All But Dissertation No dissertation--none of the time!
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
This may be my last post until next Monday. We're going tent camping--yes, tent camping--in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan tomorrow. We're packing up the jeep with the son, the dog, two tents, three sleeping bags, three mountain bikes, food (wrapped properly to repel the bears which my husband tells me live in them thar hills), and we're going to enjoy the lowest cost vacation ever, money being especially tight this summer. No England trip, which is my preferred vacation mode. We're going to ferry over to Mackinaw (sp?) island with our bikes, we're going to swim and hike and slap mosquitoes and get sand all over everything and, I hope, have a good time.
I owe several of you emails. They will come next week.
Life of Pi was good. Not great, but good. It was an enjoyable read, but as my husband, who also read the book, said, it wasn't as profound as the dust jacket made it out to be ("it may, as one character claims, make you believe in God"). Most of the writing was very good, at points even luminously effective, and the plot was as gripping as a castaway story can possibly be. Life changing it was not, but I liked it enough to devote some space to it here.
The main character's real name is Piscine Molitor Patel, and he was named after a French swimming pool. For obvious reasons that I won't expound because it will make this site come up on some really odd searches (I'm already regretting using bitches for female dogs below), Piscine hated what boys made of his name. He feels "like the persecuted prophet Muhammed in Mecca, peace be upon him". So like the prophet, who planned his flight to Medina, PMP plans his own escape, and introduces himself as Pi (3.14) the following year.
And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge.
The tension between science and religion, or, to put it another way that is equally valid in terms of the themes of the book, between "objective" facts and belief in the extraordinary, is at the heart of this story. Whom do you believe and why? would sum it up.
Pi's father runs a zoo, and Yann Martel, the book's author, lets Pi set up the conflicts that are to come by explaining the relationships of animals with humans and their psychological workings as they relate to one another. The relationships of the humans to one another are shown rather than told.
Pi's biology teacher, Mr. Kumar, is an atheist. "When Mr. Kumar visited the zoo, it was to take the pulse of the universe ... he left the zoo feeling scientifically refreshed."
Pi has another friend Mr. Kumar, who is his Muslim mentor. By accident, both Mr. Kumars meet at the zoo in company with Pi. This is their encounter with a zebra.
A zebra, you say? said Mr. Kumar.
"That's right," I replied. "It belongs to the same family as the ass and the horse."
The Rolls Royce of equids," said Mr. Kumar.
"What a wondrous creature," said Mr. Kumar.
"This one's a Grant zebra," I said.
Mr. Kumar said, "Equus burchelli boehmi."
Mr. Kumar said, "Allahu akbar."
I said, "It's very pretty."
We looked on.
Pi, in addition to becoming a Muslim, practices his Hindu faith and, through his encounter with Jesuit schools and a mountain retreat, is baptized as a Christian. There's a hysterical scene when all three of "the wise men," the priest, pandit, and imam, converge unexpectedly. A war of religions breaks out with Pi at its center.
"Piscine, can this be true?" asked the imam earnestly. "Hindus and Christians are idolaters. They have many gods."
"And Muslims have many wives," responded the pandit.
The priest looked askance at both of them. "Piscine," he nearly whispered, "there is salvation only in Jesus."
All of the above is only prologue. The action begins when Pi, bound for Canada with his family and a goodly number of zoo animals, is shipwrecked in the Pacific ocean with the zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a 450 pound Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Some events that follow are predictably grisly but don't mar the book too much (I skipped most of the blood-and-guts sections). What do we believe about Pi's rendition of these events? Is the best story the one with a tiger in it?
Another question: you may ask, would it be a good beach book? I don't know. Would reading a yarn about a boy marooned on the Pacific Ocean for over 200 days make you enjoy your beach time less or more?
Reader Bill responds thoughtfully to my critique of reading scripture out of context:
I agree with you. It does feel superficial to read bits and pieces of OT prophecy, followed by samplings of Paul, or the Evangelists. But then again, I wonder if that doesn't miss the point.
I'm not certain that Catholic masses or evangelical quiet times ought to be thought of as an extension of OT or NT theology. Rather, it seems to me that both are devotional and sacramental exercises. They are an opportunity for God himself to speak to even me about his gracious acts in my life, and -- I pray -- to make me more like Christ.
That's the context in which the apparently superficial becomes infinitely deep: Christ. If we mean to read scripture Christianly, then all of it is ultimately about Christ. Even when we have it only in bits and pieces. That's the hedge against losing the import of scriptural passages outside of their canonical context ...
...Utimately, scripture is the word of God, and its final reference is to the Word of God as a living reality. It's very much less about Paul's deep thoughts or Jeremiah's acts of cultic performance art.
A while ago I mentioned that our yard was too small for our active young Viszla (Hungarian Pointer). But the area seems very large when one needs to mow it, rake it, or water it. We checked out the sprinkler heads for the first time this year this morning and were happy to see that most work. But the dog was happier still. I have never seen him happier. He leaped, he splashed, he circled, he attacked, sprinkler after sprinkler. His short glossy wet coat shone in the sun like a seal's. Occasionally he returned to us, and to share the joy, shook himself off all over us before running out again. It is so much fun to watch a non-human act like an ecstatic little child. The real child, by the way, was ensconced in front of his computer and missed the whole thing. He likes to run through sprinklers, too, and probably would have joined in, doubling the fun.
As a little birthday present for myself (that's the excuse, anyway) I bought a set of CDs from Naxos, my favorite "books on tape" people. Actually, I don't buy books on tape anymore; the tapes wear out and snap and then you're left with nothin'. Naxos puts out the most high-quality product on the market, amazing renditions of everything from Herodotus' Persian Wars, which is in my car right now, to Joyce's Ulysses, the "birthday present" (with unpleasant echoes of Gollum in The Hobbit), to Pinocchio, which I gave to my son for his birthday.
Unfortunately, although the Ulysses CD has some five hours of listening time, it's an abridgement. So I went online and found the bulk of Ulysses at a really helpful site online and discovered with dismay that the CD omits chaps 2-3 of the book.
Chap 3 is especially mind-numbing and has been occupying me on and off for the last few hours. Yes, it's gross in spots, and Stephen is allegedly engaged in nasty activities toward the end, but the language explodes in one's face, over and over again as one delves into it, like (to make a really inept analogy) those fireworks that spurt white, then green, then red, then blue. Ooooh! Aaaah.
The vocabulary he uses is deep and wide and quirky, too. Just in this chapter alone are diaphane and its opposite, adiaphane; acatalectic (another alpha privative); comminate; and tripudium, a word whose acquaintance I'm thrilled to make. My OED and I have been pretty cozy tonight.
Here's a sample of Stephen Dedalus' meditation for your delectation:
Wombed in sin darkness I was too, made not begotten. By them, the man with my voice and my eyes and a ghostwoman with ashes on her breath. They clasped and sundered, did the coupler's will. From before the ages He willed me and now may not will me away or ever. A lex eterna stays about Him. Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long on the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality. Illstarred heresiarch! In a Greek watercloset he breathed his last: euthanasia. With beaded mitre and with crozier, stalled upon his throne, widower of a widowed see ...
Rejecting the Catholic Church, Joyce finds himself haunted by it still. He can't break away, ultimately, as much as he hates it. I really don't know anything much about the extent of Joyce's hatred of the Church, and perhaps if I did, I wouldn't admire the blazing virtuosity of his language quite so much. And, frankly, that would be a shame.
Once again the push is on for the Senate to ratify CEDAW, the United Nations women's rights treaty that has been hanging around since 1979. CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. There's a good reason that the Senate has ignored it for a generation: It's an incredibly toxic document, the work of international bureaucrats determined to impose a worldwide makeover of family relations and "gender roles." CEDAW is a blueprint for foisting the West's radical feminism on every nation gullible enough to sign. (Talk about cultural imperialism.) Some 167 nations have signed the treaty, many with no intention of observing it. But CEDAW ferociously monitors every nation's compliance. It has a few enforcement mechanisms and plans more. The idea is that someday, nations may not be able to resist.
CEDAW backers intend to use the new International Criminal Court as an enforcement tool. Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation, who follows CEDAW closely, predicts that the CEDAW committee will bring an ICC case against Catholic hospitals to force the hospitals to perform abortions. Language setting up the court is so vague that radical prosecutors and judges might be able to jail clerics who refuse to perform same-sex marriages or who decline to ordain women.
Sometimes the Church can eviscerate the Bible just as neatly as the academy.
Take as an example today's trio of readings. We have the disembodied voice of Jeremiah, engaged in (of course) a jeremiad. Does the average parishioner in the pew understand why the prophet is saying what he is? Probably not, nor does he care.
Then we have a selection from the middle of a complex argument in Paul. At least in this case we read a bit from the previous chapter last week and will read from the next chapter next week. But when was the last time you heard a homily based on the second reading, especially if it's from Paul? If we were Lutherans, perhaps; but Catholics? I'll be pleased to report if our parish priest preaches from Paul.
The reading from Matthew, consistent with all the readings viewed as a whole, could be labelled "miscellanea." That's a bit of an exaggeration, though: Matt seems to have inherited this section, which coheres adequately but loosely, from Q. And Matt does have something to say to Jeremiah's situation. The trouble is that both the old and new testament readings lack context.
And so we're presented with this scriptural mulligan stew in the liturgy of the word. Mass is not a Bible study, clearly, but I sometimes wish we had less quantity and more depth in our Sunday readings.
Yasser Arafat says he's ready to accept the Clinton plan of 2000. Most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip would become a Palestinian state. For reasons why this is bad, see the inimitable John Derbyshire in his column today.
A fact Derbyshire doesn't mention: this week Palestinian suicide bombers killed approximately 26 people in two separate attacks in less than 24 hours. Why on earth would anyone "negotiate" with them?
"First, both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms these mean different things to each of them. The word 'peace,' for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or 'House of Islam' -- to the entire world," explained Tibi, who is also a research scholar at Harvard University.
"This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought, a concept developed by (18th-century philosopher) Immanuel Kant."
"Similarly, when Muslims and the Western heirs of the Enlightenment speak of tolerance they have different things in mind. In Islamic terminology, this term implies abiding non-Islamic monotheists, such as Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, as second-class believers. They are 'dhimmi,' a protected but politically immature minority."
According to Tibi, the quest of converting the entire world to Islam is an immutable fixture of the Muslim worldview. Only if this task is accomplished -- if the world has become a "Dar al-Islam" -- will it also be a "Dar a-Salam," or a house of peace.
In an article in the prestigious Hamburg weekly, Die Zeit, Tibi, gave anecdotal evidence of how daunting a task this dialogue with Islam can be.
The bishop of Hildesheim in Germany paid an imam a courtesy visit in his mosque. The imam handed the Catholic prelate a Koran, which he joyfully accepted. But when the bishop tried to present the imam with a Bible, the Muslim cleric just stared at him in horror and refused to even touch Christianity's holy book.
"The bishop was irritated because he perceived this behavior as a gross discourtesy," wrote Tibi, "but the imam had only acted according to his faith. For if an imam gives a bishop a Koran, he considers this a Da'Wa, or call to Islam."
Police and fire officials in New York are being warned that terrorists may be trying to acquire surplus or replica emergency vehicles to use as car bombs that could be planted near government buildings or landmarks without drawing attention.
A law enforcement source confirmed a report in The New York Daily News today that officials were alerted to the plot when two unidentified Middle Eastern men tried to buy a replica ambulance at a northern New Jersey shop that builds copies of emergency vehicles, police cars and fire trucks. The owner of the shop became suspicious when the men tried to pay cash, and the pair fled without leaving any identification, the source told the News.
She did leave the Communist Party but not socialism; she's best known for her book The American Way of Death, an attack on the funeral industry.
Here's a link that talks about how J. K. Rowling idolized her. Here's another one.
The child is named after Rowling's heroine, both in life and literature, Jessica Mitford.
The reasons? "That she remained so different from the background that she came from, that her first husband died so young, that she lost two of her four kids in tragic circumstances - and yet she had no self-pity and a fabulous sense of humor right to the bitter end. I gave my daughter a copy of Mitford's Hons and Rebels for her christening."
Summertime, and the readin' should be easy. Many newspapers and periodicals have long since published their summer reading issues. The National Review's was terrific; I also enjoyed reading Commonweal's the other day. Consistent with the promise of the masthead of this blog, all I say about dissertation reading is that I read one book and at least two articles every day on the current topic of research. You may well ask what "reading" means in this context. This is consumerist reading, reading like a vulture who snatches the meat from carcasses in order to live. Pick, pick, pick, assimilate, burn the calories. But most of the books and articles produced for scholarly consumption were not meant to be read any other way; they harbor no pretension of achieving the status of "living book."
Paul Griffiths in his Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion addresses the scandal of scholars who actually enjoy reading. I came to scripture study because I loved the Bible and its transformative power. Reading as a scholar usually requires "bracketing" [bracketing!] the emotional power of "the text". Spiritual reading is unscholarly.
Recall that religious reading requires the establishment of a particular set of relations between the reader and what is read. These are principally relations of reverence, delight, awe, and wonder, relations that, once established, lead to the close, repetitive kinds of reading already described. The questioning of authority and the concern with preliminary issues of method and justification (intellectual attitudes and concerns typical of modernity) make the establishment of such relations almost impossible because of the endless deferral of commitment that such attitudes bring with them.
I know some graduate students in scripture who don't enjoy and don't read fiction or poetry. I know of many more who are "post-Christian" or agnostic. These tend to be the ones who set the tone for a department. Thus those of us who love literature, the Judeo-Christian scriptures, and the God who inspired them
in such a setting tend to lead a double life, cloaking their identity in the tattered garments of a wissenschaftlich mentality. There is no good theoretical reason to maintain such disguises, and many good theoretical and ethical reasons not to do so. Religious readers, actual or aspiring, can and should be public about their identity as such.
To be honest, there are several well-known and well-regarded professors at my university, whose names you would recognize if I wrote them here, who are "religious readers." As far as I know, however, few of them are in the area of scripture studies.
Now that the preliminaries have been dispatched, the books:
Just before sitting down here to write, I finished Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels. I'm not sure how recognizable the name Mitford is here in the states. The six English Mitford sisters, daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale, are without doubt one of the most fascinating and appalling families of the 20th century. (A boy, Tom, died in WWII.) The oldest, Nancy, wrote several almost perfect novels, if your taste is laugh-out-loud biting wit. Her younger sister Jessica, known as Decca, married her second cousin Esmond Romilly, Winston Churchill's nephew, after a weekend meeting at a country house; they eloped to the Spanish Civil War together, causing a minor international incident. According to Hons and Rebels, to flush the couple from Spain, the British government threatened to cut off aid to Spanish refugees. This was an effective tactic. Esmond was shot down in 1941 over the North Sea; Jessica eventually remarried and became a card-carrying member of the Communist Party (she and Esmond had been committed Communists since both were teenagers). Interestingly, J. K. Rowling allegedly is a great Jessica Mitford fan and named her daughter after her.
Then there's poor Unity Valkyrie Mitford, conceived in Swastika, Alaska, at her parents' gold mine claim. Her name was indeed her destiny. She developed an intense crush on Hitler, moved to Germany, and followed him about until he took notice of her. She became one of the members of his inmost circle. Most of the Mitford girls were blond, blue-eyed, and drop-dead gorgeous, and Hitler lauded Unity as the epitomy of Aryan womanhood. Unity introduced her sister Diana and her fascist lover Mosley to Hitler, and he was the honored guest at their very small wedding. Unity shot herself in the head when England declared war on Germany; Diana and Mosley were imprisoned for most of the war.
My husband asks me why on earth I'm so fascinated with this family. "There're not even very nice people," he says with wonderment. He's right. Unity and Diana in particular, but Jessica often as well, were despicable. But this family in itself embodies the two great struggles of the twentieth century, and it does so in such a wildly gripping sort of way. I've left many notable details of their lives unmentioned, of course, like the fact that Unity had a pet snake named Enid that she wore around her neck at debutante balls and let loose when things got interminably dull. If you want more on the Mitfords, get Lovell's biography, The Sisters, or Nancy's thinly-veiled autobiographical novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.
I'm rereading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Several weeks ago I promised to write more about Pullman. His books are extremely well-written, often beautifully characterized, have a gripping plot most of the time, and are blatant propaganda for his atheistic worldview. I won't let my son read them, but all of his friends are. None of the mothers, friends of mine, seem to grasp what Pullman is about, or if they do, they don't care, which I don't understand. I could say much more about Pullman, but I'm working on an article about him and his books and want to save comments for that.
On rereading: C. S. Lewis once said something like, "You haven't read a book once until you've read it twice." This actually sounds like one of the gnomic paradoxes of Chesterton, but it is Lewis. I don't know where the quote is from, however, and, indeed, I tend to the Chestertonian in the accuracy of my quotes when not writing for an academic paper, where accuracy must be excruciatingly painfully documented--an endeavor I support whole-heartedly in that venue. Anyway, I'm also rereading Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren's How to Read a Book. It always has something to tell me that I've previously overlooked.
I don't tend to read much new fiction, but on deck now are Ian McEwan's Atonement and Yann Martel's Life of Pi. The latter looks particularly intriguing, concerning as it does a boy, a tiger, a shipwreck, and three world religions. I hope it lives up to those delightful elements.
I've been busy with a number of things lately: we're looking at new flooring for the kitchen as well as new wallpaper for the front hallway; we're planning several summer trips; I'm living at the library for all practical purposes. Posting will probably be sporadic for a while.
Perhaps the most offensive commencement address in 2002 was delivered by Professor Bell Hooks, who rejects capitalization as an invalid social construct, at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
Ms. Hooks stated, "The radical, dissident voices among you have learned here at Southwestern how to form communities of resistance that have helped you find your way in the midst of life-threatening conservatism, loneliness, and the powerful forces of everyday fascism which use the politics of exclusion and ostracism to maintain the status quo. Every terrorist regime in the world uses isolation to break people's spirits."
Ms. Hooks declared, "Indeed our nation's call for violence in the aftermath of September 11 was an expression of widespread hopelessness, the cynicism that has been at the heart of our nation's ongoing fascination with death." She said that following September 11:
"Many Americans experienced for the first time a moment of clarity when they knew without a doubt that to choose life, we must stand against violence, we must choose peace. And yet that moment of collective clarity was soon obscured by the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal hunger to show the planet our nation's force, to show that this nation would commit absolute acts of violence that will wipe out whole nations and worlds. The world was held spellbound by our government's declaration of its commitment to violence, to death."
"They said, `Let's heal,' and then they moved on to other things," the woman, who refused to give her name, said after church. "They mention it, and then they put it behind them. My father's going to turn over in his grave, but I think I'm going to become an Episcopalian."
Many worshipers said the new policy — to bar a priest who has sexually abused a minor from ministry but not defrock him — did not go far enough, that a priest with even one incident of sexual abuse should be banished from the church forever.
A clearly frustrated Cardinal Francis George chastised the media Sunday during a public appearance--asking them to leave a morning worship service if they took notes and likening them to communist spies that he encountered in Poland.
In his first public appearance since returning to Chicago from the historic bishop's conference in Dallas, George recalled the times he would travel to communist Poland, when he "knew there was someone there from the government in the assembly that was recording or taking notes," he told a packed and supportive St. Giles Catholic Church in Oak Park. "You had to choose your words carefully because they would be used against the church later."
I've met Cardinal George, heard him speak several times, read pieces he's written, and think highly of him. I pray that he is indeed what he appears, a person of high integrity as well as intellect, and a priest who loves God, the church, and those in it.
In times like these, how could anyone resist a title like that? It's a movie title, and I offer it to you because on Saturday night many of you watch movies. I'm not. I'm sitting here working on my--or at least I was, until I started doing this.
I wish the WSJ were available free online. Because for the most part it isn't, I have to retype cool parts of its articles. The author here is Joe Morgenstern:
"The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" isn't what you might think; there are frequent intimations that Father Casey, the priest played by Vincent D'Onofrio, is doggedly, if hesitantly, heterosexual ... Peter Care's debut feature, based on the novel of the same name by the late Chris Fuhrman, is essentially a coming-of-age story set in working-class North Carolina in the 1970s. But it's so startlingly original that it transcends the genre. This is a wonderful film, from puckish start to momentous finish.
...It's commanding as comic-book art in motion, convincing as the luridly mythic--and therefore authentically adolescent--expression of buried emotions.
I haven't seen this, so I can't say anything more than I hope I do see it.
At the end of that review, a brief video review, offered to those of you who are not yet tired of watching priests on screen:
Priests, pubescent boys and tortured seminarians in Australia in the 1950s are the subjects of "The Devil's Playground" (1976), the semi-autobiographical feature debut of the great Australian director Fred Schepisi. The movie's delicate tone ranges from serio-comic to flat-out funny.
Funny tortured seminarians. I think I might try to rent this one.
Lucianne.com is devoting its weekend roundtable to the abuse crisis in the Church. While most LDotters, as they call themselves, are conservative, that is almost all they have in common with one another. You'll hear what many ordinary people, Catholic and non-Catholic, feel and think about The Situation.
The CIA, the FBI, the Roman Catholic Church, the stock market, major corporations, accountants and brokers are among the organizations and professions facing criticism either for their honesty or their ability to perform -- or both.
But I can't agree with what seems to be the primary dig in this article, that Bush has "lost his ability to inspire" the American people. Sounds like the desperate attempt of Democrats to find something, anything, to make the voters lose faith in Republicans before the November elections.
Our dear doggie who sleeps on our bed, whose great passion in life is rampaging through a field in search of quail, won best of winners at a dog show in Michigan this morning. Frankly, I think the show scene is rather odd for a number of reasons that I won't enumerate here. Our dog participates because we love the breed and want to improve it, and the main way to do so is to breed good puppies. We think very highly of our dog in terms of temperament, hunting ability, and overall adorableness, but in order to convince owners of bitches of his merits, we need more objective opinions. Thus the show circuit and hunt tests. The latter, which take place outside, are especially nice family activities.
In an effort to provide the school with some balance, I wrote an article for the school paper justifying a military response. This offended many, including that same history teacher, who asked for permission to read it in front of the class, then proceeded to do so mockingly and endeavored to explain why I was dead wrong. The consensus among the students was that he was a teacher and must know more than me. It was indoctrination at its best.
Here is how the undamaged text reads:
"The Tower of Babylon"
1 At first, the people of the whole world had only one language and used the same words. 2 As they wandered about in the East, they came to a plain in Babylonia and settled there. 3 They said to one another, "Come on! Let's make bricks and bake them hard." So they had bricks to build with and tar to hold them together. 4 They said, "Now let's build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth." 5 Then the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which those men had built, 6 and he said, "Now then, these are all one people and they speak one language; this is just the beginning of what they are going to do. Soon they will be able to do anything they want! 7 Let us go down and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other." 8 So the LORD scattered them all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 The city was called Babylon, because there the LORD mixed up the language of all the people, and from there he scattered them all over the earth.
Remember to pray for the person who owned this Bible, whether he/she is living or dead, and that person's loved ones. At this point, that's all we can do.
Yes, I'm following the conversation in Dallas. But I'm also following other things, like this:
...child abuse, mental instability, dysfunctional families and homosexuality will continue to be themes in young-adult books and eventually, inevitably, in some children's books. Harvey Fierstein's "Sissy Duckling" (Simon & Schuster) is for readers 5 to 8. Dark, dark, dark subjects, but no more so than the comfortless daily news diet. Publishers believe that if parents don't know that their child knows all about these things, the parents really don't know the child living in their house. Think back to what you knew when you were 12 or 14 that your parents didn't know you knew.
...Since 9/11, there has been plenty of darkness for children of all ages. Imagine yourself, way back before then, reading "Little Women." Or "Tom Swift." Imagine reading them now.
Frankly, I can imagine myself reading them now quite well, thank you. Who of you reading this wants your reading to reflect your everyday reality all the time? Who of you doesn't read, at least occasionally, to escape that reality?
I wrote the post on the "Bible puzzle" in a frenzied hurry this morning, rushing in order to meet someone for lunch, and didn't articulate a few things in it well, including what a "textual variant" is (not that anyone really cares but the uber-Bible geeks). If I feel like it, I'll get back to this evening. Maybe. If all of you clamor for illumination.
Gary Suson did write back, and he even sent a close up of his Genesis 11 picture. Lo and behold, the heading over chapter 11 says "The Tower of Babylon." I stand humbled and corrected. Now, however, I have a new mission: to find out which translation of the Bible this is.
"Babylon" is not a fully accurate reading of Gen 11:9, "Therefore it was called Babel...". The Hebrew reads Babel, and no textual variants are listed, at least in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which is the standard Hebrew Bible used. (A textual variant is a word or phrase that differs from another word or phrase.) I'm not going to take the time to look at other sources now--maybe later this evening. Another interesting feature this Bible exhibits is that in Gen 11:2 the people don't come to Shinar, which is the literal reading; they come to "Babylonia." Once again, I find no readings in Hebrew that have this variant.
The phrasing of this Bible is extremely loose, as we've seen, but not only here. Obviously the pages are damaged, and I wish I could post the picture, but 1) at this moment I don't have positive confirmation from Mr. Suson to do this, and 2) I don't know how anyway. But this is how what I can see reads, with ... indicating illegible parts:
At first, the people of ... world had only one ... used the same words ... As ... about in the East they ca ... Babylonia and settled ther ... aid to one another, "Come on! L ... bricks an ... bake them hard."
I used BibleGateway.com to try to find out what translation this is. I have eliminated the following:
NRSV, RSV, NIV, NASB, NLV, KJV, NKJV, KJ21, AMP, ASV, YLT, WE, Darby.
So I give it to you. Does anyone have the time and desire to solve this puzzle? I have the desire but no more time. The motivation is the puzzle, certainly. Also, however, although not very logically, I feel that by solving this I redeem a tiny bit of the tragedy. We don't know if the person who owned this Bible is dead or alive. But somehow, I feel that if I can identify what translation of the Bible this person read, he or she becomes more real.
I assume that if you want to read about the clerical sexual abuse crisis, and all its works, and all its ways, you're reading Amy Welborn's blog. One reason I haven't posted much about it is simply because so many other Catholic blogs are, and you can come to this one for something different.
Another reason I haven't posted much on The Situation, as some people call it, has to do with how Ph.D. students absorb the mores of academic culture. As students, we don't want to open our mouths about anything unless we've thoroughly examined all the primary documents, read all the secondary literature, and have come to an informed opinion that synthesizes it in its entirety. Believe me, if we haven't done this and make a mistake, we're going to hear about it either from a more senior colleague or from a peer. Therefore we students are inordinately cautious about making off-the-cuff statements. Especially off-the-cuff statements in writing.
Students, then, tend to internalize this attitude. As an example, a conversation I had with a few other grad students a few weeks ago:
As we ate lunch, I asked what my friends thought about the clerical crisis.
"Think about it? I don't know anything about it. I'm not an expert in that kind of thing. I'm too busy working on ____."
"But a lot of people think we're experts because we're grad students in theology," I answered. "Everyone's asking me about it, and I need to have an answer ready for them."
"You've got to be kidding!" one said, or something to that effect.
And so the specialization of all disciplines continues, to the point that grad students in theology feel inadequate and incapable of responding to the most cogent theological issues of the day because they aren't directly related to one's area of research. In some ways, this is good. Too many people are willing and eager to believe someone's opinion simply because of the initials after his name or because that person has a book published. Many people read a book-length treatment of an issue and think that that is all there is to it, without realizing that other differing opinions must be taken into consideration as well.
There are certainly layers and layers of complexity to any human problem. But frankly, I'm tired of being cowed into paralysis until I explore every one of them.
The News' review found that at least 111 of the nation's 178 mainstream, or Roman rite, Catholic dioceses are headed by men who have protected accused priests or other church figures, such as brothers in religious orders, candidates for the priesthood, teachers and youth-group workers. The study did not include about 100 other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, most of whom serve in supporting roles but can vote this week in Dallas.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, who helped write the 1985 report to the bishops while working at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, said he thought numbers found in The News' study were low. Nevertheless, he said, the results point to a problem so pervasive that "the bishops don't know how to fix it." Father Doyle now consults extensively with plaintiffs' attorneys and has broken with top church leaders, saying that they did nothing to address the issues he raised. He said he doubts the Dallas meeting will result in major reform.
"In the past, the bishops, the clerics from the pope on down, have said many positive, apologetic things, and they have not followed through," Father Doyle said. Just getting to this juncture, where the only item on the bishops' agenda is abuse, took "an avalanche of negative publicity that was followed by a tidal wave of more negative publicity that was accompanied by a massive hemorrhage of millions and millions of dollars."
What does he think it would take to bring about major change? "It will take one of them going to jail for cover-up and obstruction," said Father Doyle, a military chaplain who once screened American bishop candidates and was considered bishop material.
More than a little surprised for a couple of reasons
I was just checking the archive to make sure everything worked and was surprised to find a comment by Gary Suson on the post (June 2) about Gary Suson, that talented photographer who created the stunning photo documentary, if I'm using the correct vocabulary here, on 9-11 and its aftermath. He found and photographed several pages of a Bible on the site that was opened to Gen 11. But he takes issue with my comment that Gen 11 does not concern the "tower of Babylon," as he claims, but the "tower of Babel."
I address Gary:
I'm pleased you found this page, and as you know from my post, I love your work. But, frankly, I know of no biblical text anywhere that says "tower of Babylon" instead of "tower of Babel." Do you have a close-up view of the page you could send me? I'll look forward to hearing from you.
Gary addresses me, "Dear Snide." Must admit I deserved that one. Hope to hear from him again.
"There is simply no equivalent in the Koran to the New Testament's admonishment to 'turn the other cheek'; conversely, there is no equivalent in the New Testament to the Koranic injunction to 'kill the disbelievers wherever [you] find them.' "
Bill Bennett is one of my favorite people, and he may simply be the victim of SoundBite nation here (the media? not include the complexity of someone's argument? never!), but one needs to keep in mind the endless capacity of any text-based religion for selective interpretation. In fact, I would go further than saying "capacity" to claim even "necessity." Judaism, Chrisitianity, and Islam are based on documents that were both written and collected over a period of time. Islam claims that the Koran was revealed to Mohammed in one great divine mega-brain dump, but scholars who have applied to the Koran the same critical techniques that they use on the Bible are finding that such is not the case. You won't be surprised to hear that scholars who engage in this activity fear for their lives.
Because of the great diversity, even contradiction, of some statements in such composite documents, believers have no choice other than focusing their spiritual lives, and the politics they inspire, on a certain group of "texts-within-the-text," or even on only one or two of these. Thus, for example, we have some groups of Christians who insist that we live by "faith (alone)" and others that "faith without works is dead." It's my contention that James was consciously and specifically countering Paul, or Pauline groups, on this issue because James disagreed with Paul on it. And both Romans and James are canonical and inspired. What's a Christian to do? Some focus on one text to the exclusion of the other.
We have the same problem in the Hebrew Scriptures. God absolutely gives the invading Jews divine warrant to slaughter men, women, children, and cows when they take over the promised land. That the New Testament doesn't say anything much like this (but remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5?) is irrelevant if one remembers that Christians hold the Old Testament as fully canonical and inspired, too. But, for the most part, Jews and Christians choose to disregard God's ways of warfare as recorded in Numbers, Joshua, and elsewhere.
Further, I don't believe that it is "Islam" that is fixating on Allah's injunction to kill unbelievers, just as all Christians don't live by "faith alone." It's only a certain group of Muslims who do this. Unfortunately, they're a motivated and rather effective one.
My husband is roaring through this book, but as the last review that I posted on it says, I just enjoy looking at the pictures.
You can try this at home.
There are 256 rules you can concoct to play this simple game. Most will create a boring or repetitive pattern. But at least one rule will cause the page to explode into complex, ever-shifting patterns. You will have created a so-called universal computer, equal in its computational sophistication to Apple's jazziest laptop. Given the right starting pattern, and the right rule, according to Dr. Stephen Wolfram, a former teenage particle physicist and software entrepreneur who has been doing this at home for the last 10 years, those lines and shapes cascading downward can be made to pick out the prime numbers, compute pi, calculate your income tax, or model the evolution of a star — anything a real computer can do.
Take a sheet of graph paper that has been divided into grids. Color a square in the middle of the top row black. Drop down to the next row. Now invent a rule that will decide if a square should be black or white, based on the square above it and that square's neighbors — for example, that a square should be the same color as the one above it unless that square has a black neighbor. Go across the second row filling in squares accordingly, then repeat the process, following the same rule, for the third row, the fourth row, and so on.
This insight is the jumping-off point of Dr. Wolfram's glossy 1,263-page book, "A New Kind of Science," published a month ago by Dr. Wolfram himself to the accompaniment of articles comparing Dr. Wolfram to Isaac Newton. The book holds a No. 2 Amazon.com ranking. It returns to the arena a prodigy who published his first physics paper at 15, earned his Ph.D. from Caltech at 20 and two years later, in 1981, became the youngest MacArthur "genius" fellow. In 1988 he founded Wolfram Research Inc. to market his program, Mathematica.
"A New Kind of Science" may be the scientific publishing event of the season, but whether it is a revolution in science as well must await the judgment of Dr. Wolfram's peers. So far, some seem amazed by his courage, others by his chutzpah. In the book Dr. Wolfram argues that the ability of such a simple system to engage in complicated-looking behavior means that scientists have underestimated nature, seeking complex reasons where simple ones will do.
As a result, he says, science has been going in the wrong direction. Most systems of even modest complexity, he concludes, are so complicated that they are beyond the grasp of mathematical formulas. Science should be looking for a simple program, not a T-shirt's worth of equations, if it wants to explain the universe, a project, he says, that would redefine our understanding of space and time, evolution, intelligence, free will, and philosophy, as well as physics.
When I read this article in hard copy this morning, I hoped that the WSJ would make it available free on the web. And they did, but note that you may have to "register" by typing in your email address. You need not be a subscriber, however. Just put in your email address and you'll get right there.
When Pat Roush wants to show off her daughters, she reaches for an old Christmas photo. It's the classic family snapshot: two happy little girls in front of the tree, holding matching Pound Puppies--gifts from Santa--over their heads.
Exactly one month later, Miss Roush would lay out their black Mary Janes and party dresses for a birthday bash the girls had been looking forward to. It was a party they would never make. Kidnapped by their estranged father, seven-year-old Alia and her three-year-old sister, Aisha, were already on their way to Saudi Arabia.
That was 1986, and the sisters, now young women, remain there still. They have not seen their mother since, except for one heart-wrenching two-hour meeting in 1995 where Alia, clad in the black abaya, begged her mother, "Please, Mama, don't leave us here!" In the meantime, Alia has been married off; each has been converted to Islam; and both remain under an effective life sentence in a land whose law forbids them to leave without the written permission of a father or husband.
The more I read about the Saudi system of government, the more outraged I get. Unfortunately, however, if the article is reporting the situation accurately, our government is more than tangentially involved in this outrageous human tragedy.
What a crisis of confidence we're suffering now in the U.S. Our leaders, political and ecclesiastical, fail to protect those whom we cherish above all else, even life itself: our children.
An article by Louis Menard takes a look at the development, the reasons behind, and the results of a shift in the academy from an emphasis on "objectivity" (i.e., Enlightenment modes of thinking) to an emphasis on "interpretation" and a reveling in the "indeterminacy" of meaning. I give you a sampling of the first and last paragraphs of the article. It's a long piece, but that's not anything unusual at this site. It's clear that readers here have long attention spans and superior analytical skills. (Also notice that Menard, like the Lady, punctuates his work liberally with parentheses!)
Almost everyone agrees that American academic culture has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Some people (mostly inside the academy) talk about those changes in terms of accessibility, diversity, increased public engagement, and so on. Others (mostly outside the academy) talk about them in terms of political correctness, affirmative action, the "death of literature," the rise of "grievance studies," and so on. In general, the differences between the two groups are framed as a debate over consciously held views: People with bad (or good) ideas seized control of higher education and drove out the good (or bad) ideas of the previous generation. To frame the debate so is not wrong: If changes in academic culture, where people are paid to think, are not driven in part by consciously held ideas, what changes are? But ideas are often driven, in turn, by long-term structural movements, and it is useful to step back from the debate over academic politics and values to see the evolution of the culture of higher education from a more impersonal perspective. One place to watch the change occurring is in the demise of the traditional academic disciplines.
Our schools sorely need academic czars to crack the whip behind students to get them moving toward substantial academic goals. If we are to have authentic academic leadership in the schools, we must have principals and superintendents with solid academic backgrounds. A first step would be to require that all current principals and superintendents pass AP exams or their equivalents in English, calculus, a science, a non-native foreign language, and history. Administrators who did not pass these tests within five years would be sent back to the classroom to teach whatever subject they once taught. No matter how passionately and sincerely they might protest their love of education and learning, those who failed such tests would reveal that they do not love them enough.
We should also demand that future principals and superintendents have at least a master's degree in a traditional academic subject, not education or business. Virtually all principals surveyed by the NASSP held at least a master's degree, but only two percent of these degrees were in fields other than education.
Our schools need more education and knowledge, not more educationist tripe, with its emphasis on vague emotional, social, political, and psychological goals and its ugly tendency to rationalize and legitimize ignorance. Knowledge, not the mere shadow of knowledge, must be the guiding principle in our schools, and the standard for excellence in education must be set by intellectually accomplished principals and superintendents. Otherwise, we will be left with a choice between wringing our hands over the ignorance of our young people or contenting ourselves with their success at emulating their educational leaders.
Very early this morning I mentioned that I would like to be a fly on the wall of the RCC parishes across the country as they encountered "for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts" and its paraphrase in the Gospel of Matthew. Would priests try to connect it to The Situation?
In my parish they did so only tangentially, lining up the Hosea verse with a plea for the victims of sexual abuse. But the homilist, without making any application of the concept of “mercy, not sacrifice,” to the clerical abuse crisis, managed to bungle it anyway.
First, a necessary clarification. We had a guest priest today. Our parish priests are extraordinary in word and deed, including in homily. If I told you why we had a guest priest today, you would find me so uncharitable for criticizing him that you would jeer and throw stones at me. So I won’t tell you why he was there; I’ll just proceed with the skewering.
Mercy, he said, is superior to sacrifice. Mercy depends on the love of God; sacrifice, on the other hand, is motivated by fear.
Take a moment to mull this over. There are two problems that immediately come to mind, the first ancient with ecumenical implications, the second contemporary, with implications that are up close and personal.
1) The subject of sacrifice in the ancient world is enormous and enormously complex. The Jews sacrificed many things for many reasons, but not one of those reasons was fear. Our priest falls again into the supersessionist trap: the God of the Old Testament was one of fear, the God of the New is one of mercy. The Jews sacrificed from fear of the God of fear; Christians, on the other hand, are joined to God in love. These ideas not only are offensive to Jews, but they disregard the facts. One only has to remember our psalm today to get an inkling of this:
If I am hungry, will I not tell you?
For the earth and what fills it are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
the blood of goats do I drink?
Sacrifice to God praise!
Fulfill, to the Most High, your vows! (Ps 50)
Most scholars agree with Mowinckel (The Psalms in Israel’s Worship) that many psalms were sung during Temple worship. The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans at this time (if you email me, I’ll send you the references) had an oddly ambiguous relationship with sacrifice. They both criticized it and performed it. Believe it or not, Psalm 50 was probably chanted while the actual sacrifice took place. The Jews didn’t sacrifice out of fear; they may even have had an eerily post-modern ironic mindset about the whole affair.
2) If people sacrifice out of fear, what on earth are you, Father, doing in the sacrifice of the Mass?
So, while Rome burns, I’m picking on such minor matters as a priest’s theology of sacrifice. Once the smoke of the current crisis clears, I hope we’ll be back to such quotidian pursuits.
There are scores of baby books out there, of course: antiseptic manuals offering tips on common rashes and the transition from bottle to solids. But what of the great mysteries of parenthood:
· Why have I started finding breakfast television interesting?
· Am I meant to love my child quite this much?
· Is it possible to exist on five hours' sleep without murdering someone?
· Will I ever read a book without pictures of cows in it again?
To these there has been no answer. Until now, that is, when men have noticed that they own babies too.
"When you think about babies you don't think small," he writes; "when you think about beginnings you soon get to thinking about immortality."
He is right: newborns bring all the big thoughts with them, but they demand so much attention that there's no time for philosophical treatises, only jottings and doodles in the margin. Life becomes fragments, occasional snatches of clarity in a milky fug of exhaustion, and it is this that Sansom has captured so brilliantly, moving between the numbing and the numinous, the trivial and the transcendent.
"One hundred years ago, if you could sign your name, you were literate,'' said JoAnne Boggus, principal of Fort Lauderdale High School. ``In the 1950s, if you could read at a third-grade level, you were literate. You could get a good job. The bar is constantly being raised on what constitutes a literate person."
If you're looking for any sort of insight, opinion, or reference to a thought-provoking article, skip this post. I want to talk about the glorious day God gave us today.
We went deep into Amish country, through teeny little towns with names like "Mongo" (as Dave Berry says, I'm not making this up) to an 8,000 acre nature preserve. The sky was perfectly clear, the temperature 89 degrees, and all of us were together: husband Gearhead, the son, the dog, me.
The dog was actually the impetus for the trip. He is a Viszla, or Hungarian Pointer, and he has more energy wrapped up in 50 pounds than any other creature known to man, bar none; he's even faster than a speeding naked three year old with a stolen cookie in his hand heading out the front door. He's a trained bird dog and can find four quail in a ten acre field in half an hour. Our little suburban yard isn't big enough to give him vigorous exercise, and many open places have inane leash laws. How is a friendly, active dog supposed to shake his sillies out? So we take him to the deep country and let him run circles around us for a few hours.
This country was deep indeed. The grass where we parked the Jeep was up to my shoulders. As we walked through it, our feet crushed mint underfoot, filling the air with its scent. There were forests of oak and forests of pine, sunny meadows full of purple flowers and other sunny meadows full of white ones. There were so many bees in the flowers that my son thought the hum came from a distant chain saw. But there were no sounds at all other than the wind and the birds and the insects. None at all.
Neat things we saw:
Three deer. Not very unusual, but fun nonetheless.
A beaver dam.
Some skinky little amphibious beast in the cool shady swamp by the brook.
A large turtle who was probably burying her eggs in the sand. She hissed bravely at us, and we left her alone. The dog, who is still young, had never before seen such a creature, and he was nonplussed. In fact, he nearly jumped out of his skin at the horror of it all. This afforded us great amusement.
Today's first reading is from Hosea 6:3-6, and the punchline is
for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.
Many people have a copy of LTP's Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers with commentary this year by Aelred R. Rosser. Rosser does an extraordinary thing in his comments on the Gospel, which alludes to the above verse from Hosea:
Jesus quotes a saying from the Hebrew scriptures that organized religion will always have difficulty observing. Mercy is greater than sacrifice. Mercy is greater than justice. (Emphasis mine)
Whoa, there, Rosser. Look at what the text says, not what you wish it said. The contrast set up both in the Gospel and Hosea has to do with a liturgical act (holocaust/sacrifice), not an ethical one (justice). This is exactly the point that the NYT article below deals with. I would love to be a bi-locating fly on the wall (times several thousand) to hear how this scripture will be preached in churches across the country tomorrow.
Part of the problem seems to be the bishops' inability to reconcile the apparent conflicts — even contradictions — between canon law and civil law, at least not with the clarity that American Catholics now require. Civil law lays out crimes and punishments, but Catholic doctrine says there is no sin for which a believer cannot be forgiven. When asked how often a sinner could be forgiven, Christ's answer was seventy times seven. When the pope recently met with American cardinals to discuss the unfolding scandal, he condemned sexual abuse as a crime but he also urged the cardinals to be mindful of "the power of conversion," meaning the possibility of a repentant sinner finding salvation.
That possibility is the reason Sister Camille D'Arienzo and other nuns from the Sisters of Mercy convent in Brooklyn held a prayer service for the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy J. McVeigh, and why they oppose a zero-tolerance rule for priests.
"If you have zero tolerance, in many instances you are virtually killing the priest," said Sister Camille. "Are we willing to sacrifice forever the possibility of goodness in a person who has sinned once?"
After making the last post, I hopped over to Amy Welborn's blog to catch up on what she was saying. And lo and behold, she had posted an article that includes a talk to children about The Situation (namely, a priest's homily addressed to junior high students). Go over and read it; it's good.
Earlier this evening we watched Judith Regan interview Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on The Situation. One comment Donohue made was particularly striking. He said that the sexual scandal in the Church, taken in tandem with Clinton's sexual misdeeds in the White House, will probably have a profound impact on the way young people view both political and religious leaders. Our youth will think of representatives of these groups as hypocrites, unworthy of trust or respect.
This brought up some questions in my mind. Are our young people paying attention to the scandal in the Church? If so, young people in what age groups? If you have children, do you talk to them about about it? I'm not sure if my son has any awareness of what's going on. We don't talk about it in front of him, and we watch little TV in general when he's around, much less shows that talk about The Situation. I believe he's in no danger from the priests in our parish, so nothing positive would be accomplished by bringing it up.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues, whether you're a parent or not.
Some secular publishers chuckle at Evangelical best sellers like the hot new health guide "What Would Jesus Eat?" (not much fat, plenty of whole grains) or marriage manuals recommending wifely submission. Others, mindful of past allegations of anti-Semitism on the religious right, gulp at the popularity of books by Evangelical authors calling for the mass conversion of Jews.
It is a tough market to crack. Evangelical readers prefer to shop in specialized Evangelical stores where books are certified as spiritually correct, and those store owners in turn prefer to buy from publishers who are also like-minded believers. "If a secular publisher is trying to get in, then we have to screen their books to see if they are doctrinally what we want to carry," said Linda Hoff, manager of the Maranatha Christian book store in Cleveland.
...In this unfamiliar territory, secular publishers often misstep. Last month, for example, a new mail order catalog of Christian books from the publisher Scholastic evoked cries of blasphemy after a Christian competitor circulated an angry e-mail message to 3,500 Evangelical teachers and parents denouncing Scholastic's catalog as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" pushing "flagrantly anti-Christian books." Its principal sin: promoting the book "Conversations With God for Teens," in which God smiles on lesbianism and takes a philosophical view of "right" and "wrong." (A spokeswoman for Scholastic acknowledged it was inappropriate for the audience.)
...Evangelical publishers and store owners still laugh about the time two decades ago when Bantam, one of the first major houses to enter the field, threw a typical book industry cocktail party at an Evangelical convention where temperance is the rule.
There's much more here that's good reading, including the mind-boggling little aside that Timothy LaHaye, known for his work in the Left Behind series, recently won a $45 million advance for a series of evangelical thrillers.
I've often wondered how to make millions writing. Now I know. Write series that are trash literarily and even worse theologically. I tried to read the Left Behind series, really I did. But in the middle of the second one I just couldn't go on. This is stinky stuff in every way, folks.
It's particularly enlightening to read Jewish perspectives on the series. Gershom Gorenberg in his End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, is instructive. The point of the book is to document the investment that American evangelicals have put into "end times" theology that centers on Jerusalem, particularly the rebuilding of the Temple. Gershom does this with much sympathy most of the time. But his treatment of the Left Behind series is ruthless.
Here's an excerpt from pp. 30-31:
My son and I are stretched out in a hammock between two trees in the backyard of the country house where we like to vacation. It's in the hills of the Galilee, away from the noise and exhaust of Jerusalem; from the yard we can see the town of Tiberias and all of Lake Kinneret--the Sea of Galilee--shimmering blue ... My ten-year-old son is reading The Phantom Tollbooth yet again and giggles occasionally. I'm reading Nicolae: The Rise of the Antichrist, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. And suddenly I start laughing harder than my son, which I'm not supposed to do in the middle of a thriller about the end of the world, complete with nuclear war and famine and plague, and he wants to know what's funny, so I read him the paragraph where world-reknowed journalist Buck Williams, in Jerusalem on a secret mission, learns that 'he would find who he was looking for in Galilee, which didn't really exist anymore,' a geographical point he repeats for emphasis two pages later.
'Dad, if the Galilee doesn't exist, where are we?' my son asks.
'Maybe we don't exist either.'
A couple of pages later I'm giggling again: Now Buck has decided to make the three-hour journey to 'Tiberius' (sic) by boat--one of the many touring boats that, in the book, ply the Jordan River. Which would be fine if the Jordan were really 'deep and wide,' as the song goes, but in reality it's a narrow trickle not fit for navigating.
The experience is jarring ... I'm reading a book set largely in the country where I live--but not really, because the authors' Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called 'Jews' might as well be named hobbits or warlocks.
And let's not even begin talking about the theological problems in these books. Paul Thigpen, a Catholic with a Ph.D. from Emory, has attempted to respond to "end times" Protestantism of various shapes and colors. Unfortunately, his book, The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to 'End Times' Fever, at many places simply substitutes Catholic biblical literalism for the Protestant variety.
Why should we care about this?
For one, we need to take ownership of our faith. I was pulled into evangelical groups in high school because, among other reasons, I was intrigued by their passionate preaching on the end of the world. "Are you ready? Will you be saved, or will you be left behind?" This high school sojourn with evangelicalism was very much a positive experience in many ways, and they introduced me to the Bible, for which I'll always be grateful. But critical biblical study it is not. And uncritical biblical study can lead to some very serious consequences. Just ask the relatives of those who died at Waco.
Another reason, of course, is the pressure cooker of the Middle East. Too much theological gas, very few places for it to go. Here in the U.S. we don't teach our children much about the almost nuclear impact that religious belief can pack in many parts of the world. That needs to change. It would be nice if 9-11 could effect such a change in the school system, for instance, but I don't imagine that it will. If religion means little or nothing to me, how can I imagine that someone else will kill or die for it?
Paul Robinson writes an exquisite essay on the niceties of punctuation that demolishes, among many other things, any justification for my own favorite modus punctuandi, parentheses.
Rules are important, no question about it. But by themselves they are insufficient. Unless one has an emotional investment, rules are too easily forgotten. What we must instill, I'm convinced, is an attitude toward punctuation, a set of feelings about both the process in general and the individual marks of punctuation. That set of feelings might be called a philosophy of punctuation.
...Then there are parentheses and dashes. They are, of course, indispensable. I've used them five times already in this essay alone. But I think one must maintain a very strict attitude toward them. I start from the proposition that all parentheses and dashes are syntactical defeats. They signify an inability to express one's ideas sequentially, which, unless you're James Joyce, is the way the language was meant to be used. Reality may be simultaneous, but expository prose is linear. Parentheses and dashes represent efforts to elude the responsibilities of linearity. They generally betoken stylistic laziness, an unwillingness to spend the time figuring out how to put things in the most logical order. Needless to say, they also betoken a failure of discipline. Every random thought, every tenuous analogy gets dragged in. Good writing is as much a matter of subtraction as creation, and parentheses are the great enemy of subtraction. In all that I write I try to find ways to eliminate them.
Guilty on all counts (especially the one about random thoughts and tenuous analogies).
This is what my husband is trying to read. I couldn't even get through the review:
For more than a decade, Wolfram, a theoretical physicist turned millionaire software entrepreneur, has been laboring in solitude on a work that, he has promised, will change the way we see the world. Adding to the suspense, the book has been announced and withdrawn as the artist returned to his garret to tinker, ignoring the bad vibes and hexes cast by jealous colleagues hoping to see him fall flat on his face.
Now, weighing in at 1,263 pages (counting a long, unpaginated index) and 583,313 words, the book could hardly be more intimidating. But that is the price one pays for a first-class intellectual thrill. While experimenting with a simple computer program 20 years ago, Wolfram stumbled on something rather eerie: ''the beginning of a crack in the very foundations of existing science.'' Ever since, he has been following it deeper as it widens into a crevasse.
...Any motivated reader should be able to plow through at least a few hundred pages before the details become too burdensome. Then one can just marvel at the pictures.
I've spent the last two evenings, and will spend tomorrow morning, with some alumni of my Catholic university's graduate school (both Master's and Ph.D. programs). Most had graduated in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. When asked what the high point of their time at the university was, several answered that it was the spirit of possibility following Vatican II. One, at least, is an active member of Call to Action. This crowd dislikes Cardinal Law and loves Weakland, and the dinner table conversation focused mainly on The Situation. What did they have to say? The church is losing credibility. It's open season for anti-Catholics. Everyone thinks that the hierarchy has gone horribly wrong, but that their own parish church is fine, they'll continue to support it, and that opinion is probably correct, for it's only a small number of priests who have abused. It's time to have married priests. This will probably happen in the next pontificate.
I disagree with the opinions about Law and Weakland, agree strongly with all of the statements up to the last, with which I'm in cautious agreement. There is historical precedent and theological warrant for married priests, but when we come to practicalities things get more complicated. Are Catholics willing to give priestly families a living wage? Are families willing to sacrifice a husband/father to the demands of a large parish? (This is one Protestants deal with on a daily basis, obviously.) What about divorces? If a priest could not get an annullment and wants to marry again, what happens? All these issues, admittedly not very original thoughts, were debated at table.
It was especially interesting to hear one alumna's perspective on being a woman graduate student in the 1970s. She was actually the first female graduate of the Master's program. Naive post-Vatican II baby that I am, I had no idea that the university did not accept women as graduate students until that time. This particular woman, once admitted, almost had to drop out for financial reasons. She tried to get financial aid but was told that she didn't merit it "because you're a woman and women can't be ordained." My audible gasp could be heard by all. I don't support women's ordination, for which, unlike the ordination of married men, there is no historical precedent and no theological warrant (in my opinion). But having been a woman in ministry in the Catholic Church all my adult life, and surrounded by women with Master's degrees, I found this information astounding.
This would be a good time to put up a plug for the IWF, the Independent Women's Forum. Yes, intelligent women can be pro-men, pro-life, pro-capitalism. And they have hearts as well as brains. Here's their latest project (source is a recent press release):
The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has launched the Infant Care Project to enable new mothers, widowed by events of 9/11, to pay for in-home care ideally for the first month of their infant’s life. The IWF established its Infant Care Project to help address a unique challenge that these young widows are facing: taking care of their newborns without the physical help and support of a spouse.
An Associated Press report on the project was featured in over 140 papers nationwide including USA Today, the Sacramento Bee, and the Dallas Morning News: "Most of the new Sept. 11 mothers have been helped by...the Infant Care Project started by the nonprofit Independent Women's Forum. The program gives each mother $2,000 to pay for in-home care for the first month of the baby's life.
'Most people think about the loss of a husband in terms of loss of income,' project director Judy Hill said. 'It also means the loss of an essential pair of helping hands that a husband typically provides when a newborn comes home.' "
For more information or to make a donation, contact Judy Hill at 703-558-4991.
It probably says nothing about the lovely Christian church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (later Istanbul) that after the Muslim conquest of 1453 was turned into a mosque. Our apologetic works for children tend to censor our own painful hypocrisies.
The fate of Hagia Sophia and the Library of Alexandria never fail to bring me almost to tears.
The Islamic Fun! CD-ROM teaches Muslim children about a smorgasbord
of Islamic topics. On the surface it's bright and breezy. The graphics are
skillfully executed and appealing to children. Its games have names such as
"Fishing Bear," "Tree Hop," and "Two Bunny Race." In "Tree Hop," a tiger
bounds atop a series of trees in pursuit of a beach ball. "Fishing Bear"
features a bear sporting green pajamas (complete with nightcap) and a
wide grin. If players correctly answer questions such as "Where did the
Prophet Muhammad receive the first revelation of the Holy Qur'an?" they
can advance the causes of these friendly animals.
But nestled among the happy tigers, bears, and kitty cats is a game called
"The Resistance." This game's object: "You are a farmer in South Lebanon
who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from
the invading zionists." Players do so by blowing up Israeli tanks.
Zionists aren't the only target. A principal aim of Islamic Fun! seems to be
to instill ancient Islamic resentments in today's youth. As the tiger cavorts
among the trees in "Tree Hop," the game asks its players to identify the
Mosque of Cordoba from among three inset photos. The accompanying
question: "Ignoring the hand over agreement, the Christians turned the
beautiful Mosque of Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, into a Cathedral (1238).
Which one is it?"
Oh blog di
Oh blog da
Life goes on, ah
Ah bloggada life goes on
I know. That one's really over the top.
Life has been going on. It's alumni week here, and I've been lassoed to do a number of things, including speak on a panel about the current state of our theology department. After I agreed to do this, the organizer told me there's an honorarium. This is the first time in my life I've been paid to speak. But I know of people who would pay me not to speak.
Why not build a mosque at ground zero? And a church, and a synagogue as well? Why not erect a vast inter-religious center on the premises as a supplement to the secular, cultural, and artistic elements that will figure in the blueprint for the site’s reconstruction? An inter-religious center could serve for educational purposes, and the religiously specific chapels could be used for baptisms, confirmation ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs, and even weddings of those whose parents or loved ones have perished in the attacks. It would be a site of healing for many. And just imagine what it would be like for American Muslims, and Muslim visitors from abroad to visit such a shrine.
Maybe a few misguided Muslims would go there to praise Allah for his great victory in destroying the towers - but I imagine the vast majority of American Muslims would go to simply offer prayers of gratitude that Allah, in his mercy, has created a place called America, where both freedom and faith can flourish.
The perception of America’s role in the world is being redefined. In addition to being regarded as an economic and military power, we are now seen as a global police force attempting to root out terror. But America is a spiritual power as well and it is important that we do what we can to get this message out. Building an inter-religious center on the site of the World Trade Center could be an important step in this direction. It would be a living testimony to the American conviction that secularity and diversity are not the enemies of faith, but are rather the very basis of spiritual strength and religious renewal.
I'm not sure what to think about this yet for a number of reasons. There are a lot of things to untangle in this proposal, fundamental things having to do with everything from gut-level emotional reactions to lofty discussions of ecumenical relations to "secularity and diversity" and their limits.
One thing we do know, however; heated debate will surround any proposal concerning what to do with those sacred acres in lower Manhattan.
Essay question: Is the new addition to the SAT beneficial or not? To whom? Why or why not? Support your answer.
It seems as if the Wall Street Journal is the only media outlet to cover the story of a big change in the SAT that goes into effect in 2005. I give you the link to the article and hope it takes you there, because the WSJ online is by subscription only.
Now, the point:
The College Board plans to announce major changes in the SAT I college-admissions exam on June 27, toughening the math test and adding longer reading passages to the verbal exam. But it's the addition of a third test -- a writing exam that will carry as much weight as each of the other two -- that marks a seismic shift in a test taken by more than a million high school seniors every year.
Using pencil and paper, students will have 20 minutes to respond to a statement like "novelty is too often mistaken for progress," or to argue a point of view. Is strength in numbers, for example, or is "the strongest person in the world .. the one who stands alone?" A 40-minute multiple-choice test featuring grammatical errors and sentence and paragraph construction will follow.
This is huge news in the world of education, affecting not only high schools, but elementary and middle schools as well. The essay will be written longhand, not on computers, where there are spelling and grammar checks. According to recent rumor, our very large school district is abolishing spelling instruction for grades 1-8 (it's already gone in grades 9-12). Will this announcement make them lurch into reverse?
The biggest question, of course, is grading. Who will grade these essays? (The article does elucidate this.) What are the grading criteria? This, indeed, is a problem. A few months ago I read a news article about the fate of student writing tests that are sent to external examiners. The examiners said that they skim the essay looking for "key words" that they think are part of a "good" answer to that question topic. If they find the key words, the essay receives a high score. If they don't, it doesn't. Unfortunately, I can't find that article. If someone else knows of it, please let me know.
The grading of the essays is indeed the most profound problem. But the following is ludicrous:
But that production-line approach to writing worries some people, who see writing as a creative endeavor that thrives on risks. Paramount Pictures Chairman Sherry Lansing, a member of the California Board of Regents who pressed for the SAT change, is pummeling College Board officials with questions about scoring the writing test. "Writing is a creative ability, and you can't really put a score on creativity," she says. "Look at 'Ulysses' and explain to me how you would grade that."
Yup. Our schools are brimming over with James Joyces.
One good thing to say about this procedure: if the SAT essays could be sent directly to colleges with students' applications, it would certainly cut down on the propensity of some young scholars to beg, borrow, steal, or otherwise plagiarize admission essays. But it's not to be:
Also still open is the question of what colleges and universities will do with the test. Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., says he'll ask to see the essay because, among other things, it will help "authenticate authorship" of the two other essays that prospective students now submit. He'd also prefer to receive the essays unscored. "Let me decide, based on local standards, if it's good writing," he says.
The College Board says its members have debated and dismissed that idea, even though law-school and medical-school admissions tests now include an essay that is sent, unscored, to the universities where students are applying.
Back to Star Wars Episode II: Great special effects, great scenery at Lake Como, cruddy dialogue. The dialogue in the love scenes contrasted so hideously with the breathtaking meadow, lake and "palace" (a villa, really; Jonah Goldberg wrote in his review of the movie that he and the lovely Jessica honeymooned at that very spot) that all one could do was sit in shock. Actually, I made very rude comments, probably too loudly, in the theatre.
I wondered if perhaps Lucas wrote the crap on purpose: Anakin's character is so shallow, so vapid, so utterly adolescent and unappealing. Perhaps the dialogue was simply consonant with the character?
Well, someone else thinks that Lucas was purposeful in his dialogue writing, but for very different reasons:
What Turan, Goldstein and many others have failed to understand is that the style of dialogue and acting in "Attack of the Clones" is intentionally campy, a subversive mode of performance that gay people have used for centuries to express their outsider perspective on the dominant culture.
The young lovers Padme and Anakin may be courting one another on the far-off planet of Naboo, but it is our own culture's cliched honeymoon images of Venice and Niagara Falls that Lucas is visually quoting here to bracket the romance and to tip off moviegoers that he is being campy. When Padme tells Anakin that "I truly, deeply love you," they are immediately greeted by an arena full of jeering sentient insects, another Lucas tip-off to viewers about his true intent: ridiculing their irresponsible descent into unconscious union.
The lovers' dialogue is purposely lifted from soap operas and Harlequin romances to highlight the stultifying cultural effect of this attitude toward romance. Here Lucas is exposing the destructive machinery of an American culture that coerces human beings to blindly imitate and conform to smarmy, shadowless images of heterosexual romance, with terribly destructive and soul-killing results. Our heroine Padme finds herself soothing and eventually marrying a budding mass murderer.
Likewise, in modern America so many people get married and have children without realizing that they barely know themselves or their spouses, with insidious consequences.
If Anakin and Padme wanted a divorce, would they be eligible for an annullment because "they barely know themselves or their spouses"?
A reader from the great state of Texas comments on Gary Suson's Genesis 11 photo:
I loved the photo of the Bible found at Ground Zero. I hadn't seen it before. It's nice to know that those who lived and worked in that bastion of commerce also had highlighted study Bibles. It gives my own life more dignity in the manner of Opus Dei--even my insignificant life has a greater purpose if I will only seek to find and implement it...
A very helpful gentleman responded in the Comments to the Lady's cri de couer about permanent links. Many thanks! I'll work on it this evening.
To all the people who are swarming this site and are disappointed because there have been no new links in over 24 hours, never fear: a worsening of my son's illness was not responsible for a dearth of posts. Actually, he got much better, and I was able to go into campus and do a number of things, including run into my dissertation advisor.
"How's it going? When am I going to see a chapter?" he asked kindly.
"I'm not working as hard as I could be," I admitted, but without divulging any reason for this. So when I got home, I worked all afternoon and evening reading Joseph and Aseneth in various languages (including a French commentary by Philonenko, which probably explains why the pretentious little phrase used in the first sentence above popped into my head. Don't you just hate it when people quote French at you? But sometimes the urge is simply overpowering and cannot be resisted).
About 10:00 p.m. husband Gearhead returned from Boston, and we watched one of two movies he had picked out.
"I got one for me and one for you," he explained. The one for him was The Fast and the Furious. No surprise. For those of you who don't know, it's a movie about cars that bombed at the box office, but he loved it.
For me, on the other hand, he chose a movie with the unappealing title of The Luzhin Defence (yes, that British spelling is intentional. We're getting pretentious-er and pretensious-er around here). But the movie was really quite lovely. Evidently it is based on a Nabokov novel about a misfit chessplayer, set in Italy in the late 1920s. The Italian setting is actually Lake Como, where, incidentally, that stunning scene in Star Wars Episode II with Anakin and Amidala was filmed. The photography is luscious, the plot interesting enough, and the characters likable. I would recommend it. Here's its website.
I've got several article to post and discuss but will wait until later this evening to do so.
Who is the Lady of Shalott?Click here and find out. Why do I call myself the Lady of Shalott?
In addition to being a blogger, I'm a wife, mother, and Ph.D. student specializing in scripture and the Graeco-Roman world, and I'm just a little bit pregnant with a dissertation (but we're not going to talk about the dissertation, are we? No!). In hopes of receiving tenure someday at a university as wonderful as the one I now attend, this blogger will remain resolutely anonymous. Nothing like yards of politically incorrect off-the-cuff statements to derail the tenure track. But we'll have lots of fun anyway.