Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving
Ruminations about hermeneutics, theology, theory, politics, ecclesiastical life… and exercise.
The SBL conference went well. My responses to Dale and Phil went smoothly; it turned out that Phil had explanations for my dissatisfaction with his book, and Dale acknowledged my challenge to his proposal for seminary curriculum. Now we’re at South Station, reunited with Pippa, soon to connect with Si and Laura, on our way to Nantucket for Thanksgiving. I talked with several institutions about jobs, talked with Burke Gerstenschlager about a secret project, and who knows what will turn up.
Will check in later.
(Later: Landed safely, though the seas were unkind to Margaret for the last stretch.)
I have numerous meetings today, many of them bunched up consecutively, and I don’t plan on toting my computer with me — so although I may squeak in a short live-blogged note from my phone, I’ll mostly be observing radio silence today.
By the way, it’s cold and blustery in Boston (but no snow) (so far).
I’m off to Massachusetts for a few days — first to Boston for the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting (I’ll be responding to Dale Martin’s Pedagogy of the Bible and Phil Rolnick’s Person, Grace, and God, looking at books, schmoozing, and talking to people about jobs). I won’t have tons of time to check in with Beantown bloggers or guildmates (or fountain pen stores), but I might be able to meet up on Tuesday afternoon — hard to be sure.
Then off to Nantucket, to spend Thanksgiving with my mother and her family. It will be the first Thanksgiving that Si’s fiancée Laura spends with the extended Tuttle family). Then, back to Durham.
Speaking of Boston bloggers, David posted two terrific links yesterday: one, to Mimi Ito’s research report on teenagers online (Whaddaya know? They’re not going to hell in a handbasket after all) and the other to Monty Python’s conceding that they can’t beat YouTube, so they’re making their presence official.
You know that old Bob and Ray line — “write if you get work”? I’ll write if I get bandwidth and have energy. A job would be a nice plus, but I won’t make my blogging contingent thereupon.
How did journalists, executives, and public servants characterize quite hostile circumstances before they could trot out the phrase “perfect storm”? Margaret and I have developed acute nostalgia for the days before that book’s title had possessed the imaginations of lazy rhetoricians.
Yesterday morning, I preached at Duke Divinity School’s daily chapel service (they allow fifteen minutes here!). It’s an odd experience, since I still don’t feel well-attuned to the chapel congregation (and the congregation itself changes a fair amount, depending on the kind of service that people are anticipating). I prepared for a more Baptist-inclined congregation than actually turned out; if I’d known who actually would be there, I’d have tuned it more toward sedentary-Methodo-piscopalians. I’m observing that because I’m an incurable rhetorical tinkerer, though, not because the service was markedly off-kilter.
In the course of the sermon, I coin* the neologism “bourgeoiscracy” to characterize the smothering ideology of self-congratulatory (upper-)middle-class normativity, the creepy pseudo-mystical side of which Chris chronicles. I had a few things in view, in deploying that term. First, it has a memorable sound: it vividly conveys the sense that it’s hard to pronounce (the chaplain, Sally, commented to me about that after the service); in that way, it’s a notch better than “bourgeoisity,” which was in my handwritten draft of the sermon. Second, I wanted to identify the way of life, not particular bourgeois people. It wasn’t a “Repent, sinner!” gesture, but a “this afflicts most of us to some extent; let’s name it and try to get over it” gesture. Third, it captures what I had in mind more satisfactorily than “mediocracy,” which I’ve used before to describe a similar condition, but which circulates even more widely. The word then constitutes a sort of auditory/cognitive piton onto which I can hang the points I wanted to develop. (I did the same sort of thing when I used “Sacramerica” in my Ekklesia Project talk).
The congregation seemed to receive the sermon well; most importantly, the rest of the service brought to bear a coherently Methodist iteration of Anglican liturgy and hymnody, and we all had a chance to pray and sing together. I’ll add the sermon itself in the “more” part of the post.
* As I write this, I see that others have deployed the term before me, so I won’t make any far-reaching claim to have originated it. For the purposes of this entry, working on this sermon, I coined it — but others did get there first. (Even more people have used “bourgeoisity,” so I’m even gladder I chose “bourgeoiscracy” instead.)
A while ago, I pointed out that David Weinberger had called the next presidential election for Obama during the 2004 Democratic Convention (he only says “2012” because of his loyalty to John Kerry). If the reports circulating in the press are correct, though, he not only picked the outside candidate to win the presidency, but also hit a Daily Double by spotting the next Secretary of State. Since I have difficulty predicting what I’ll wear in the morning — even after I get dressed — this display of prognostication impresses me no end.
I’ve been trying every preference I can find, but I can’t make eBay recognize that I live on Eastern Time, not Pacific Time. This should be dead easy; I shouldn’t have to
deduct add four hours from every closing time of every holy-card auction I see. I just haven’t found the interface element that will enable it.
The other day, Joi pointed me to the fantastic news that Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach would head the Obama transition team for the FCC.
(David saw that and exulted, too). I can’t adequately express what a good sign this is for tech-involved people. Even non-U.S.-citizens will benefit from the positive influence Crawford and Werbach stand to exercise; they’re level-headed, insightful practitioners in this area. This is a great first step in the tech arena.
In the same conversation, Joi asked what I had thought about the Charter For Compassion project that he had commended. We’ve talked about this sort of topic before, at great length, so he anticipated what I was about to say. There’s everything to be said in favor of people forswearing coercive violence; amen to that! But this particular project entails some awkward arm-twisting relative to Christian theology (and, I estimate on the basis of relative ignorance, relative to the reflective discourses indigenous to various other communities). I’m not sure I see a way forward for this initiative that doesn’t involve a superficial pan-religiosity that falsifies the deepest convictions of each participating group. “Compassion” for a Christian is not simply the same thing as is Karu?? for a Buddhist — and within Christianity (and other communities) plenty of faithful, ardent people would define key terms in ways inimical to others.
All of which gets at the point of the Charter at the same time it reveals its problematic destiny. The social function of the charter seems to be that “the voice of negativity and violence so often associated with religion is the minority and that the voice of compassion is the majority” — but who determines what counts as “negativity” and what counts as “compassion”? If I believe that everyone who has not been baptized will endure (at the very least) the undesirable consequence of eternal separation from the fullness of divine joy, then it would plausibly be compassionate of me to urge them to abandon their [fill in the religious blank here] ways and unite themselves to Christ. If their precepts entail behavior that seems antithetical to human flourishing on my [Christian] convictions, it’s incumbent on me to resist their precepts — even if that seems “negative” to “the Council of Sages.” (By the way, how come Islam gets academic representatives from Harvard and Oxford, but Christianity and Judaism get administrators and popularizers? And where are the Hindu, Buddhist, Orthodox, Wiccan, Baha’i, Mormon, and various other-interested-party “sages”? And what qualifies one as a “sage” — the imprimatur of Karen Armstrong?)
So, short answer: It’s a great idea for people to abide among one another in peace and harmony, exercising respect even for their neighbors’ spiritually wrong-headed decisions, and eschewing coercion where possible (and acknowledging the spiritual integrity of those who decline to sign on with an agenda that seems to relativize the depth and the absolute horizon of their theological commitments, where the pragmatics of legal discourses seem to require coercion). But the Charter for Compassion hasn’t started out by demonstrating attention to exactly the nuances and intricacies the neglect of which so frequently aggravates religious conflict. So, no thank you; best wishes for that working out.
A few days ago, I blogged about the Welcome Wagon album that Vito and Monque Aiuto (who hold the Guinness Book of World Records prize for “highest proportion of vowels to consonants in the last name of a recoding artist”); I hadn’t had time to listen to it, but I was excited even to be asked to promote the project. To be candid, I was a little bit uneasy, too; I wrote about the album before I listened to it, in case it turned out that I didn’t like it.
After having given it a listen, though, I’m positively delighted by it. It bears the clear imprint of Sufjan Stevens’s production, but for this album the production sounds less like “oh, that’s Sufjan Stevens” and more like “this is the way these performances ought to sound.” Welcome Wagon lays claim to a variety of songs from traditional folk/church music to recent compositions to some of their own works, and presents them with a consistent, organic sense of their musical vocation. I hear Ben Harper, the classic sound of blues-gospel couples (the Elders McIntorsh, Blind Willie and Willie B. Johnson), the Band, as produced by Stevens. I like Welcome to the Welcome Wagon a lot; Sufjan Stevens fans should like it; fans of primitive gospel music should like it (at least, if they’re not Stevens-averse, since the arrangements really are straight out of the the Stevens repertoire), and some people should like it for none of the above reasons. It’s due for release on December 9, but you can download one of the selections right now. Both of my ears recommend the album enthusiastically.
I’m moderately Google-able,* so I try to observe a measure of discretion about what I write online regarding my professional circumstances. That discretion limits what I might say about Margaret’s and my job searches, but since this blog functions as a general “state of the family” news source as well as a semi-professional writing outlet for the peculiar blend of technology, biblical interpretation, theology, and postmodern thought that characterizes my work, I will report that we’re feeling varying degrees and intensities of anxiety over the fact that between the two of us, we have one (fairly secure, but not signed-sealed-delivered) opportunity for a one-year contract for next year. For my own part, there have been very, very few openings announced for which I might apply; few institutions can afford to hire someone with my experience, and among those that can, several schools stipulate that one sign on to their distinct theological perspective.
It sure would be swell if one of us got a longer-term opportunity.
That being said, I was pretty gloomy last weekend (we had some adverse professional news that jarred our equilibrium), but am determined to keep my spirits up this weekend.
*And I assume that any percipient employer does at least a cursory Google search on prospective hires.
I’ve noted before that our household includes enthusiastic applause for Stephen Fry; today I add that Language Log has dedicated a post to two Stephen Fry video clips (I’ve seen them before; I thought I had linked to them, but I can’t find the post if I did) and a post from his redesigned blog in which he repudiates his former public fussiness about grammatical details.
I still treat “none” as singular, I distinguish “less” from “fewer,” I still advocate grammatical and syntactical precision, and I don’t even split infinitives, but Fry is surely correct to take high-profile grammar enforcers down a peg or two. Intelligible discourse — and especially, as Fry suggests, pleasurable discourse — can operate adequately with gleeful disregard for the decrees of Grammar Puritans. At the same time, however, many people who hasten to claim that cavalier prerogative would do better to learn to use words more precisely first. Fry cites the example of Oscar Wilde’s note to his editors, that “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches &c.” — but Wilde did not say, “Don’t change a thing, woulds and shoulds don’t matter,” and Wilde knew better than almost anyone who has written in English how to deploy words for maximal pleasure.