Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Best of Blog (1): Psalm 133 Calligraphy

Here is a piece of calligraphy by a former student, Connie Jones, which she produced for my Psalms course. It represents a compelling interpretation of Psalm 133:

[first posted: 6/24/2006]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

While I'm in China...

Bringing Home Rebecca Ketziah all are welcome to follow along on our journey to bring home our baby, Rebecca Ketziah. Cathy and I fly out tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. To access our baby-blog, click here.

Do not worry, this blog (Biblische Ausbildung) is not going any where. I should have internet access in China, and plan to put up a series of "best-of-blog" postings from the archives. I did not have many readers in the early months, so most of you will find these re-runs to be new to you I think. Anyway, please don't abandon Biblische Ausbildung, dear readers, and many thanks for your support!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Whence Comes God's Pain in Labor (Isaiah 42)?

What is the source of God's labor pain in Isaiah 42:14? If the metaphor of labor fully applies to God's creative new restorative work in 2 Isaiah (as my post yesterday suggested), then this restorative work somehow involves groaning and suffering for God! How does this work?

Dr. Claassens in her paper interpreted God's pain in labor as God's work of entering into the trials and trauma of the people, who have been exiled to Babylonia as prisoners of war. In my response to her paper, I suggested another possibility that to me seems more in keeping with the overall theology and thinking of 2 Isaiah.

I suggested that the metaphor of God's labor pains in Isaiah relates to the pain to which a stance of vulnerability exposes one. When one lets go of control, puts aside the ego-self, drops one's guard on behalf of something greater than the self, then one is almost guaranteed to be in for great pain.

In 2 Isaiah God is seen to put aside God's right to justice, to put aside what's fair and deserved. Others should be doing their part, but God ends up having to pull everyone else's weight for them (cf. Isaiah 41:28; 59:16; 63:5). When you embrace other-centeredness, you often get "burned," you take the "fall," you open yourself up to misunderstanding and deep rejection precisely at a point where you have exposed your soft flesh. Is that the nature of the "pain" that God is feeling here in Isaiah 42?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

God "Like a Woman in Labor" (Isaiah 42)

I mentioned in Friday's post that I had given a brief response at the mini-conference of the Washington Consortium Bible Group held here on the VTS campus. The presenter was Dr. Juliana Claassens and the paper looked at the image of God in Isaiah 42. I won't give the entire paper away here, of course, as it is part of a larger publishing project that will appear in print. I do want to record that I loved the argument that the text uses the image of God in the pains of birth and labor as a marvelous rhetorical strategy.

God has seemed to be silent for so long, as the people have waited in Babylonian exile. Isaiah's audience must have had deep suspicions that God might be rather powerless. God must have seemed likely unable to turn their situation around. But what if God is "like a woman in labor" (Isaiah 42:14). If God is at the point of birthing new life, then a lot has been going on for months without it being apparent to the people. Then God's seeming powerlessness and helplessness is actually a means of doing something quite powerful indeed.

A woman's helplessness and frailty during labor is nothing less than power, the power to bring about new life--something a "powerful" male cannot do! This theological theme that vulnerability and frailty is a source of true, marvelous power is a big one throughout Isaiah 40-66. I think Juliana is really on to something here.

Perhaps I'll add a bit more to this discussion tomorrow morning. There are some powerful and exciting ideas here...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Biblical Studies Carnival XV Call for Submissions

Blog Carnival
Anything on this blog caught your eye this month? Why not nominate it for the upcoming Carnival of Bible Blogs to be hosted on Charles Halton's Awilum blog (click here). It is easy to nominate/submit a post for the carnival. Simply use the quick submission form at or email them to biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail DOT com. Why not make a nomination right now?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Home Stretch

It's after 8pm, and this is the first time today I've been able to sit down. Went from small-group worship at home this morning, to running a Bible-Works workshop in the student lab, to showing my good friend Mitzi the cat supplies, to running my chapel-team meeting, to teaching my Hebrew Reading Seminar, to attending the WTC Consortium Bible-Group meeting, where I gave a response to one of the two major papers, to attending the late dinner of the group in the Small Dining Room. That's how it's been each day this week, with our trip to China only a few days away now. Lot's of running around, but we're coming down the home stretch. We leave Wednesday morning for our trip to China. Finally, we will meet our daughter for the first time. I've got to just keep focussed on that end. All of this chaos will settle itself down...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lent 1, Year C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

First Fruits

The appointed lesson for this coming Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, Year C, is Deuteronomy 26:1-11. The passage is about bringing some of the harvest fruits and offering them to God. It is about intentionally remembering God's mighty acts on behalf of us, raising up the people of Israel from meager beginnings.

In the theology of Deuteronomy, full life and full joy come from keeping covenant, from keeping God in the place of covenant-lord (suzerain). With God as covenant lord, we are freed from selfishness and egocentricity. With our fellow human beings as co-partners (co-vassals) in the covenant, we are freed to enjoy full human mutuality with our friends and neighbors.

Notice how Deuteronomy 26 charges us to recall and recite our history as God's people. No matter how much we may prosper, keeping ourselves focused on God's grace connects us to the divine source of our life. It charges and empowers us spiritually, allows us to grow in discipleship.

Along with reciting the faith history, bringing offerings from the harvest helps us strengthen our recognition of God's covenantal suzerainty ("lordship"). Deuteronomy 26 makes clear that God is lord of nature and physicial sustenance, not just lord of history. In this theology of Deuteronomy, we make God lord of every facet of existence. We don't compartmentalize life, recognizing God's power in one part but not in another.

The communal dimension of all this is central. A proper "vertical" relationship with God generates proper "horizontal" relationships within community. Verse 11 mentions the extended household, the the Levite, and the alien. These are core societal elements out of which Israel as an entire people is built up. The covenant of Deuteronomy upholds these elements, including the "weakest links" at society's edge. The good life is a shared journey, where we all recognize each other's full humanity and draw strength from our God-given mutuality.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sad and Difficult Results from the Anglican Primates Meeting

Sad, sad situation
Meeting in Tanzania, the Primates of the Anglican Communion called on the U.S. Episcopal Church to state explicitly by September 30th that it will bar the blessing of same-sex unions and stop consecrating openly gay bishops. Otherwise, it risks further isolation from the 77-million-member Anglican Communion. They made provisions for "alternative oversight" for those who feel they cannot be under the direction of the U.S. Presiding Bishop. They asked all sides of those in the U.S. in disputes over church properties to put legal processes and provocations on hold. The U.S. Presiding Bishop described the charge coming out of the meetings as a call for a "season of fasting" in which we the communion is to "fast" from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other.

What do we make of all of this? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but the situation feels bad to me. In order to really meet the demands of the Primates, a special episcopal convention would have to be called. Even if that could be done, it feels highly questionable to me that it would bring itself to fully satisfy what the Primates seem to be requiring. It feels to me like we are in for a lot more pain, arguments, and bad feelings all around. This will surely divert all of us from doing the true work of the gospel.

Does anyone have a more hopeful prognosis? Comments welcome...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Chronicle: "Questions of Faith"

Barbara Brown TaylorMy faculty colleague, Dr. Roger Ferlo, has sent a link to a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor is a well-known homilist, thinker, and writer within the Episcopal Church, who does terrific work with preaching both testaments of the Christian Bible. The essay is entitled, "Questions of Faith," and it appeared February 16th.

The essay is fascinating, relating the story of how Taylor came to teach religion at Piedmont college after experiencing some of the frustrations of the life of a parish priest, especially the frustration of not being able to wrestle with real theological issues in the parish, to ponder the questions that had lead her into the ministry in the first place. Personally, I very much empathize with Taylor's love of academe and the life of the teaching professor.

You know you are incredibly lucky or blessed to be a seminary professor when you read Taylor's description of the real job of a parish priest:

I spent most of my time essentially managing a small business, with all of the fiscal, physical-plant, and personnel issues that such a job entails. I also gave long hours to caring for people in crisis, and while those hours were well spent, there were few left over to ponder the questions that had led me into the ordained ministry in the first place. I read fiction for the 15 minutes each night that I could keep my eyes open. When church members and I chose topics for Christian education, we favored those that made us feel more secure in our faith instead of those that might challenge our understanding of ourselves.

Reluctantly I accepted the fact that my job had more to do with providing a safe place for people to raise their children and strengthen their beliefs than it did with exploring the theological territory. Most people counted on me to provide answers and not to ask more questions. That made a lot of sense — who wants a provocateur teaching the 12-year-olds or tipping the canoe during Bible study? — but at the same time, I found the life of my mind growing thin.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rivers of Babylon

The Melodians

We have been discussing the Babylonian Exile in my Ezekiel class this term, and Todd V. who is in the class was reminded of a song, "Rivers of Babylon," which he just emailed me.

It is done by The Melodians in the Reggae genre, and is quite catchy. The Jamaican vocal trio, with their island-version of 70s R & B, has a sweet, harmonic Reggae style.

The Lyrics are as follows:

By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.
By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the lords song in a strange land
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Requiring of us a song
Now how shall we sing the lords song in a strange land
Let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight
Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts
Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight
By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.
By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.
By the rivers of babylon (dark tears of babylon)
There we sat down (you got to sing a song)
Ye-eah we wept, (sing a song of love)
When we remember zion.
(yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah)
By the rivers of babylon (rough bits of babylon)
There we sat down (you hear the people cry)
Ye-eah we wept, (they need their God)
When we remember zion. (ooh, have the power)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Signs of Tension at the Primates Meeting

Pictured above is Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, a very controversial figure in the Anglican Communion recently. At the Anglican Primates meeting now going on in Tanzania, he and six other self-designated "Global South" archbishops refused to receive Holy Communion with their fellow Primates (on Friday February 16).
The seven gave as their reason that they were "unable to come to the Holy Table with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding."
The Episcopal News Service also reports the following: "Throughout the day, Akinola was seen moving between the Primates' enclave and the area of the White Sands Hotel where the media are housed to join consultations with Bishop Martin Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a conservative mission of the Nigerian Anglican Church." Minns works here in Northern Virginia, not far from VTS, and the formation of CANA has caused particular stress and grief in this corner of Anglicanism.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Anglican Primates Meeting

A primates meeting of archbishops of the Anglican Communion is going on in Tanzania. Naturally, there is much interest in their discussions and their ramifications for the Episcopal Church here in the USA.

If any readers want to post comments on news that they have on this meeting and their reactions to it, you are welcome to use the comments section below. Dave Walker on his cartoon blog is reporting that the primates have found that the Episcopal Church has met much of the Windsor Report requirements and that anti-ECUSA bloggers are angry about this finding.

Here is one of his cartoons:

HT: cartoon blog

termites (humor)

HT: Chuck H.


Retirement of Mary Hix from VTS

Mary Hix had her retirement dinner this past weekend, and it was a marvelous event with many friends returning and a delicious banquet. Ellen Davis and Dwayne Hubner stayed overnight with Cathy and me, and the four of us had a great time. Mary was an excellent Vice President at VTS, and she will be missed. She worked tirelessly at the schools management and finances, and always with grace and good humor. Mary always tried to help and work things out, and she gave Cathy and me special support when terrible tragedy struck. She will be missed. In a big sense, she is not gone, since she remains our friend and will surely be around a lot to maintain relationships and to consult with VTS on many knotty puzzles that are sure to pop up in the running of the seminary!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ezekiel and the Holy

In a blog post today entitled "A Home for God," a most excellent student of mine in my Ezekiel course, Steve P, has reflected on the nature of God's holiness, especially as Ezekiel understands it. The reflection is quite good, so I want to quote it here in part:
The holiness of God smelts the soul of humanity, removing all the impurities, and leaving only the pure gold of holiness behind. To approach God, even within the Temple, is to be ridiculously close to that fire which is all consuming. It is radical that God chose to dwell in and with his Creation. It is radical that he allowed his Creation to come so close to his otherness. This otherness, this holiness, the refining fire is an image that we have very much lost in our society, but one we should seek to reclaim.

Bruce Metzger, 1914-2007

The guild of biblical studies is mourning the death of Dr. Bruce Metzger. He died February 13th at the age of 93. Here are a few excerpts from an NCC press release:

"I don't think it is an exaggeration to say the RSV would not have happened had it not been for Bruce Metzger," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary. "His leadership and scholarship were the reasons there is a translation of the Bible we call the New Revised Standard Version."

Metzger, a Presbyterian, was the George L. Collord Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Seminary. He earned a bachelor's degree from Lebanon Valley College in 1935, a bachelor of theology degree from Princeton Seminary in 1938 and a doctorate in classics from Princeton University in 1942. Metzger began his teaching career at Princeton in 1938, where he stayed in the New Testament department for 46 years.
I remember my amazement once back in seminary when my hall-mate, David Ball, a fellow seminarian, was trying to think of a topic for an essay in an NT class. David picked up the phone in his dorm room and dialed Bruce Metzger. I sat there and listened as Metzger graciously talked a topic through with my friend. There's not many world-class scholars who would have been that gracious. But, that was the way that Metzger was.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Last Sunday of Epiphany, Year C: Exodus 34:29-35

rays flashing from his face
The appointed lesson for this coming Sunday, the last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, is Exodus 34:29-35. This would be a rich passage to preach on. It recounts Moses' return from Mount Sinai shining with holiness and the glory of God. This passage evidences the editorial hand of the HS priestly editors, strongly reflecting their emphasis on God's sanctifying power.

After having conversed with God, the skin of Moses' face flashes with beams or rays of glory, and he does not even realize it. In HS theology, that's what happens when you are in the presence of God, as Moses was. Something of the divine glory remains with you, and it shows. God's presence and light naturally beams out to fill our lives with beauty and power. Such visible glory attracts our innermost longings. It is truly the object of our deepest desires.

God's holiness is far from safe. At first, Aaron and all the people shrink back in awe and fear (34:30). Moses finds that he must veil his face when he is not in God's presence. It is not that he wants to keep God's power from us; it's just that we are not yet ready to receive it in its full force. Moses prevents us from seeing more than we can handle. How might we open ourselves to receive more of the bright, stinging influx of God's transformative holiness? There are rich possibilities here for the homilist to explore.

In the theology of HS, we nurture God's holy presence with us through both acts of justice and acts of worship. We make space in our lives to build community and to commune with God. Creating such space in our lives today is a huge challenge. Our lives are full with commitments and activities and pleasurable leisure opportunities. This passage reminds us, however, that life's real thrills for which our souls truly long have their one true source in the spiritual sun of God's glory.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"You Got People" (Jeremiah 22:1-5)

Our OT 202 Hebrew Reading class has just finished Jeremiah 22:1-5, and we were discussing the meaning of the idiom "your people" in the diction of the passage. Jeremiah is not just issuing warnings to Judah's kings. He is clear with the king that the problems in Judean society also lie with "your people" (22:2).

What does Jeremiah mean with his term "people"? Does it include all royal subjects? Are they Judah's rural elders (cf. 2 Kings 21:24)? Are they the army (cf. 1 Kings 16:16; 20:10)? None of these answers really works. The king's "people" are allowed through the gates of the royal palace (22:2, 4), something not permitted to common people, competing power blocks of society, or the army. I think a clue to Jeremiah's meaning can be found in the recent H & R Block ad campaign (see image above).

Verse 22:3 makes it pretty clear that "your people" are those with some degree of authority and social power who support the king's policies and benefit from them as his patrons. Not everyone in society counts as patrons, as "paid" supporters--as "people."

Jeremiah is defending those folks in society who cannot say, "We've got People" or "We are People." He is standing up for those who generally fall through the various nets of support that keep folks safe, warm, and alive.

This passage made the class wonder who are those today who feel that they have "no people" backing them up. To what extent do we, the well-off, participate in networks and structures of power and support that leave other folks marginal, un-nurtured, and unprotected?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Calling Helpdesk: Introducing the Book (Humor)

HT: Chris Brady at Targuman


Finally, a Name for our Daughter

Catherine and I would like to announce our daughter's American name: Rebecca Ketziah Cook.

Rebecca Ketziah Cook

Update on our Journey toward Parenthood:
We leave for China in about two weeks, on Wed February 28th. Thus I will actually miss the MAR-SBL. First things first, and this journey is a major, major event in the lives of me and Catherine. Any readers of this blog who are interested in the journey can certainly follow it on our other blog. I'll post the link again before we go. I should have internet access in China. Also, while I'm gone would any of you like to help keep this blog running? If you might be able to help even just a little, shoot me an email or leave a comment below. Thanks!

The name Ketziah is from the last chapter of the book of Job.
Job gave his daughters names that expressed extravagant love and joy. This name means "Spice" in Hebrew, and Rebecca comes from the Sichuan provence of China, known for its very spicy, hot food...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Diversity in Faith

Father Matthew recently posted this well-done video on YouTube arguing for Christian unity and against scapegoating. If you listen closely, you can detect some ideas from J. Allison and R. Girard. As of this morning, it's been viewed over 1,200 times.


Participant Index for MAR-SBL Conference


I have just posted the full participant index for our MAR-SBL conference, March 1-2, on-line at our regional WebSpace. Now you do not have to scan the whole program to find where you appear, or where your friend appears! To download the participant index directly (a PDF document), click here.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fairbanks Alaska Ice Festival

My good friend and OT scholar, Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew, has sent along these images of ice-sculptures from the Fairbanks Ice Festival. Somebody likes spending a lot of time out in the cold...

Speaking of Flamingos...

Inspired by my recent post (click here), Chuck and Adele and Chuck's daughter have sent in this photo:

Flamingo in Shoes

They found the bird in a shoe shop in St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, FL. Well Done!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jeremiah 17, continued (6 Epiphany, Year C)

Jeremiah 17

Let us continue with a few more thoughts on this Sunday's appointed reading (the sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C), Jeremiah 17:5-10. For my preceeding post on this text, click here. (Note that PamBG has added some neat remarks to the post in the "comments" section there.)

Yesterday, Dr. Jim West wrote a sort of "reverse version" of Jeremiah 17, adapted to soothe modern souls. To take a look, click here. At vv. 8-9 Jim speaks of how modern souls resist "authentic self awareness and a painful recognition [of being], above all else, quite sinful." Unlike modern people, however, the two testaments of the Bible along with the literature of the ancient world were keenly aware of the universal fallenness of humanity. Sharing this insight, Jeremiah 17:9 accounts for why so many of us choose a form of life destined for frustration.

Why do we seem to consciously choose to be like bushes in the desert, disconnected from God's waters of life? Why can't we see the world working the way God intends it, so that it is obvious to all of us that true joy comes only from rooting ourselves in God?

It must partially be because in our fallenness we have collectively thrown the world off kilter and gotten our hearts and minds "desperately sick." Thanks be to God that Jeremiah 17 shows us a vision of the world struggling to right itself, fighting to throw off disease and to come back into health. God's truth abideth still.

Neat Link: Holy Land Maps and Sites

Click Me!

My friend and colleague, Dr. Mitzi Budde, has emailed a link to a neat site: Maps of the Holy Land from the Eran Laor Collection. Enjoy a visit, by clicking here.

The site includes a bunch of images of sites organized alphabetically by site name, map author, and date. You can view the images in various sizes and formats, including one that is zoomable. They date from 1462 up till the 20th century. The collection includes many drawings of landscapes of sites within the rubric "map," which I think may make it an even more interesting resource for folks.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Seminary Love Affair With Flamingos

I have posted at least once before on our unofficial VTS seminary mascot "Kery," a huge stuffed pink flamingo. Well, of course, there's that other wonderful seminary mascot, Baxter the cat, but he is a completely other story...

Well, recently Valerie Hayes, an M.Div. Junior here at VTS sent around a link to this wonderful flamingo merchandise site, Flamingo Mania. Do give it a gander!

While we are on the topic, here are a few picks from my growing collection of flamingo images:

Complete MAR-SBL Program Now On-Line


I have just posted the full program schedule for our MAR-SBL conference, March 1-2, on-line at our regional WebSpace. To download the schedule directly (a PDF document), click here.
We have also extended the deadline for discount registration to Feb 23rd, and made it available on line (to SBL as well as AAR members). To access on-line registration, click here. Please feel free to post questions using the "comments" function. Thanks!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

6 Epiphany, Year C: Jeremiah 17:5-10

The appointed reading for this Sunday, the sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, is Jeremiah 17:5-10.

Jeremiah 17

Jeremiah 17 anticipates Jesus' message in the Gospel reading paired with it this Sunday. As in Jesus' "beatitudes," Jeremiah lets us in on how the world is really wired, and how to experience true joy by getting our lives aligned with what is really real. Jeremiah 17 presents a choice: will we live wisely and joyfully? Or, will we push ahead with a lifestyle destined for frustration and isolation from the sources of true joy in life, eventually turning us into a "barren bush in the desert"?

There is a deep scandal to Jeremiah 17: It runs up against what the world usually considers to be the actual, pragmatic way of happiness and success. Prof. James Crenshaw at Duke Divinity School has actually recently called Jeremiah 17 “fantasy,” “whistling in the dark,” and a “dangerous lie”! In real life, visible prosperity does not always flow from trust in the Lord. An unjust fortune does not always forsake an evildoer in the midst of his days (Jeremiah 17:11).

Is Jeremiah 17 a fantasy and a lie? Hardly! The lesson does not deny that human sin is a frustration for God. It admits that times of parching heat will come, times of devestating drought (17:8). Nevertheless, one can find "beatitude"--that is, "wholeness" and "fulfillment"--in the midst of adversity. In fact, sometimes, our wholeness, fulfillment, and solid rootedness in God are most easily visible to us at such times. And Jeremiah 17 describes a true propensity of existence as God has created it. Like a sail-boat weighted down on one side, human existence tilts and lists toward righteousness. The dice are loaded in favor of righteousness; injustice is on borrowed time.

In a recent sermon, my student Elizabeth Felicetti (click here) put it this well. A lifestyle centered on autonomous living, self-centeredness, and self-direction must ultimately prove frustrating, self-defeating. It is in the very nature of human beings that we thrive only in truly human, communal mutuality of persons.

Jeremiah bids readers to align their communal life with the patterns of God, the patterns of wholeness and righteousness. Rather than kick against the grain of history, we are bidden to allow God's patterns of joyful living to come into their own, and set history hastening toward righteousness. God's wind is blowing across the sea of life. To live well, to get in synch with what will bring joy, we need to open our sails and catch this wind!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Archaeology of Worship

Dr. Barry Gittlen of ASOR has asked me to publicize the following event. It looks fascinating:

Baltimore Hebrew University is pleased to announce a landmark conference, co-sponsored by ASOR and SBL, on The Archaeology of Worship in Biblical Israel, April 22-23, 2007. For information and registration forms, click here (PDF file). Contact Dr. Barry M. Gittlen at or (410) 578-6907 for questions or further details.

Graduate students please note the call (page 5) for submission of proposals for a poster session. The deadline for receipt of proposals is March 1.

A Report on Sudan, This Friday, by Lauren Stanley

Lauren Stanley

Pictured above is the Rev. Lauren Stanley with some of the students at Renk Theological College, Sudan. As regular readers of this blog know, the seminary along with Duke have a joint program supporting the teaching of biblical languages there.

The VTS Missionary Society is sponsoring a 40-minute presentation on her experiences as Episcopal missioner to Renk this Friday. Come hear her talk about the current state of affairs in Sudan and at the college this Friday, February 9, 2007, in the VTS Small Dining Room from 1:00-1:40 PM.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

U2: An Alternative Vision

Click Me!

One of the most powerful tools in the prophets' tool-kit was the alternative vision of reality. In the face of the wreckage of sin all around them, some of the prophets were inspired to lay before their audience a poetic landscape where present wrongs were set right and people participated in truly human mutuality. Such visionary landscapes are "utopian" in the best, constructive sense. Far from wild fantasies, they connect up with the real world and suggest concrete ways we all could live better and experience more joy.

In this video (click here) U2 and Geen Day have done something genuinely prophetic. They present an alternative vision in connection with the Iraq War and the Katrina devestation in New Orleans. The video is utopian, the news clips it shows did not happen. However, the clips are close enough to reality that you just might be tricked into believing that they are real. They might even bring a few tears to your eyes, as they prompt you to imagine a very different reality than the one we actually experienced in the wake of Katrina.

Hat Tip to the "Our Journey" blog, where you can find further discussion (click here).


Monday, February 05, 2007

A Response to Dr. Kevin Wilson on the Aaronide Priests

update: this discussion / debate continues! Click here after reading the post below.

Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 10

Dr. Kevin Wilson over on his BlueCord blog (click here) recently asked me to say a bit more about the priestly groups knows respectively as the sons of Zadok and the sons of Aaron. Specifically, Kevin asked for my arguments that Aaronides actually existed apart from Zadokites (for example, as descendents of Aaron's son Ithamar). Here is the response that I made as a comment to his post:

...I've always had a hard time agreeing with the idea of Joseph Blenkinsopp and others that the Aaronides trace back to the priests at Bethel, although I admit that the polemic against the northern monarchic-cult at Bethel in Exodus 32 does make "Aaron" look pretty bad! Lev 10:1-3, which you mention in your post, is a better text for unearthing the Aaronides, since it is written by them (by the PT circle). It carves out a place for the descendents of Ithamar (the Aaronides) as well as those of Eleazar (the Zadokites), since neither of these sons are killed along with Nadab and Abihu in the passage (see also Num 3:4).

Joshua 21 is another passage that carves out a place for the Aaronides. It speaks of a division of "Kohathite" cities, and Kohath is way, way back in the priestly genealogy, allowing this circle to include large groups of priests beyond the Zadokites.

Kevin, you are right that Ithamar's line is not traced well anywhere in the OT. I do not know why this is true, but I believe that this "gap" allowed the Chronicler to give the Levites an Aaronid geneology (cf. Cross, CMHE, 1973, p. 208 etc.). That is, the "gap" allowed the Ithamarite line to function as a rubric for incorporating certain Levites as sacrificing priests when this became necessary. Dean McBride and Robert R. Wilson have suggested 2 Chron 29:34 as one spot where some Levites seem to be rising up to the level of having Aaronide rights and responsibilities.

I want to stress, though, that such Levites were probably incorporated into an already existing body of Ithamarites. This larger body was responsible for writing literature such as the PT source and 2 Isaiah. It is the group that supported Ezra in his reforms, when the Zadokite leadership of Yehud was proving resistant. This corpus of non-Zadokite, non-Levite priestly literature within the Hebrew Bible would be the primary evidence that I would point to as requiring the hypothesis of an actual Aaronid priesthood over-against the pure Zadokites.

New Cartoon

As Catherine and I think about packing and luggage for our upcoming trip to China, this cartoon (sent in by Chuck H.) seems particularly appropriate:


Biblical Studies Carnival 14

Blog Carnival
Don't miss Biblical Studies Carnival XIV, now up and available on Chris Weimer's blog, Thoughts on Antiquity (click here). Chris has done a great job summarizing posts related to academic biblical studies in the month of January 2007. Thanks for your mentions of this blog, Chris!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Update: Renk Theological College

Renk Theological College, Sudan
Update: We've just had an email from Renk, Sudan, from the principal of the College there, Father Joseph Garang Atem. The big news is that Renk "Bible College" has a new name and status. It is now "Renk Theological College." I'll try to post some additional news about Renk and the programs that VTS and Duke Divinity have there in coming days. ---SLC

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sermon from Last Sunday (Jeremiah 1)

Trinity Church, Princeton, NJ
One of our VTS graduates, the Rev. Anne Marie Richards, now serving at Trinity Church in Princeton, NJ has emailed me a link to her sermon on Jeremiah 1 from last Sunday. Thanks Anne Marie; Well Done! And thanks also just for preaching on the OT/HB! Give it a look, by clicking here.

Here are some brief excerpts:

... “I appoint you…to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.” Jeremiah is told that he will witness the bringing low of his people. All that they have known in life—their comforts, their homes, their way of being—all of this will be torn up, toppled, trashed. Keep in mind that this applied to Jeremiah as well—he is one of the people, he too will endure the pain and suffering that go along with bringing a people to their knees.

...But Jeremiah is not left comfortless. “To build and to plant,” these are the last of his tasks. To re-create, to make new again the people beloved by the Lord. Jeremiah speaks harsh words of truth—that reform is needed, that God requires change and submission—and he also speaks of the hope that is found in doing God’s will. That we are from time to time driven to our knees in desperation, but that we are not left there. We are raised up. God will build and God will plant. And what grows will be beautiful.

...I said that I wasn’t going to preach on love this morning, but that’s not really true. Because love is what I have been talking about right along. Not a syrupy, sentimental love, but the kind of love that helps us to understand difficult times like the ones we are in now. Not a hearts-and-flowers love, but a searing love. Not a temporal love, but an eternal love. Love that is, yes, patient and kind, but love that is also demanding and insistent. And, ultimately, love that transforms and renews us. My friends, broken we kneel, and healed, redeemed, renewed, transformed, loved-completely we shall rise to God’s glory.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hurray!!!! New I-171H Approval!!!

After months of frustration, the US-CIS came through late in the day today. We have our new approval from the U.S. federal government. Our visas from the Chinese consulate came through at the start of this week, and yesterday our agency (Barker) received our travel approvals from CCAA in Beijing. That's it. We have all our approvals now in hand, and are authorized to travel. Hurray!!!!

Barker has put in requests for appointments with the American Embassy/Consulate at Guangzhou, People's Republic of China requesting either a late February or early March visit. We should hear very soon the exact dates of our trip!!!!

New Picture!!!

We have a new picture of our daughter! A connection was made, and through an act of grace we have more information on how well she is doing. More than every, Catherine & I cannot wait to travel to China to meet her and to bring her home to us!

From the picture, you can tell she is not doing bad at all in the SWI! She has real baby toys to play with and a real nanny giving her special attention in the "First Hugs" program. Fu Xuan is clearly drawn to music! If music comes on as she is playing with toys, she’ll put down the toys and swing to the beat!

As of November, she heavily into tasting everything, tasting the world: she bites everything she grabs, no matter if it’s the pacifier or her nanny's hand. When her nanny says “ouch” in response to her bite, she feels triumphant!

Fu Xuan also knows about cause and effect. She can communicate with her nanny to take her to the light switch, and once there, she loves to turn the lights on and off over and over again.

It is also wonderful to hear that she knows her caretakers and is wary of strangers. It is a sign of healthy attachment that she’ll cry when she sees strangers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

5 Epiphany, Year C: Isaiah 6:1-13

The appointed lesson for this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, is another commissioning narrative, Isaiah's call by God in the year King Uzziah died: Isaiah 6:1-13.

Isaiah 6

Let's be brave and start our reflections with the most difficult section. The lectionary makes verses 9-13 of our passage optional, and one has to ask why. Do we fear that people in the pews are not tough enough to hear its harsh message? Are we unwilling to accept God as Isaiah presents God to us?

The message of Isaiah 6:9-13 is hard: Amazingly, Isaiah's foremost task is not to win the people's repentence. It is to allow God's word to harden people's hearts, thus making them ripe for God's judgment.

One can certainly protest and search for guidance on how to hear this word, but what one cannot do is claim that this God of Isaiah is somehow different from the God of Jesus. If you check out passages such as Matthew 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10; John 12:40; and Acts 28:25-29, you quickly see that we have a theological insight here deeply imbedded in both testaments of the Christian Bible.

Part of the theological mystery here concerns how sin is its own punishment. The path of sin, once started upon, leads one down the road into greater insensitivity to sin and deeper entanglement in it. Callousness is enhanced the more it is exercised; the more one rubs a callous, the more numb and larger it becomes. Abraham Heschel saw this clearly. Heschel wrote that the divine word can have the negative effect of intensifying or extending what people have done to their own souls.

Heschel saw a positive note in this dark truth, however. He believed that the act of enhancing people's callousness may bring them to see how deep they have sunk into sin. If the burden of callousness can become unbearable for them, perhaps they may decide to be honest with themselves and others and seek to change. If the hardness can become complete, and lead to despair, prayer will burst forth.

It would be wonderful if God's word could simply be delivered and received by people with true integrity and receptivity. Unfortunately, real life is not so simple. People constantly work to "domesticate" God's word, to make it a more comfortable word, a word that allows them to retain some control. People do not want to do the hard work of grappling with difficult truth and radically transforming their form of life. It is a rare person who will greet God's word on its own terms, and devote oneself to hearing it aright.

For most of us, then, unfortunately, God's puzzling, foreign, hard sayings come to us first and foremost in a way that makes us ripe for judgment. How can we deal with this? We must learn to understand this judgment as an opportunity to truly know ourselves as sinners. We must accept this judgment, ultimately, as an expression of God's grace.