Happy New Year

(— by which I refer not to Rosh Hashanah, which will be coming up in ten days or so, but to the new academic year.)
The new-look Level One course met this morning, and the lecture room was full to overflowing; we actually had to disperse people who were signing up for the class at the end, because the next course needed the room. That was pleasing and fun, and then I began my stint as Church History lecturer for our Level Two course (Early Church History in two weeks, whee!), and that was fun as well — I got to see some familiar faces there. Now, I’m about to meet David Jasper’s Honours course in Bible, Literature, and Culture (he’s away in China); and tomorrow I’ll have the Bible course, the Church History course, and (I think) the Level One Worship and Liturgy course (also covering for David).
There’s a mild chill in the air, leaves are turning, my voice is holding up despite all the talking and some night-time throat irritation. Happy new year, everyone!

Hear, Hear

From this report on the interview between Frank Skinner and the Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Skinner described himself as “a tough crowd” when listening to a sermon, and said that priests don’t try hard enough to make an impact when preaching’.
I say the same all the time, including occasions during both clergy conferences I addressed last week. Preachers have no clear feedback mechanism for learning when they preach well, or poorly; and they exercise a vocation that tends to be protective of one another (at least, face to face). I know of plenty of self-protective devices clergy use to explain the appearance of congregational dissatisfaction with their preaching: ‘I’m a propehtic preacher, so it’s natural that people will be uncomfortable’, or ‘They’re comparing me to their beloved former pastor’, or ‘It’s unreasonable to expect a great sermon every week’. (And it should be said that many congregations demand so much time from clergy that they have no basis for complaining if the preacher is ill-prepared.)
Still, one wonders what would happen if sermons were regularly reviewed by a good critic (or by an itinerant representative of the diocese/synod/whatever), or if it were permissible to take preaching as a strong ingredient in such gross indicators as rise or fall in attendance. What if the church were obliged to be honest about the plain fact that some preachers are not as good at their craft as are others? And what if the church recognised that some of the most prominent characteristics in selecting for ordained ministry, and then also for determining appointments, are not co-implicated with preaching skills? What if, to be blunt, ‘preaching well’ is not the norm, but a noteworthy exception?

Conferring, Clerically

Ha! Everyone (who cared) was betting that I wouldn’t possibly blog three days in a row — but they were wrong!
It wouldn’t count if I left matters at that, so I’ll note that I’m working on the plan for my presentations to the diocesan clergy conferences next week (three days for stipendiary clergy, two for non-stipendiary). It’s an interesting remit; the broad category given was to note the changes in NEw Testament interpretation that may have taken root since people trained for ministry. Now, that’s tricky all by itself, since some people will have come directly from University or the non-degree training programme in the Scottish Episcopal Church, that is the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Some others will have trained longer ago (I was chagrined to realise that I started by training at Yale Div nearly thirty years ago) (not quite thirty, detail-oriented correctors). But over all, I’m comfortable talking about changes in NT scholarship over the past few decades, and even people who graduated with first-class honours just a year or so ago, if we have any, could likely use a refresher.
I have four main topics in view: the changing status of “history” and “objectivity” in interpretation, the changing understanding of Judaism, the recognition of the role that imperial conditions played in first-century lives, and the importance of having a joined-up understanding of how matters affect one another.
The presentations will overlap and infuse one another, which is good because it will help me illustrate my fourth point, one that isn’t often made explicit in academic biblical studies. On the other hand, having a well-informed, synthetic view of how the various elements we’re considering affect one another constitues a key ingredient in propounding a persuasive, compelling vision of NT interpretation. It’s one of the reasons Rudolf Bultmann’s influence lasted so long; it makes Tom Wright’s theological take on the Bible stronger; and you, too, will better understand and teach and preach and minister from the New Testament if you have a sense of how things hang together, rather than a database of Curious Facts About the Bible. Plus, your teeth will be cleaner and your carpets will sparkle.
I’ll work in my Pauline theology lecture as a case in point, since that frequently goes down well. I’ll draw out some of the differences between and implications of what I’ve called “esoteric{ and “exoteric” imperatives in interpretation; and I’ll make a case that my sort approach to hermeneutics offers the soundest, most carefully-reasoned and theoretically-grounded vision of how one’s theology, biblical interpretation, worship, and daily ministry can indeed be joined-up.
Now, however, it]s down to exactly which bits go where, and what I want to do for handouts, and how to convey all this without sounding only like a wheezy old lecturer. We’ll see.
Hey, good Doctor Who episode tonight, wasn’t it?


Reading this piece from Language Log brought back memories of my semesters studying/practicing electronic music as an undergraduate. The studio had an ARP 2600, two two-track tape machines, and was coated in a film of splicing tape. That was the assignment I was trying to slide under my professor’s door (late) when the 17 April earthquake hit Maine in 1979.
Those days heightened my fondness for musique concrète, minimalism (I think I annoyed dozens of my friends by playing Music For Eighteen Musicians), doing things myself, and manipulated tape and digital signals — but not in time, or at the right place, or among the right people, for me to make my way into a music scene. By the time I was hanging around with musicians at the photo lab/graphic arts house in Pittsburgh, those aspirations ebbed away.
It was cool, though, when the kids discovered the old cassette tape onto which I had uploaded my compositions, and Si blurted out that I was like Moby, only ten years earlier. It’ll be interesting to see whether that particular archive item survived the radical downsizing of our worldly possessions; if it did, I’ll find a way to digitise some of those clips, and will remember hours in the studio trying to make clean, synchronised edits with a razor blade and splicing tape.