Back To Work

No particular health news; I’m as irascible and voluble as ever (and I’ll iras and vol anyone who challenges me on these points). Plenty to do at the office today, so I’m off to battle my inbox and take one step closer to some grant applications. Technically, I’m not allowed to operate heavy machinery, sign contracts, or drink alcohol for another few hours, but I’ll take my chances by booting up my work computer and operating the espresso machine. And if someone wants to take me for a lunch and a pint, I’ll be there.

Ay, There’s The Rub

It was probably related to my current state of dehydration and hunger, but last night I dreamt I was stationed on the steps of a house on a tree-lined park street in a city, where it was incumbent on me to try to shoot black bears with an iPhone application. Real black bears (I mean, “real in the dream”). The iPhone app made a shotgun sound, although it simply emitted a dot of red light like a laser, and it didn’t seem to have any fatal consequences when I used it. Despite all that, the bears seemed generally afraid of me; they weren’t injured, however, by any of my shots. After a time of futile bear hunting, I was brought out into the street, where I was expected to shoot a unicorn. This time, though, the iPhone app only emitted the light, without the shotgun sound. And this time, too, the unicorn was unfazed by my efforts.
Some routine medical testing this morning, then I can begin eating again.
While I’m at Gartnavel Hospital, here are a couple of links to bear in mind.
First, Paypal has finally gotten on board Scott McCloud’s cause and made it possible to deploy micropayments. Not very micro, mind you; right now, they’re talking about a dollar per item. But it’s a lot closer to what Scott envisioned back in REinventing Comics. Now we get to see whether that provides a workable business opportunity rather than just hearing people argue that it can’t possibly.
And Derek Powazek, seller of real, physical, heavy, lumpy, ink-on-paper magazines, rebuts the frequent assertion that without real, physical, print-on-paper books we will never experience serendipity while browsing.
Will check in again after I can have something to eat.

Reading List

Margaret came over from the States with a book called The Christian Imagination by my grad school friend and my colleague at Duke, Willie Jennings. She had picked it up shortly before leaving, and was exuberantly enthusiastic about it — which was great to hear, since everyone who knows Willie and his work had been eager for this to come into print. (I’d be reading it myself, but Margaret loaned the family copy to Doug Gay.)
Now it’s beginning to get notices from other readers, and I’m tickled to notice that James K. A. Smith has an extremely appreciative note of anticipation on his blog.
When I was at Duke year before last, it was clear that a certain proportion of the student body really were picking up the insights into theology, church history, and racial ideology that Willie and Jay Kameron Carter (of Race: A Theological Account) have been working into their course repertoire. I wish that the benefits were more readily available to students of theology — but if you can’t learn from these two wonderful teachers — brilliant scholars — in person, you can at least read the books.

Pride, Continued

Si has an office of his own! (“With a door!” he says.) Margaret and I are getting sentimental, remembering our wee blonde-haired would-be firefighter. You go, fella!

More Feedback

Alex Chow blogged about his experience at the REFRACT conference last week; I was the “other technical person” to whom he referred (overstating my tech standing, but perhaps accurately indicating a distinction from most other participants). Glad you enjoyed the talk, Alex.

More Pride

I’ve beamed about Nate’s composition being played in Virginia, and about practically everything Pippa does — this evening it’s Josiah’s turn.
Si has been working steadily at Harold Washington Community College in the Registrar’s office. He aspires to a leadership role in higher ed administration, and he’s working his way up, starting at the bottom. (And he has been staring at the bottom; he was initially the low man on the registrar’s-office totem pole.) He’s been doing a good job, so far as I can tell from a distance. He moved up the rungs of the registrar’s ladder, but he was on the look-out for an opportunity to step up a little further.
Tomorrow is Si’s first day of work at his new job, as Department Assistant in the Department of Art, Media, and Design at DePaul University in Chicago. He’ll have more responsibility, in a department whose focus is congenial to him, with a chance to study for an advanced degree in Higher Ed Administration at DePaul. He’s rising, and I’m awfully proud of him.
Plus, I’m counting on him to remember the faculty side of operating an academic department! I wish I could apprentice him to our beloved, extraordinary Meg MacDonald, until recently Research and Development Co-ordinator of Glasgow’s Theology and Religious Studies department subject area.
Cheers, and congratulations, and mountains of pride in you, Si. Way to go!

Hail, and Farewell

I had heard via a variety of sources the story about the Washington Senators (sorry, I’m old school) Texas Rangers respecting Josh Hamilton’s painful history of drug problems by celebrating with ginger ale instead of champagne; given so many aspects of sport culture’s tendency to veer toward the macho and heedless, I found this very touching.
And my saddened sympathies to colleagues at Virginia Theological Seminary, whose chapel burned down yesterday afternoon. The grief from such losses shows that maxims about “church not being about buildings,” though true as far as they go, don’t get to every important human dimension of how our imaginations collaborate across time and space to make a sensuous expression of our joy in God’s glory, and of our solidarity with the communion of saints. God does not need us to build a house, nor do we need a designated shelter to celebrate the sacraments — but we build for God anyway out of a deep, persistent sense that this is one particularly apt way of committing our faith to stone and wood, brick and glass. May all the saints whose lives honoured God in Immanuel Chapel uphold and console one another during these sorrowful days.


Last summer I volunteered to lecture on Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in the Comp Lit programme’s “Heroic Women” course; this morning, the convenor of the course emailed me to begin pinning down dates and resources. Now I have to reread Fun Home with a view to critical analysis, suggest a bibliography of related/illuminating texts, and control my eager anticipation.
So, for the moment — what shall I suggest as additional readings? Understanding Comics, for one thing. I can point to Bechdel’s other work (the Dykes To Watch Out For comics and web site); what else?
Plus, Margaret and Madhavi have prodded me to change plan and (when I go to Edinburgh next month) not to trot out a talk I already have in the can, as it were, but to write out some of my thinking about the problematic “code” metaphor and Shannon’s communication model.
Thinking is exciting, and I love pushing my thinking forward, but it would help if I had more time. Still, better to have too many ideas and not enough time than not enough ideas and too much time.

More Reminiscences From CNMAC/Refract

A number of people were paying attention when I gave my talks, and some of them blogged, tweeted, or otherwise recorded their assessments. Bex summarised my Saturday talk, and to my Monday talk in a variety of media: one clip of me mid-talk, live-blogged her impression of what I was arguing, took a picture of me, and solicited a summary comment from me (photo with a terrifying grin). But my favourites of all were the comments by Tractorgirl, who had thought I would turn out to be “a product of the DIY rave culture” when I turned out actually to be “a middle aged bloke in a suit” — she thought I “did a great session with a poncy name which was better summed up by the sub-title ‘Ourselves, Our Archives and our Avatars’.” (The poncy title was given me by the organisers.) In a later post, she said, “Akma was great and his thoughts weren’t random. He was great and v. funny although the serious academics either seemed not to get his jokes or just failed to laugh.” Thank you so much, Tractorgirl!

Not Drowning

Contrary to what one might think, I have not been run over by a truck, overtaken by a squad of highly-trained CIA operatives who have been misled into blaming me for the financial crisis, bed-ridden with a rare tropical disease, stricken with amnesia after a cartoon safe fell on my head as I walked down Byres Road, or any of another dozen explanations for my silence here.
Nay, I’ve just negotiated a wild and wooly week of extra obligations, from preaching and devising the plan of worship for Trinity college last Tuesday to leading the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church (TISEC) session about the prophetic critique of worship last Wednesday, to preparing and delivering a (not mentioned in any of the publicity — it’s the “Homo Connectivus” session) talk at the Christian New Media Awards & Conference in London, then back to Glasgow, then to Durham to give a different version of the same talk at REFRACT. It’s 10:30 Tuesday, I think, and I’m ready to go back to bed.
Trinity College worship went OK (sermon over at their site); I used a version of the US Episcopal Church’s Order for Noonday Prayer as a frame for the service. TISEC was odd, since I was teaching outside my field to students I didn’t know who were in the middle of a curriculum I didn’t plan; but I don’t think it went too badly.
Travel to and from London involved waking up at 4:45 AM and negotiating some surprisingly close connections, but I got to the conference on time and gave my presentation to a gratifyingly crowded room. The Twitterstream was generally positive, and Johnny Laird proved himself a critic of exquisite discernment by tweeting that “@AKMA hit it out of the park at #cnmac10 this morning! Awesome stuff…” (I hope that “hit it out of the park” is a positive assessment; I don’t know of a circumstance in which one wants to hit things out of a park in UK sport.) Jonathan Rose posted a video of participants’ reactions to CNMAC here, in which I figure as the gent in the still image that says “having great teaching,” which I choose to construe as a commendation.
Sunday, Margaret and I took as a total sabbath to rest from our labours. I was beginning to feel refeshed and restored when. . . Monday morning came, and at 5 AM I woke up to catch the train out of Partick that would take me to Monday’s Refract conference in Durham. For reasons I haven’t had time to discover, a number of trains were cancelled out of Partick, so once again I was cutting things close — but managed to get to St John’s College on time. I gave a different version of my talk, putting a greater emphasis on the deliberative-theological dimensions of human identity, whereas Saturday I put a greater stress on the practical-theological importance of churches’ participation in the process of discovering and learning about digital humanity. I’ll post the combined, extended version of both papers at some future date.
Meanwhile, the UK educational system is quivering and convulsing at the implications of the Browne Report and the upcoming announcements of swingeing cuts in every aspect of public spending (that includes us). I’d like saying “swingeing cuts” more if it referred to, say, bonuses for the financial wizards who sold the world economy down the river for their private gain; but it’s still a savoury phrase. Swinge, swinge, swinge.
Time, now for me to focus on this afternoon’s class on early Christina Christian liturgy. I’ll try to be a more reliable correspondent, if only until the next avalanche slides through.


As I work on a self-description for the purposes of combing out the tangles in our curriculum, I’m beginning to wonder whether it would be apt to identify me as a post-Derridean New Critic. I relish close reading; I appreciate the nuanced differences that words make; I do believe in the importance of classic works; I disavow the Intentional and Affective Fallacies. But I also recognise the political-interpretive effects of power, class, race, gender, and so on; I don’t believe that the words make things happen on their own, nor that “words” constitute an inherently privileged expressive medium; I reject the “institution of will into reason” that Lyotard found in the genome of liberal rationalism; I appreciate contributions to semiotics from such unusual contexts as information design (Tufte), comics theory (McCloud), digital media (Weinberger, Shirky, Lessig, et al.), and rock music.
A former colleague referred to me as a “postmodern Victorian,” which admittedly applies to me in non-vocational ways — but it’s hard to come up with a short label that accurately characterises my project(s). Everyone thinks she or he is unique, and but I’d rather (for these purposes) know who or what I’m like, the better to convey a helpful impression to prospective students.