many would be in different lines of work. One result is that preachers and churches have a notion of “evangelism” or “mission” that involves “inducing people to do things that they know aren’t so pleasant, but really are in their best interests, and not as bad as they might be” rather than “You really have to hear this!” or “Come on and do this with me, it’ll be a blast.” It’s castor-oil evangelism, and it’s utterly self-defeating; it guarantees a lukewarm result. It institutionalizes a sense of our mediocrity, but with the weird rationalization that we ought not do better (it might be “inauthentic” or “a performance”). After all, priesthood of all believers, let the greatest among you be a servant, blah blah blah — ignoring the “varieties of gifts” and “different parts of the body with different functions” passages that pertain more cogently.
I’ll name this elephant: “Incompetent Self-Justifying Vanity.” “Incompetent,” because so few preachers show the capacity to read and interpret Scripture sensitively, responsibly, carefully, and express themselves clearly and effectively; “Self-Justifying,” because so many fall back on pallid pseudo-theological rationales for this state of affairs; “Vanity,” because so few willingly to face the implications of their relative mediocrity.
I’d write it off as my just having a headache this morning, but Tim’s and Mark’s and Judy’s comments embolden me. Honest, if you expect people to take the gospel seriously, would it be so unthinkable to suggest understanding it well and communicating it effectively?

By Title

  • I haven’t written my thank-you notes yet. I will. It’s complicated, but I’m not ungrateful, just tangled.
  • Part of what’s tangling me is a forgotten obligation to write lectionary comments, about which I politely asked to be reminded well before the deadline — but that request fell through the cracks.
  • Plus, we had a very full holiday schedule, which I aggravated by enacting my file-maintenance obsession. On the other hand, I have some spotless, up-to-date file directories of which I’m very proud.
  • We’re shipping Josiah back to college this afternoon, at which point Pippa and I will be on our own for a few days.
  • I just found out that the seminary had forgotten to remind me that I’d be responsible for the self-pay part of my medical coverage during the “unpaid” part of my unpaid leave. This is OK, but I’m a shade anxious because I suspect the car needs some expensive repairs that I’ve been putting off.
  • At the same time, my trusty second-generation iPod’s firewire pins and battery have stopped working; it’ll play if it’s plugged in to a power source, but it doesn’t recharge or communicate with a computer (for adding or deleting tunes).
  • The there’s the Hilary of Poitiers sermon for next Monday.
  • I have to walk the dog. That, at least, I can get done, and it doesn’t cost anything. I’ll hum to myself as I walk her, in the good old-fashioned way.

Transitions and Tasks

The household is back down to three now, but not the usual three; I dropped Margaret off at the airport this morning as she makes her way south to the Society of Christian Ethics meeting, then lingers for a few ays with Jeneane, George, and Jenna. On the rush-hour drive into Philadelphia, we listened to the Irish NewsTalk radio program for which I was interviewed last fall (download it here, if you want).
The producers handled the odd situation of the show pretty well — that is, because some wire got crossed in Ireland, I couldn’t actually participate in the discussion with the other speakers, so they interviewed me later and dubbed in my parts. If I’d actually been on the line when some of my interlocutors said what they did, I would have needed to respond directly to their remarks (especially the casually condescending characterizations of Judaism, or the supposition that postmodernism entails disregard for truth). But I didn’t say anything that struck Margaret or me this morning as arrantly foolish, and although I spoke at about half the words-per-minute rate of the other participants, I managed to generate vaguely sensible responses to the interviewer’s questions. I’m still awestruck, though, at the speed with which other participants poured forth verbiage; not all of it bore on the point that was nominally in view, but it just kept coming! I get worked up and talk faster sometimes than I did on the tape, but I doubt I ever reach their pitch of prolixity.
Now, as a half-hearted participant in International Biblical Writing Month, I will own up to having three lectionary mini-essays to tackle right away, a sermon for the feast day of Hilary of Poitiers, and (of course) this book about Matthew’s Gospel that constitutes the rationale for my sabbatical leave. At least I have a framing idea for my Holy Week sermons at Christ Church, and can begin putting some time into those. Will update on progress as it comes.


One of my Christmas gifts this year was a new hard drive — and I’ve spent much of the past few days backing up, reorganizing, archiving, weeding, and so on. In the course of giving up and loading all my photos into iPhoto, I observed that iPhoto’s “gargantuan library bulge” problem hadn’t been resolved since I last tried it as an archiving tool.

On a whim, I thought I might upload my photos to Flickr, mark them as private, and see how close I came to my monthly upload limit. Only then did I notice that Flickr had removed all bandwidth limits for Pro accounts; I can upload everything, archive it there, mark it “private,” and only flip selected photos to “public.” I’m a shade uneasy about relying on a service whose terms are subject to non-negotiated changes, but it does solve a swarm of storage problems.

Anyway, if you see some old photos cascading through my Flickr feed, that’s why.